Widgets Magazine

Local community raises concerns about Stanford’s development plans

Traffic, sustainability and staff housing emerged as key concerns at a Wednesday forum inviting community feedback on Stanford’s plans for campus development through 2035.

Stanford seeks to add nearly 2.3 million square feet of academic building space, 40,000 square feet of child care facilities and up to 3,150 units of housing as it renegotiates its General Use Permit (GUP), a land use agreement last updated in 2000. The University submitted its plans to Santa Clara County last November but must seek public input at multiple stages before it can get its vision approved.

(SAMANTHA STARKEY/The Stanford Daily)

Wednesday’s event at Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park Community Center, which drew about 100 attendees, was the first major opportunity for members of the broader local community to raise questions and give suggestions.

While Stanford promises no net increase in commute trips as a result of expansion, Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents wondered how adding thousands of beds to campus would affect traffic around their homes.

“The current traffic situation is pretty unbearable,” said Richard Dvorak ’81, who lives in the area. “There’s a gridlock all over Palo Alto … A lot of it is due to Stanford students, construction workers, staff … No net new commute trips may not actually be the right goal – maybe 10 percent reduction.”

Under the new GUP proposal, if Stanford does not meet its no-new-commutes goal, it will give money to support local transportation and traffic reduction programs. However, University officials at the forum noted that Stanford has not increased net commutes since 2001 and that transportation programs have decreased the drive-alone rate of Stanford commuters from 72 percent in 2004 to 50 percent today.

Many of the forum’s most vocal attendees were not traffic-weary neighbors but Stanford’s own employees and students. They pressed for greater sustainability and attention to Stanford’s impact on an already pricey local housing market. They also worried that Stanford’s push for increased campus housing and reduced commutes focuses on students and faculty while neglecting staff who cannot afford to live near the University.

“We’ve made Stanford a priority, and I don’t feel like Stanford’s made us a priority,” said Jenna Mains, finance manager for SEIU Local 2007, a union for service and technical workers in higher education that includes over 1,000 Stanford and SLAC employees.

Stanford’s new GUP proposal calls for 550 new faculty and staff housing units, which postdoctoral students and medical residents are also eligible for. Mains says 550 units is not enough for so many campus populations; less than 100 staff from her union live on campus.

“[Administrators] could probably afford to live elsewhere and they get the privilege of living on campus,” she said. “We have some workers who make $16 an hour and who have to live in Tracy.”

Commuting even from nearby East Palo Alto takes a financial toll for staff members who do not qualify for Stanford’s public transport subsidies, Mains said. Premium “A” parking passes for spots closest to buildings cost over $1,000 per year, while “C” passes for less convenient spaces go for $375. Mains hopes Stanford will become “more labor friendly” by expanding both housing and transportation opportunities for its staff.

Jean McCown, associate vice president of government and community relations, acknowledged that, historically, Stanford has prioritized students and faculty in its land-use planning. However, she noted 624 existing Stanford West apartments just off campus that are designated for other groups. Stanford is also proposing 215 apartments on University land in Menlo Park and will soon open 70 units in Palo Alto on El Camino Real, McCown added.

“We recognize there’s a need that goes beyond what we can build,” she said.

Union workers have the support of Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035), a coalition of student groups that formed this school year to press environmental and social justice issues as Stanford’s moves through the GUP process. About 20 SCoPE 2035 members showed up at the community forum to make their concerns known and stand in solidarity with SEIU 2007 Local.

“[The GUP] is a really important thing to keep track of and to keep Stanford accountable to,” said Nayeli Altamirano ’19. “We’re here to follow them and let them know students are listening and care.”

Students’ questions for University officials ran a wide gamut of issues. One student called for Stanford to take its sustainability commitments even further by going carbon neutral, a suggestion that some Palo Alto community members seconded. Another asked if Stanford has assessed its impact on area housing prices. Others put their weight behind union workers’ plea for greater University attention.

Forest Peterson M.S. ’07 , a Ph.D. student, recounted a conversation with an SEIU 2007 Local member and Stanford dining worker who commutes from Livermore, about an hour away. He urged Stanford to enable more staff to live on campus with their children – a privilege he enjoys – so that his children “can go to school with her children.”

“Workers are part of our community and as such deserve [housing and transportation] opportunities that recognize this,” said one SCoPE member during the forum’s question session. “Many students here today have this at the front of our hearts and minds.”

Community members can email questions or comments to stanford2018GUP ‘at’ stanford.edu.


Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Hannah Knowles

Hannah Knowles is a junior from San Jose double-majoring in English and The Daily. Prior to managing the news section, she was desk editor for the University and Local beat.
  • Staff

    Stanford should consider adding new buses from East Bay cities like Pleasanton, Livermore etc. Currently, both Marguerite and Dumbarton Express extend service only up to Fremont Bart. That is not sufficient. It should certainly be expanded to other East Bay cities.

  • Leonardo Leal

    The bus system needs to be revamped to connect the 25 mile radius around campus. Also, why are we complaining about bringing more students to campus? Is the sole justification the “increase in commute times”? If so, what an egocentric and materialistic way of looking at more student growth (many who could be first generation/international/minority students like myself)

    If there is anything we need in the US and California (and the World) at this time is educated people that can represent others and change the world. Frankly, this entitled view about the world is what allowed Donald Trump to empire in the previous elections.

    Don’t let your extra 1 minute commute kill the educational aspirations of hundreds. Check your entitlement first with that extra time.

  • Staff

    Not mentioned is that the current zoning and land use laws encourage suburban sprawl, which is not sustainable. We should pursue a land use policy that encourage more dense mix-used and transit-oriented development. So it will be more environmental friendly and can accommodate the economic growth of the region every other city admires.

  • Candid One

    Surely, you recognize that NIMBY, despite it’s quasi-unsustainable repercussions, has proven to be perpetual. Hundreds of thousands of regional residents want to live in a suburban–not an urban–environment. They get what they vote for…and then complain about what they get. SoCal is a much larger sprawl for the same syndrome. Since the Vietnam era, this state has doubled in population…an addition of the equivalent to today’s population of the entire state of New York, our 3rd most populous state. Nobody was going to plan for that. We can’t unring a bell…we got what we got. We’ve built straddling major earthquake faults–because we didn’t know better when that siting was initiated. We’ve built on landslide-prone terrain–because we didn’t know better when that siting was initiated. Now we want to upgrade railroad right-of-ways that tremendously affect already established adjacent communities and neighborhoods. If you perceive a mess, you’re right-on…after the fact.

  • Candid One

    Which bus system? We have multiple public bus systems–with one common flaw…they travel on the same streets traveled by thousands of vehicles that don’t relate to Stanford. When freeways are jammed, side-street alternatives share the traffic burden. In the Eighties, a Stanford colleague from San Carlos used El Camino in her commute because Hwy 101 was already too congested. Buses can’t avoid that same congestion; they’re merely part of it. Now you’re expressing your entitlement claim? Get in the congested line!

    The US is the 3rd-most populous nation in world history. California is easily the nation’s most populous state. You’re part of that huge population. Learn to accept it because there’s no way to undo it–not even on a flat earth. Join the crowd–or stay out of it, but it’s only going to grow and Stanford is a victim itself.

  • Candid One

    HK, you did your job; you reported on that event. Good job. But, you can’t report on a void in those discussions at that event because this only pertained to Palo Alto and Sta. Clara County.

    Stanford now has a North Campus in Redwood City; several years ago, Stanford bought properties in RC and will move most of its non-academic administrative operations to that site by the end of this decade. That’s a removal of staff and traffic that’s not being factored into the cavalier algorithms being thrown around as shoulda-woulda-coulda remedies for regional messes. Since RC is in San Mateo Co., that major effort by Stanford is probably an unmentionable in Palo Alto politics? Stanford already has some of its hospital operations in RC buildings that are visible from Hwy 101.

    In the heart of Silicon Valley, communications between the myriad components of Stanford’s operations have been online for several years. Its North Campus is not a major logistical challenge today.

    Stanford had been moving some of its non-academic operations to Stanford Industrial Park in order to repurpose the former core campus facilities of those groups. The phasing of this project has been ongoing for several years. While Stanford Industrial Park is not a relief of local traffic, the pending relocation of those operations to Redwood City will be a definite traffic subtraction…along with other operations that will be moved from current campus and Palo Alto office spaces. Stanford is doing much more than the SCCo GUP addresses.

  • Candid One

    One of the contributions that Stanford makes by limiting such “enhancements” is that it doesn’t add to that congestion with more of its own traffic. Remote locating by Stanford affiliates is an individual issue. Stanford has been dealing with this kind of predicament since the Sixties when Silicon Valley began to blossom. By the Seventies, some of its service staff were already commuting from Pleasanton-Livermore-Tracy and Gilroy-Hollister areas. Stanford has had hiring and retention challenges at all levels of staff and faculty. Stanford chose to address aspects of the continual rise in regional costs of housing with its in-fill housing projects–instead of inefficiently attempting to meet the scattered needs of those much fewer commuters from remote areas. Stanford had to decide that it can’t allow the tail to wag the dog. That “dog” has not succumbed to what would essentially be a divide and conquer “wagging”, so it’s tucked its tail–and thrived in its own way.