Stanford University Expansion Plan Moves to Next Phase of Review

Stanford University is pursuing an apprised version of its General Plan, which would govern how the University uses its land for growth over the next two decades. The plan was unanimously approved by the Santa Clara County Planning Commission and now moves onto the next phase of review by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. If the plan is ultimately approved, it will address housing, traffic, and environmental issues as well as “plan for a future of education, discover, and community.”

The University’s proposed revisions will relegate all development within existing academic boundaries, including use of unincorporated land in Santa Clara County and on its campus. There is no suggested development in the surrounding foothills.

The proposal, which would continue the institution’s average 1.2% academic facility expansion, includes:

  • 2.275 million square feet of new academic space
  • additional housing, including 2,600 new student beds
  • 40,000 square feet in child care facilities and transportation hubs

As part of its expansion proposition, Stanford is offering its largest investment in its history and what it claims is upwards of $4.7 billion in community benefits, the largest portion of which is $3.46 billion for housing. The Santa Clara County Planning Commission disputes this value since it contains a significant portion of housing already under construction, such as Escondido Village, a housing development for graduate students, and Middle Plaza, the University’s 215-unit development in Menlo Park. Stanford claims this dedicated student housing will open up other living options for non-University residents, but many on the Planning Commission begged to differ.

According to Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos, the real value of Stanford’s community benefits is $166 million. This includes more than $130 million the University will provide to the Palo Alto Unified School District over the next 40 years and approximately $30 million offered to Palo Alto and to various San Mateo County cities for bike projects and other transportation enhancements.

Referring specifically to the 2,600 student beds, which Stanford is counting as benefits and which comprise a $1.4 billion investment, Gallegos says, “Those aren’t community benefits; that’s the project application. It’s what they’re proposing to develop.”

Traffic was yet another hotly contested aspect of Stanford’s future General Plan. The County proposed stringent regulations, such as conditions capping reverse-commute trips and all-day trips on the campus, that the University and many of the Commission members felt were unattainable based on the amount of new housing being required.

And, although Stanford has no designs on developing any of the surrounding foothills, there was discussion and an overarching sentiment by some members of the Planning Commission that supported the creation of foothill conservation easement.

Ultimately the University’s plan was approved by a 7-0 vote with these three key conditions:

  1. New housing must be increased four-fold over the initial amount proposed
  2. Traffic impact must be mitigated initially with other options to be revisited in the future
  3. Protecting the foothill open space is a must (and was never a development consideration for the University)

The Planning Commission’s vote followed on the heels of three public hearings coupled with hundreds of comments from residents and community members, some in support of the University’s General Plan Permit and others against. Ultimately, they approved the proposed permit, the Environment Impact report, the water supply assessment, and the change to the zoning ordinance that would allow changes to the Stanford Community Plan, the document that governs its broad land use as laid out in the County’s General Plan.

The first hurdle cleared, the next step lies with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, representing California Districts 1 through 5. Over the coming months, the University with engage with the Board in the hopes of garnering an agreement on its expansion plan, which it firmly believes would benefit the campus, students, and faculty along with Palo Alto and other surrounding cities and communities.

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