Stanford Pushes the Limit

Stanford University has proposed a plan for its growth over the next 18 years – a plan that would significantly increase the student and staff population on its campus, but would not include commensurate amounts of housing. Committee for Green Foothills is requesting that the amount of Stanford’s academic development be reduced, and that the plan include enough housing to accommodate all the new students and employees who will be coming to the campus.

If you would like to weigh in on Stanford’s proposal, please submit comments to the County of Santa Clara no later than Thursday, July 26 at 5:00 p.m. Comments should be sent to David Rader at [email protected].

Stanford’s Proposal

Stanford’s proposed General Use Permit (GUP) would provide for 2.275 million square feet of academic development (classrooms, offices, etc.) through the year 2035. The County’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) estimates that this would bring approximately 8,500 additional people to campus daily, mostly students, faculty and staff. However, the GUP would only provide 3,150 additional housing units/beds. The County’s analysis finds that nearly 5,700 housing units would be needed in order to accommodate all these new students and employees — and that this would create significant impacts for traffic, air pollution and other factors.

The DEIR also evaluated a “Reduced Project Alternative” that would involve only 1.3 million square feet of new academic development. Although this would lower the increase in campus population and the corresponding need for additional housing, the Reduced Project Alternative still does not call for sufficient housing to accommodate the new students, faculty and staff. What is missing from the DEIR is an alternative that pairs the reduced academic development with an adequate amount of housing. Committee for Green Foothills is calling on the County to include such an alternative in the DEIR.

Don’t Make the Housing Crisis Worse

The Bay Area is in the midst of a housing crisis, caused in large part by a decades-long pattern of constantly increasing office development without a corresponding increase in residential development. The result has been not just a severe housing shortage and skyrocketing rents, but terrible traffic congestion, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and growing inequality. During the explosive growth of the 1950s and 1960s, development sprawled out into the orchards and farmlands of the Santa Clara Valley, and freeways linked these suburban subdivisions to the job centers in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and elsewhere, creating an automobile-dependent culture. Today, the results of those poor planning decisions can be seen in clogged freeways and hours-long commute times.

Committee for Green Foothills has been pointing out the problem of continual commercial and industrial development coupled with insufficient residential development for decades. Take for instance the letter our advocate Lennie Roberts sent to the Menlo Park City Council back in 1982 objecting to a proposed distribution center next to sensitive wetlands near the Bay. In her letter, she wrote “we do not believe that the jobs/housing imbalance problems have yet been adequately addressed. . . . [A]dditional housing for low and moderate income persons should be built to meet the needs generated by the project.” That housing, unfortunately, failed to materialize.

There’s no easy or quick solution to the housing crisis; it took decades to create and will not be resolved in an instant. However, one thing that we as a region can do is to stop making the problem worse. It’s not very often that we get a chance to review a plan like Stanford’s that forecasts the projected growth for a large area over an 18-year period. The proposed GUP demonstrates in a nutshell why we are in such an unsustainable situation. If we continue to build office development at the current pace, even increasing our rate of residential development won’t save Silicon Valley from gridlocked freeways, smog, and increasing pressure to build on our precious open space.

Addressing this will mean undertaking a task that we as a region have avoided before now. We have failed to ask ourselves the hard questions: what is the actual carrying capacity of our region? What are the limits in terms of water supply and infrastructure? What will be the impacts to our quality of life if we actually build out all the development that’s allowed in all the General Plans of all the cities in the region? Only if we begin asking these questions will we face up to the problems that our “grow-grow-grow” attitude has created.

It’s time to start asking these hard questions and to insist that we start figuring out the answers.

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