Frequently asked questions about recent developments with Stanford’s General Use Permit application
What is the current status of Stanford’s General Use Permit application?
The application is moving forward through Santa Clara County’s approval process, which began in November 2016. The Santa Clara County Planning Commission recently completed two study sessions, and the commission is now scheduled to begin a set of three hearings on May 30 that will continue on June 13 and 27.
After the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors will conduct final study sessions and hearings beginning in late September and continuing through the fall, during which the supervisors will vote on whether to approve the application. There is a helpful chart describing the entire application process here.
Why did Stanford recently request that Santa Clara County pause hearings on the permit?
Stanford has become increasingly concerned and perplexed by the unusual process the County is taking in considering our application.
Last October, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to enter into negotiations with Stanford for a development agreement – essentially, a contract that would outline additional benefits the university would provide to the local community as part of the General Use Permit, in exchange for contractual certainty that Stanford will be able to complete its projects under a defined set of conditions. Other than an initial rules-setting meeting between Stanford and the County in November, the County has not agreed to hold further discussions despite repeated requests.
Normally, with a land use entitlement, the applicant (in this case, Stanford) and the jurisdiction responsible for approving the entitlement (Santa Clara County) work collaboratively to come up with a package that serves the needs of all – the applicant, neighbors, and other stakeholders. Stanford requested that the County delay Planning Commission hearings so that both parties could engage in further discussions to identify that collaborative path forward, including a possible development agreement, and then provide the Planning Commission with an opportunity to review a complete application package.
Nevertheless, the County Administration denied the university’s request for a delay, so Stanford will participate in Planning Commission hearings and continue to advocate for a return to a normal process.
There were also news reports that Stanford was withdrawing from its agreement with PAUSD. What is happening with that?
Because Stanford requested the pause in the Planning Commission process, the university also requested a pause in the school district’s approval of a recent conditional agreement that Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and university leaders had reached. But Stanford has not withdrawn from the agreement – the university still hopes to provide these benefits to the school district as part of a comprehensive development agreement with the County.
Stanford deeply values its relationship with PAUSD. As the County was not ready to engage in substantive discussions with Stanford, and in response to increasing concern in the community, Stanford entered into direct talks with PAUSD in March to identify solutions. The result of that collaborative process was a conditional agreement whereby Stanford would provide upfront and ongoing support to PAUSD to mitigate the possible impacts of new students living in tax-exempt university housing. Both parties agreed that the outcome of the talks would be included in Stanford’s broader discussions with the County about community benefits in a development agreement.
It was the university’s understanding that the outcome would be supported by County officials, who had earlier voiced strong support for the talks. However, the County committee in charge of development agreement negotiations instead elected to suspend that process in response to the university’s announcement of a conditional agreement with PAUSD.
Recent news reports have also stated that Stanford offered lesser benefits to PAUSD than what are included in the conditional agreement as part of discussions with the County about restarting development agreement negotiations. Is this true?
No, that is incorrect. In those discussions and all other correspondence with the County and PAUSD, Stanford has been steadfast in its commitment to the full scope of benefits for the school district that are included in the agreement. Those benefits include $16.5 million in front-loaded funding for a new innovation space and facility and Safe Routes to School improvements, and an estimated $121.9 million in ongoing per-pupil funding for new students living in tax-exempt university housing. Stanford and the County discussed different options for how to structure the agreement, but Stanford was very clear throughout those deliberations that it was still willing to provide all of the benefits in the agreement. Following those discussions, Stanford has reaffirmed that the benefits should be part of a comprehensive development agreement.
What are the benefits of Stanford’s General Use Permit application?
Stanford is seeking the ability to add 2.275 million square feet of academic facilities, 3,150 housing units and student beds, and 40,000 square feet of transportation and child care facilities. Full buildout of the permit is projected to take roughly two decades and will take place on the existing academic campus. Additional academic facilities will provide the space necessary to pursue opportunities in new and existing fields of study, while new housing and expanded sustainable transportation programs will meet the needs of the campus community and address regional challenges affecting Stanford’s neighbors.
The County’s Environmental Impact Report for the project confirms that almost all environmental impacts of new academic and residential facilities can be appropriately prevented or mitigated.
What is a development agreement, and why is it a beneficial component of Stanford’s General Use Permit?
A development agreement is a voluntary, legally binding contract between an applicant for a land use entitlement and the jurisdiction responsible for approving the application. The applicant agrees to provide additional benefits to the community, including benefits that could not otherwise be required as a condition of approving the project, and in return receives certainty that it will be able to complete its long-term development project under a defined set of conditions. These benefits often address issues of importance to the community and might include, for example, the construction of housing before job creation. Stanford's recent conditional agreement with PAUSD provides another example of economic benefits that can be provided to support local public schools through a development agreement, but that cannot be required by the County as conditions on a permit due to limitations imposed by state law.
The university believes a development agreement is needed because it will provide certainty over the long term about the total package of community benefits that will be provided as development occurs on the Stanford campus. For Stanford to provide front-loaded community benefits beyond what the law requires, the university must be confident that the rules governing future academic campus development will not be changed midway through implementation of a new General Use Permit. This same long-term certainty also provides the community with assurances about the comprehensive package of benefits the university will provide. Development agreements are a commonly used component of complex land use entitlements.
The County has indicated it would like development agreement negotiations to take place in a public setting. Will Stanford agree to talks in a public forum?
Engagement with the community is important to the university, and Stanford is committed to a process that keeps the public well-informed throughout negotiations. Ultimately, any decision by the County to enter into a development agreement would have to take place after the County has conducted open, public hearings on a draft agreement. All members of the public would have a full opportunity to present feedback on the agreement during those hearings. The university is not aware of any development agreement that has been negotiated through a public forum during creation of an initial draft agreement, prior to commencement of public hearings. Nevertheless, Stanford is open to exploring a variety of potential options for reaching agreement with County decision-makers.
Stanford believes it would be most productive to bring in an independent, objective third party to facilitate development agreement talks with the County. A facilitated process, which was successfully used during the university’s talks with PAUSD, helps to ensure clear, concise and unambiguous communication and agreements.