The news Stanford University continues to push for approval of 3.5 million square feet of new development without addressing community impacts reveals a stubborn and outdated belief that what’s best for Stanford is what’s best — period.
Stanford, already one of the largest employers on the Peninsula, wants to add 9,600 people to its campus next door to San Mateo County. The hoped-for expansion is so big it’s the largest project ever reviewed in the 169-year history of Santa Clara County.
Here’s what every resident in San Mateo County needs to know: Stanford — with its $26.5 billion endowment — expects to reap all the rewards while leaving local taxpayers grappling with the resulting traffic gridlock, spiraling housing prices, impacted schools and environmental consequences.
What does 3.5 million square feet look like? It’s two Salesforce Towers — plus the Transamerica Pyramid.
Stanford, of course, wants to go out, not up. So in more horizontal terms, the expansion would equal the size of Apple’s new circular “spaceship” headquarters — plus 12 football fields.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how all that growth would affect the San Mateo County communities far beyond “The Farm.” Stanford’s neighbors in this county will be forced to live with these impacts every day.
Yet Stanford flatly refuses to negotiate with a coalition of public agencies in San Mateo County looking to ensure it is held accountable not just for its own future but the obvious consequences for its neighbors.
Stanford has told the coalition any negotiation would happen only if the coalition lobbies Santa Clara County to enter into a development agreement with Stanford — a development agreement that would give Stanford even more benefits than its development application seeks.
We have urged Stanford to address San Mateo County impacts as part of the standard development approval, but there has been no response. What Stanford is seeking from Santa Clara County is a general use permit, or GUP, that would allow it to grow through 2035.
Stanford already enjoys a special status in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties: Unlike other employers, Stanford is not required to pay property tax on all property it leases or owns. Nearly 70% of its property — $1.2 billion in holdings in San Mateo County alone — is tax free (The university may lie within Santa Clara County, but Stanford’s holdings in San Mateo County total 3,002 acres, roughly equal in size to the city of Belmont.)
Even without expanding, over the next 18 year life of the GUP, San Mateo County public agencies will lose more than $200 million in property taxes. Other San Mateo County residents have to make up for that loss.
It’s a bit ironic that one of the top universities in the world cannot support our local schools that educate the children of Stanford employees.
The roads, bridges and paths Stanford employees use daily receive no funds for repairs or upgrades from Stanford. Likewise, nothing for parks, 911 dispatch and first responders. Nothing.
The time has come for Stanford to pay its fair share.
As representatives of local communities that would be affected by Stanford’s development, we call on the university to work on a deal that would fully compensate our communities for its impacts.
Specifically, for the communities of San Mateo County, we call on Stanford to:
• Establish a fund to create housing that is affordable to a wide range of family incomes;
• Contribute to road and intersection improvements;
• Fund bicycle and pedestrian paths;
• Address the need for stormwater management and flood prevention;
• Expand free shuttle and bus service;
• Ensure all impacts from the expansion in San Mateo County are fully mitigated; and
• Provide educational opportunities for communities impacted by its growth.
At the same time, we are exploring options to compel Stanford to finally step up and meet what should clearly be the university’s moral obligation to its San Mateo County neighbors.
Until Stanford meets in good faith with local jurisdictions in San Mateo County, our residents will continue to detect a familiar pattern: Stanford’s never-ending quest for more development comes at our residents’ expense. Stanford can change that perception.
What is needed is for Stanford to accept that it has a dual role not only as a global institution on the cutting edge of research but also as a good neighbor and regional leader.
We call on Stanford to hit the pause button on its quest for development approval and sit down with its neighbors in the spirit of negotiation.
This is not a choice between a vibrant Stanford versus a diminished university. It’s a choice between the wrong kind of development that unfairly burdens nearby communities and the right kind that enhances those communities.
Don Horsley is a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Diane Howard is the Redwood City vice mayor. They are a part of the Coalition for Stanford GUP Accountability, comprised of elected representatives and staff members from Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Redwood City, Woodside and San Mateo County. Go to cmo.smcgov.org/stanford-university-general-use-permit to learn more.