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Casper pledges improved communication with neighbors
STANFORD -- Speaking as "the mayor of ZIP code 94305," President Gerhard Casper told the Palo Alto City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 16, that he is committed to improved working relationships with neighboring cities.
Noting that Palo Alto has invited Stanford representatives to participate in review of its Comprehensive Plan, Casper said: "I believe that we, in turn, should seek appropriate ways for Palo Alto and Menlo Park to join in our own planning earlier and more fully than has been the case in the past.
"We are committed to an appropriate community outreach process to report our plans and to respond to community concerns as best we can," he said, referring to the future of the Research Park, the Medical Center, Sand Hill Road and the El Camino corridor.
Casper, in his first appearance before the council, said he spent more than two decades observing local politics in Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley once plaintively exclaimed: "I have been crucified, I have even been vilified!"
"Now - at last," Casper said to laughter, "I am ready for Palo Alto."
He told council members that he had been reading up on local history since his appointment, learning in the process that the local Ohlone Indians "went to great lengths to settle disputes without warfare and that they valued 'subtle negotiations and extreme politeness.' "
"I hope," he said to laughter, "that that spirit still pervades their ancestral lands and will characterize our relationship rather than crucifixion and vilification."
Stanford and Palo Alto have been "success stories," but still have their problems, he said, citing effects of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the "man-made indirect-cost quake." In addition, the university faces many uncertainties relating to government support of higher education, research and health care.
"In short, we still have a long way to go, with many uncertainties, before we bring our budget back into equilibrium," Casper said.
The city and the university share financial challenges that should be addressed with great care, he said
The university "must be prudent in proposing ways to generate new revenues through the use of our lands." The city, on the other hand, wants to preserve "its unique qualities while seeking new income in order to avoid service reductions," he said.
Casper expressed optimism about "our ability to meet those challenges," saying "our basic relationship is a good one."
"We have differences from time to time, but our relationship has been free of the rancor that has occurred elsewhere between town and gown," he said.
Stanford people help local communities, Casper said, citing the fact that at least 100 university students tutor elementary students in language and math on any given day. And, three times a week, students collect enough unused food from campus residences to feed 200 to 400 people at homeless shelters. Law students provide legal assistance to East Palo Alto residents, and the Medical School has many ties there, he said.
He cautioned, however, against raising unrealistic expectations.
"Society has come to expect much of its universities, but the resources available to universities are limited," he said. "Universities are expected to be models in all areas ranging from affordable education to inexpensive research to enlightened employment policies to subsidized housing to cultural sensitivities to land-use planning to socially responsible investments to being engines of economic growth."
But "behaving that way costs money," he said, quoting a letter electrical engineering Professor Anthony Siegman wrote last year to the Palo Alto Weekly.
Stanford must be true to its overriding purposes of teaching, learning and research, Casper said, and should be measured by how well it performs those tasks.
During a question-and-answer session, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss expressed concern about Stanford's desire for new revenue through use of its land. She said university land-use policies sometimes "strike fear in our hearts."
Casper responded that the university's land-use policies have been "exceedingly restrained." Most lands are still open and two-thirds of the open land is held for future potential academic use.
"If the question implies that I might embark on a new career as a major developer," he said laughing, "I'm not."
Mayor Jean McCown asked about the relationship of the recently announced Medical Center strategic plan task force to development issues surrounding Sand Hill Road and the Shopping Center.
There is no direct relationship between them, Casper responded, but "Sand Hill Road is a seamless web and in the end they are related." He said that uncertainties in the area of medical care and research - along with a desire for coordinated planning among the Medical School, Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital - motivated him to create the task force.
Asked by councilman Gary Fazzino about the competitiveness of the Research Park and strength of its tenants' relationships with the university, Casper acknowledged the need to modernize the park's facilities.
He said he had heard no complaints about lack of access to knowledge and information generated at Stanford or other universities. Having discussed technology issues recently with various company leaders, Casper said that regulatory hurdles, not a problem with knowledge transfer, is making it difficult for companies to develop, test and bring products to market.
Regulatory problems remain "a nightmare" in California, Casper told councilman Mike Cobb, who also asked about the Research Park.
Discussing genetics research with councilman Dick Rosenbaum, Casper said Stanford has to make choices about areas in which it wants to excel. "We are entering a phase in which there will be some growth, but that will be balanced by not growing or even shrinking in other areas," he said.
Facilities and space remain a problem at the Medical School, Casper said.
"The vitality of our state . . . depends on the preservation of assets" such as Stanford, the University of California, the California Institute of Technology and other institutions, he said.
"This state depends for its leadership in the world very much on its scientific accomplishments and establishments," Casper said.
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