Planning for the future of Stanford’s physical campus

Catherine Palter, associate vice president for land use and environmental planning, discusses Stanford’s application for an updated General Use Permit, which will guide the physical development of the campus through 2035.

Last November, Stanford filed an application for an updated General Use Permit – a major undertaking involving the university, the County of Santa Clara and the surrounding communities. It will guide the future physical development of the Stanford campus.

portrait of Catherine Palter, Stanford associate vice president for land use and environmental planning in the office of Land, Buildings and Real Estate

Catherine Palter is associate vice president for land use and environmental planning in the office of Land, Buildings and Real Estate. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Stanford development is currently under the aegis of two Santa Clara County documents: the Stanford Community Plan and the 2000 General Use Permit. The Community Plan provides a set of rules and policies to guide the university’s land use planning over time. The General Use Permit implements those policies, allots a specified amount of academic and housing development and sets specific conditions to minimize impacts of Stanford’s development.

With the university nearing completion of the space authorized in the 2000 General Use Permit, Stanford has applied for an updated 2018 General Use Permit that is expected to extend through 2035. The application sets a plan for the university’s academic and housing needs in the coming years, while ensuring the university continues to grow in a sustainable way that reduces impacts to the community.

The university has pursued community outreach efforts since mid-2016 and is now anticipating Santa Clara County’s release of a Draft Environmental Impact Report this fall. That report will initiate the next stage of the approval process. Catherine Palter, associate vice president for land use and environmental planning in Land, Buildings and Real Estate, recently shared her thoughts on the process.

What has happened since the General Use Permit application was filed last November?

The planning process, while complex, has been steadily moving forward. Our goal since November has been to provide information and keep community members informed throughout the General Use Permit application and approvals process. After the 2018 General Use Permit application was submitted last November, we held a Community Forum in January 2017 to provide information, answer questions and get feedback.

We also have continued to meet with groups interested in the General Use Permit process, including the cities of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park; San Mateo County; and various community-based organizations and local and internal university groups. We are making sure that internal and external communities understand the requests and commitments Stanford has included in the 2018 General Use Permit application. We want community members to be well informed when they review the county’s Draft Environmental Impact Report in the fall.


Does the Stanford Community Plan change under the 2018 General Use Permit?

No, because it is widely agreed that the policy framework established by the Community Plan and the conditions regulating campus construction and operations required by the 2000 Permit have been successful. Together, the Community Plan and General Use Permit provide flexibility to accommodate unexpected, emerging opportunities and determine the types and locations of academic and housing facilities that Stanford develops over time. This framework has allowed the university to further its teaching and research mission while providing accountability to ensure that adverse effects on the surrounding community are minimized.


What are the key elements of the 2018 General Use Permit application?

The updated General Use Permit is a roadmap for planning our academic and housing needs through 2035. It proposes no changes to the Stanford Community Plan’s governing policies and principles, including the Academic Growth Boundary. Flexibility is retained to build up to 2.275 million net new square feet of academic and academic support space as needed and up to 3,150 net new on-campus housing units/beds for students, faculty and staff – keeping pace with new academic facilities development.


What is Stanford doing about housing?

Housing is a critical need on campus and in the wider region, and it is an issue that crosses all economic levels. Stanford has focused on supporting a residential academic environment for its students and faculty since its founding days to enhance learning and research as well as foster collaboration and community. Providing more housing will continue to be both a near-term and long-term priority in Stanford’s planning process.

There are several housing projects on Stanford lands outside campus that are either completed or currently underway. Mayfield Place is a 70-unit below-market-rate apartment community in Palo Alto recently opened to eligible community members. University Terrace is a 180-unit community for faculty that will be ready in the coming months. An application is currently in process for Middle Plaza, a project that would add 215 multi-family rental housing units in Menlo Park. On non-university land, we recently purchased the 167-unit Colonnade Apartments in Los Altos.

On campus, Highland Hall opened in fall 2016, offering 101 apartments (202 beds) for Stanford Graduate School of Business students. Construction is also underway for the Escondido Village Graduate Residences project, which will provide a net increase of 1,284 apartments (2,020 graduate student beds) as early as fall 2020. Once this project is complete, roughly 75 percent of graduate students will be housed on campus. In total, Stanford has added, or is in the process of adding, more than 2,000 housing units or graduate student apartments, as well as about 350 undergraduate beds, since 2015.

In addition to the housing recently completed or under construction, the proposed 2018 General Use Permit would authorize Stanford to construct up to 3,150 additional net new housing units/beds, of which up to 550 units could be occupied by faculty.

In terms of affordability, 816 of the housing units built to date on Santa Clara County lands are recognized as being affordable in the Santa Clara County Housing Elements. The university also contributed $25.7 million to the county’s affordable housing fund from 2000 to 2015 to support construction of affordable units by other developers in nearby communities. The 2018 General Use Permit application offers to contribute approximately $56 million to this same fund under the 2018 General Use Permit.


What is Stanford doing to manage traffic?

Managing traffic will continue to be a Stanford priority under the 2018 General Use Permit. The Stanford Community Plan establishes a goal to achieve No Net New Commute Trips. This means no additional automobile trips during the peak commute time in the campus commute direction in the morning and evening. Since 2000, the university has reduced the percentage of single occupancy vehicle commuters to and from campus from 72 percent to 50 percent today.

This reduction has been achieved through a robust Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program that offers students, faculty and staff alternatives to personal auto use. Central to the program is the free Marguerite Shuttle that runs throughout campus and connects riders to other public transit services and local destinations. To further support transit use, the Marguerite shuttle is open to the public as well.

As part of our broader strategy to further increase participation in the TDM program, Stanford supports local public transit by purchasing transit passes and providing them at no cost to eligible university employees for use on regional transit systems. These include Caltrain and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) buses and light rail. The Stanford East Bay Express Line U bus is free to those with a Stanford ID and connects the campus to the East Bay. The program also provides Zipcars, free rides home for those who use transit to come to campus and a Commute Club that offers incentives for participating in carpools and free vanpools.


Why does Stanford need to grow?

We live and work in an environment where knowledge is continually advancing. New technologies enable new fields of study to emerge and existing ones to grow. How we teach and conduct research is also rapidly evolving. Our academic and research facilities need to be updated or replaced to meet these challenges in real time.


How does the General Use Permit process relate to the long-range planning process the university is now conducting?

The long-range planning process is about articulating a vision for the university’s future. The General Use Permit process is about ensuring we have the ability and flexibility to provide the physical space on the academic campus lands necessary to execute that vision.

The General Use Permit application does not specify individual projects or buildings; it is understood that these specifics will emerge through the planning process and through the normal course of the university’s work in the coming years. Many of the projects Stanford has undertaken under the 2000 General Use Permit – from the Stanford Energy System Innovations to the Anderson Collection – weren’t even contemplated at the time of the 2000 General Use Permit application.


What happens next?

Santa Clara County is currently reviewing Stanford’s 2018 General Use Permit application and expects to release its Draft Environmental Impact Report this fall. Community members interested in learning more can sign up to be added to the county’s informational mailing list.

Stanford will continue updating its 2018 General Use Permit website with information about the process and future opportunities to learn more as well as share comments. Receiving timely input is integral to the permit approval process, and we encourage community members to reach out and ask questions. Comments and feedback also can be emailed to Community members can also sign up to receive Stanford’s General Use Permit newsletter.