General Use Permit application moves to next phase

Santa Clara County has issued a draft environmental impact report on Stanford’s application for an updated land use permit extending to 2035. A public comment period now begins.

Stanford’s application to Santa Clara County for an updated land use permit is moving to a new phase with the county’s completion of a draft environmental impact report.

The application for an updated General Use Permit is part of the university’s long-term land use planning. The permit would allow Stanford to add on-campus housing as well as academic space to keep pace with teaching and research demands over the years 2018-2035, while promoting sustainability, conservation of natural resources and alternative transportation strategies.

As part of the application process, Santa Clara County conducts an environmental review of the potential impacts of development under the application.

The draft environmental impact report was released Friday. It finds that with mitigation measures, the proposed permit will not have significant adverse effects on most environmental resources. It finds adverse effects that cannot be completely avoided in three areas, and Stanford is committed to implementing all feasible mitigation measures identified in the report to address those effects.

The release of the report kicks off a public comment period that will extend to Dec. 4. Stanford encourages participation in the public comment process to ensure that broad community input informs the deliberations on the application. Comment opportunities are listed in the box accompanying this story.

After the public comment period, a final environmental impact report will be prepared in advance of consideration of the full General Use Permit application by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, which also will hold public hearings.

Overview of the proposal

Stanford’s proposed General Use Permit would authorize the university to add 3,150 net new on-campus housing units/beds between 2018 and 2035, strengthening the residential foundation of Stanford’s academic community and helping address the regional challenges in housing affordability and availability.

Over that 17-year period, the permit also would authorize up to 2.275 million net new square feet of academic and support space – roughly a 1.2 percent increase in total space per year – to allow Stanford to remain on the forefront of discovery and education as academic disciplines evolve and new fields emerge in the future.

One of the distinctive features of Stanford’s proposal is that it sets a goal of building new housing on pace with the building of new academic space. That goal, which has been achieved under the existing 2000 General Use Permit, provides for additional on-campus housing as academic facilities expand.

In its application Stanford also proposes to continue operating under the 2000 Stanford Community Plan approved by Santa Clara County. Its provisions include an academic growth boundary that separates the core campus from the foothills, along with transportation strategies that establish a standard of no net new automobile trips to and from the campus at peak commute times.

Stanford further would contribute an estimated $56 million to affordable housing projects in the surrounding region over the life of the proposed permit.

Overview of the environmental impact report

The draft environmental impact report reviews the impact of development at Stanford under the proposed permit on a range of environmental factors, such as air quality, biological resources, energy conservation, geology and soils, hydrology and water quality, public services, utilities and service systems, visual and scenic resources, and others.

The report finds that, with appropriate mitigation measures, development under the permit will not have adverse effects on most environmental resources. For example, air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions associated with campus operations are expected to decrease over time, despite population and building growth.

It also finds some adverse effects in three areas – construction noise, historic buildings and transportation – that might not be completely avoided, though it recommends mitigation measures to reduce their impact.

The report finds there could be increased noise on a temporary basis due to campus construction. And because it is not yet known where specific new buildings will be located or whether any historic buildings will be replaced, the report must make the conservative assumption that there will be significant and unavoidable impacts to historic resources – though it identifies mitigation measures to reduce these impacts.

Analysis of transportation

The report also addresses transportation. Stanford is committed to expanding its successful transportation demand management programs that are designed to continue achieving the goal of creating no net new automobile trips to and from the campus at peak commute times. The university’s efforts to date have resulted in 50 percent of Stanford employees who live off campus commuting to work in ways other than driving alone. When students living off campus are included in this statistic, 57 percent of Stanford commuters use alternative modes to driving alone.

An all-electric Marguerite shuttle bus, free and open to the public, on campus. Alternative transportation strategies are key to Stanford’s land use plans under the proposed 2018 General Use Permit. (Image credit: Chris Gill)

However, because the environmental impact report must evaluate the potential worst-case scenario, it assumes that no transportation demand management programs will be implemented or expanded beyond those that currently exist. As a result, the report concludes that full buildout under the General Use Permit would result in a number of traffic impacts at nearby intersections and on nearby freeway segments.

The report recognizes that these impacts can be mitigated through achievement of the standard of no net new automobile trips during the peak commute times. It also identifies ways that Stanford could support physical improvements to address some of these effects.

The report includes another analysis that provides a different transportation picture.

This second analysis looks at the average vehicle miles traveled by Stanford workers and residents compared to others in the region. Under this analysis, the proposed General Use Permit would not result in a significant adverse transportation impact. It finds that population growth at Stanford would actually reduce the Bay Area’s average number of vehicle miles traveled on a per-capita basis, because Stanford workers and residents travel by car far less than others in the region – in part due to Stanford’s location near Caltrain, its alternative transportation strategies and its continuing efforts to build on-campus housing.

“We know that traffic congestion is one of the major concerns for our neighbors and one of the major challenges facing our region,” said Catherine Palter, Stanford associate vice president for land use and environmental planning. “We are fully committed to expanding our transportation programs that are designed to continue meeting the standard of no net new commute trips. And because people at Stanford travel by car far less than others in the region, we believe Stanford is a very good place in the region for well-managed development.”