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Stanford Report, October 31, 2000

Hennessy's statement to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

The following is the statement of President John L. Hennessy to the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors about the proposed General Use Permit and Community Plan.

Oct. 30, 2000

Chairman Gage and Supervisors Alvarado, Beall, McHugh, and Simitian, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

For more than 100 years, the destinies of the Santa Clara County and Stanford University have been linked in numerous ways. Since those early days, we have seen progress and a degree of success that surely would have seemed unimaginable to even the most visionary of our predecessors. But we have also seen the problems and challenges that often accompany such monumental success.

Tonight we are at a critical juncture in the history of this relationship. After two years you now have before you a General Use Permit and Community Plan, approved by the Santa Clara Planning Commission and a plan that Stanford sincerely urges you to approve.

Getting to this point was an arduous process that has gone on for two years.

County staff has spent more than 5,000 hours on this project. Stanford staff has devoted even more. The process, which cost millions of dollars, has involved environmental and traffic consultants, 40 public meetings and hearings, and input from 16 public agencies. This process resulted in four volumes of environmental studies and a complex plan proposed by the Santa Clara planning staff and adopted by the County Planning Commission that contains more than 200 conditions on Stanford's General Use Permit.

While this is not the plan that Stanford proposed--and we have serious reservations about many of the Permit's provisions--in the interest of finding common ground between the county and the university, we are supporting this plan in its entirety.

We believe it is a plan that is fair to all the parties affected by Stanford's development.

I want to mention three major aspects of the plan:

First, it provides more housing than is needed to accommodate the entire projected 10-year population increase of the university. More than half of the proposed square footage in the plan would be for housing built in our core campus. This includes up to 3,000 desperately needed apartments and homes for students, faculty, and staff. Seventy-eight percent of these residences would be low-income housing for students, medical residents, and postgraduate fellows.

No other university in the United States provides as much on-campus housing as Stanford, nor does any other employer in the Bay Area provide as much housing. We believe that housing will continue to be a major challenge for Stanford, as it is for all nonprofit institutions in our area.

Second, the plan provides protection for the foothills both as open space and conservation habitat. The Planning Commission's proposal would create a new Academic Growth Boundary, which would limit Stanford's development to its core campus for the next 25 years. Stanford initially proposed a different, 10-year Academic Growth Boundary. But, in the spirit of compromise, and recognizing that this AGB might have to be reviewed in the future to accommodate housing needs, we have agreed to accept the 25-year year restriction. Even beyond the 25-year applicability of the AGB, the Planning Commission plan has designated the foothills land as open space. Thus, Stanford cannot develop any land in the foothills, not only for the next 25 years, but at any time in the future without the approval of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

Third, the plan would allow for the construction and renovation of more than 2 million square feet of academic facilities. If Stanford is to remain a vital university, at the frontiers of research, it too must change, adapt to new circumstances, and take advantage of new opportunities. Among the important anticipated research and teaching facilities we foresee building under this plan are a new center for photonics, the technology that will allow the Internet to continue to develop, and a center for neurosciences, which will explore everything from basic brain development to helping people with dyslexia.

If our visions for new facilities are transformed from plans on paper to mortar and brick, then we hope they will generate the kind of knowledge that will help sustain this region's lead in both information technology and the biomedical sciences.

I should mention, that in addition to these three key elements, the Planning Commission's package addresses traffic congestion by proposing a program of "no new net commute trips," that is, Stanford's proposed development will not cause any new commute trips on or off campus. Stanford will accept the challenge to make that stringent goal a reality. To the best of our knowledge, this strict standard has never been imposed on another landowner, nor has any public agency every applied this standard to its own activities.

During the course of developing this plan, Stanford responded to community suggestions, going far beyond any legal requirements for mitigating any impacts this development might have, by volunteering extra measures to benefit the community. We have offered a possible middle school site or $10 million to the Palo Alto Unified School District and submitted a proposal to lease the six-acre Mayfield site to the City for 51 years at a rate of $1 per year for use as a nonprofit community center. We hope these contributions will help to resolve two serious community issues. But, as we have said all along, these voluntary mitigations are contingent upon approval of a General Use Permit acceptable to Stanford. The county staff plan is such an acceptable plan.

What clearly would be unacceptable to Stanford is the scheme advocated by Supervisor Simitian just last week, at the end of a two-year process. Although Supervisor Simitian has proposed over 100 changes to the plans approved by the Planning Commission, the most important is his proposal to create so-called "Compact Urban Development Commitment Credits." This scheme would require Stanford to give up to the County its property rights for 1,000 acres of foothills for 99 years in exchange for academic development in the core campus for the next ten years. Our lawyers, and outside lawyers with whom we have consulted, all advise us that the dedication requirement included in his proposal is unlawful, and we believe unwarranted. Dean Sullivan of the Stanford Law School will be speaking about the unconstitutionality of this proposal in a moment. I want to focus on why it is not a good idea.

As a starting point, it is crucial to recognize that both the Planning Commission plan and Supervisor Simitian's plan preserve the foothills. The only difference is how the foothills are protected after 25 years.

Tonight we gather in a room that is at the hub of a region known throughout the world as the birthplace of a technological revolution and the nexus of a new world economy. Who could have predicted 99 years ago that this would be so? Who could have predicted it just 25 years ago? We cannot make decisions now that will preempt the ability of future generations to make wise decisions in the context of hard choices and tough issues they are sure to face in the future.

Tonight I ask the supervisors to join with your Planning Commission in supporting a plan that embraces our desire for foothills protection, affordable housing, and academic excellence while preserving the rights of future citizens to guide their own destinies. Please approve the Community Plan and General Use Permit recommended by the County Planning Commission.

Thank you very much.