Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 31, 2000
Board of Supervisors delays action on General Use Permit


A vote on the university's 10-year development plan has been postponed until Nov. 27 to give the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors time to weigh a controversial proposal submitted last week by Supervisor Joe Simitian.

Simitian's plan would require the university to preserve 1,000 acres of the undeveloped foothills as open space for 99 years in return for permitting 2 million square feet of core campus academic development plus 3,000 housing units.

The university has balked at the proposal, stating that it has spent almost two years working out a compromise development plan, called the General Use Permit (GUP), that the County Planning Commission has approved. That plan includes preservation of the 2,000 acres of the foothills as open space for 25 years.

The GUP will be put on the Nov. 7 and 14 meeting agendas of the Board of Supervisors, but no vote will be taken before Nov. 27. Following a packed public hearing Monday, the supervisors on Tuesday said that they wanted time to review the legal implications of Simitian's proposal.

Hoover Tower is reflected in the window of a charter bus bound for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday. Boarding the bus are Brad Osgood, left, professor of electrical engineering, Stanley Peters, professor of linguistics, and Crystal Gamage, a resident of Palo Alto for 56 years. Photo: L.A. Cicero

President John Hennessy reacted positively to the board's 5-0 vote to delay a decision. "[It] reflects the complexity of the issues involved and the difficulties that ensue when a last-minute proposal is introduced into a long process," Hennessy said.

Larry Horton, director of government and community relations, said Simitian's proposal calls for about 100 changes in the university's development plan.

"Our position is utterly clear -- it's not constitutional," he said about Simitian's plan. However, "we will be working cooperatively to see if we can achieve a community plan or GUP that is satisfactory. The [earlier] compromise plan is the version that Stanford has agreed to support."

Simitian, who challenged Hennessy during Monday's public hearing in the chambers of the Board of Supervisors in San Jose, appeared more conciliatory Tuesday. "In my view, I am supportive of Stanford's action," he said. "I don't want to let one big issue left on the table detract from the overall success [of the process]. We have agreement on far more than we have disagreement on."

More than 300 people packed the supervisors' chambers at the Monday hearing, which lasted until about 1 a.m. Hennessy called Simitian's 99-year proposal "a last-minute initiative -- and one that causes Stanford great difficulty." He urged board members not to "pre-empt future generations" from having the ability to make wise land use decisions.

Former university presidents Richard Lyman and Donald Kennedy also rejected Simitian's plan.

Kathleen Sullivan, dean of the Law School, told the board that Simitian's proposal is unconstitutional and undemocratic -- a position supported by several private attorneys hired by the university.

However, other lawyers representing local environmental groups argued that it is within the board's purview to impose a 99-year construction ban.

A number of speakers -- some adorned in "Save the Foothills" bumper stickers -- went further, calling on the supervisors to issue a permanent ban on development of all 2,000 acres of the Stanford foothills.

Hennessy noted that the university accepted the 25-year open space compromise "in the interest of finding common ground" with the needs of Santa Clara County. The university had originally proposed to keep the foothills undeveloped for at least 10 years.

A key element of the GUP plan, Hennessy added, is the construction of some 3,000 housing units on the core campus, 78 percent of which would be low-income units for students and postdoctoral fellows. The rest would be offered to faculty and staff. According to Hennessy, no other Bay Area employer provides so much housing for its employees and affiliates.

"We are a nonprofit institution," Hennessy said during one heated exchange with Simitian. "We do not put money into people's pockets. Every dime goes to help students who otherwise could not afford to attend the university.

"Should this housing crisis continue for the next 25 years, it will fundamentally jeopardize the university," he warned.

Several faculty members agreed with Hennessy's forecast.

Jeff Koseff, associate dean for faculty affairs in the School of Engineering, noted that Stanford is unable to attract new faculty because of the cost of housing in the Palo Alto area.

"The Computer Science department, arguably the finest and most influential in the country, lost a potential faculty member a year ago over housing," Koseff told the supervisors. "This year it appears they may lose another. We cannot afford to lose the top recruits in the country and still retain our status as a leader in teaching and research."

About 100 faculty, staff and other Stanford supporters arrived at the supervisors' chambers in buses provided by the university. Many of them wore red stickers on their lapels that said, "I support Stanford."