The availability and affordability of housing is a major issue facing the Stanford community and the region. Stanford’s application for a new land use permit from Santa Clara County envisions the university adding significantly to its housing stock over the next 17 years, even as major housing projects such as the Escondido Village Graduate Residences (EVGR) move forward today.

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)

Santa Clara County published a draft environmental impact report on Stanford’s General Use Permit application last year. The county is now re-circulating portions of the report with two new “Housing Alternatives” initiated by the county and is seeking public comment by July 26.

With the increased attention on the housing component of Stanford’s application, Catherine Palter, associate vice president for land use and environmental planning in the office of Land, Buildings and Real Estate, discussed with Stanford Report how Stanford is approaching regional housing challenges.


What is Stanford’s approach to providing housing for students, faculty and staff?

Stanford recognizes housing affordability is a regional problem. Our approach includes building housing on and near the campus, funding affordable housing projects in the area, and working closely with other large organizations and government agencies on regional solutions.

Today, all undergraduate students are guaranteed four years of on-campus housing. With the completion of 2,020 additional graduate student beds in Escondido Village in 2020, approximately 75 percent of graduate students will be able to live in university housing.

When EVGR is complete, Stanford’s total on and near-campus housing stock will total 17,900 units and student beds. In addition to faculty housing on campus, almost 1,000 rental units are available to faculty and staff in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Los Altos, including 180 units of below market rate housing for residents who meet affordable housing criteria. While many of these residential communities are open to the public, preference is given to Stanford affiliates at rental rates that are subsidized by the university.

In our application for the 2018 General Use Permit, we propose adding 3,150 more on-campus rental units and student beds. We anticipate that 900 of those beds will be for graduate students, and would qualify as affordable under Santa Clara County’s General Plan. In addition, we plan to build 550 new apartments for faculty and staff.

We have also offered to contribute $56 million for affordable housing in Santa Clara County, serving populations beyond those in our own community. That offer is the same amount per academic square foot as for-profit developers pay for office buildings in most Bay Area cities. Additionally, 70 units of community affordable housing were recently constructed on Stanford land in Palo Alto.


Santa Clara County’s Housing Alternatives were recently released. What are they, and what do they mean for Stanford’s application?

Santa Clara County decided to study two county-initiated alternatives to Stanford’s application for a new General Use Permit, in response to public comments on the draft environmental impact report. The first alternative examines the environmental impacts of adding a further 2,549 housing units and student beds on Stanford’s campus in addition to the 3,150 Stanford proposes. The second alternative studies half of that increased amount, or 1,275 additional units and beds.

Each of these alternatives would add thousands of multi-family apartments to the Stanford campus, likely in tall buildings along campus edges such as El Camino Real. As the re-circulated portions of the draft environmental impact report show, there are additional environmental impacts with adding so much concentrated housing on the campus over a relatively short period of time. According to the county’s report, the alternatives would increase every significant environmental effect described in the original draft EIR for the 2018 General Use Permit and add new ones.

Stanford’s lands in unincorporated Santa Clara County are planned and used as a university campus, focusing on providing world-class academic facilities that foster research and learning. Therefore, our priority is to carefully maintain these lands for academic purposes. However, we do recognize there is a need to add appropriate amounts and types of housing for faculty, staff and students. That is why we proposed 550 new Stanford-subsidized high-density rental apartments at two sites on Quarry Road next to the Palo Alto Transit Center. This location is well-suited for employee housing because it is adjacent to already developed areas in Palo Alto and preserves the core campus for academic uses.

We want to continue our discussions with the county on this important housing issue, but we’re also concerned with the effects on our neighbors, costs and the appropriate use of our academic campus land. We want to make sure we develop our campus lands in a balanced, measured and responsible way.


Given the challenging local housing market, why not build enough housing on campus for all new students, faculty and staff?

Stanford carefully designed its proposal to support the university’s educational mission, including building more housing, while ensuring that Stanford’s academic campus growth is respectful of our neighboring communities. We took great care to design an application that is consistent with our responsibility to be good stewards of our land. To achieve the county’s alternative would mean adding thousands of new housing units on campus, generating more local traffic and over 2.5 million square feet of construction activities.

The county’s recirculated draft environmental impact report recognizes the Housing Alternatives would have significant environmental impacts – 91 out of 111 impacts studied are worse under the Housing Alternatives.

Some of these impacts are really important for the community to understand, even if they may seem counterintuitive. For instance, one might think having more housing on campus will reduce car trips. But campus residents will need to drive on local roads to do things like take kids to school, buy groceries and commute to off-campus jobs. Analyses show that residents generate more local car trips than commuters to campus. We’re committed to continuing to meet the No Net New Commute Trips standard under the new General Use Permit. Dramatically increasing on-campus housing beyond what we have analyzed and proposed would upset the balance we’ve struck to avoid traffic impacts.


Should Stanford be responsible for building more employee housing than it has proposed?

Historically, employers have created jobs and residential developers have built housing. Unfortunately, many of the communities surrounding our campus are experiencing a housing shortage caused by regional job growth that has outpaced the addition of new housing. Solutions will require a combination of employer, developer and governmental actions on a regional basis.

We believe Stanford’s role should be to construct affordable student housing on the core campus and high-density rental housing on the Quarry Road sites, while preserving the rest of the academic campus lands for academic purposes. We also will continue to explore adding housing on our lands outside the academic campus, such as at the Stanford Shopping Center and in the Stanford Research Park, and we will continue contributing funds for affordable housing in the region. We know of no other employer in the region that has constructed more employee housing, and we will continue to be a leader in this area. But we must do so in a manner that keeps our focus on our academic mission and preserves our core campus for future generations.

What is Stanford doing to engage the campus community and surrounding residents in planning for future land use?

As Stanford continues to develop its long-term land use vision, we are committed to an open and honest dialogue with all interested parties. There is ongoing engagement with the Stanford community and local residents through the university’s Long-Range Planning process and General Use Permit application process. This has included campus conversations with President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell, open houses and community town halls, participation in government hearings and public meetings, and outreach to hundreds of interested individuals and groups.

I hope all interested stakeholders will attend the DEIR public meetings in Menlo Park on June 27 and Palo Alto on July 10. More information about Stanford’s application is available on the 2018 General Use Permit website.