Stanford has submitted an offer letter to Santa Clara County detailing a proposed $4.7 billion package of housing, transportation and public school  benefits that the university would like to provide as part of a development agreement addressing its new long-term land use permit, called a General Use Permit.

Central Energy Facility

Stanford’s Central Energy Facility, constructed under the current General Use Permit, significantly reduced campus greenhouse gas emissions. (Image credit: ZGF Architects LLP; Robert Canfield)

According to university officials, the proposed benefits were developed to address the affordability and transportation challenges facing the campus community while also being responsive to the interests of neighboring residents and jurisdictions. The benefits will span the projected 17-year length of the permit, although many are front-loaded prior to the gradual development of new academic facilities.

The university’s proposal includes:

  • hundreds of units of new on- and near-campus workforce housing;
  • an expansion of sustainable commute programs and funding for local transportation infrastructure improvements; and
  • support for Palo Alto public schools.

“The Stanford community is confronting the serious regional challenges of affordability, housing availability and traffic congestion, and we’re looking closely at how we can do our part in promoting solutions that serve Stanford and our neighbors,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “This offer reflects our values as a residential university committed to sustainable development and service to the community.”

The General Use Permit applies to university lands in unincorporated Santa Clara County, including the academic campus, and would allow Stanford to sustainably build thousands of new housing units and student beds concurrently with 2.275 million square feet of academic facilities over roughly two decades. The university is not proposing any new development in the foothills or other campus open spaces.

“Our General Use Permit application reflects the principles of gradual, responsible and environmentally sensitive growth that have come to define on-campus development under our current permit that was approved in 2000,” said Catherine Palter, associate vice president for land use and environmental planning. “We are proposing to add new academic facilities at an annual rate of 1.2 percent, consistent with our historical average, and will remain committed to the sustainability programs that, over the past 19 years, have reduced campus carbon emissions by 68 percent, water use by 45 percent, and the drive-alone rate of commuters.”

While some of the community benefits are part of the university’s original General Use Permit application, many can only be provided through a development agreement the university is hoping to negotiate with Santa Clara County.

A development agreement is a voluntary, legally binding contract between an applicant for a land use entitlement and the jurisdiction responsible for approving the application. The applicant agrees to provide additional benefits to the community, including benefits that could not otherwise be required as a condition of approving the project, and in return receives certainty that it will be able to complete its long-term development project under a clear set of rules.

Additional housing

The largest portion of the community benefits package is a $3.4 billion investment in new housing.

Stanford’s permit application included 2,600 student beds and 550 units of transit-oriented on-campus housing for faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars. In addition to adding 2,600 student beds, the university is now proposing to fully meet the demand for 2,172 workforce housing units created by new academic facilities through:

  • delivering a total of 1,307 new housing units over the course of the General Use Permit, including 575 Below Market Rate units, on campus and in the community; and
  • freeing up at least 865 housing units in the community when the university opens 1,300 new graduate student housing units on campus and 215 units of workforce housing in Menlo Park within the first few years of the permit.

Stanford’s proposal front-loads the delivery of workforce and affordable housing. The university is offering to construct 550 on-campus workforce units, including 400 units of Below Market Rate housing, during the initial quartile of academic development. Another 175 units of Below Market Rate housing would be constructed or funded in the community during the same period. Thus, all of the Below Market Rate housing and almost 75 percent of the total housing would be built by the time 25 percent of the academic facilities are built.

Stanford would then build another 350 units of on-campus workforce housing and 232 units on or off campus before completion of Stanford’s academic development, for a total increase in regional housing supply of 4,772 housing units and student beds. Stanford’s current housing portfolio has 15,700 student beds and housing units.

Santa Clara County passed two affordable housing ordinances specific to Stanford in September of last year – one calling for 16 percent of new university workforce housing to be affordable and another requiring an affordable housing fee of $68.50 for every square foot of new academic facilities. The value of the affordable housing now being proposed by Stanford exceeds the housing impact fee ordinance and the amount meets the 16 percent requirement of the inclusionary housing ordinances, with the units becoming available much sooner.

Stanford would also make an upfront payment of $11 million to satisfy the remaining affordable housing fees from the current General Use Permit. Santa Clara County could then use a portion of those funds to support construction of a new teacher housing project in Palo Alto.

Sustainable transportation improvements

Stanford is looking to expand its successful sustainable transportation management programs and is offering funding for infrastructure projects that will improve local bikeways and Safe Routes to School for Palo Alto students. The university’s current programs include free CalTrain Go Passes and VTA Smart Passes for employees working more than 20 hours per week, graduate students and postdocs; financial incentives for sustainable commuting to and from campus; and the free Marguerite community shuttle system.

Stanford intends to address the transportation impacts of the new General Use Permit through the following steps:

  • Invest $1.1 billion in expanded sustainable commute options: The university is planning to further improve its successful transportation demand management programs that reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips and traffic on local roads. Under the university’s current permit, since 2003 the percentage of single-occupancy vehicle commuters to and from campus has declined from 69 percent to 43 percent. An expansion of the commute programs is expected to prevent any increase in congestion in nearby communities.
  • Pay $1,275,000 to mitigate reverse commute-direction trips: Stanford will provide the funding recommended in the County’s Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to address the impact of commute trips generated by new on-campus housing that travel away from the campus in the morning and return in the afternoon.
  • Provide funding for intersection improvements: If necessary, the university will provide the funding identified in the Final EIR for Stanford’s fair share of the cost of intersection improvements needed in the event that annual monitoring shows an increase in commute traffic.

Beyond addressing the transportation impacts from its land use plans, Stanford is offering $30.3 million in upfront additional funding for bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure projects in San Mateo County and Palo Alto. In contrast, the County’s proposed mitigations require only $671,000 in possible future payments for intersection improvements if Stanford is unable to sufficiently reduce single-occupancy commute trips.

Projects receiving funding would include:

  • $15.25 million to San Mateo County communities for all the improvements identified in their letter to Santa Clara County requesting community benefits through a development agreement; and
  • $15.05 million to the City of Palo Alto for improvements identified in its letter to Santa Clara County.

Support for Palo Alto schools

Stanford and Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) announced in mid-April an agreement on community benefits that will be provided to the school district as part of a possible development agreement. The estimated value of the community benefits package is $138 million over 40 years.

The conditional agreement was the result of facilitated, interest-based discussions between the university and the school district. Stanford is now proposing a similar structure for talks with Santa Clara County.

The agreement includes up to $15 million for a new space to foster collaboration between Stanford and PAUSD, an estimated $121.9 million in ongoing financial support for the school district to address costs associated with students living in tax-exempt university housing, and funding for capital improvements to existing school sites and Safe Routes to Schools.

Without a development agreement, Stanford would otherwise be required to pay an estimated $4.2 million in school impact fees.

“Stanford and PAUSD share a deep history of partnership in pursuit of providing an excellent education for our students. Many of our prior interactions have occurred in an organic fashion. This agreement makes our engagement more systematic and organized, helping increase its impact for the benefit of students,” Tessier-Lavigne said when the agreement was announced.

Development agreement discussions

Santa Clara County officials suspended development agreement discussions with Stanford following the announcement of the agreement between the university and PAUSD. County officials have since claimed that Stanford would seek more lenient rules governing campus development in exchange for providing additional community benefits.

In the university’s letter to the County, Robert Reidy, vice president for land, buildings and real estate, clarified that “Stanford makes no request to reduce or negate any of these standards through negotiation of a development agreement. To the contrary, Stanford seeks to better these standards through this offer.”

Stanford is now asking that the county restart talks to reach an agreement that meets the needs of the County, the community and the university. The regulatory certainty provided by a development agreement is what enables the university to provide additional benefits, many of which are delivered long before the construction of new academic facilities on campus.

The university also recently responded to the County’s draft Conditions of Approval for the General Use Permit and requested modifications to align them with the County’s recently adopted affordable housing ordinances, the Final EIR and the goal of providing additional on-campus housing.

More information about Stanford’s application and community benefits package is available on the General Use Permit website.

Media Contacts

E. J. Miranda, University Communications: (650) 724-9161,