A tentative deal that would have required Stanford University to help offset the impact on the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) of its ambitious expansion plans was thrown into limbo last week when Stanford tabled further discussions on the proposed pact with the county.
In response, the PAUSD school board voted on Tuesday to suspend consideration of its own agreement with Stanford until further notice, a move that complied with Stanford’s request for a suspension of university-district talks. Under the suspended agreement, Stanford would pay the district $5,800 for each student who attends PAUSD as a result of the university’s addition of housing units.
Stanford hit the pause button after its proposed deal with PAUSD, announced last month after secret negotiations, faced instant backlash from Santa Clara County officials, including Supervisor Joe Simitian, who criticized the tentative agreement as a violation of the county’s rules that Stanford negotiate with the county before reaching a deal with PAUSD.
Stanford’s proposed expansion plan, also known as a “General Use Permit,” would span from now until 2035 and allow for the construction of 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 new on-campus housing units for students and faculty and 40,000 square feet of child-care space.
Its plan, which has not yet been approved by the county, has faced both praise and criticism, with some community members applauding the university for bringing more housing onto campus and others decrying the inevitable increased congestion.
“If approved, the proposed General Use Permit will provide Stanford flexibility to develop academic and housing facilities over time, allowing the university to respond to innovations in teaching and research,” Stanford’s proposal read.
Negotiations between Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and County development-agreement negotiators Cindy Chavez and Simitian have been active for months but are now at a stand-still. Stanford last week balked at the process being proposed by the county and asked that the scheduled public hearings be postponed. Tessier-Lavigne requested the negotiations be private and that Stanford pay less money to PAUSD than in the tentative agreement, neither of which the county agreed to.
Outside the private members of the public have been vocal about the issue, with many expressing concern over the potential influx of so-called unfunded students to PAUSD since Stanford is a tax-exempt institution.
Senior Ben Civjan said traffic is also a concern if Stanford expands.
“The traffic in Palo Alto is already a gridlock during the morning and evening, making it hard to commute. We simply can’t handle an influx of new families trying to get to and from work or school on the road.”
However, part of the tentative agreement had Stanford agreeing to fund re-designed railway crossings and expand its free Marguerite shuttle system.
Aside from the roads, the PAUSD board of education has cited concerns about the impact the increased student population from this development will have on PAUSD.
“The community needs to mitigate the impact of 9,000 people coming to Stanford every day — in terms of housing, in terms of traffic, in terms of impact to schools,” school board member Todd Collins said.
Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth wrote in an open letter that he agrees with the school board in this case.
“The City shares PAUSD’s position that Stanford University mitigate any impacts that may occur as a result of an increase in student population, affect desired student/teacher ratios or otherwise diminish the quality of education provided to its students.”
But Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford already has proposed solutions to this issue, including the university supplying per-pupil funding to the district or possibly even land to build a new school. Either way, he said, the money would go toward increasing the resources available to the school district to ensure the quality of education for Palo Alto students is not impacted by an increased student population.
“As Stanford considers the facilities that will be needed in the coming years for our teaching, research, and health care missions, we intend to work closely with the community, being sensitive to the concerns of our neighbors and committed to contributing positively to our region’s quality of life,” the university president said.