Monday, November 26, 2007

Committee for Green Foothills comments on potential City Council instructions for a Development Agreement with Stanford

(We sent the following to the Palo Alto City Council as it prepares to give instructions to staff on how staff should negotiate with Stanford.


November 26, 2007

Palo Alto City Council

Dear Mayor Kishimoto and City Council Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills appreciates the opportunity to help provide input to City staff regarding the Stanford University Medical Center and Shopping Center expansion proposal. As an organization dedicated to open space and natural resource protection with a history of Stanford involvement that dates back to our founding, we hope to see the best possible environmental mitigations in the forthcoming EIR and the best environmental benefits as part of the development agreement.

City staff are entirely correct in saying “community benefits and mitigations negotiated by the City as consideration for the Development Agreement are not limited to the mitigations required under CEQA. Mitigation required under CEQA should not be confused with the community benefits and mitigations negotiated by the City in exchange for the Development Agreement.” (CMR: 427:07, page 2.) Stanford has requested significant deviations from current zoning standards and requested the City relinquish its right to apply more stringent standards in the future. The City, in return, can request environmental benefits that the City needs. Technical requirements such as “proportionality” and “nexus” are immaterial to the Development Agreement. Instead, the issue for the City Council is to how to negotiate an agreement that is the best one for the community.

The best agreement embodies a symbiotic relationship between Stanford and the broader community: Stanford gets the facilities it needs without harming the environment, and Palo Alto supports a high quality of life and a wonderful environment that attracts people to come use Stanford’s facilities. The worst agreement from Palo Alto’s perspective would have Stanford simply taking what it wants in terms of massive development while requiring the broader community to shoulder the impacts.

To obtain the best agreement rather than the worst agreement, we urge the City to start with Mayor Kishimoto’s November 7th Op-Ed in the Palo Alto Weekly. Everyone, including Stanford, has an obligation not to make climate change worse, and requiring a no-net increase in emissions and car trips is essential to this. The housing problem pointed out by the Mayor is both an open space and a greenhouse gas issue, as well as a social justice issue – if no increase in local housing is provided, open space will be consumed elsewhere, and the workers will have to commute in on Palo Alto’s roads and nearby highways. Creation of sufficient housing, including low-income housing commensurate with the demand created for that housing, should be part of the overall package.

Mayor Kishimoto also properly acknowledges the need to protect open space. What Stanford proposes is essentially a trade-off: the university wants a significant increase in the density and height of development in places that benefit Stanford’s plans. The community, in return, should get a benefit of a reduction of unwanted development in places that should be open spaces – the foothills, creeks, and nearby areas. It would be entirely appropriate for this to be in the form of conservation easements on Stanford lands, but purchasing easement on other nearby lands could also serve the same purpose.

The Committee for Green Foothills has no opinion on whether the basic permissions sought by Stanford are appropriate and necessary, as these medical issues go beyond our expertise. What is within our expertise and clearly needed, however, is protection of the environmental values held by our community and at special risk from massive development. If an agreement should go forward, these values – protecting against climate change, providing a full amount of housing, and protecting open space – are essential components to a good agreement.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

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