Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Timeline for Stanford Sustainable Development Study

CGF Intern Laurel Smith and I have been researching how the Stanford Sustainable Development Study became a requirement in the 2000 General Use Permit, which will hopefully help shed light on the question of whether the "maximum buildout potential" meant "maximum buildout potential" or if it meant "maximum buildout up until some relatively short period in the future, and then all bets are off."

First thing we've found so far is a statement by then-Supervisor Joe Simitian on 10/24/08 on County letterhead:

During the past 18 months some members of the public have proposed that we use this GUP and Community Plan process to establish a "cap" on the University's maximum development potential, "buildout" as it's often referred to....I am not inclined to to propose that our Board establish a permanent cap or attempt to define at this point the ultimate buildout of the campus.

I am inclined to think, however that it would be irresponsible to simply ignore the need for a clearer notion about the ultimate capacity of of Stanford lands and a clearer vision of what such a plan might entail. For that reason I'm inclined to suggest to my colleagues that the Conditions of Approval for the GUP include a condition requiring that Stanford undertake a Buildout Study regarding the buildout potential of Stanford University on all unincorporated lands within Santa Clara County.

So from the beginning, "cap" = "maximum development potential" = "ultimate capacity of Stanford lands" = "Buildout Study". The Buildout Study was later renamed the Sustainable Development Study.

The next thing we found in November 2000 was tying the Buildout Study to the Compact Urban Growth standard that would've limited growth beyond the Academic Growth Boundary for 99 years. That time period limitation later shrank to 25 years.

Still later, November 22, 2000, then-Supervisor Beall proposed the new name, "Sustainable Development Study" that broadened the scope of the Study somewhat. While somewhat unclear from the document I've got, he may also have inserted the Community Plan language "it would be infeasible to accommodate an additional 200,000 square feet annually in perpetuity, in is unclear how much additional development is appropriate." This is a statement about the foreseeable future with no end date. The Study is supposed to address the question of "how much additional development is appropriate" without an end date.

The final change follows a letter from just-elected-to-the-Assembly Joe Simitian, requesting the term "maximum buildout potential for all fo Stanford's unincorporated land" be placed in the Stanford Community Plan, explaining that the concept was part of the conditions for the General Use Permit. The term went in.

Nothing suggests the idea ever restricted the vision from the original idea of determining the ulitmate capacity of the land for the forseeable future.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CGF comment letter on Stanford Sustainable Development Study

(CGF submitted this letter last week regarding the Stanford Sustainable Development Study. -Brian)

November 20, 2008

Santa Clara County Planning Commission

Re: Comments on the Sustainable Development Study for Stanford University

Dear Commission Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Stanford Sustainable Development Study (Study). While the process used to reach this point has had significant flaws due to the secrecy in its preparation and the failure to involve the broader community from beginning principles, the draft represents a good first effort in covering part of what was supposed to be done with the Study. In particular, Stanford's own acknowledgment that millions of square feet of additional development could occur within the Academic Growth Boundary without expansion into the foothills is a step toward sustainable buildout that preserves open space. The discussion in Chapter 5 of a wider array of environmental strategies also adds to its value.

The fundamental flaw with the Study, however, is the artificial planning horizon of 2035, a restriction that violates the Community Plan and destroys the Study's usefulness. This flaw must be corrected, probably through action by the County. The Stanford Community Plan (SCP) states the Study must "identify the maximum planned buildout potential" and all areas of potential development. SCP-GD 12. The Study seems deliberately written to avoid quoting this language, often quoting or paraphrasing language before and after the term "maximum buildout potential" while failing to use the term anywhere other than a text box on page 18. The term should be the subtitle on the document's front cover.

No time constraint or planning horizon was included in the Community Plan or in the discussion of the Community Plan and General Use Permit. Because the environmental community had advocated permanent protection of lands beyond the Academic Growth Boundary, the Study requirement made sense as a compromise imposed by the Supervisors and accepted by Stanford – the foothills would not be permanently protected, but a non-binding study showing what areas are likely to remain undeveloped would be delineated. This attempt to not even make a non-binding acknowledgment of those areas fits into an unfortunate pattern of commitments by Stanford for permission for millions of square feet of development, followed by a ridiculously cramped interpretation of those agreements.

The fact that the Study does not look beyond 2035 even reduces its value for the next 25 years. We have no doubt that an adequate Sustainability Study would emphasize that Stanford will need open space indefinitely, that the need will increase as development increases on the core campus, that impacts on surrounding communities from Stanford's growth further justifies open space protection, and that concentrating development on the core campus is more sustainable than spreading it over undeveloped open space. Given that an adequate study would assume no development in the foothills, only by assessing the total level of development that is likely to occur in the core campus could the study also assess how the proposed development in the next 25 years fits into that context. If the development discussed in the draft Study uses almost all the square footage that could be sustainably built in the core campus, then it is likely not sustainable because it leaves little room for later growth. In other words, the draft Study fails to measure full buildout as required past 2035, and also fails to adequately measure sustainability before 2035.

An additional flaw in the Study is a failure to define the parameters of sustainable development in order to determine whether the discussed buildout is sustainable. The section titled "Sustainability Defined" on page 94 fails to include a definition of sustainability. This is unsurprising in a way, because any reasonable definition would not say that sustainable development can ignore any consequence occurring after 2035.

A better draft Study should have a definition of sustainable development; application of the definition to developing parameters for Stanford; a constraints analysis that includes value of open space, resource limits, and relationship of development to surrounding communities; and a scenario range that would weigh potential buildout levels to the sustainability parameters. The task of the County should be to transform the current draft into what the Study should be.

There are many specific comments that CGF has on an adequate Study, but these comments focus on the broader principles of content and process that need to change as we move forward. Fortunately, there is plenty of time. There appears to be no likelihood that Stanford would apply for development beyond the one-million feet ceiling anytime in 2009, with Stanford publicly signaling that it will pull back on new capital projects. In addition, CGF and Supervisor Kniss have called for work to begin on the Study over seven years ago, so any remote chance of delay to Stanford construction projects come down to Stanford's choice of timing to work on the Study.

On process, there should be a series of on-campus and off-campus workshops to develop criteria for the second draft of the Study. These workshops should be led by a County-chosen consultant at Stanford's expense, a provision that Stanford has agreed to. See SCP-GD (i) 3. The organizations mentioned in Study Chapter 5 should be engaged publicly and to the full extent those organizations wish, as opposed to quiet discussions with selected individuals. Elected student, faculty, and alumni association governments should be consulted. The second draft should then be constructed by the County's consultant, with the assistance of Stanford. A projected deadline of summer 2009 for the second draft and fall 2009 for the final version would be appropriate

Specific commentary on content could also be submitted as the workshops and second draft are developed. This first draft is an excellent start. CGF will be happy to submit comments during that process, and can also submit specific comments on improvements for the current draft that could be used in the second draft.

We look forward to participating in a process that protects the local environment and fulfills Stanford's obligation to the community that Stanford agreed to in the Stanford Community Plan.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Congestion pricing for San Francisco? San Jose?

San Francisco is considering a congestion charge for traffic entering San Francisco during certain hours, similar to what London has done for a number of years. (Noone's talking about San Jose, yet.)

The effects on our work of protecting open space from sprawl would likely be mixed. On the positive side, the charge would increase incentives to live in the city or near to public transit, which would reduce sprawl. On the other hand, one of our major problems with sprawl is from monster mansion developers, who could probably care less about the charge's cost but appreciate the reduced traffic.

Overall, I suspect the pros outweigh the cons for open space, and strongly outweigh the cons on climate change issues. We haven't looked at the issue closely though, but may need to in the near future.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Draft Stanford Sustainable Development Study available, and there are problems

Stanford's long-promised, draft Sustainable Development Study is available here. While I haven't had the time to take a good look at it, there's an immediately-obvious flaw - it's supposed to "identify the maximum buildout potential and all areas of potential development" but fails to do that, instead describing what buildout is expected only through 2035.

This issue alone is going to take a lot of work to get right. We'll have to take a close look at the rest.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CGF Summer 2008 Newsletter Article about San Martin

(A version of this post appeared in the Summer 2008 Green Footnotes. -Brian)

Proposed San Martin Incorporation: a reasonable purpose, wrong approach, and terrible execution

Heading south from San Jose, Monterey Highway and Santa Theresa Boulevard lets people see much of Santa Clara County that's not visible from Highway 101. The open fields, fruit stands, and greenhouses of Coyote Valley transform abruptly into the residential development of Morgan Hill. Leaving that city of fifty thousand people, a gradual transition back to farmland eventually arrives at the eighty thousand people of Gilroy, and then further south to still more farmland all the way to the county line at the Pajaro River, north of Hollister.

There's one exception though to the farmland between Morgan Hill and Gilroy. Half way in between is San Martin Avenue, the heart of the unincorporated town of San Martin with about five thousand people living there. Committee for Green Foothills has worked to protect this area, most recently fighting the expansion of San Martin Airport that is not meant to serve the local area but just to provide more corporate jet capacity for northern Santa Clara County.

The central part of San Martin can properly be called a town, with relatively dense development, stores, and even a Caltrain station. With a community identity and history of opposition to bad county planning in past years, some San Martin residents have proposed incorporating their town so they can take over land use planning. This purpose is reasonable although one could equally reasonably oppose it, since they propose none of the city services that usually accompany incorporation.

The real problem lies with the approach then taken by incorporation proponents, that every acre lying between the Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and their respective planning areas (called Spheres of Influence) should become part of San Martin. This turns normal city planning on its head – normally, cities are supposed to encompass the areas that are mostly developed, and only expand outward to bring in rural lands when the city's future growth requires the land. While at least some San Martin incorporation proponents expect to do a better job of protecting open space than the County has, they cannot control the future city, and a real risk of wholesale loss of thousands of acres of farmland could happen with any vote of the future city council.

Then where things have gone terribly wrong is with the execution of the process for determining whether San Martin will incorporate. This problem has nothing to with San Martin residents but everything to do with the agency that is supposed to oversee the process, Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). This agency is required by County policy and state law to protect the environment but has refused advice of its staff, its lawyer, a second team of lawyers, and and an environmental consultant. The advice revolved around shrinking the size of the proposed city, but on a series of consistent 3-2 votes, the LAFCO Commission has refused to do it job.

The situation became so serious that for the first time in Committee for Green Foothills' 46-year history, our Board of Directors passed a No Confidence Motion in Santa Clara County LAFCO. We can only hope the agencies responsible for appointments to LAFCO take notice of this situation, and take appropriate action to fix it.