BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Santa Clara County leaders yesterday (April 16) halted talks with Stanford over a development agreement related to the university’s proposed 3.5 million-square-foot expansion following word that the university had made a $138 million deal with the Palo Alto school district over the expansion plan.
The proposed agreement would only go into effect if Stanford and the county successfully negotiated a development agreement for the expansion.
County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian said yesterday that by making an offer to the school district that was contingent upon the outcome of Stanford’s separate talks with the county, the university was “pointing a gun at our heads” in order to get away with promising fewer mitigations for other impacts of the project such as housing, traffic and open space protections.
In negotiations with the county, the university could argue that if it didn’t get what it wanted, it would drop the deal with the school district. Simitian said the university was using the school district as leverage in its talks with the county, something he didn’t like.
Stanford’s deal with the school district also violates the ground rules of an agreement between Stanford and the county over negotiations for the development agreement, Simitian said.
Those ground rules prohibited both Stanford and the county from neogotiating with any other entity during negotiations over the development agreement.
Those ground rules expired at midnight Monday.
Simitian and Austin talk
Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin advised Simitian on April 5 that the district had reached a tentative agreement with Stanford on March 29.
Simitian said he asked Austin whether the agreement was conditional on action from the county, and that Austin said that no, it was not conditioned on any such giveaway.
Simitian mentioned that he took contemporaneous notes of this conversation.
But Austin told the Post yesterday that he did not think that was what Simitian meant. According to Austin, Simitian asked whether there were concessions in the agreement that required the county to do or concede things, and Austin responded that they had avoided those items.
Austin said that Simitian never mentioned the development agreement as a condition, and Austin “never thought that we would expect anything outside of a development agreement.”
“It may be the result of poor communication attributed to a lack of precise language between two people moving quickly and generally on the same page,” Austin said. “Any misunderstanding on this point was certainly unintentional.”
School board meets
The school board held a special meeting last night to discuss the proposed agreement. But only three trustees were on the dais. Todd Collins and Ken Dauber recused themselves because their wives work at Stanford.
Jean McCown, Stanford’s associate vice president for government and community relations, said at the meeting that the university remains “ready and willing” to re-enter negotiations with the county for a development agreement, which can include benefits outside of the conditions of approval imposed by the county.
“Stanford has not taken any issues off the table, including open space and traffic — and the university intends to abide by all of the mitigation measures recommended by the county’s final environmental impact report,” McCown said.
Board members and Austin lauded the offer from Stanford last night (Tuesday, Aug. 16). Without such an agreement, Stanford is only required by law to give the district $4.2 million in developer fees.
The proposed agreement includes a commitment from Stanford of about $121.9 million over 40 years, an average of $3.05 million a year, for per-student fees.
Those fees start at $5,800 per student and ramp up by 2% per year for the first 20 years, then decrease by 2% a year for the second 20 years. That’s significantly lower than the $19,200 that the district spends per student.
Austin defended that number last night by saying that almost no homes in Palo Alto generate that much property tax revenue for the district. The per-student spending comes from property taxes in addition to other sources, like state funds and donations.
Stanford expects to generate about 500 new K-12 students in the housing it plans to build for students and employees. Those students would be sent to Nixon and Escondido elementary schools, which already have 446 and 537 students, respectively.
The university is offering $1 million to accommodate those students at the existing campus schools and will give $15 million to build and furnish an “innovative space” on school district property where students and faculty from Stanford can “expand their collaboration” with the district.
But Stanford has made no firm commitment to build a third elementary school anytime soon, which had been a sticking point for the district.
Leaders from Stanford and the district would meet to discuss the “possibility” of a site in Palo Alto along Sand Hill Road, including the land currently occupied by the Oak Creek Apartments at 1600 Sand Hill, in 2032.
Correction: After this story was posted, Supervisor Simitian contacted the Post to say that the date of his phone conversation with Austin was April 5. Simitian inadvertently said during an interview Tuesday that the date was March 29. March 29 was the date when the district and Stanford reached a tentative agreement. The story above had been corrected.