BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
It looks like Stanford is about to get a permit from Santa Clara County to expand the campus by 3.5 million square feet over the next 25 years. But now Stanford officials are saying that they won’t accept the permit unless the county throws in a “development agreement” that will give the university certain trade-offs that the permit won’t provide.
In other words, approval of this development isn’t good enough for Stanford. They want more.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said he’s “baffled” by this approach.
I think a land owner should have the freedom to do just about anything they want as long as they don’t make life more difficult for their neighbors. But if your plans would increase the housing demand, exacerbate traffic delays or deplete school funding, then the government needs to step in and ensure your neighbors aren’t harmed by that.
That’s what this process is all about.
Typically, when city or county governments get a development application, they approve it with a list of conditions — requirements the landowner must fulfill in order to build the project.
In the final phases of a land-use approval, the government board and the applicant will negotiate publicly over the conditions.
Currently, Stanford and the county differ over the amount of housing that must be built and how to measure traffic. There’s also a big split over how much money the university should pay to the Palo Alto Unified School District to educate the children of employees and postgrads who will be housed on campus.
In the next few weeks, we will see the negotiations over these issues occur before our eyes during public hearings.
The next meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. today (Oct. 8) at the County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.
No secret negotiations
The problem with development agreements is that they’re negotiated in private. In such closed-door talks, horse-trading takes place. Requirements necessary to protect the public might be watered down or eliminated in exchange for other things offered by the applicant.
When the negotiations end, the development agreement is released to the public. But if the public hasn’t observed the negotiations, it might not be aware of what breaks the applicant got in the deal. Sometimes contracts are written in a way to obscure controversial requirements.
I don’t like a closed-door process when it comes to something as important as this development.
And Santa Clara County hasn’t used a development agreement for a land-use approval before. I’m not convinced that it’s necessary to start now.
If Stanford wants to provide additional benefits to the community, put that in the conditions that go along with the permit.
It’s possible that Stanford wants the development agreement to lock in the county’s requirements through a legally-binding contract. University officials may feel that if the conditions of approval are approved by the Board of Supervisors in an ordinance, a future board can change the ordinance with a simple vote. A development agreement would cement the requirements the county is imposing on Stanford.
But Stanford accepted its last General Use Permit in 2000 without an accompanying development agreement, and the county didn’t go back and change the GUP after that. So Stanford’s fear that it needs a development agreement for security purposes doesn’t appear to be well founded.
That’s why I suspect Stanford officials are bluffing when they say they won’t accept a permit without a development agreement.
If the current leaders of Stanford walked away from a permit, I doubt the public is going to get very upset. The attitude of many people is — we’re suffering enough from growth in the mid-Peninsula, we don’t need more.
It’s not fair to blame Stanford for the traffic and housing crisis. But the world isn’t going to end if Stanford doesn’t accept its permit because it didn’t get a development agreement.
It’s all a bluff. The Stanford Board of Trustees has been very growth-oriented in the past. If these officials negotiating with the county return to the board room empty handed, it’s possible they will lose their jobs. The board will understand that half a loaf is better than nothing at all.
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Here’s your evidence
Another newspaper has said a couple of times that the Post lacked “evidence” when it reported that the Los Altos City Council directed City Manager Chris Jordan to move the council meetings back to City Hall. You may recall that the council moved the meetings to the Los Altos Youth Center because Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins lodged a complaint saying the chambers aggravated her allergies. Then the council told Jordan to move them back to City Hall.
I don’t think that newspaper looked very hard for “evidence” because even a cub reporter would have checked the official minutes of the meeting in question. Those minutes say, “A majority of council members directed that council meetings be moved back to City Hall.”
The issue isn’t whether the council gave direction to the manager — they did. The issue is why the manager didn’t act on that direction, and what will council do now.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.