By the Daily Post staff
It ended not with a bang but a whimper.
Stanford announced this afternoon that it is withdrawing its application for a permit from Santa Clara County to expand its campus by 3.5 million square feet following blistering public criticism.
The withdrawal ended a three-year process during which Stanford fought the county over requirements about housing and traffic while county leaders insisted that the university fully mitigate the impact of its growth.
The withdrawal comes just four days before the county Board of Supervisor’s final hearing on the Stanford permit application.
Stanford’s decision was revealed in this statement.
Three factors appear to have influenced Stanford’s decision:
• Stanford’s withdrawal comes a week after a blistering public hearing in the Palo Alto City Council chambers where speaker after speaker lambasted the university’s plans. The hearing drew an unusually large crowd. So large, in fact that the fire marshal had to tell people to leave the chambers and watch the hearing outside in the lobby. Longtime council 0bservers had never seen that happen before. Still, Stanford insisted today there was support for their plans. The university said it hired a polling company that read a “neutral description” of the project to 638 voters in the county, and that 72% supported it. In their statement, Stanford did not provide the text of the “neutral description” that led to this result.
• Stanford suffered a major defeat in court on Oct. 10 in its attempt to re-write the county’s housing regulations that would force the university to build more affordable apartments if the expansion were to go forward. Stanford’s legal team argued that the university was being treated differently than other entities in the county. But U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled that Stanford didn’t prove its case and threw out the university’s lawsuit.
• Stanford insisted that it get a development agreement along with the county’s permit to lock in what it would be required to provide over the length of the permit. Stanford, in demanding a development agreement, was essentially saying it didn’t trust the county would abide by the permit it approved, and might change the conditions of the permit after construction begins. However, Stanford never provided any examples of the county changing permit conditions before.
But Stanford was so insistent on getting a development agreement, it said that it wouldn’t accept a permit without one.
The county has never granted a development agreement on a project.
Stanford and the county, however, had been in negotiations for a development agreement when those talks blew up in April. That’s because Stanford made a side deal with the Palo Alto Unified School District for money to cover students who would come from tax-exempt housing on campus. The school district and Stanford negotiated the side-agreement during a time period where such discussions were prohibited under the rules of the development agreement process. Stanford had agreed to those rules and then violated them, Supervisor Joe Simitian said at the time.
In addition, the side-deal required the county to grant Stanford a development agreement in order for the schools to receive money from Stanford. The supervisors, led by Simitian, pulled the plug on the development agreement at that point and moved forward with the traditional approval process that involved public hearings.
Stanford officials pleaded for the county to reopen to negotiations, but the supervisors weren’t willing to give Stanford a second chance.
Stanford, in its statement today, said it had approached the county this week to say that it would agree to build 2,172 new housing units, as the county had requested, if the supervisors would re-open negotiations on a development agreement.
“However, this week’s discussions still did not produce evidence that a majority of the supervisors would endorse delaying the hearings to begin substantive discussions about a development agreement,” Stanford said in its statement today.