Stanford withdraws application to expand campus just 4 days before final decision

 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.



  1. Thanks Joe. You stuck to your guns all the way through this. We didn’t need this level of growth and development. Your constituents thank you!

  2. Simitian and the county just kissed away a lot of jobs, future businesses and responsible development. When the next recession rolls around, we’re going to be begging Stanford to expand. And with all of their money, they can just sit back and say “screw you”!!

  3. >When the next recession rolls around, we’re going to be begging Stanford
    >to expand

    No, you got it wrong.
    When the next recession rolls around, and many of the office buildings are emptied out, cities and residents would see that as an opportunity to balance the current imbalance in housing vs jobs. Stanford could use some of those emptied buildings to provide the housing they’d need for their expansion, should they choose to expand then.
    Looks like you are an apologist for Stanford and the pro-development mafia that has destroyed the quality of life in the Bay Area, all for a few dollars to add to your accounts! Shame on you!

  4. Simitian was insisting on full-mitigation, and that Stanford build the required housing on campus, not shove off the burden on Palo Alto, Mountain View or Redwood City. Stanford wanted to externalize the negatives of its development onto neighboring communities, and Simitian wouldn’t let them get away with that. Hooray!

  5. I would imagine that the Stanford Board of Trustees is furious at this point at how Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Jean McCown completely bungled this process from the start. They alienated the county and the public. They made so many enemies, and it was all unnecessary. This didn’t happen with the 2000 GUP. I’ll bet some “leadership changes” are on the way at Stanford.

  6. This is a great win for the community. Stanford didn’t want to listen to anyone and demanded an approval of everything they wanted. No compromising, no listening. My way or the highway. I hope there’s a time limit on how many years Stanford needs to wait before it can re-apply.

  7. Tessier-Lavigne says they want to pause and listen to residents. Funny, but if they had started this process by listening, they might have something to show for it now. Stanford was arrogant (as usual) and overplayed their hand. I used to be a big Stanford supporter but no more.

  8. 72% favored the expansion? What planet was that survey taken on? I don’t know anyone, even devout Stanford alumnae, who thought this was a good idea without full mitigation. If Stanford officials believed that poll, it shows they didn’t go out in the community and talk to anyone.

    • My guess is the 72% was an off-the-cuff self-estimate from the one individual included in the survey, (the writer of the survey.)

      My re-enactment:


      Q: Ok, Self, I have a Q. Should Stanford be exempt from local oversight for decades and build up rapidly without public support and bring calamity o’er the land?

      A: well, self, I see both sides. Enh, probably not, I’m at a 70/30 on that one because on the one hand, it’s bad, but on the larger glowing hand, I will keep my job as a fake survey writer and taker only if Stanford continues its heedless march towards.. you know, wherever.

      So, 72% for it, surgery response rate 100%, that’s a done deal. Let’s go to Joanie’s for lunch, that was hard!

      Is this a confession? No. Not at all.

    • Yes indeed, having wrung much of the blood from this stone, we are a nonprofit university in need of blood from neighboring stones as well. Wait till people find out we own properties worldwide!

      As for moving the administration, yes, excellent idea. I happen to know many faculty will vote happily for the admin side of Stanford to move away.. far away. They go with our blessing.

  9. Stanford is already too big and their presence too disruptive. There was a vote taken in Palo Alot on their last round of development and those of us who live near the university in San Mateo County had no voice in the vote. We are far more impacted than people living miles away but we had no vote. They obviously need to reduce the prices they charge their low income post-docs and grad students for housing and child care and convert some of those zillion office spaces to house them. They could make up for the loss by quitting their endless advertising campaign on TV and in every local newspaper. Clearly, the business and development wing of the university has no conscience and no shame.

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