Stanford neighborhood protected from more homes

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is preventing Stanford from filling in a neighborhood after residents said they wanted to preserve its rural feel and low density.

The board yesterday (May 24) approved new rules on development in the Upper San Juan neighborhood, between Campus Drive and Junipero Serra Boulevard. The rules require lots to be at least 100 feet wide, and new houses must cover less than 20% of the land. Previously, there were no limits on lot coverage or width.

The rules were created after Stanford applied to subdivide a two-acre lot into nine properties, with a house on each one for employees to live in. The county approved the development at Cabrillo Avenue and Dolores Street in 2018, and construction is underway.

The development sounded the alarm for residents, who feared Stanford would change their neighborhood with more housing.

The rules passed yesterday only apply to new development on all 128 lots in Upper San Juan, so Stan-ford’s development is still good to go.

County Supervisor Joe Simitian said he heard residents’ concerns, and supervisors directed planners to “preserve the character” of the neighborhood in January 2019.

Other strategies didn’t work out

Planners tried two other strategies that didn’t work, Planning Director Jacqueline Onciano said. First, they looked at reducing the number of homes allowed per acre. But the state passed Senate Bill 9, which allows property to owners to build four homes on one lot, even if the zoning allows only one. Another law, Senate Bill 330, also limited the county’s ability to reduce density.

So, planners explored creating a historic district in the Upper San Juan neighborhood. But a consultant said more research was needed to confirm the neighborhood was historic, Onciano said.

Cities and counties have gotten creative as the state passes more laws that limit their ability to prevent housing development, and this is the latest example.

The ordinance passed yesterday creates a new zoning designation that requires lots to be 100 feet wide, with less than 20% of each lot covered by a house. Homes must be set back 30 feet from the front of the property, up from 25 feet, and the location and number of driveways are limited.

An average house in Upper San Juan easily meets the rules: it’s 179 feet wide, is set back by 63 feet and covers 11% of the property, Associate Planner Charu Ahluwalia said. Existing houses that don’t conform are allowed to stay until the owner wants to rebuild.

For comparison, the lowest density residential neighborhoods in Palo Alto require a 20-foot setback and limit lot coverage to 40%.

Eighty people attended meetings on the rules in March, and more spoke yesterday. Longtime residents urged supervisors to approve the new rules.

“This neighborhood is unique. It’s rural and it has a long history,” said Carol Ruth, a homeowner in Upper San Juan for over 20 years. “We realize housing is in short supply, however there’s a right and a wrong way to proceed when you’re in a very historic location.”

Catering to NIMBYs?

Stanford business professor Ken Shotts spoke against the rules, which he said are a loophole to impose lower density.

“With these standards, the county would be catering to a small group of NIMBYs who are adamantly opposed to the creation of any new housing in their neighborhood,” Shotts said. “That would be bad public policy.”

Simitian said Stanford has 8,000 acres of land, so the university has flexibility and opportunity to create housing.

The county has been tough on pushing Stanford to add housing, Simitian said. When Stanford submitted an application to add buildings in 2019, the county asked for workforce housing to match the development, and Stanford withdrew, Simitian said.

He called the changes modest after two more aggressive strategies didn’t pan out.


  1. This is the saddest article I have read in a long time, a perfect example of racist, ageist, sexist thinking that has no place here in 2022. “Protected”? From what? New neighbors who likely also WORK at Stanford? Really, how is moderately dense housing a threat to existing housing. It certainly doesn’t lower property values if you look at just about every real estate study ever written. Once again, Stanford creates jobs and surrounding communities get the traffic, noise, and air quality impacts. BUILD lots of dense housing at Stanford ASAP.

    • 100% in agreement…this is discrimination and the supervisors are validating it!
      What gives them this right versus all the rest of us.

  2. Shame on Carol Ruth for her blatantly obstructionist position in the face of a dire housing crisis. There is nothing unique about that neighborhood. I and many others agree that it should be redeveloped into sustainable, high-density housing for Stanford faculty and staff, and their families. Maintaining these oversized lots benefits few. We will be pressing our local politicians on this.

  3. Normally I’d be very against this exception and protection. But this is the oldest part of the Stanford residential area, with homes going back a long, long time.

    I actually agree that Stanford has a lot of land and trading protection of the more historic parts for development elsewhere isn’t a bad trade. Stanford has proposed housing on their land next to Alpine Rd.

    When I was younger, Kite Hill was developed for condos.

    Protecting the oldest residential homes isn’t a bad thing in my mind.

  4. Repeal prop 13 and these NIMBYs will squeal like pigs.

    Enough with the local control. The state needs to take over these NIMBY cities and let the homebuilders loose.

    Build to a point where we gut the cost of shelter.

    Property values need to crash and let it ve known to people that shelter is not an investment. It should never be again.

  5. My husband grew up in this little part of Stanford. It is a unique area with homes documented by the historical assoc.

    Commenters name call others as nimbys, racist and ageist without a care, not understanding what the specific situation is. They think that somehow flinging ugliness around is ok, and somehow furthers their argument. Sadly all it does is reveal their lack of ability to think well and express themselves constructively. You’ll never persuade anyone by calling them names, you only embarrass yourself.

  6. 100% in agreement…this is discrimination and the supervisors are validating it!
    What gives them this right versus all the rest of us.

Comments are closed.