Dear Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors,
Thank you for your hard work shepherding the Stanford General Use Permit (GUP) process and for allowing the public an additional 60 days of comment. Palo Alto Forward is a community group that supports better housing and transportation options in Palo Alto, and helps educate our broader community on different topics, from ADUs to cycling infrastructure, Missing MIddle Housing to Mobility as a Service. Our board members have served as Planning & Transportation and Human Relations Commissioners and Comprehensive Plan Committee Members. We support positive change in our city’s long range planning efforts. Palo Alto Forward’s board has had an opportunity to review the Stanford GUP proposal and DEIR and respectfully submit the following comments for your consideration.
- More housing on (or near) campus - 3150 beds/housing units is welcome and much needed, but the projected jobs increase still results in a shortfall of 2425 housing units - Please consider adding more housing options particularly for administrative staff, post-doctorates and Stanford workers who have fewer local options due to high local rental prices. Housing is an important transportation impact mitigation strategy, and the lowest wage workers are most severely impacted. We also encourage Stanford to partner with the City of Palo Alto or the County of Santa Clara to explore more housing on nearby sites.
- Housing impact fees - Stanford has a great track record providing fees for affordable housing funds. However the current proposal of $20/sf is a little lower than the $25/sf that many surrounding jurisdictions require for commercial development. (Palo Alto is the exception with a much higher fee) Given our massive regional housing shortfall increasing Stanford’s housing impact fees could contribute more dollars to the county’s affordable housing fund. We would prefer to see affordable housing funds spent near transit hubs that are in close proximity to Stanford lands (not necessarily six miles, but perhaps within 20-30 minute transit commute) to mitigate transportation impacts.
- Housing locations - It’s great to see significant numbers of housing units proposed in the Quarry district. The location is closest to transit and services and can bear a higher level of housing. For housing that may have school aged children, consideration of sites near College Terrace closer to Escondido and Nixon Elementaries may be more convenient. It’s also good to see some consideration for higher density sites near Lagunita and Santa Teresa, but the R3S medium density housing areas should be enlarged to accommodate greater housing supply.
- Caltrain Grade Separation & Transit Center Funding - Please consider matching funds for Caltrain grade separation and a new transit center at Palo Alto station. Caltrain electrification requires significant physical improvements to support additional ridership capacity. Stanford will be the largest beneficiary of the increased frequency and load and Stanford financial assistance for capital improvements could bring those changes online much more quickly. Palo Alto is also terminus for three major bus lines which serve the Stanford population, and a transit center upgrade to improve bus and shuttle connections would help further reduce SOV and achieve the goal of no net new trips.
- University Avenue/Palm Drive Bicycle Connection - we applaud the proposals for the roadway bicycle infrastructure along Hanover Street to the Bol Park Path, Middle/San Mateo in Menlo Park, and the University BIke Bridge to East Palo Alto. However there is one significant GAP in the bicycle network - the connection between University Avenue, the PA Transit Center, over El Camino, to the Class I facility along Palm Drive. Given the high Caltrain ridership rates, the bicycle is a natural last mile connection to campus...but is not used frequently enough. The bicycle mode share from north Palo Alto is lower than West Menlo Park and Stanford's bikeshed studies confirm that Palm Drive has one of the lowest bicycle volumes. The lack of good infrastructure from the Transit Center over El Camino to Palm is a likely reason. Stanford can partner with the City of Palo Alto, CalTrans and other agencies to create a more stress-free, continuous cycling experience along the University Avenue to Palm Drive corridor. This can help improve access to the transit center, but improve access to Stanford from North PA and East Palo Alto.
- Quarry/Everett Bicycle Pedestrian link- Residents in the Quarry district may need better access to the transit center and downtown services. The current routes, especially on foot or bike are not ideal. Creating a bicycle and pedestrian connection to downtown Palo Alto to link Quarry Road with Everett Avenue to give residents more direct access to important transportation options and services.
Transportation Demand Management
- Extend TDM benefits for “Other Workers” We applaud the no-net new trips goal, but feel the impact of “Other workers” (Temporary, casual, seasonal workers who have <50% FTE roles) should be included in VMT and no net new trips assessments, as other groups have noted. Given a projected increase of 2500 “Other Workers” between 2015 and 2035 this could account for a significant number of daily trips. Other workers should also be able to benefit from transit passes rideshare, carpool or other TDM benefits to reduce SOV commutes that full time regular employees have and hope these benefits can be extended to them.
- Partner with local TMAs to leverage regional transportation benefits - Palo Alto has launched a TMA to support trip reduction downtown and potentially the Cal Ave Area, and SRP has a parallel TDM effort. Joining forces with these TMAs to share benefits, negotiate new transit routes and expand service with VTA, SamTrans, AC Transit, and pool transportation benefits (bikeshare, carshare, etc) can benefit more community members. Such an effort can significantly improve regional transportation linkages by create a wider "Stanford Plus" transit sphere of influence.
- Increase Parking Fees - this has been a cornerstone of Stanford’s TDM policy for decades. However, Stanford’s parking fees are still rather low (<$2/day for C permits, compared with min $10/day in SF) To further reduce SOV mode share and achieve no net new trips, increasing parking fees is an important tool to utilize.
- TDM for recreational areas - Places like the Dish, the Arts district, Bing Concert Hall, and sports venues are incredibly popular, and Stanford acknowledges that they see 400,000 visitors annually. Please consider TDM measures to mitigate recreational SOV trips. Parking is one of the major constraints for the Dish and leads to parking spillover in the neighborhoods. A regular shuttle service from Cal Ave or Palo Alto train stations could reduce need for parking and emissions/GHG generated by cars looking for parking. Shuttles or improved bicycling infrastructure to to the Arts District, Bing, Maples Pavilion or Stanford Stadium could also help reduce daily/weekend traffic.
In general, we are supportive of change, and housing and transportation efforts that can also improve quality of life for all residents in Palo Alto. As you are aware, our regional challenges require each municipality and institutions in the area to develop ways to assist in the solution. The Stanford GUP is a critical planning document for this effort. We applaud Stanford’s initial proposal to address critical housing and transportation issues, and hope that you and Stanford’s planning team consider these comments to strengthen Stanford’s role in helping to solve these important challenges.
Palo Alto Forward Board of Directors