Comments on September 25 agenda items related to Stanford

Though I currently serve as mayor of the City of Mountain View, I am not representing the City Council in these comments. Frankly, we are too busy approving and planning for housing within Mountain View to pay attention, as a body, to plans in other jurisdictions.

I am not here as an adversary of Stanford University. I root for its teams. I enjoy its cultural events and museums. I recognize the valuable contributions it has made to the success of the Silicon Valley economy. Many of my friends, neighbors, and constituents work for Stanford.

I appreciate Stanford’s pioneering efforts in Transportation Demand Management, but that does not absolve Stanford—as a university and as a corporation—of its housing responsibilities. Let’s be clear: Stanford’s unbalanced development is a major reason why housing is in short supply and so expensive here.

As early as April 1969, Stanford University’s Moulton Committee—made up of students, faculty, and staff—found that the university and corporations on its land had created a housing deficit of several thousand units. Even back then, low- and moderate-income employees and students had to live in Mountain View and beyond, commuting significant distances. Over the past five decades, the university did little to address the problem, and that’s a major reason why, according to the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, Palo Alto has three times as many jobs as employed residents.

Now, with the proposed updating of Stanford’s General Use Permit, the County has the opportunity to ensure that Stanford undertakes its fair share of addressing the jobs-housing imbalance. That’s what we’re doing in Mountain View.

I urge you to adopt the two ordinances before you today as first steps in that process. Enacting the ordinances would represent Santa Clara County’s commitment to three principles:

  1. Stanford should fully mitigate any expanded activities by building or enabling the construction of housing that matches the income mix of the expanded workforce and student population. I personally believe that most of the housing development should take place on Stanford lands.
  2. The process for determining where and how that housing is built should be an open and transparent process involving the communities likely to be impacted by Stanford commuters. Though the academic campus lies primarily within unincorporated Santa Clara County, Stanford’s impact on the housing market in neighboring cities is significant and continuing.
  3. Stanford should not be allowed to shift the impact of its growth onto other communities. Stanford seems to argue that too much housing on or near campus would be undesirable because it would increase local traffic. If Stanford people occupy new housing in Mountain View, will that magically reduce traffic? No, it will simply increase traffic in Mountain View.

Mountain View is planning for large amounts of housing, including a substantial percentage of subsidized “affordable” housing in or near our centers of employment. Undoubtedly, that will reduce commuting traffic, vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions for our service population. But it could increase local traffic. That’s why we are designing complete neighborhoods, mixed-use medium density areas complete with housing, jobs, schools, parks, retail, bicycle infrastructure, and transit. Stanford has the wherewithal to do the same.