Stanford lays out ‘community benefits’ for Palo Alto to go with hospital expansion

June 16th, 2009

By Diana Samuels — Palo Alto Daily News,

Stanford University Medical Center is offering Palo Alto $124 million in housing, traffic reduction and other community benefits to offset the impacts of its proposed $3.5 billion, 1.3 million-square-foot hospital expansion project, the university announced this week.

City officials said the proposal Stanford submitted to the city Monday is an “excellent beginning,” but negotiations will continue throughout the summer.

The city has been pushing Stanford for several months to provide housing and other amenities, and in March the city council discussed a list of more than 30 community benefits the city wants Stanford to consider.

Stanford’s new proposal focuses on community benefits it believes are most connected to the hospital’s services and impacts, a letter to the city says. It doesn’t incorporate city requests indirectly connected to the hospital, such as building an off-stream detention basin for San Francisquito Creek.

The largest element of Stanford’s proposal is Caltrain Go Passes for medical center employees, so they can take Caltrain for free instead of driving to alleviate traffic congestion. Go Passes are currently given to Stanford University employees but not to workers at the medical center.

Stanford estimates it will spend up to $1.3 million per year on the passes, totalling $90.1 million over the 51-year “life of the project.”

Caltrain is facing a budget crisis and considering raising the cost of the Go Passes, but the medical center’s vice president for special projects, Mike Peterson, said the university would remain committed to the Go Passes or a similar program regardless.

Stanford also proposes contributing $23.1 million to the city’s housing fund — the amount a commercial developer would be required to pay in housing impact fees for a project of that size. Hospitals are exempt from the fee.

“We felt that was a fair and reasonable approach to it,” Peterson said.

City staff and council members said the $23 million wouldn’t cover the cost of the 600 housing units the city is hoping for. The university opted to contribute money to the housing fund instead of building units on its land.

“On the one hand it does raise a serious issue because Palo Alto doesn’t have land either,” Council Member Yoriko Kishimoto said. “On the other hand, we can see if we can put our best thinking together to see how far that $23 million will go.”

If the city uses the money to just buy land and build housing, the money “won’t go very far,” she said, as affordable housing can cost about a half million per unit to build.

Council Member Sid Espinosa said he is glad housing is “on the table.”

“I’m very happy that Stanford heard the concerns of the community and the city council, and I think worked hard to kick off the summer negotiations with a thoughtful proposal,” Espinosa said.

The university also proposes putting $4 million toward community health programs, $3 million toward financial assistance for Palo Alto residents, $3.35 million for improvements to roadways and pathways around the hospital site, and more than $2 million to expand a university shuttle service.

In negotiations this summer, Palo Alto senior planner Steven Turner said the city would still use its list of requests as a “guiding document.”

“We all have a lot of work to do together over the summer to negotiate the agreements necessary to move this important project forward,” City Manager Jim Keene said in a statement.

“The proposal lays a foundation for productive conversations between the city and the university.”