SAN JOSE — Stanford University may go ahead with its development plans and reserve the opportunity to build on its nearby foothills, something environmentalists were hoping to prevent.
Santa Clara County supervisors tentatively approved Stanford’s plan to keep 2,000 acres of open space from development for 25 years. The supervisors focused Monday on the university’s plan instead of another proposal, backed by environmentalists and at least one supervisor, to protect half that land for 99 years.
Stanford president John Hennessy said the university was “cautiously optimistic” about the tentative approval, while environmentalists said the plan did not go far enough to protect the grassy foothills.
“I think we have been good stewards of the land, better stewards than our neighbors,” Hennessy said. “I think we can live with this agreement, and we can continue to prosper.”
Stanford officials opposed the 99-year protection, and even threatened to sue if it was approved, because they said they had no way of accurately determining what the university’s needs would be in 100 years.
But environmentalists, who wanted permanent protection of the land, argue the university’s plan is not adequate because, if Stanford says it has run out of space under its 10-year plan, the supervisors could vote to allow the university to expand into the hills.
“We’re very disappointed with the level of protection,” said Denice Dade, legislative advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills. “At a bare minimum, we wanted it held in place for 25 years. Without that, there’s really no incentive to contain development.
Dade said the group had not yet decided if it will challenge the decision in court.
Hennessey said the university has no plans to develop the foothills in the next 25 years.
Stanford’s 10-year plan includes building 3,000 units of housing and 2 million square feet of academic facilities. Stanford officials have said they are at a competitive disadvantage with other universities because high housing costs are pricing prospective faculty and students out of the area.
The university already reluctantly had agreed to preclude building on 2,000 acres for 25 years, but last month Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose jurisdiction includes Stanford, suggested 1,000 of those acres be set aside for 99 years.
Simitian said Monday he realized the 99-year plan would not pass the board and offered modifications that allow Stanford to proceed with the 25-year protection plan.
The changes include zoning hills like the rest of the hillsides in the county; requiring Stanford to submit a plan detailing how it will prevent sprawl and protect certain areas before it applies to build its academic facilities; having Stanford submit a special plan for conservation areas in the 2,000 acres, and requiring the supervisors to approve any changes to the university’s growth boundary with a 4-out-of-5 vote instead of the standard majority of 3-out-of-5 to make changing the boundary more difficult. Simitian said he was pleased with the agreement.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place,” he said. “My hope is that, in 25 years, Stanford University will still be a premier institution and the hillsides above Junipero Serra Boulevard (the boundary between campus and the foothills) will be protected.”
The university submitted its plan two years ago, the first time in its 115-year history that it has been required to do so.
Official approval of the plan should come Dec. 12, when county staff members bring back a final plan that incorporates all the revisions made to Stanford’s plan.