Editorial: Palo Alto could help Menlo on impactThere is no question that Stanford's $3.5 billion project to upgrade and enlarge its two hospitals on Sand Hill Road will cause a tremendous amount of traffic impact in the surrounding neighborhoods in Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
The recently released final environmental impact report on the project says that Menlo Park will bear 51 percent of the new traffic generated by the project and lays out various plans to reduce the number of Stanford-related trips.
The primary mitigation plan proposed by the university is to provide Caltrain passes for all hospital employees in hopes that up to 35 percent of the workforce will arrive and depart by train, rather than a single-occupancy vehicle. Other proposals suggested by the EIR include upgrading the traffic signals in Menlo Park and helping pay for a shuttle bus system in the city.
The problem, as Menlo Park sees it, is that the Caltrain idea is a goal, but hardly a sure thing. Whether workers use the trains depends on many variables, like how far they live from the station and whether they have errands to run on the way home. Individuals will make that decision, not Stanford.
Comments from the Menlo Park Transportation Commission suggest that Stanford conduct periodic tests to see how many employees actually use the train passes, and set consequences if they fall short. And Commissioner Charlie Bourne said any employee who wants one should be issued a new Clipper pass that can be used on any Bay Area transit system.
The commission's assessment, endorsed by the Menlo Park City Council and sent to the Palo Alto City Council, found other mitigations woefully lacking. For example, the report's estimated increase of only 68 cars per day heading toward Interstate 280 during the peak evening commute "appears optimistic" given that more than 2,000 parking spaces and four parking garages will be added by the project.
And making adaptive signal technology its top primary mitigation measure was criticized by the commission, because such a system is already in place on Sand Hill Road, so it could not contribute to reducing traffic on that important artery.
Another disappointing strategy found in the EIR concerns altering roadways and intersections. Five intersections are cited as needing physical repairs to meet the required traffic counts, but Menlo Park found the cost for one such project to be $450,000, while Stanford would only contribute $14,100. Instead, the city calls on Stanford to pay the full cost of intersection upgrades.
The commissioners said that the biggest shortcoming of all was the comparatively small amount of compensation promised to Menlo Park for mitigating the problems, compared to the much more generous payments proposed for Palo Alto.
For example, in exchange for approval of the project, Palo Alto would receive:
• $6 million for parks, community centers and libraries.
• $2 million in transportation impact fees.
• $616,000 in public school fees.
• $12 million for unspecified climate change programs.
• $1.1 million to reimburse consultant fees.
• $23.2 million for unspecified affordable housing projects in Palo Alto.
Clearly, as the authorizing agency, Palo Alto will receive the lion's share of impact money from Stanford.
But there is precedent for Palo Alto helping Menlo Park to recover its costs for the impact of a Stanford project.
When Stanford sought to widen the Menlo Park portion of Sand Hill Road in 2004-05, Palo Alto required the university to pay for the entire project, which did not cost Menlo Park a dime.
In this similar situation, we hope that Palo Alto will require Stanford to be much more generous in paying for the mitigations necessary to accommodate at least a portion of the huge traffic the expanded hospital will bring to Menlo Park. A fair amount would be miniscule compared to the millions of dollars the university already intends to pay Palo Alto to approve the project.