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Town and Gown: City Council Candidates Weigh-In

Candidates for City Council discuss their opinions on Palo Alto’s relationship with Stanford

As neighbors, Palo Alto and Stanford University have regularly sparred and compromised on issues, most recently an issue involving the proposed expansion of the Stanford University Medical Center.

The $5 Billion project represented a point of contention between the city and the university. Many residents, including Stanford professors, protested the potential impact the construction could have on a nearby daycare center.  The two parties eventually resolved the dispute, despite their disagreements, and agreed to a compromise whereby the daycare center could be moved to facilitate construction.

The daycare center represented one of many relatively small points of conflict between the two groups, but such issues have long been commonplace in the ‘town and gown’ relationship.

 However, according to many of the City Council candidates, the relationship between Palo Alto and Stanford is improving steadily due to the willingness of both sides to make compromises.

Council Member Pat Burt attributes the improvement in the relationship to Stanford’s interest in developing sustainably. By making efforts to reduce car trips, for example, Stanford has been able to reduce its carbon footprint as well as the traffic congestion in the Palo Alto.

“We have a lot more in common than we used to,” said Burt, referencing Stanford’s embrace of such practices.

Marc Berman, despite being rejected three times for admission at Stanford, believes the school to be an indispensable part of the city.

“Stanford and Palo Alto are totally intertwined,” said Berman, who nonetheless stressed that the university and the city must work together to control the impacts of Stanford’s development.

Council Member Greg Schmid echoed that view. According to Schmid, Stanford’s development of new facilities helps the city by giving residents access to improved services.

“We’re in a position of mutual sharing of benefits,” explained Schmid.

Music Promoter Mark Weiss disagreed with the idea that the town and gown relationship is improving

“Stanford’s culture is changing for the worse,” said Weiss.

Though Weiss acknowledged the importance the university plays, he expressed strong concern about the leverage Stanford has over Palo Alto.

“I worry they’re a $20 Billion gorilla and we’re a $150 Million banana,” said Weiss

According to Supervisor Liz Kniss, the City of Palo Alto’s role in dealing with Stanford is exaggerated.

The Palo Alto City Council does not have significant oversight of Stanford’s building activities; rather, most of Stanford’s building occurs on unincorporated county land, leaving most such decisions up to county authorities. 

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