Phyllis Filiberti Butler
Author / Journalist / Editor
San Francisco Chronicle 2001
From Hoover to Rice, Stanford's Politically Active Campus community faces growth issue

Phyllis Butler Friday,January 19, 2001 ©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

As the nation continues its obsession with Silicon Valley, Stanford University reaps the benefits. The school's prominence is reinforced with the spotlight on former Stanford student-athlete Tiger Woods and former provost Condoleezza Rice, President-elect George Bush's national security adviser. Not that a cadre of political figures is new to Stanford: the late Sen. Alan Cranston ('36) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein ('55) as evidence -- not to forget Gov. Gray Davis ('64) or Congressman Tom Campbell and state Sen. Byron Sher, both Stanford law professors.

It could be said to have all started with Herbert Hoover, who was in Stanford's first graduating class (1895), went on to become the 31st president of the United States, later a Stanford trustee, and whose fine house now serves as the university president's residence. The Hoovers (his wife, Lou Henry, graduated in 1898) have always been considered Stanford's first family. President Hoover's archives now constitute the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution & Peace and the famous Tower marks his stature "on the Farm" as he was wont to call it.

State Assemblyman Joe Simitian, a former Santa Clara County supervisor, has a Stanford degree. Simitian, who graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1970, has been a fierce advocate for tough controls on the university's ambitious development plans for its 8,180 acres.

Simitian has been instrumental in affecting a compromise in the county's 10- year general use permit, granted to Stanford in December, and says he's generally pleased with the results.

"It allows Stanford to pursue academic excellence over the next 10 years, while respecting the concerns of environmentalists about open space." Simitian says that the most challenging issue was preservation of the foothills. "The permit allows for limited hillside zoning, requiring that developments must be clustered so that 90 percent remains undeveloped."

Not everyone is so satisfied. "We had hoped for a more detailed, binding agreement," says Denise Dade of the Committee for Green Foothills, one of several watchdog groups that have been keeping an eye on Stanford's ambitious expansion plans.

"Stanford could still ask that the Academic Growth Boundaries be moved. But at least the board has required a super-majority vote," she says, referring to the provision that agreement by four of the five supervisors is necessary to make changes in the boundary.

Stanford Open Space Alliance (SOSA) director Peter Drekmeier, son of two activist Stanford professors, thinks the 10-year growth plan is a step in the right direction.

"But it puts off the big decisions. The development rights Stanford has already been granted -- the size of three Stanford Shopping Centers -- will have tremendous impact on the community."

Stanford spokesman Larry Horton reminds such critics that after a century of dynamic operation, two-thirds of Stanford's land remains undeveloped. Activists claim that has already had unresolved impact on the mid-Peninsula's quality of life.

"Stanford is really a company town," says Dade. "It has its own police and fire departments -- its own utilities and post office. It needs to provide more housing for its people without adding to the traffic."

Both Dade and Drekmeier were active in monitoring the potential impact of the nearly completed Stanford West housing development, set between the creek and Sand Hill Road -- the major thoroughfare connecting Stanford, Palo Alto and Menlo Park to Highway 280.

However, Stanford has not escaped the Peninsula's notorious housing crisis. In spite of its mandated restrictions on property -- houses can only be sold to qualified faculty and staff with a 99-year lease -- campus housing is as scarce and expensive as that in neighboring Palo Alto.

As of this month there are no single-family residences for sale, only a three-bedroom town house -- with an asking price of $975,000. So severe is the housing shortage that the university has taken over a Menlo Park apartment building and subsidizes the students so that they pay only $1,300 a quarter.

"I wish I could get into some of the new Stanford West housing," laments pre-med student Sarah Algermisse, 24, who had to leave the Casa Italiana on campus when she got married. During a break from her studies, Algermisse spoke in Tresidder Union, a big, not-so-attractive complex that is the hub of student activity on campus. You can get a student loan, buy tickets for one of the on-campus events, or have a snack at one of several cafes there. There's even a student lounge and a parking lot.

Stanford's lands constitute an entire community, with the industrial research park and an ever-expanding shopping center, which includes more than a dozen restaurants, a grocery store and specialty meat and fruit markets. The campus has a golf course, an art museum and gallery, a performing arts schedule in a half-dozen theaters and more than a million square feet of academic and research facilities, reported to have benefited from more than $1 billion in capital investment in the past decade.

Most notable is the recently completed Science and Engineering Quad (SEQ), a grandiose complex of buildings financed for the most part by the late William Hewlett and David Packard, which replaces the old Varian physics "tank" with four new buildings and a set of sculptures designed by major artists. It has opened up the Near West campus area, incorporating Serra Mall as a thoroughfare tied in with the Main Quad and on to Hoover Tower.

Former Stanford News Service director Bob Beyers says that this passion for growth is part of the practical concept of "applied knowledge" that came with the distinguished group of professors brought to the fledgling university by David Starr Jordan, Stanford's founding president. Beyers, 69, who retired in 1990, is active in the Stanford Historical Society.

The spark that ignited Stanford's electronics genius is usually credited to Frederick Terman, the intellectual father of Silicon Valley. The son of famed Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman, Fred studied engineering at Stanford and earned his doctorate at MIT. He taught at Stanford from 1925 on, rising to dean of engineering and later provost.

Terman encouraged the Varian brothers in their work on the Klystron tube and helped former students Packard and Hewlett found their company. He also was instrumental in the development of Stanford Research Park and its close alliance of industry and academia -- a posture that continues to this day.

Stanford has been accused of imperious indifference to the concerns of its neighbors. Ironically those neighbors often choose to overlook the benefits they enjoy due to the university's key part in the economic upsurge. As the largest employer in the area, with a daytime population of more than 32,500, including 13,600 students, development pressures will doubtless continue.

Phyllis Butler is a freelance writer based in Menlo Park and the author of "Old Santa Clara Valley -- A Guide to Historic Buildings."

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle  Page.3