Santa Clara County Blasted Over Stanford-Specific Housing Laws

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Stanford University filed a federal lawsuit against Santa Clara County on Thursday over recently passed affordable housing requirements.

Stanford University.

The Palo Alto-based private university says the county’s affordable housing ordinance passed in September violates equal protection laws because the stipulated requirements apply exclusively to Stanford.

“The county’s ordinance impermissibly singles out Stanford University,” Stanford says in a 12-page complaint. “Through its ordinance, the county has intentionally imposed affordable housing requirements exclusively on housing development constructed by Stanford.”

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors passed two ordinances – the first required Stanford to have at least 16 percent of affordable housing in any new residential developments. The second required Stanford to pay a fee of about $68 per square foot of new academic development.

Stanford’s lawsuit only involves the first ordinance, though it says in the complaint it will address the fee issue in “a separate proceeding.”

The university says it filed the lawsuit “reluctantly” and supports affordable housing initiatives, but needed to take action against being unfairly singled out.

“The issue in the litigation is not about Stanford’s commitment to more affordable housing, but rather that it is unlawful for Stanford to be singled out for unequal treatment in a county ordinance,” the university said in a statement issued Thursday.

But some area officials believe Stanford should be singled out as one of the major culprits since it provides attractive jobs without offering enough housing for students, workers and faculty.

“Stanford is the root of the jobs-housing imbalance,” Lenny Siegel, mayor of nearby Mountain View, told the Palo Alto Weekly. “They aren’t being singled out; they’re jumping out. They have more land than Mountain View.”

Santa Clara County, which makes up a large part of the Silicon Valley, suffers from the most serious housing woes in the nation if not the world. The astronomical spike in housing costs, for renters and buyers, makes the area one of the most expensive in the United States.

Rising housing costs have led to a spike in traffic congestion and created a homelessness crisis in San Jose, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View and the other communities throughout the capital of America’s technology industry.

Many area officials lament that enormous companies have grown up in the area over the last 40 years despite a lack of housing inventory to support the growth – hurting middle-class residents not fortunate enough to make millions working in the tech industry.

Stanford seems to acknowledge as much in the complaint.

“The housing element of the county’s general plan states that housing supply and affordability in the region have posed an issue of increasing importance since the earliest days of the region’s transformation from the center of agricultural production known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, into the center of technology, innovation and employment known as Silicon Valley,” the complaint says.

Despite Stanford’s legal action, Santa Clara County may be willing to work with the university regarding the ordinances.

“I remain optimistic that the discussion will continue with Stanford,” Supervisor Dave Cortese said during the September meeting when the ordinances passed. “I’m looking at this as essentially a package that could be superseded by something more attractive to all of us down the road.”

The county did not return a request for comment as of press time.

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