Speakers: Don't halt Belle Haven services

Service cuts, tax hikes, and Facebook benefits are debated

Rarely does anyone show up to a budget hearing to say "please cut my program." The Menlo Park City Council's Jan. 30 study session to evaluate how to adjust to losing millions of dollars in redevelopment agency funding was no exception. Oddly enough, several people did say "raise my taxes."

But the main focus of the 10 public speakers attending the session was to plead for the survival of Belle Haven's community services.

Programs such as the Onetta Harris Community Center and the Child Development Center are on the chopping block because those services were heavily subsidized by the city, according to a staff report. These subsidies may no longer be possible thanks to the $3 million gap left in next year's budget by losing the city's redevelopment agency (RDA).

Matt Henry, representing the Belle Haven Neighborhood Association, said they understood that the state killed the RDA, not the city. "We understand there will be some pain here, but we're asking you not to concentrate the pain in Belle Haven," he told the council. "This is not just a Belle Haven problem. This is a city-wide problem. We've got to share the pain a little bit."

The council assured the audience that the cuts were recommendations, and that staff would continue to seek alternate funding sources. Some speakers, as well as council members, voiced support for raising Menlo Park's transient occupancy tax on hotel rooms from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Council members took no action Monday night beyond voting 4-1 to officially eliminate the city's housing department.

Councilman Andy Cohen dissented. "Putting a little whitewash on an ugly vote is not good enough for me," he said. "What I want to go back to is what I asked for a while ago. I contend that this situation is intolerable, it's unacceptable."

He asked that the council direct city staff to write a letter to state representatives asking for relief for cities such as Menlo Park that used redevelopment funds for the intended purposes of housing rehabilitation and emergency repair. One of the reasons the governor wanted to dissolve the agencies is that some cities have not used RDA funds for their intended purposes.

Mayor Keith disputed his characterization of the vote as a whitewash, but agreed that drafting a letter would be appropriate.

Studying Facebook

Judging by the comments of more than three dozen speakers at the Jan. 31 study session on Facebook's planned expansion, the social networking company's popularity within the Menlo Park community has taken off since it moved in to 1 Hacker Way.

Tom Linebarger, a retired painter, said 30 percent of the Painters and Tapers Local 913 union is currently out of work. "This is happening all over the building trades and I love to see a project like this that's going to hire experienced union people to do a project that is necessary and give them jobs," he said.

Other speakers praised Facebook for quickly integrating with the Belle Haven community through volunteer projects and other outreach efforts.

Comments aside, however, the council still needs to figure out what it wants from its newest high-profile resident. Facebook would like the city to let it bring 9,400 employees to work in Menlo Park in exchange for implementing caps on the number of vehicular trips to and from its headquarters.

The council paused to take what Mayor Keith called a five-minute "sanity break" after public comment ended before returning to the dais to mull over the draft environmental impact report (DEIR), fiscal impact analysis, and public benefits to negotiate as part of the development agreement that accompanies Facebook's request.

Councilman Rich Cline asked about the potential impact on local housing caused by the expected influx of employees, and the transportation demand management program.

City Attorney Bill McClure said the staff is currently evaluating the housing impact study, but noted that the study is a social -- not an environmental -- issue. It's not a required part of the draft environmental impact report, he said.

For traffic management, Mr. McClure said, it will be up to Facebook to meet the 15,000 daily trip vehicular cap. The city, he added, needs to determine what penalties the company will face if it fails.

"We think that those numbers are achievable based on their past experience and the way they operate," he said.

Councilman Peter Ohtaki raised the question of using the development agreement to counterbalance the loss of redevelopment agency funding for the Belle Haven community. The state's dissolution of the redevelopment agency also necessitates revisions to the project's fiscal impact analysis.

Public benefits suggested by city officials include priority hiring for Menlo Park residents, improved bike and pedestrian access to the campus and surrounding community, guaranteed revenue, and enhancing the area through landscaping, bus shelters, youth programs, and other services.

"One of the problems with this development is that Facebook is not your typical employer," Mr. Cohen noted. "This is not a manufacturing plant where there will be sales tax revenue. Many services are offered on the campus at no cost."

The city's negotiation team expects to present proposed terms for the development agreement to the council in April, according to the staff report. The team consists of Mr. McClure, Public Works Director Chip Taylor, Development Services Manager Justin Murphy, and one non-staff member, former city and former county manager David Boesch.

Mr. Boesch joined the team as Interim City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson has a conflict of interest and incoming manager Alex McIntyre doesn't start until March 5, halfway through the negotiating period, according to staff.


Like this comment
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm

It's always gimme, gimme, gimmee with this bunch!

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