The official title of the proposed specific plan initiative is a mouthful, in the way government titles tend to be: "An initiative measure proposing amendments to the City of Menlo Park general plan and Menlo Park 2012 El Camino Real/Downtown specific plan limiting office development, modifying open space requirements, and requiring voter approval for new non-residential projects that exceed specified development limits."
"It's a fundamental right of any community member to utilize ballot initiatives," said City Manager Alex McIntyre. "As a community, we must also respect and honor the integrity of the public process that created this Plan. The issues raised by the initiative were examined, debated, and reconciled during that process."
Save Menlo, a grassroots coalition organized to protest the specific plan once a large mixed-use development was proposed along El Camino Real, notified the city in February of its intent to get the initiative on to a ballot.
The city's summary of the initiative states that it would cap office space in any individual development at 100,000 square feet; limit total new office space approved after the specific plan took effect to 240,820 square feet, and restrict overall new, non-residential development to 474,000 square feet within the plan's boundaries.
In addition, according to the summary, the City Council would not be able to change these provisions. Voter approval would be needed to revise the ordinance or to exceed the square footage limits for office and non-residential development. However, voter approval would not be needed to go over a 680 residential unit cap.
The initiative would also redefine open space to mean only areas no higher than 4 feet tall. Save Menlo has stated that one of its goals is to prevent balconies from counting as open space.
Former planning commissioner Patti Fry, who co-sponsored the initiative at Save Menlo's request, said the city's summary was adequate, and neutral "as it's supposed to be."
Projects that obtain building permits before the proposed revisions take effect would be built under the current specific plan regulations, but would count against the square-footage limits of the initiative.
A "severability clause" states that if any part of the measure is invalidated, the remaining provisions would still remain in effect. A "priority clause" would allow the initiative to supersede all conflicting ordinances and policies, according to the city's analysis. Finally, should another measure on the same ballot compete with the initiative, that other measure would be voided should the initiative get more votes.
The changes appear to target two mixed-use development proposals already on the horizon; the proposed measure would slice the amount of office space allowed in those developments by about half.
Stanford University and developer John Arrillaga want to build a complex on the mostly vacant car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real. The 8.4-acre project would involve 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.
A second project, designed by Greenheart LLC, would put 210,000 square feet of office space, 210,000 square feet of apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail on the 7-acre site located at 1300 El Camino Real and Oak Grove Avenue.
Save Menlo has until mid-July to collect the estimated 1,780 signatures of registered voters needed to put its initiative on the November ballot, or 2,670 to call a special election. Should it make a ballot, the measure then needs a majority vote for approval.
Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller told the Almanac he thinks the city should hire an independent consultant to analyze the initiative, then hold a public hearing sooner rather than later to compare proposed changes with the current specific plan.
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