As city and county officials work on the painstaking process of verifying the signatures of registered Menlo Park voters submitted as part of an initiative by Save Menlo to change the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, other analyses are also underway.
Menlo Park has hired Lisa Wise Consulting Inc., based in San Francisco, to perform an independent review of how the initiative would affect the specific plan, with a preliminary report complete by the end of June.
The company has extensive experience with municipal land-use planning for jurisdictions such as Alameda County and Richmond. According to both city officials and Ms. Wise, it has never worked with the two major developers whose proposed projects would be impacted by the initiative -- Stanford University and Greenheart Land Company -- or with the city of Menlo Park.
The $148,420 contract includes evaluating what effects the initiative's changes would have on development feasibility, infrastructure and finance. Two meetings will be held with city representatives, and up to two meetings will be conducted with the public.
The fee includes a 15 percent contingency fee, according to the contract, which may or may not be used. A staff report presented to the council cited the total amount as $130,294.
According to the city's summary, Save Menlo's initiative limits the amount of office space in any individual development to 100,000 square feet; and caps total new office space to 240,820 square feet and overall new, non-residential development to 474,000 square feet within the specific plan's boundaries.
The initiative would also redefine open space to mean only areas no higher than 4 feet off the ground, thereby preventing balconies from counting as open space.
Voter approval would be needed to revise the ordinance or to exceed the size limits for office and non-residential development.
The initiative would impact two mixed-use development proposals already in the works by cutting the amount of office space allowed in each project by about 50 percent.
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.
The mixed-use complex initially contained medical offices and fewer apartments, but Stanford revised the project after a series of discussions with city officials and Save Menlo representatives.
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.
Like its initiative, Save Menlo is also coming under scrutiny. Atherton resident and community activist Peter Carpenter, who has been speaking out against the initiative, filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission on May 16 alleging that the group is masquerading as a general purpose committee when it is actually a ballot- measure committee.
The latter would be required to file quarterly public disclosure reports that would provide a look at who has donated to the group and how the money is being spent, he said.
According to the FPPC, a general purpose committee may support or oppose a variety of candidates and ballot measures. Whether a group is classified as a "primarily formed" committee in this case, a ballot measure committee depends on whether it spends more than 70 percent of its funds on a single candidate or measure.
Save Menlo spokesperson Perla Ni said the group's goals are "are long-term and not primarily for a particular election, so we are correctly formed as a general purpose committee."
As a general purpose committee, she said, the reports are due every six months, with the next one due at the end of June.
Save Menlo can, as a general purpose committee, support City Council candidates as well as the initiative if necessary during the fall election, according to Ms. Ni, but its work won't be done. The group "has every reason to believe its efforts to protect a livable walkable community will be necessary for a long time, not just this election cycle."
The most recent financial report available covers the committee's activities from July 1 through Dec. 31 -- a period before the drive to collect signatures to get the initiative on the November election ballot began. At that point, it had collected $16,500 in donations and spent about $5,330.
The largest expenditure during that period -- $5,000 -- went to Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, a law firm specializing in land-use issues that has popped up in other Menlo Park battles. The firm was also retained by a group of downtown business and property owners unhappy with the way the specific plan's environmental impact analysis was conducted prior to the plan's adoption.