West Menlo Park: New daycare with hourly drop-offs gets a boost

County supervisors recently added momentum to plans to proceed with a daycare center in West Menlo Park, one designed for parents with busy and varied schedules.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on July 15 unanimously rejected an appeal by 14 residents of unincorporated West Menlo Park. The residents sought to overturn a Planning Commission decision to issue a use permit for the new preschool daycare, located in a single-family home at 3131 Alameda de las Pulgas at Manzanita Avenue.

The board's decision gives the green light to Toddle LLC, a Menlo Park company, to proceed with a minor remodel of the home.

The Almanac was unable to reach Peter MacDonald, who led the appeal, for comment on the board's decision.

The new center, Toddle, will accommodate up to 24 children from ages 2 to 6. Unlike whole-day facilities, Toddle will take children by the hour.

Reservations will be required and will involve a computer to schedule staggered drop-offs and pickups on an hour-by-hour basis, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Parking will be available on the Alameda and in the driveway.

The staggered scheduling is meant to address concerns raised by the local community about increasing traffic on quiet, narrow side-streets that often function as sidewalks and playgrounds for families in the area.

Among the conditions of the permit are that daycare customers sign contracts agreeing to use Alameda and Manzanita Avenue to get to and depart from the daycare center -- and to not use Barney Avenue, a dead-end street that offers a back way to Valparaiso Avenue, but is frequented by walkers, bikers and kids on scooters.

Drop-offs and pickups will be restricted to no more than two during a 12-minute period. Parking is restricted to not more than 10 minutes.

Public comment

Some 120 local residents signed a petition opposing the project. Along with traffic issues, the residents expressed concerns over noise and over allowing a commercial enterprise to set up shop in a residential area.

Initially, the comments were split evenly in terms of support and opposition, but supporters predominated as the comment period wore on.

Elaine MacDonald, a resident with three children, said the facility belongs in the commercial zone "down the street," in the area of the Dutch Goose.

"Why," Ms. MacDonald asked the board, "should the Planning Commission need to grant a commercial use permit exception in a residential neighborhood, altering the neighborhood character, affecting the lives not only of the families living there but of all the students that need to walk (through) this area to get to school." Toddle, she said, "can operate very successfully in a bona fide commercial zone?"

"If anyone can run a tight ship, it's Heather and Amy," said Ashley Riley, referring to Toddle co-owners Heather Hopkins and Amy Burnett. "I have no doubt they will run a carefully monitored business that will be treasured by the entire neighborhood."

Eric Jester, a project opponent, proposed a 12-child facility, at least to start, arguing that it would be easier to allow more children later than to allow fewer.

Kathy Schoendorf, a resident from across the street from the proposed facility, focused on the traffic impact. "No matter how it's set up, those cars are going to be coming down Manzanita and going along Barney and I think that's going to really affect the kids that are on the street." And not just kids, she added, but seniors walking their dogs and "ladies with walkers who want to get out and enjoy the neighborhood."

Carol Thomsen, who backs the new center, congratulated Toddle for succeeding in a challenging environment. "If, as a county, we truly support opportunities for early childhood education, we need to support operators who have thoughtfully overcome the many hurdles that are present in this process."

Danielle Critchley wondered how she was going to get the message to parents in vehicles on the importance of safety. "How do I communicate to those 164 trips (the anticipated total) that are most likely going to flow down Manzanita of the importance of driving carefully and slowly and cautiously, because I can't tell the kids to move on to the sidewalk. We don't have one."

Similarly, the streets have no shoulders for parking, she said. Customer parking on the street would transform Manzanita into a one-lane street, she said. "That makes me very nervous and it scares me."

Courtney Charney, a real estate agent with a 3-year-old daughter, said local daycare will improve the community and increase the desirability of living there. "I'm acutely aware of how few choices a parent has for childcare facilities in Menlo Park," she said. "There simply are not as many preschool or part-time daycare spots as the current population of children under the age of 6 require."

Several people noted that opponents of daycare in residential neighborhoods tend to make the same arguments every time and that they turn out to be unproven as time goes on. "There really is no evidence of a problem," said Robert Most, a resident of the Alameda.

In the end, the board made small changes to the original proposal. The board agreed to review the operation after six months and to study the possibility of a loading-zone area on the Alameda, an idea proposed by Supervisor Don Horsley.

"I'm hopeful and I'm fairly confident that the impacts will be minimal," said board President Dave Pine. "If there are occurrences when these standards are not met, I think we will hear about it and I think the applicant will (have a strong incentive) to make sure that it stops. ... This need for daycare and childcare is so critical to our community."


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Posted by Janet
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

There are 3 types of child care facilities small (under 14), large (14-24 kids) and these are allowed by right in residential areas in homes where the owner lives and keeps the property as a home. "Child Care Facilities" are for over 24 kids and the legislative intent of the State law (and all the surrounding jurisdictions) is for these facilities to be in a commercial zone (near major hubs of employment; associated with institutions (such as Churches) or in or adjacent to low income housing projects. None of these categories apply here. Furthermore there is no provision in the county for a Use Permit to be given for such a use. The BOS and the Planning Dept. were wrong. This is a major infringement on nearby residents and sets an unwelcome precedent. The county IS deficient in child care facilities, but it should follow the law and the leadership of all the other jurisdictions.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Disgraceful. This is a residential neighborhood and this is a house not a daycare house. I will continue to call the sheriff and highway patrol as I see traffic speeders, parking violators etc. This belongs in commercial area not near me. I walk, I walk my dogs and our kids. This is dangerous. Our kids play outside and now people that do not live here will be in a hurry to drop off to be on time to there next stop.

Stop this stop this do not let it happen. Dangerous craziness.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Another neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Dear Neighbor,

Are you serious? We are talking about a childcare facility! You don't support working parents? Or small children needing loving care? Oh my! I'm lucky that my children are now older. But, when they needed loving childcare when they were little, I was fortunate enough to have my children attend a place called The Tot Spot. Guess what? It was on the Alameda de las Pulgas - right down the street where the traffic signal is! The owner there ran a daycare out of her home for years and no one complained. We parked in her driveway to drop off and pick up children. Sometimes, I even parked around the corner and walked! And, guess what else? I LIVE in the neighborhood too. Having the ability to have my child attend an in-home daycare in the neighborhood made the University Heights area feel much more homey and supportive than having to drop my child off at some institutional daycare center ... which, by the way, require you to put your name on a waiting list practically before you are pregnant.

For those of us who have to work to afford to live in this area ... yet aren't rich enough to afford a nanny, this is the kind of affordable childcare that we NEED. These two woman are providing an incredible service. This is not a new commercial venture. It's childcare.

And, there is also the precedent of two other facilities on the same street within the same blocks ... the former in-home daycare called The Tot Spot where I sent my children (on Alameda between Mills and Camino al Lago) and the Circle of Friends Preschool (on Alameda between Monterey and Camino de las Robles) that is also run out of someone's home on the Alameda de las Pulgas.

For goodness sakes, with your attitude, perhaps we should close Las Lomitas School because it creates traffic for the neighbors. Come on!

I think we all need to be a bit more supportive of things like this that actually provide a valuable service to the community!

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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jul 23, 2014 at 1:39 pm

"There will be parking on the Alameda" Really?? How about the residences on Alameda that need parking?
I think 24 kids in a house in a residential area is too many. There are nearby commercially zoned areas that would be far more appropriate. Glad I don't live near there.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

California childcare licensing regulations also require facilities to have 75 square feet of outdoor space for each child. This requirement shut down an hourly drop-off facility in downtown Menlo Park a few years ago. It's not easy to find space in commercially zoned areas that have adequate outdoor space. This kind of drop off child care is such a valuable resource, it's disappointing to see people opposed to it. Finding good childcare, especially one that is available on an hourly basis, is incredibly difficult. I'm glad Toddle is coming here, and I am sure it will be a welcome resource for busy families in Menlo Park.

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Posted by janet
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

"Another neighbor" doesn't get it. Nobody is against childcare. Working women DO need care for the time they are working i.e. usually 8 hours, not a drop off facility for rich women so that they can get their nails done, or as the owners stated, to get a respite from their kids! Nobody is objecting to the kind of the kind of place "Another neighbor" used. They ARE objecting to what is a commercial venture that the California Legislature specifically stated should be in areas other than that proposed. Furthermore, the County ordinances for in home child care that "Another Neighbor" used is much more restrictive than that which is being proposed. This IS a commercial venture and should not be in a residential area. It is not a school, it is a temporary dumping ground for kids, supported by a billionaire Facebook executive.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by freelancer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 23, 2014 at 3:15 pm

"For rich women to get their nails done?" Wow, way to dismiss parents trying to do their best. Not everyone using this kind of childcare is a bored rich lady wanting to dump her kids. Maybe the regular childcare is sick and there's a meeting Mom (or Dad) really has to attend- this kind of hourly childcare is a godsend for the working parent. Or, you know, maybe mom needs to go get a mammogram and she can't bring her kids along. There are countless reasons why this kind of childcare fills a critical need, and I find the anti-family, anti-woman sentiment expressed by some of the posters above to be shocking.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tween parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 23, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Go Toddle!!!

Wish you were around when I had toddlers.

I wish you well and hope you succeed and thrive for all the parents who need you.

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Posted by Nearby resident with children
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Jul 23, 2014 at 9:40 pm

We live a few blocks from the Toddle location and recognize that there might be some modest affects such as traffic. However, we support Toddle because they will be providing a valuable service to a community that is severely lacking in childcare options that support the practical needs of working parents.

We have young children and have had inconsistent childcare during the past several months because our regular childcare provider has had several health issues. We have had to alter our schedules frequently and often on short notice, thereby affecting both our work (and that of colleagues) and our volunteer involvements with schools and other institutions. If we had a resource such as Toddle, we could avoid these effects.

If the Toddle owners manage the business appropriately, the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantages, and hopefully the community will come to embrace them and their business. If nearby residents don't complain about the high volume, diverse mix, and random parking and traffic patterns associated with the nearby Country Corner store, perhaps they can also tolerate the lower-volume, less-diverse, and less-random parking and traffic that will come with this new business.

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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2014 at 6:07 am

What is the point of R1 zoning if an exception for a commercial venture is to be allowed? Residential zoning laws prohibit this. Commercial space is available in the vicinity. Try Sharon Heights Shopping Center or any of the Alameda/Avy business locations already zoned for non-residential use.

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Posted by Catherine McMillan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2014 at 6:23 pm

I would have loved that service when my kids were small and wholly support all parents, working in or out of the house, and their right to take a break. As pointed out by a previous poster, there are many reasons why a parent may have to leave one child to tend to another or to other matters. Just because "we" did it doesn't mean that this option is not much better. This service has existed in France since the seventies or so. Anyone who knows the amazing women who are behind this project knows them to be exceedingly gracious and thoughtful, devoted to their local community and attuned to the needs around them. I have no stake in this venture but no doubt they will run a top-notch operation. I wish them all the success in the world and envy the parents and children who will benefit from Toddle.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Boy, we all in Menlo Park seem to be so mean spirited and disfynctional. There seems to always be something we are fighting about.

Can't we all just get along and be a little bit kinder and more gracious?

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Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

It seems a lot of people are not happy unless the have something to be mad about, fight about or are just plain nasty all the time. Take a chill pill and relax and see how the child center works out. Get along people!!

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Posted by Menlo Park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 26, 2014 at 10:27 pm

There are both good and bad points about this proposal. On the one had, San Mateo County is very short of child care facilities. At first glance this facility would serve childcare needs. But for some reason, the owner chose to locate this facility on a residential street, and limit the care to toddlers only. Also, you must prepay a monthly membership to use this building, it is not really a drop in care situation. Why couldn't the founder have placed the site in a commercial or residential area, and have allowed drop in care by the hour as does KidsPark in San Jose? There is a keen need for drop in care, but not only for toddlers, but children up to twelve years of age, who cannot legally be left alone. There are some big issues here with traffic to a residential area, and the prepaid monthly stipend to use the facility. Why didn't the owner buy a franchise from KidsPark in San Jose which serves everyone, rather than siting it in a residential area, limiting it to toddlers only and requiring a pre paid monthly stipend? There was a similar facility in downtown Menlo Park and it didn't last long in business.

Web Link

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Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 27, 2014 at 7:58 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Menlo Park resident, that facility downtown was called Brilliant Babies, and it didn't close because it went out of business, it closed because it didn't meet the licensing requirements of 75 square feet of outdoor space per child. This is one of the reasons that daycares and preschools are frequently located in residential areas- that's where the kind of space that California regulations require can be found. There are multiple preschools or daycare facilities in houses within a short walk of my house, and none of them cause a problem. This notion that childcare needs to be segregated to commercial areas just doesn't hold water.

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Posted by Menlo Parker
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 28, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I live very near the proposed daycare center and walk in the neighborhood every day. Welcome, Toddle. I wish you had been around when my kids were little. The crazy bikers who cycle the wrong way on Altschul with their kids are considerably more dangerous than parents dropping off toddlers at daycare. I regret that Menlo's NIMBYs are at it again.

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Posted by gina
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

A day care center in the middle of a residential neighborhood is a bad idea. I am so glad I do not have this day care center as my next door neighbor on the alameda in menlo park. now that they were allowed to expand lets see how long the honey period lasts with the neighbors. probably not for long.

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Posted by Close by
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

I'm glad to see the neighborhood soccer mom's pleased with themselves that they were able to convince the city council that this grand experiment was a great idea; truly I am. However, have you stopped to ask yourself about the environmental contaminants that lurk amongst residential construction prior to 1983?

Pack em' in tight!

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Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 30, 2014 at 8:19 am

SteveC is a registered user.

@close by: How rude, soccer moms????really! City Council? Get your facks straight. Try board of supervisors and slow your roll.

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