Uploaded: Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 8:13 am
Menlo Park: City newsletter criticized for bias against Measure M
Menlo Focus, the city's quarterly newsletter, generally garners only as much attention as it takes to decide whether to read it first before recycling it. But that changed when the latest issue came out with an article on Measure M, the initiative on the November ballot that would change Menlo Park's downtown/El Camino Real specific plan.
Initiative supporters cried foul upon spotting the article, which compares the measure to the current incarnation of the specific plan, and described it as a campaign mailer masquerading as a newsletter. Former council member Heyward Robinson said he's asked the California State Attorney General's office to look into whether the city illegally spent public funds to advocate a political position.
The city, on the other hand, said the information in the article was presented without bias.
"I think most of that context (and) background info has been up on the (city's website) for a while, so it's not really anything new," said Senior Planner Thomas Rogers, the city's lead contact on the specific plan. He added that an attorney had reviewed the material on the website.
Attorney Greg Stepanicich, who has a contract with the city to address specific plan issues, vetted the website content. (The city attorney has a conflict of interest since his office sits within the plan's boundaries.)
Mr. Stepanicich said state law allows a city to provide information on a measure that fairly analyzes its impacts and effects without taking a partisan position.
"A city may not advocate for or against a measure during the election campaign, although state law authorizes a city council to prepare a ballot argument against a measure filed by petition," Mr. Stepanicich said. "State law permits cities to send newsletters or other written materials to their residents that educate the public on the measure."
The attorney said he did not review the Menlo Focus newsletter.
The question is whether the newsletter article meets the standard of impartiality. A public agency "must present a balanced description of the favorable and unfavorable impacts of the measure," according to the state attorney general's website.
While the newsletter does copy information from the city's vetted website, it's an incomplete copy.
In its discussion of Measure M's proposed restrictions on office space, for example, the city's website states, "Like any proposed use, office use has both positive and negative attributes and impacts." It goes on to list the negatives along with the positives.
However, the negative impacts aren't included in the newsletter, even though the article does mention the benefits: "Historically, office development generally has a positive fiscal impact on a community" and supports economic activity at other local businesses such as stores and restaurants.
Another section of the article describes the multi-year public process that created the specific plan, then states, "The proposed measure would implement revisions by a simple public vote, without the deeper public process that is recognized as most constructive for such complicated planning programs."
Menlo Focus is mailed to 12,000 households in Menlo Park, with an additional 1,000 copies available for pickup at city facilities, at a cost of $5,000 per quarterly issue, according to the city.
Mayor Ray Mueller was less than enthusiastic about the inclusion of Measure M in the latest issue.
"I don't review its content prior to publication. I am told the aforementioned article is technically legal. That being said, I personally would have preferred that it not refer to Measure M," he commented.
"It may unnecessarily create a question for some as to whether city resources are being spent for political purposes, and ammunition for others who would choose to criticize city staff."
Should the attorney general's office find that the newsletter advocates a position on Measure M instead of presenting a balanced summary, Menlo Park could face sanctions, including fines.
Posted by George C. Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 26, 2014 at 4:13 pm
What is sad are those with vested interests in retaining control (council and staff) and exonerating the specific plan are both using substantial city resources to attempt to influence the election, and using those resources in a misleading manner. All that is basically at issue is whether the Stanford and Greenheart projects will have their office space reduced from the present proposal of approximately 200,000 square feet each to approximately 100,000 sf each. Nevertheless, councilpersons initially crowed that the Initiative, now proposition M is a battle for the soul of Menlo Park which they intend to vigorously wage. They banded together to argue against Measure M, to spend dollars for a purported independent analysis, which they presently ignore in the current mailer, and to publish arguments in the form of impartial facts on a website. Whether or not their attorney vets them is not important. I believe the "independent" attorney is only independent because he is replacing the current city attorney who has a conflict. His independence does not change his allegiance to his client, which is the city. He has no attorney client relationship with anyone but the city. What is important is the significant city resources they are using and how the arguments they make are biased.
A 12 page glossy brochure mailed to 15,000 residents cost way more than $5,000. The entire focus of the brochure from the city manager's Column purporting to stress the importance of revenues from development, to the bushwa about Measure M, to Jim Cogan's, the City economic director, blatant pitch to keep the specific Plan intact is to unfairly influence the election. Cogan's purported specific plan economic goals bear no relationship to the vision Plan nor the Specific Plan's Guiding principles relating to neighborhoods and city Character, or non office space vibrancy,
The horse on the table is the Stanford and Greenheart emphasis of non-residential office space exploiting office space. The Lisa Wise Consulting Inc (LWC) report hired by the vested interests clearly stated on page 1 that the EIR certified as prescribed by CEQQ studied only 240,820 square feet of office space. That EIR on page 4.13-37 expressly found that per CEQA standards the "NEW USES TO BE ADDED AND THE EXISTING OCCUPIED SPACE" were used to estimate traffic. These uses were broken down specifically by office, retail, or hotel.
However now the vested interest have changed the test from new uses added minus existing occupied space to be removed, to blatantly and falsely proclaim that "in keeping with standard CEQA Practices, the 474,000 square feet Maximum Non residential space, is actually substantially less because the City is deducting from those maximums, all square footage of prior projects approved which had EIR's done, EVEN THOUGH THOSE PROJECTS WERE NEVER BUILT AND WERE NEVER OCCUPIED AND WERE FOR OTHER USES, INCLUDING GROCERY STORES.
THIS ATTEMPT TO HIDE NEW OFFICE SPACE IS TOTALLY AND FLATLY INCONSISTENT WITH THE EIR AND WITH THE SPECIFIC PLAN VISION AND THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE SPECIFIC PLAN. There is no question but that the proposed projects are intended to be over 93%, or approximately 400,000 square feet office space out of their total non-residential space. This is important for CEQA purposes because under the city's Circulation System Assessment (CSA) document used for CEQA over 76% of all specific Plan El Camino Office space traffic, including over 4,320 car trips a day from Greenheart or Stanford goes to ,or comes from, 280, 101, or highway 84 from other city's and must cut through Menlo Park to reach those Highways and Freeways. It is also worth repeating that although the city claims 146 new hotel rooms within the specific plan area, it actually only recorded 86 new rooms for the Marriott hotel, because of its slight of hand new space calculations, there attempting to use only traffic equivalencies, rather than actual new rooms.
The vested interests are also delaying the Stanford Project Cut Through Traffic analysis being done by W-Trans and paid for by Stanford, which was due in March, because city personnel are busy doing the propaganda on the city web site and brochure opposing Proposition M. Although that cut through analysis will be important to the electorate and was being finalized in August, it cannot be released until October, according the the City, because of personnel shortages. Although similar to the LWC report as being done by an independent consultant, the city and vested interests review and comment on drafts. Hopefully, the traffic study if released, will not be like the LWC report, released to the public at the last moment before official action blindsiding the electorate or residents. Hopefully, also the city requested LWC updates to correct the earlier report are neutral, not city biased for further propaganda.
Further the Fiscal Impact Analyses (FIA) in both the brochure and city website bear no relationship to the City's FIA done at the time of the specific Plan or general practice, which depended for over 60% of city anticipated revenue from a Hotel on the Stanford site. As Planner Rogers admitted to city council earlier, impact fees or the development of the vacant space was not seen as "go" for the specific plan. Now the vested interests claim such fess and development is the primary argument against amending the Specific Plan to limit office space. The LWC report also analyzes property tax and finds those tax's neutral to whatever use is made of the space. Of course other main tax sources like sales tax or Transit occupancy tax is impossible if used as office space, which generate no such taxes.
I guess the question may also be is the office space for commuters the Soul of Menlo Park? How does the public vote, based upon fair information.
In view of all of this, the public is entitle to a correction of the facts, and the city should provide equal access to compile and distribute equal space for corrections, including comments of the public, that it has used to support the Stanford and Greenheart proposals, through its fictitious arguments on its website and brochure. Unfortunately because council can control the website, and its meetings, clear exposition of the issues cannot be made.
The only true candid impartial candid debate was done by the Sierra Club when City council members and planning commissioners argued against Measure M and proponents argued for it . The Sierra Club committee hearing the debate endorsed Measure M by a vote of 9-0, with one abstention. The City should stop wasting resources, and making misleading contradictory arguments to support vested interests, and participate in fair commentary.
Posted by George C. Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:45 am
The Specific Plan EIR clearly states the total for the entire specific plan area, consisting of the four sub areas, Downtown, Station Area, El Camino South and El Camino north, is new daily vehicle trips of 13, 285 ADT, 899 AM peak hour trips, and 1319 PM peak hour trips. ( page 4.13-38). The Stanford site is only a portion of the El Camino Real sub area. What ever table 1 purports to be it, is a comparison only of the Stanford site, as purported reduced by Tesla, with the entire specific plan area trip generations. Any contrary statement is blatantly false.
More importantly, "trip generation" numbers from textbooks are different from "traffic impacts" determined per the city Transportation Impact Guidelines (TIA) and the City Circulation Assessment document (CSA) based upon defined delays or congestion per times of day on specific routes taken and studied. The routes, delays and congestion, as well as cut through traffic vary significantly by use. For example per city documents and guidelines, 3 out of every 4 office space trips cut through neighborhoods to reach non local destinations, whereas retail traffic is primarily dissipated locally. Hotel users are more variable, including local trips and would't aggravate existing delays. They certainly wouldn't commute to 101 or 84/dumbarton bridge or to I 280 through the neighborhoods at peak hours.
The impacts determined by the Specific Plan EIR were based upon 240,812 sq feet of office, 91,800 square feet of retail and 380 hotel rooms to be built out over 30 years. The impacts were discussed in the EIR pages 413:40-4:13:82. They included significant impacts not avoidable on 15 intersections ( 3 on ECR, 6 on Middlefield, 2 on Santa Cruz, 4 on Willow, and and 14 roadway segments (Oak Grove, Santa Cruz, Menlo, Ravenswood, Middle, University, Middlefield). No impacts were discussed in the Lisa Wise Consultant report and its traffic section failed to comply with the city's TIA and CSA requirements or accepted practice, as determined by a qualified traffic engineer. See Web Link
The 400,000 sq feet of office space in the Greenheart and Stanford proposals (over 90% of non residential space) cause additional impacts not discussed in the specific plan EIR. As Thomas Rogers stated in writing on July 10:
". . .[T]he proposed infill [Greenheart] project would have effects that either have not been analyzed in a prior EIR, or are more significant that described in the prior EIR, and that no uniformly applicable development policies would substantially mitigate such effects. I find that those effects WOULD be significant . . ."(Emphasis in original).
The city hired W-Trans to do interim traffic studies of Stanford proposed traffic and which analyzed the CSA gateway traffic and found that traffic on Middle would increase between 600% daily trips, and over 700-1500% peak hour trips. W-trans has issued drafts to the City of a traffic Cut through report, which is required to identify the specific routes cut through traffic will take, but the City has refused to release the report, and will not do so until at least October, substantially impairing information to the public in time for review and comment prior to the Election in November.
The change from non residential balanced growth between hotel, retail and office space studied in the EIR and analyzed in the Specific Plan Fiscal Impact Analysis (FIA) (also based upon 240,812 sq feet of office, 91,800 sq feet of retail and 380 hotel rooms also causes a loss of revenues including sales tax revenues, Hotel transit occupancy takes, (loss over $1.5 million per year) . This will lead to a negative net revenue to city even if specific plan is all built out. Lost revenues are not replaced by any increase in Property taxes of office buildings as clearly stated in the LWC report.
The Specific plan by doubling the zoning and increasing construction building without retaining adequate ability to capture either infrastructure fees or public benefits causes financial harm, traffic burdens and impacts, infrastructure costs, all without the balanced development, vibrancy, or Menlo Park Character required during Specific Plan design period. Measure M provides limited caps on office space, increases open space, lessens burdens, opens revenue possibilities, and is sorely needed.