Viewpoint - February 3, 2010

Guest opinion: Bohannon project needs some hard bargaining

by Vincent Bressler

David Bohannon is asking the city of Menlo Park for zoning entitlements for his Gateway Project that will dramatically increase the value of his property, and change the nature of the eastern portion of Menlo Park. A development agreement that will define what Mr. Bohannon gets, and what the city gets in return, is currently being negotiated. Here are three possible items that the city should consider as it negotiates the agreement with Mr. Bohannon.

Business tax

As a member of the Planning Commission, I have had an opportunity to review this project. In order to ensure that Menlo Park shares in any zoning windfall that it bestows upon Mr. Bohannon, I urge the negotiating team to insist upon a significant municipal business tax for all Menlo Gateway properties. This tax would be a function of floor space and gross rents collected, using a formula to be determined.

Cities throughout the United States use these kinds of taxes, and since the Menlo Park location is considered an asset for many service-oriented businesses that pay a premium to establish their offices here, it seems only appropriate that the city share in the associated revenues. In fact, I wonder why we would permit large new commercial development if the city does not benefit in kind.

A municipal business tax would reduce pressure for the city to distort the development process by insisting on hotel or retail uses that may or may not be appropriate for a given site. I assume that Mr. Bohannon knows what uses are best for his land. A commercial rent tax will simply guarantee that Menlo Park benefits while allowing Mr. Bohannon to maximize his own profit.

Reduced car trips

The Menlo Gateway project is located at the nexus of the Bayshore Freeway and the Dumbarton Bridge and is conceived as a car-centric commercial development. However, freeway entry and exit points near this project are at or near capacity during peak hours. The development includes immense parking garages and relatively small amounts of open space.

During a Planning Commission meeting I proposed that the total car trips associated with this project be cut in half from current projections. Since Mr. Bohannon wants a 15- to 20-year time line for the development agreement, that should give him plenty of time to figure out how to make this project work without clogging our roads and cluttering the land with parking garages.

Increase housing ratio

The environmental impact report for the Menlo Gateway project indicates that the housing demand generated in Menlo Park will be equal to 10 percent of the new jobs generated by the project, assuming that demand mirrors existing patterns: only one in 10 people who currently work in Menlo Park lives in Menlo Park. I am concerned that regional bodies will not be satisfied with a continuation of this massive imbalance, nor will our residents welcome or benefit from the additional thousands of car trips per day generated by this project.

My contention during the Planning Commission meetings was that the housing ratio be 25 percent, not 10 percent. In other words, for every four jobs created by this project, capacity for housing one new residence should be built. This new housing should primarily be located in and around the area of the development. If Mr. Bohannon can demonstrate that new housing is not required because unemployed Menlo Park residents or Menlo Park residents currently working outside the city will be employed at Menlo Gateway, then perhaps the requirement can be reduced from 25 percent.

Vincent Bressler is a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.


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