News - May 12, 2010

Menlo Watch: Menlo Park redevelopment agency is in for big hit

by Sean Howell

The state of California will be allowed to take at least $4.1 million from Menlo Park's redevelopment fund, following a ruling in Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday, May 4.

The ruling by Judge Lloyd Connelly denied the contention by the California Redevelopment Association that the money grab was unconstitutional.

The state Legislature in July 2009 passed a bill that would take $1.7 billion from redevelopment agencies statewide in 2009-10, and $350,000 in 2010-11. Menlo Park's share would be $3.4 million in the current fiscal year, and $700,000 in 2011-12.

The city will be able to cover the payments out of its approximately $13 million redevelopment fund reserve, but that reserve could run dry quickly if the state continues to take money from redevelopment agencies — an event City Manager Glen Rojas said he thinks is likely.

The city uses the fund to cover a variety of operations, such as graffiti abatement, land-use planning, and streetscape improvements, as well as major capital improvements project, such as building affordable housing developments and parks.

Also at the May 4 meeting, the council voted to support potential state legislation that would make it easier for cities to use redevelopment funds to provide incentives for "green" businesses. Councilman John Boyle abstained in that vote, saying he didn't have enough information on the bill to make a decision.

State law allows for the creation of redevelopment agencies to help blighted areas, with a portion of property tax revenues from within the redevelopment zone set aside for bight-eradication projects. Menlo Park's oddly shaped zone incorporates the Belle Haven neighborhood and parts of the "light industrial" zone, and extends as far west as Middlefield Road.

Incumbents retain commission posts

Henry Riggs and Jack O'Malley have been re-appointed to the Menlo Park Planning Commission, where they will be joined by Ben Eiref.

Mr. Riggs and Mr. O'Malley, first appointed by the Winkler-Duboc-Jellins council in 2004 and 2006, respectively, were re-appointed to four-year terms on the commission at the May 4 council meeting. Mr. Eiref, who sits on the oversight committee for the downtown/El Camino Real planning process, will join them, replacing termed-out commissioner Melody Pagee.

Mr. Riggs and Mr. Eiref won unanimous support of the council on the first vote, while Mr. O'Malley received three of five votes after several run-offs involving other candidates. Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson and Councilman Heyward Robinson supported Kenneth Baker in the final run-off.

To be re-appointed, commission members need the support of three of the five council members.

The commission considers use permits and variances, and makes recommendations to the City Council on major development projects. Other than the council, it is the city's only state-licensed, decision-making body.

Commissioners are limited to two full, four-year terms. Mr. Riggs has served one full and one partial term, having finished the remainder of Ms. Fergusson's term after she was elected to the council.

Eight people volunteered for the commission.

"It goes against our best interest to turn away volunteers," Mayor Rich Cline said. "I do want to relay the gratitude of this council and the city overall, it's a huge help and really the lifeblood of what makes the city tick."

Rail suit filed

Menlo Park, Atherton, and a coalition of environmental groups filed a new legal challenge against the California High-Speed Rail Authority on May 6, seeking to force the agency to reconsider its Bay Area alignment for the controversial rail line.

In the suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, the plaintiffs allege that the rail agency withheld crucial information about how it arrived at its ridership estimates. They seek to re-open an earlier suit filed in 2008, contending that the rail agency did not adequately analyze the impacts of the project before it decided to run high-speed trains along the Caltrain corridor.

The original court ruling de-certified the environmental analysis document, but by and large did not fault the agency's environmental review of the Peninsula segment of the route.

Gun buy-back program nets 10 firearms

A total of 10 guns were turned in at a firearm buy-back

event on May 1 in Menlo Park, according to police.

Held at Mt. Olive church in Belle Haven, the event was sponsored by

the police department, the church, and the Crime Prevention Narcotics

& Drug Education Center. People who turned in guns received a $50 gift

certificate for each.

Guns can be turned in to the police department "24 hours a day, seven

days a week," police said in a press release.


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