Almanac

News - June 2, 2010

Menlo Park council split on Bohannon project

by Sean Howell

Menlo Park Councilman Heyward Robinson supplied a cliffhanger at the City Council meeting Tuesday, May 25, for people who are closely following the city's negotiations over the Menlo Gateway office/hotel complex.

Mr. Robinson said at the meeting that, while he's inclined to support the prodigious development project near Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway, he feels uncomfortable with the fact that two of his council colleagues, Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen, appear to be leaning toward rejecting the project under the current terms of negotiations.

In a vote taken for the council's internal purposes, Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen signaled that they wouldn't support the project unless the Bohannon Development Co. agrees to allow the city to share in some of the profit, if that profit far exceeds expectations. The Bohannon company has already said it would not agree to such an arrangement.

John Boyle and Rich Cline signaled that a profit-sharing deal would not be a make-or-break item for them. Mr. Robinson abstained in the vote.

The council is expected to decide whether to approve the project at its June 15 meeting.

"I want to support this project, I want to vote for it on (June) 15th," Mr. Robinson said. "It's gonna be a lot easier for me to vote for it on the 15th if it's a 4-1 or 5-0 vote."

Mr. Robinson's position might have been an honest appraisal of his stance. It might also have been a canny negotiating maneuver, with negotiations over the project ongoing.

Mr. Cohen and Ms. Fergusson constitute the council's subcommittee on the project, and have been more closely involved in the city's negotiations with the developer than the rest of the council. They are also the only two council members not up for re-election in November.

Mr. Cohen said at the meeting that he was "at least a little uncomfortable with the way the negotiations have gone," adding that he is "working my hardest to find something I can live with."

Ms. Fergusson said there are "pieces of the project that don't sit well with me," especially with regard to site layout.

The council debated a host of other issues related to the project at the meeting, including whether the city should place it on the November ballot. Developer David Bohannon asked the city to consider doing so at the beginning of the meeting.

Under that scenario, the council could approve the project subject to a vote of the people, according to City Attorney Bill McClure.

Sending the project to voters would pre-empt a referendum, allowing the Bohannon company to have a final answer on whether it could proceed by the end of this year. If residents were to launch a successful referendum drive, the issue might not appear on the ballot until late 2011, according to City Attorney Bill McClure.

The results of two polls on the project commissioned by the Bohannon company indicated that the project would pass by a wide margin in a popular vote.

As the council was weighing the idea of putting the project on the ballot, Mr. Robinson joked that the city should let participants in The Almanac's online forum decide. After the meeting, he was promptly subjected to a written lashing by several of those participants, who accused him and other council members of being indecisive.

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