Viewpoint - June 23, 2010

EDITORIAL: Busy ballot for Menlo voters

Deciding between Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman will not be the only tough choice for Menlo Park voters when they go to the polls in November.

Along with a lengthy ballot listing statewide candidates and propositions, Menlo Park voters will decide two very important local issues:

• Whether the city should approve Menlo Gateway, the Bohannon Development Co.'s proposal to build three eight-story office towers and a hotel at Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway.

• Whether to offer lower pension benefits to some future city workers.

The Bohannon proposal was added to the ballot last week in a 4-1 vote by a strangely conflicted City Council. One member who opposed the project voted yes to put it on the ballot, and a strong supporter of the project, John Boyle, voted no, arguing that the council should make the decision on its own.

Mayor Rich Cline and council members Heyward Robinson and Andy Cohen voted yes, as did Kelly Fergusson, who said she changed her mind after the company agreed to add $500,000 in landscaping to the site.

But regardless of how the council arrived at its decision, it is absolutely correct to give Menlo Park residents the final say on this project, which at an estimated cost of $363 million would be one of the largest in the city's history.

The Bohannon Co. favored going to the ballot, no doubt because polling by the company shows solid support from up to 64 percent of local voters. A simple majority is all that is needed for voters to approve the project.

During extended bargaining sessions in the last few months, Bohannon Co. officials agreed to make substantial environmental and monetary commitments at the city's request, and a few weeks ago believed they had a deal with the City Council. But at the 11th hour, a discussion of whether the city could extract a profit-sharing arrangement from the company split the council and seemed close to scuttling the project just a few days before a scheduled up-or-down vote June 15.

Then Mr. Cohen announced that he would oppose the entire package until the city developed a new zoning plan for the area around Menlo Gateway known as the M2. But when it was time to decide whether to put the question on the ballot, Mr. Cohen said he would agree even though he opposed the project.

Making Gateway a ballot issue will give supporters and detractors plenty of time to make their case with Menlo Park voters. And a vote of the electorate will make it much more difficult for the losing side to criticize how the decision was made.

In November, residents also will be asked to vote on a measure to create a two-tier pension system for city employees, providing lower benefits for some future city employees and raising the retirement age to 60 from 55 for these employees. The controversy about the lucrative retirement benefits of public employees gave plenty of momentum to a group of local residents who went door-to-door getting signatures on a petition calling for a vote on the November ballot.

The vote on this question is sure to bring out a strong response from the SEIU, the city's largest union, which is expected to mount a vigorous opposition campaign.

Both Menlo Gateway and the pension initiative will have a far-reaching impact on Menlo Park and in the case of Gateway, several nearby communities as well.

It is entirely appropriate that these important questions will be decided by the voters.


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Steve Schmidt is right and Tom Gibboney is wrong. These weasels don't want to be held accountable for any controversial decision.

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