Viewpoint - June 23, 2010
Letter: A sad performance from Menlo council
Asking Menlo Park voters to bless the council's approval of a development agreement between the city and the Bohannon Co.'s Menlo Gateway project is another sad example of our City Council's inability to make decisions.
Over the years a small, energetic and fearful group of residents, and even former residents, has intimidated and influenced our council and developers, alike. Although not elected, these negative groups have had remarkable success acting as "kitchen cabinets" for council members.
In addition, there have been threats of withholding election-year support from incumbents, conducting referendums or merely threatening referendums against actions taken by the council. Now we have witnessed Mayor Rich Cline and council members Heyward Robinson, Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen, in anticipation of a referendum against the Menlo Gateway development, place this matter on the November ballot.
In my eight years on the City Council, several controversial projects came before us. I had to analyze each project on its merits and after careful consideration, I was willing to vote yea or nay. I took responsibility and the heat for votes both to approve and votes to deny.
The current council seems consistently unable or unwilling to withstand the buffeting of negative pressure from these few loud voices and to stand up for their beliefs and a public process, which ends with decisive action.
That Dave Bohannon wanted the fate of his project to be decided by the voters speaks volumes about the poor business and political climate in Menlo Park. What's a man to do with a few sour residents lurking behind closed curtains ready to file a referendum application?
Our elected council members need to make decisions and be prepared to defend a voting record every four years.
Steve Schmidt, former mayor, Menlo Park
Posted by Paul Collacchi,
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2010 at 8:37 am
Just to note a few facts. Though I personally stay involved, somewhat, in Menlo Park politics, to my knowledge neither of the other individuals mentioned has participated actively since 2000. Both are private citizens, not former public officials, whose names should not be listed publicly with inaccurate claims about actions they never engaged in.
Hank's org chart is ten years old and needs to be updated. Bash me all you want, Hank, but let the others retire in peace. BTW, before going rogue along with Sarah, Hank was a strong supporter of mine, and I like him very much.
Next turning to Steve's comments. I respect and admire Steve and thought he was capable as a council member. I do not remember him being quite as decisive as he remembers.
More interesting is Steve's dismissal of the literally thousands of citizens who signed referendum petitions in Menlo Park, as a small group of fearful people. It's a really thoughtless characterization by Steve of knowledgeable individuals who participate in nuanced land-use debate. So let me re-raise the substantive issue.
In Menlo Park, there has consistently been little or no controversy on development projects that conform to the existing zoning code, and there has been extreme political resistance to projects which get special approvals, specifically rezonings, usually to be built at densities much higher than what is allowed in the zoning code. End of story. The data is very, very persuasive, though I'm sure that some will either have selective memory or cherry pick the data to miss this obvious point.
So, the issue is about planned development vs unplanned development.
The issue is about writing special laws for special interests, be they office developers or Greens who want high-density housing. To that end, the 2006 council moved ahead, correctly, with a Downtown plan, but incorrectly, by putting the M-2 plan on hold, by putting the Housing Element on hold, and by putting the General Plan update on hold. Yes, I understand that the Downtown plan has generated controversy and resistance, but that is bound to happen.
Steve Schmidt and other housing advocates who want high-density infill housing have no-one to blame but themselves for Menlo Park's lack of housing, given that neither Steve nor any other group in Menlo Park has pushed to update a Housing Element that has been obsolete since 1992. That's twenty years. And Steve was seated for eight of those twenty years.
The Land Use element of Menlo Park's General plan expires this year. MENLO PARK NO LONGER HAS ANY FUTURE LOOKING PLANS, either a Land-use Element or a Housing element to guide incoming development in the city. Therefore each and every project coming in to the city is treated as a "one-off", in which the developer tempts the city with some alleged benefit to entice the city council to write special one-off zoning laws to approve the project.
Zoning for dollars is now business as usual in Menlo Park.
In *THAT* environment, where there is no plan, where there is no shared community vision that resulted from a shared community planning process, there is going to be perpetual disagreement over land-use issues, because decisions really only reflect the will of a few seated council members, not the true will of the community.
So rather than try to build community consensus for the Green agenda of high-density housing, by going through an actual community process to update the Housing Element to include it, its easier to ride the coattails of some housing developer's project, which only requires the agreement of three citizens in the entire community, namely a majority of the city council.
In fact, Steve's argument can and should be turned on its head. In truth, only a small group of housing advocates has a genuine and passionate interest in high-density housing. In most elite and affluent Peninsula communities such as Menlo Park, most citizens see overcrowding as formula for decreased quality of life. Therefore, housing advocates know they have little or no opportunity to gain widespread public acceptance for their policies, hence they are more than willing to circumvent open public planning processes, and slam dunk high-density infill projects through special rezonings approved only by a majority of city council.
So shame on you Steve Schmidt, for failing to do the root problem analysis, and instead turning a structural planning problem into an ad hominem attack on those who rightly resist an unofficial housing policy. If your land-use agenda, whatever it is, is the will of the people, then get it adopted as part of the General Plan.
For the record, the Bohannon project does not conform to the zoning code and the General Plan vision for the M-2 area, and they city council has put their M-2 planning project on hold. In my opinion, Bohannon is right to ask for community consensus and the council was wrong to even process the application PRIOR TO completing its M-2 plan.