Almanac

News - April 24, 2013

Outrage remains after Stanford changes project

by Sandy Brundage

Reaction from those opposed to Stanford-Arrillaga's joint proposal for an 8.43-acre mixed-use complex on El Camino Real in Menlo Park did not waver after the university recently presented a new version with less medical office space and more housing.

Twenty-four of 31 speakers lambasted the proposal during the April 16 council meeting.

Grading the project as an average 'D-' — "We thought Stanford would understand the notion of a report card," Save Menlo spokeswoman Perla Ni told the city council on April 16 — the grassroots coalition said Stanford got an "F" for not fitting Menlo Park's "village character," not helping the town's east-west connectivity, and potential for dumping cut-through traffic in surrounding neighborhoods. The proposal did get a "C" for providing some housing

Comparing the revised design to "re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," Ms. Ni said, "This traffic will kill Menlo Park."

One speaker, Elizabeth Houck, called for Mayor Peter Ohtaki's resignation and the firing of City Manager Alex McIntyre.

Some of those who spoke at the meeting were familiar faces to those who followed the creation of the newly implemented downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, which allows Stanford to build its mixed-use complex.

Planning Commissioner Vince Bressler, long a proponent of removing the Stanford properties outside the boundaries of the specific plan, urged the council to do so. "We don't need to give anything away if we're not going to get anything."

Fellow commissioner Henry Riggs struck a more moderate note, saying that big projects scare some Menlo Park residents. He asked the city to find a way to fund a bike and pedestrian tunnel under El Camino Real — a project it was hoped Stanford would contribute to.

Former councilman Heyward Robinson wondered where the process went wrong. Saying the point of the specific plan "was to not have these battles every time a new (project) came up, it's fairly dismaying to see us on the first project here with the pitchforks out."

Given that Stanford's proposal caught the city by surprise, he suggested the council consider whether the specific plan's size threshold for requiring public benefits was too high, a criticism levied by former councilwoman Kelly Fergusson while in office.

The council had given away its leverage, Mr. Robinson said.

While fewer in number, voices have been raised in support of the proposal. Three were heard at the April 16 meeting; others submitted emails to the council.

Menlo Park resident Noah Eisner wrote, "I've found it much easier to complain about options rather than to act. Through that, you get nothing done. That's the state of affairs for downtown Menlo Park. It is a pass-through town even for people who live in it. We don't shop, eat or work there. El Camino Real is a disgrace with empty lot after empty lot. The Park Theater has been closed for 11 years!"

Rather than act, he wrote, the city prevents development based on complaints "from the vocal minority. There is no bias for action here, which results in lower revenue from restaurants, shops and businesses and our schools are impacted."

Steve Taffee also wrote the council to say he supported the project. "Stanford has demonstrated flexibility in design considerations. The opposition that is being mounted is, unfortunately, mostly of the NIMBY type who are motivated by fears about projected personal inconvenience or loss of property value."

Traffic, parking and noise were concerns that could be managed, according to Mr. Taffee's email, given the overall value of the project to Menlo Park. "Everyone needs to give a little. This is part of living in community."

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