Almanac

News - February 26, 2014

Menlo Park: Ballot initiative would target large offices complexes

by Sandy Brundage

After Menlo Park's specific plan survived its first annual review mostly unscathed following a round of commission and council evaluation, opponents weren't ready to give up, with one grassroots coalition — Save Menlo — saying it planned "to send a very clear message to the developers who plan to cash in at the expense of the environment and quality of life in Menlo Park."

That message appears to be taking the form of a ballot initiative, as Save Menlo is now collecting signatures to put its proposed specific plan revisions before voters. The changes could cut by about 50 percent the amount of office space allowed in two upcoming mixed-use developments along El Camino Real.

Former Planning Commissioner Patti Fry co-signed the Feb. 19 notice that informed the city of the signature drive. She said that Save Menlo tried to convince the council that the specific plan is flawed, to no avail. Rather than "passively wait" for what the coalition thinks will be the damaging impacts of new, large office complexes along El Camino Real, she said, "residents have chosen to reach out to voters in the hopes of establishing their own remedies."

Ms. Fry described the initiative's revisions as modest changes that would support the goal of promoting renewal consistent with Menlo Park's character.

"No one asked for huge office buildings more suited to an office park; residents asked for a vibrant and sustainable mix of uses: transit-oriented housing, retail/restaurants, hotel, and small-scale offices," Ms. Fry told the Almanac in an email.

The revisions include changing the specific plan's definition of open space to mean only space at ground level, and not areas such as balconies; capping office space development at 100,000 square feet per project, or 240,820 square feet total; and requiring voter approval for any project that would exceed the cap or result in total non-residential development within the specific plan area exceeding 474,000 square feet.

Dissatisfaction arose once two large proposals appeared on the planning horizon after the city, following five years of discussion and community engagement, approved the specific plan in 2012. The projects would add 409,500 square feet of office space within the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan boundaries.

Stanford University and developer John Arrillaga want to build a mixed-use project that would replace mostly vacant car lots on 8.43 acres along 300 to 500 El Camino Real. The project would involve 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.

A second project, designed by Greenheart LLC, would put 210,000 square feet of office space and 210,000 square feet of apartments, with 13,000 square feet of retail included, on 7 acres located at 1300 El Camino Real at Oak Grove Avenue.

The number of signatures that Save Menlo needs to get the initiative on a ballot for the November election remains to be calculated, according to the city clerk's office. In 2010, pension reform initiative Measure L reportedly needed 2,500.

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