Almanac

News - June 4, 2014

Menlo Park: Consultant changes traffic analyst

by Sandy Brundage

Reading through the unwieldy pile of documents related to Menlo Park's downtown/El Camino Real specific plan and the proposed initiative that would modify the plan is a time-consuming chore, but a necessary one.

In this case, the reading unearthed a surprise for Lisa Wise Consulting Inc., the company hired by the city to analyze the initiative's impacts, a city official said.

The company was selected in part because it had never before worked for Menlo Park or the two major developers whose proposed projects would be impacted by the initiative, Stanford University and Greenheart Land Company.

But then a familiar name surfaced during the document review: It turns out that Joe Fernandez, the consultant's subcontractor for traffic analysis, worked until 2010 for Fehr & Peers, the firm that contributed to the transportation aspects of the Menlo Park specific plan.

Jim Cogan, the city's economic development manager, told the Almanac last week that the consultant notified Menlo Park on Thursday, May 22, as soon as the information surfaced, and promptly switched to a new traffic analyst, William Riggs.

Mr. Cogan said that Lisa Wise had never discussed Menlo Park with Mr. Fernandez, which is why she wasn't aware of the connection until spotting his name in the specific plan documents.

Mr. Fernandez participated in the very early community outreach phase of the specific plan's development, the economic development manager said, before leaving Fehr & Peers to start his own company in San Luis Obispo, and had not conducted any work on the initiative review before being replaced.

The city was notifying the public about the change in an effort to be as transparent as possible regarding the review, according to Mr. Cogan.

Mr. Riggs states on his LinkedIn profile that he works as an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University, is a principal planner at U.C. Berkeley, and serves as a planning commissioner for the city of San Luis Obispo, in addition to running a consulting business focused on economics, housing, land use and transportation projects.

The initiative, proposed by grassroots coalition Save Menlo, would limit the amount of office space in any individual development to 100,000 square feet; and would cap total new office space to 240,820 square feet and overall new, nonresidential development to 474,000 square feet within the specific plan's boundaries.

The initiative would also redefine open space to mean only areas no higher than 4 feet off the ground, thereby preventing balconies from counting as open space.

The coalition appears to have collected enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot for the November election.

Lisa Wise Consulting's $148,420 contract with Menlo Park includes analyzing what effects the initiative's changes would have on development feasibility, infrastructure and finance.

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