Almanac

News - July 16, 2014

Initiative opponents cite 'unintended consequences'

by Sandy Brundage

For those affiliated with Menlo Park Deserves Better, the grassroots coalition formed to fight the specific plan initiative proposed by another grassroots coalition, Save Menlo, the consultant's analysis of the initiative highlighted the ballot measure's unintended consequences.

"Two things really jumped out at me," said John Boyle, former councilman and an MPDB member. "One, I think the consultant did a good job of pointing out (that) there's a lot of vagueness, a lot of uncertainty. Even the definition of office space is inconsistent from one part to the other."

For example, he noted, an architect's office would be in a different category from a designer's office under the initiative's language.

"That kind of confusion, combined with the very broad language of 'anything that interferes with or frustrates' the initiative will be subject to voter approval ... is going to have such a chilling effect on development," he said, as developers will likely choose to build elsewhere.

Mr. Boyle said he thought the report "did a good job of trying to be fair" in its analysis of what might happen under the specific plan's regulations versus the initiative's, but what it didn't do is compare the initiative's possibilities with those of projects already in the pipeline under the current specific plan, such as the mixed-use complexes in the works by Stanford University and Greenheart.

"Under the initiative we could end up with a lot more medical office, and a lot less housing. There are a lot of scenarios where the initiative could backfire. The very things (initiative proponents purport) to care about — could go the other way," he commented. "I think the uncertainty and potential for unintended consequences is enormous."

In an email newsletter, former council member Lee Duboc referred to the initiative's requirement that voters must approve changes to the proposed ordinance or to exceed nonresidential development caps as a "poison pill."

She questioned whether the initiative would solve the traffic problems its backers say they are trying to fix, given that the ballot measure allows the same amount of medical office — the type of development that generates the most traffic — as the current specific plan allows.

Given the restrictions the initiative places on office space construction, Ms. Duboc contends that two mixed-use projects of office, housing and retail — one proposed by Stanford University and the other by Greenheart — could instead become medical office complexes.

Ms. Duboc also said that the new definitions of office space as put forth by the initiative could create ambiguity concerning regulations, and potentially lead to expensive lawsuits.

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