Almanac

News - July 16, 2014

Initiative proponents note flaws in consultant's report

by Sandy Brundage

As several people have noted, there's something for everyone in a consultant's analysis of the specific plan initiative proposed by grassroots coalition Save Menlo.

Former planning commissioner Patti Fry, who co-sponsored the initiative, said that while it was gratifying to read that the consultant agrees the initiative's changes would have no impact on schools, it was disappointing that the study failed to analyze the specific plan in its current form.

"What we face on El Camino with large office complexes is not anything resembling the 'small town character' envisioned by residents," Ms. Fry said.

She said the specific plan's "laissez faire approach to development" doesn't work when market forces for a particular use — office — overwhelms alternatives. "Unlike clothing fads, our town can't swap out office complexes for a hotel or new stores and restaurants when the inevitable market shifts occur. The initiative addresses this issue."

Without the proposed changes, Ms. Fry said, the projected development for the next 30 years within the specific plan's boundaries will be used up in a much shorter time frame, "squandering the emotional and financial investment our community made to create the (specific plan) over a six-year period. "

Ms. Fry said the time to analyze the specific plan was "the minute Stanford made their first proposal in the fall of 2012," and another opportunity arose in 2013 when Greenheart proposed a similarly large mixed-use project. "Those were times the sirens should have gone off that the forecasts created by previous teams of expensive consultants were invalid."

The consultant's analysis is flawed in some aspects, according to Ms. Fry, particularly with how it looks at the initiative's provision to redefine open space as applying only to areas within 4 feet of the ground.

Perla Ni, speaking on behalf of Save Menlo, pointed out what her group saw as the highlights in the report.

The analysis shows that under the current specific plan regulations, the majority of development will be office space, according to Save Menlo, which will worsen traffic during commute hours. Office development also leaves less space for retail and restaurants while diminishing the city's village character, Ms. Ni said.

The analysis "confirmed what residents have been suspecting — that all this office is a tax loss situation for the city," Ms. Ni said, because city revenues come mostly from sales and hotel taxes.

"The report also confirms that developers with reasonable proposals will not be affected," Ms. Ni said in an email. "We have some of the highest real estate valuations in the country and developers will be able to make, even with the Initiative, hundreds of millions of dollars. Unchecked development — particularly high traffic mega-offices — would make this area a much less desirable community."

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