The bigger-is-better, massive-is-best, pro-development folks refer to the "blight" on El Camino, as if the only remedy were urbanized zoning and mammoth projects. They disingenuously imply that the city has somehow prevented development on the empty lots. Not true. Stanford could have developed those parcels the minute the dealerships left, but instead pocketed their rental payments until their leases expired, choosing to leave the parcels vacant. Recall that Stanford was also involved in the downtown specific plan process, which ultimately gave it virtually carte blanche zoning on these parcels. Seen in retrospect, coincidentally perhaps, the years of vacant lots turned out to be well worth the wait for Stanford.
These same folks praise the specific plan, which invites gargantuan urbanized projects into our suburb, for having been a "public process" and for taking "six years." I attended many meetings — the public process consisted of staff and consultants pushing the council to vote yes, no matter how many residents pointed out egregious pitfalls of the plan. That the city spent six years on this fool's errand is hardly something to brag about. A bad plan is a bad plan regardless of how long you spend on it, or how many pro forma meetings you hold to give the appearance of responding to the public.
Incidentally, the largest outpouring of public opinion during the specific plan visioning process, as well as the first goal of the plan itself, was to "maintain the village character unique to Menlo Park." SaveMenlo's initiative is too modest by half, but it's definitely a step in the right direction toward preserving that character. It may also serve to encourage the current and/or future City Council to enact further modifications of the specific plan to prevent the wholesale high-density urbanization of our city.
Opponents claim the initiative was created by "amateurs" — well, yes, otherwise known as "residents" or "citizens," as in any grassroots movement. Of course, before being submitted, it was written up by a "professional," otherwise known as a lawyer, as are nearly all initiatives.
They object that it was conceived "in private," presumably as opposed to the dog-and-pony-show "public process" of the specific plan. Perhaps they object to "private citizens" taking an active role in their government — precisely what the initiative process makes possible.
By the way, the most salient public process of all, and the one they apparently object to most, is the one at the ballot box. That's where we can pass this initiative to at least somewhat restrain out-of-control high-density office parks in our downtown.
Cherie Zaslawsky is a resident of downtown Menlo Park.