In spite of all the outreach, workshops and hearings, many still think that our town is about to go into wall-to-wall construction. In fact, I don't think there is a single new building in the works in all of downtown — and that's painfully evident. We have 10 vacant storefronts on Santa Cruz Avenue and then there's El Camino Real.
Menlo Park has to find a balance between resisting new or enlarged buildings and stifling renewal. Over the last four years (yes, years) the city has been holding hearings and public workshops to update a well-intentioned but unfortunate zoning code that has driven investment to Palo Alto and Redwood City. Consultants looked at building-project economics as part of drafting the downtown plan. After multiple four- to five-hour hearings, the Planning Commission has sent the plan on to council for action with recommended changes reflecting some excellent public testimony.
This vision of a renewed downtown and El Camino will not please everyone — that's not possible in Menlo Park — but it's time to act together. Time for the courage to make meaningful enough change to get our city going again. It's now in the City Council's hands.
As for the city doing any construction itself, whether sidewalks or a parking structure — not to worry: there is no project, even in preliminary stage. There will be (if approved) a master plan that designates where such things might be, if and when agreed upon by the community. Look for lots of hearings at that time. But not any time soon.
Henry Riggs, Callie Lane
Henry Riggs is a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.