So far, Stanford has agreed to drop all medical office space, which generates far more traffic than regular office space. In addition, the university said it will help fund a pedestrian-bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks; work with the city of Menlo Park to design a plaza for vehicle access to the huge, 450,000-square-foot complex; and pay for a study of potential cut-through traffic in the neighborhoods across from the project.
These are significant concessions. So it's disconcerting to see the two principal members of Save Menlo attack the changes, saying they were shut out of the negotiations. Perla Ni told the Almanac that her group believes that the university is "politically and unduly influencing the city to fast-track the development ..." while George Fisher, Save Menlo's liaison to the council subcommittee, said: "I am shocked that the subcommittee is reporting on these Stanford proposals prior to any discussion of them with the neighborhood representative."
This type of reaction is distracting and easily could turn off the Stanford negotiators. If anything, Save Menlo should acknowledge the concessions by Stanford and say they look forward to more, given that there's at least a month left for the subcommittee and university to talk before September, when the council will consider whether the development highlights weaknesses in the new downtown/El Camino Real specific plan.
Council member Kirsten Keith told the Almanac: "We are negotiating to make this the best project that it can be. I look forward to continued revisions to improve the project."
Clearly, Save Menlo's rhetoric won't lead to a better project for the city. But Stanford has demonstrated it's willing to make changes. That's a good sign, and we urge all stakeholders to keep working on the issues, including the size of the project, that have been identified by Save Menlo and others as potentially having a significant impact on Menlo Park.
If the City Council believes that Stanford could do more to improve the project, it may be able to include such stipulations by revising the specific plan. Stanford has not yet pulled a building permit, which means the city can make changes to the specific plan without fear of legal reprisal.
Both sides seem to be preparing for the possibility of a referendum on the project. Save Menlo has raised $4,700 to pay attorneys who specialize in land use issues, with a goal of raising $7,500. Meanwhile, Stanford conducted a telephone poll of Menlo Park residents to gauge community support. The university declined to release the list of questions asked, but residents said they included mention of the university's contribution to the community, the size of the mixed-use complex and whether the university is a good neighbor.
But as we said back in April, the best course is for the subcommittee and Stanford to negotiate amicably and arrive at a compromise. Save Menlo should remember that it doesn't speak for all residents on this matter; some residents have said they welcome the project. We hope council members Keith and Carlton and the rest of the subcommittee achieve an agreement that will avoid the implied threat to put the project on the ballot.