And that message is the plan needs to be revised, which the council will consider after the Planning Commission completes its review, which begins Sept. 9. A parade of speakers before the council Aug. 27 were nearly unanimous that the new specific plan approved just last year is already in need of changes. City Attorney Bill McClure told the council members that they can revise the plan and that the revisions would apply to the Stanford development proposal. The university would have to pull building permits and begin construction in order to qualify the project under the current specific plan, and that is unlikely to happen before the specific plan review, Steve Elliott, Stanford's managing director of real estate, acknowledged.
Council members, including Mayor Peter Ohtaki, appear to be moving toward revising the plan and trying to complete the review work in the next several months. Kirsten Keith and Catherine Carlton made up the council subcommittee charged with attempting to make the Stanford project more acceptable to Menlo Park residents, including an ad hoc group calling itself Save Menlo.
Ms. Keith said the two were involved in 18 meetings among the interested parties, and did manage to bring back significant concessions from Stanford, including the elimination of medical office space. The council approved a cut-through traffic study of the Allied Arts neighborhood, which Stanford has agreed to fund. The university also has agreed to do more work on the Middle Avenue plaza and contribute funding for a tunnel under the railroad tracks from Middle Avenue to Burgess Park.
These are encouraging developments, as is the fact that all four council members who can vote on the issue — Ms. Keith, Ms. Carlton, Rich Cline and Mayor Peter Ohtaki (member Ray Mueller is recused) — appeared to hear residents' concerns and said they are ready to revise the specific plan. According to the city attorney, the council's revisions will affect the Stanford project, if the council does so before the city issues building permits under the current plan. And if it can muster four votes, the council could invoke a moratorium, which could stop any development from going forward.
In light of the size and density of Stanford's proposal for 500 El Camino, we hope the council will revise the specific plan to make sure the Stanford project is much more compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods. The cut-through traffic study and willingness of Stanford to work on a bike/pedestrian tunnel are good first steps. Size and mass of the permitted project and possible public benefits in return for approval should be high on the list of revisions considered by the council.
Ms. Keith noted that the El Camino/downtown plan is the city's first specific plan, and that it is a learning process. Many residents, including the City Council, were shocked by the size of Stanford's initial proposal. And to its credit, the university has made significant concessions from where the project began.
More important is the height and density of what will be permitted on this eight-acre parcel. Certainly Stanford owns the land and deserves to develop the property. But whatever is built must not overwhelm El Camino Real and nearby residential streets with traffic. That will be the major consideration for the Planning Commission and the City Council as they move ahead with revising the specific plan.