Who's in charge of downtown development?
Original post made by Renee Batti, news editor of The Almanac, on Apr 6, 2007
What's wrong with this picture?
A city with an extensive review process -- including professional planners, a citizens Planning Commission and a City Council -- holds numerous, well-covered public hearings over a green "transit-oriented" project proposal which gets approved, but can't be built? The project is dynamic and lovely to look at but is a big change from the (shabby) existing use, and change always upsets someone, sparking emotional reactions. That's where the public process comes in. Or at least is supposed to.
Last fall, a few die-hard Menlo Park no-growthers engineered a carefully worded NIMBY petition ("shouldn't the public have a say in this project?") and thus the City Council was called to take a stand to defend the city's process.
Instead, the council has referred the project -- not to its Planning Commission or even to mediators -- but to the petition writers themselves. These self-appointed fixers have been "negotiating" with the Derry family's builder ever since, behind closed doors.
As a citizen, I am outraged at this handing over to an interest group the most promising land parcels in downtown.
There's nothing new about stage nerves in a big moment, but it is disheartening that our City Council won't stand up for transit-oriented dense housing.
Environmental groups all urge an alternative to quarter-acre suburbia, and the train corridor is the right location. We have an unprecedented four major vacant parcels staring at us, right now, right near the train station. Our supposedly green council should not be hoping for a watered down compromise to make the fixers happy. This isn't somebody else's opportunity to squander.
Henry L. Riggs
Callie Lane, Menlo Park
(Henry Riggs is a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.)