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Editorial: Let's work together on housing

Original post made on Jan 6, 2009

It is sad to see Belle Haven residents at odds over a proposed 20-unit Habitat for Humanity housing complex on Terminal Avenue, especially when housing foreclosures are rampant in the area forcing more residents out of their homes.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 7, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (16)

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 6, 2009 at 1:47 pm

The Derry Project would have provide some much needed BMR Housing. But Andy Cohen opposed it and when Kelly Fergusson got the word from above she switched sides and opposed it as well. Kudos to Elizabeth Lasensky for standing her ground. This is a project that was supported by Jellins, Duboc, and Winkler and would have been a great addition to the city. But Andy's shadow government consisting of Morris Brown (who is a likeable but misdirected fellow) and others overturn 21 public hearings that the public participated in.


Posted by last laugh, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 6, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Hank, that ship sailed a long time ago. Thousands of residents opposed the Derry project, not just those you choose to malign. And it's hardly a surprise that people who are on the BMR list would be among the few supporters of the project. But the project didn't conform to existing zoning and it didn't -- and doesn't -- make sense as an appropriate use of that property.

Hundreds of houses are in foreclosure right now. There's plenty of affordable housing in our town! 2007 is over, and it's time to put a damper on the building frenzy.


Posted by Sue Kayton, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2009 at 8:20 pm

It's bad enough that the city is losing money in the child care business, but now Mayor Andy Cohen and the Almanac are pushing the city to become a large-scale landlord by purchasing and refurbishing distressed properties in Belle Haven.

In these tough economic times, the city should not be taking on additional responsibilities such as leaky roofs and repairing termite damage. Yes, the city should have more below-market housing, but developers of large-scale projects will provide them without the city having to handle the day-to-day repair and maintenance, or take on the risk of housing prices dropping even further.

The city should stay out of the landlord business and let the free market do its job, of returning sanity to over-inflated housing prices. Once sellers are cured of their unreasonable expectations for a high sales price, these distressed houses will sell, and the buyers will refurbish them, at no cost and no hassle to the city. Let the free market run its course.


Posted by Hank lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 7, 2009 at 7:20 am

Sue Kayton is brilliant. She states the obvious in a way that even the most obtuse leftist can understand.


Posted by frank torrance, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 7, 2009 at 8:01 am

Aha, Hank, so you're the poster posing as Lenin on the other thread? He/she/it is fond of those outmoded and inappropriate labels too. Read Ayn Rand's response (if you haven't already). It's perfect.

Bottom line, those labels are not only useless, they're pointless! But Ayn said it better than I ever could.

P.S. In your labelish world, isn't BMR housing an ultra-left concept?


Posted by doubter, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 7, 2009 at 8:34 am

The free market pushes for the highest profits. There is nothing about the market that will help with affordable housing.
BMR housing is not at all the same as affordable, by the way. The BMR requirements of new housing projects actually inflate the prices of the non-BMR units. The developer wants a profit, can't make it on the BMR units, so raises the prices of the others. Working with groups like Habitat for Humanity is the only way to take the profit out of the equation; that does not mean that the city becomes a landlord.


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

So Frank are you accusing me of impersonating someone who is more conservative than Heyward, Kelly, and Andy? Remember what Ayn Rand wrote- Atlas Shrugged. And the way things are going with the current leftist regime they will draw down our reserves quicker than a liberal can get a tax increase bill passed into law.


Posted by Charles D., a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Hank, I admire your relentless consistency. Your taste in literature is cause for concern, however.


Posted by Last Laugh Is Wrong, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm

"Last Laugh" is wrong, very wrong. The correct facts about the Derry Project are that the "thousands of citizens" that oppossed the Derry Project" had no idea that it would be replaced by NOTHING. The petition was paid and bought for, by an outside highly questionable agency, the new plan was all back room dealings, and the referendum that was promised, never happened. So, two years later we have an abandon dry cleaner, an abandon car wash, and a temporary store that sells used electronic gear. I'm guessing "Last Laugh" that this is "an appropriate use of that property." As if this isn't detrimental enough to your laughable argument, the clock continues to tick on the dollars that WOULD have been collected by the city, if that project had been approved. Conservatively, that number right now is $2Million plus. Just think of all the people that could be living in a new project, next to the railroad, most without cars...........possibly carbon neutral? Don't get me started, I haven't even begun to discuss our now gangland style graffitti laden theater! Thank you Kelly!


Posted by Sound of one hand slapping (a forehead in disbelief), a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Last Laught is Wrong: You're blaming Kelly Fergusson for the Park theater fiasco?

I think the blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the owner, Howard Crittenden, who threw out Landmark Theaters by saying he couldn't get enough rent money from them, and has been getting ZERO rent ever since. He's the one who boarded the place up and ripped off the marquee, turning it into an eyesore. The city lost a lovely little movie theater as a result.

Kelly does deserve the blame for championing a ludicrous idea to publically subsidize turning the theater into a dance studio, but that's it.

As for the many prospective denizens of the Derry project, the idea that most of them wouldn't own cars is ridiculous. They'd have convenient access to what little public transit there is, but believe me, they'd all own cars.


Posted by last laugh, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

I second Sound. The original Derry plan included two parking spaces per unit. And why would any "outside highly questionable agency" care about paying for a petition? As far as I know, the funds to support the petition drive were contributed by five Menlo Park residents, NONE of whom stood to benefit financially, professionally, or politically. They put their reputations and their checkbooks on the line because they care about this city and didn't want to see an oversized project blighting a big chunk of El Camino.

So, the "conservative" estimate is that the original Derry project would have added over $2mm to the city's coffers during the last year? That's almost 10% of the city's annual operating budget! Very conservative, right. Of course, there wouldn't have been any cost inflicted on our city by the dozens of new children needing space in our overcrowded schools or the thousands of new car trips that would have contributed to our traffic snarls, and let's not even talk about the impact on the city's aging water and sewage infrastructure.

Given what's happened with the housing market, Morris Brown seems not only generous but extraordinarily prescient. Note that the housing projects that did get built in Linfield Oaks seem to have a lot of unsold units. We're lucky that there aren't 100+ Derry units also sitting empty looking for non-existent buyers.


Posted by Wordsmithing, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Congrats "Hand Slapping" and "Last Laugh": Kelly, Andy and any other council member that want to continue to offer lame suggestions, or delay construction approvals for property that a private individual owns, is to blame. Say what you want about Crittenden, you forget that he paid for the property, it is he that continues to pay for the property, it should be he that gets the benefit of the doubt when he wants to develop it. I know you guys like messing with other people's money, like Crittenden's and other tax payers, but now that we officially added gang signatures in our downtown area, perhaps you'll consider allowing this man to develop HIS property.

As for 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 parking spaces, again the number allowed does not matter, the fact is that this property is close to a rail station, and this promotes public transportation, that is "easy and accessible".

The petition was paid for by the "delay at all costs" group, and it was an outside group, that was HIGHLY questionable in it's practices, this is well noted by many in the community.

Once again, all of the touchy feely stuff is nice, but there never seems to be too much attention spent on detail, or the analytics. $2M is for 2 years, not one. And again, "dozens of school children", are you kidding me? How do you know that? And, does the city pay for that? No. "Thousands of new car trips", how do you know that? "City's aging water and sewage infrastructure", grasping at straws? The individuals that WOULD have lived there, would shop in our business districts, would pay property tax and add to a whole host of other revenue streams that could be counted on for our cit, this does not even include the new retail area that would have provided more jobs, and more tax revenue! C'mon, it's getting to the point of ridiculous, we all know what's going on. I am really discouraged at paying thousands of dollars in property taxes and seeing my town erode because of this attitude.


Posted by suburbanite, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 10, 2009 at 8:54 am

Wordsmithing - many of us want to protect our quality of life. We chose to live in Menlo Park because it is not an urban city and don't want it to become one. I ardently support renovation, and even some housing, but not at the densities originally proposed for Derry.
Tell me again why it's ok to defy existing rules and the city's general plan? I fear that you espouse the same sort of philosophy of "I want what I want and to heck with impacts on everyone else" that have led to the country's economic problems. We need to work as a community and I applaud the council for attempting to do so.


Posted by Sorry Suburbanite, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 11, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Sorry "Suburbanite" we know you don't support ANYTHING that involves new, or different, or creative, Menlo Park will never become an "urban city", but as of right now, it's not even closely resembling a quaint little town. The blight, after 2,4, 6 years of neglect from this constant bashing of people that want to improve the town, has got to stop. We are now in a recession, and it's only going to get worse. At the tax rates that we pay, and at the incomes these families make, it is an utter embarassement for this town to have it look the way it looks. Mark my words, every time people like you want to "work as a community" this means more delays, no redevelopment of run down lots, and vacancies, and just a bunch of words. We have had plans in the past, and now we're going to get another one for $1M. Why does this city continue on this path, because we have allowed it to happen. However again, I sincerely believe people are growing very, very, very tired of this climate.


Posted by last laugh, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 12, 2009 at 12:07 am

I would LOVE to see "new, different, creative." Monolithic blocks of cheap (overpriced) housing may be new, but different and creative? I think not!

When I envision a vibrant small city (we're too big to be a small town) I think about a retail area that has interesting shops, a lot of destination restaurants, an array of services, a few movie theaters and maybe a performing arts center too. Perhaps a small park, and definitely a pedestrian friendly ambiance. That is the kind of vision that most of us have for the central part of our city.

There are many models the city could follow. Downtown Santa Cruz, for example, has transformed itself from a tired row of hemp-and-henna stores into a vibrant area with a pedestrian mall and lots of shopping and dining. Sales tax revenues, anyone?

If you want to see what doesn't work in Menlo Park, just drive down Linfield and take a look at those hideous Morgan Lane properties that have been on the market for over a year. More of the same is not the creative answer we need. Vacant housing units that are going to look old in 5 years do not enhance our community.

It's easy to bash the people who are working on the El Camino visioning effort, but how about coming up with some real ideas for improvement?


Posted by Big Questions, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 12, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I am starting to understand more and more where you guys are going with this "plan", but several questions come to mind:
* Restaurants are great, but ask any restaurant what our problem is, and overwhelmingly it is the lack of parking, and the lack of a late night atmosphere. It's very difficult for them to succeed in business, because of these two factors. I could never see a parking structure built in this town, with the current attitudes, and no way are people going to promote, or put up with people "hanging out" in Menlo Park after 10:00 PM.
* Movie Theaters are nice, but they are probably one of THE most expensive ventures in any small, medium and in some cases larger towns. Again, you need parking, and you need easier access.(aka a Route 101 or 280) This is the main reason Crittenden shut down, he was losing money. The Guild makes money because the property has few costs left in it, it's an old property.
* A performing arts center again, parking, and all of the reasons mentioned above.

If we were to seriously consider sprucing up the downtown area, with these type of draws listed above, the parking, and lots of it, have to be improved. You can do this, without mowing down existing structures and building a 3+ story complex, think how high a 2 story parking structure would be, it's not that big, and can be hidden. It is just unrealistic to discuss any type of retailer, or entertainment complex, or draw, to come to Menlo Park without the ability to profit. Santa Cruz is nice, BUT they have the ocean, THAT'S the draw. The bashing that goes on with myself, and others, is that we think all of these ideas are "nice to haves" and would be cool, and creative and interesting, but you cannot draw with the infrastucture we have to support these types of businesses. We are just being realistic.

As far as housing, I think you're right, I'm not turned on by Morgan Lane. In fact, we should leave all types of truly open space alone, and go after the abandon lots etc., closer to downtown, and design the downtown, urban type feel, versus breaking into the residential areas. Nice condos, apartments etc., not BIG ones, nice ones, with a medium type density, would benefit all of us.


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