Town Square

Post a New Topic

Menlo Park council approves Louise Street abandonment

Original post made on Aug 21, 2013

The fight over Louise Street may head to the courts, which is where some Menlo Park City Council members appear to think it now belongs after efforts at compromise collapsed.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 11:36 PM

Comments (32)

Posted by Mike Keenly, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

This is the appropriate decision by City Council, and if it goes to court, I predict this decision will be upheld.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What did the city receive for this gift of public land to two private property owners?

And yes, this will go to court and the Louse St neighbors are now obligated to pay the city's legal costs.

This (temporary?) win may be very expensive.


Posted by No Easy Solutions, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:07 am

Disappointed with how the city council voted by "giving away" city property. I will be expressing my disapproval the next time they are up for re-election.


Posted by Proud MP resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

I'm proud to be a homeowner in Menlo Park, especially after what I saw at the Council meeting last night. I was really impressed with the thoughtful consideration the Council, the City Attorney and the City Staff gave to this very complex issue. There was no easy answer, but they eventually arrived at the right one.

The Council voted to preserve open space and neighborhood character and against a very odd proposal by the developer that would have made for weird property configurations on both Louise Street and Santa Cruz Avenue.

I think the developer would be really foolish to sue. It could take him a year to get a hearing, which will just cost him even more money. (And I have to say, that attorney of his really didn't help him at all last night!) And courts just don't overturn well documented, thoroughly vetted, and unanimous City Council decisions.


Posted by I was there, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm

The land was not owned by the city. The city did not give away the land. Anyone who watched there hearing knows this.


Posted by No way to know, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

The court will hear the case based on facts and not emotion. Our current city council could be called the Kumbayah Council. Recently it has based its decisions on what is most popular and not what is right.

Sometimes popular and right coincide and sometimes they do not. To predict an outcome of a court case before it has begun is pure speculation.

This case could go either way. Only time will tell who will prevail.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The city did not give away the land."

What the city did was give away an easement. "An easement is considered as a property right in itself at common law and is still treated as a type of property in most jurisdictions." Wikipedia.


Posted by Old MP, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

A good compromise would have been to allow for a driveway and garage on the rear of the lot. (Similar to an alley entrance - you see some of these types of homes in Palo Alto I believe). However still require the owner to have the front entrance and address of the house on Santa Cruz.


Posted by Mike Keenly, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Yes, that's a good compromise... for the developer.


Posted by Louise Street Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:28 pm

This was not a gift of public land. It was an Abandonment, not a transfer of fee simple. The City never owned the 3000 square foot green space at the end of Louise Street. You can't give away what you do not own. The City merely had a right-of-way interest in the property-that is something that they cannot transfer. There are, and have always been underlying private property owners.

When the Council acknowledged its own staff report which stated, "the portion of Louise Street proposed for Abandonment is not necessary for present or prospective public street purposes," they recognized that there was no need to retain their right-of-way interest in this. Rather, by abandoning it they have reduced their liability exposure (save taxpayer money) and have mostly stepped out of the picture, leaving it up to only the private parties to resolve any differences that they may have (again, save taxpayer money).

The underlying property owners can't build on the green space, can't use it in their calculations to build out their properties, have to maintain it, etc. None of them complained about these new and severe restrictions to their property.

This is what municipalities, utility companies, etc. should do when they find that they no longer need the easements, restrictions, etc. that they have on private property. I think most people recognize this as a win-win. They City no longer has to manage this small amount of green space, or be liable for it, and with the restrictions on the Abandonment, the community can continue to enjoy the historical character and usage of this green space.

Good job, City Council!


Posted by Menlo resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm

This wasn't just about putting a driveway through the green space. The developer wanted to put his driveway right on top of a driveway to one of the houses on Louise Street.

One of last night's speakers made it really clear when he said there's only something like 15 feet between the edges of two driveways at the end of the street. The only way to wedge another driveway in there for the developer would have been to build it right on top of someone else's driveway.

Would you think it was okay for the City to give away half of your driveway to one of your neighbors? I think any of us would object to that.


Posted by I was there, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Having followed this process from the beginning, I will be surprised if Sinnot takes the neighbors to court. He simply does not have a case, the land has always belonged to residents on Louise Street. Sinnot is not stupid. He does not have a case, he would lose in court and have to pay for the neighbor's expenses, perhaps including expenses defending themselves from him in front of the city council. This is over.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The property right in question clearly had value - that is why the parties were arguing over the right to use it.

Just because I no longer want or need something that does not make it worthless - I am free to offer it in the free market for whatever others think it might be worth.

Why didn't the city offer up its rights in a public auction rather than simply give those rights away?

As for the argument that " The only way to wedge another driveway in there for the developer would have been to build it right on top of someone else's driveway.' please note that there are already a number of flag lots on Louise St that only have a 15' frontage on Louise St. and that entire frontage is used for, guess what, driveways.


Posted by I was there, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:19 pm


"Just because I no longer want or need something that does not make it worthless - I am free to offer it in the free market for whatever others think it might be worth."

The logic is fine when it stands by itself, but completely misses the point. This was not the city's land / right to give away. Sinnot made it very clear what he thought about negotiating with the rightful owners, the neighbors... he violated their confidentially in an attempt to influence the city. That was his plan. He lost, the bridges are burnt, it is over.

Hard to know what motivates you. You are certainly going to stir interest in your campaign for the fire district.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Hard to know what motivates you."

It should not be hard to determine if you read my posts - I am motivated by FACTS and the responsibility to protect the PUBLIC INTEREST.


Posted by there it is, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

This is why Peter should be rejected for any elected position. He does not listen, does not evolve and cares only about what he can cut and paste or edit to make his point. The worst kind of public representatives are the types who think they know better than everyone else. What that means is public input is irrelevant and public meetings are a waste. Peter cannot evolve. Reject him.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There it is - another anonymous poster claiming to know the truth but unwilling to be held accountable.



Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Peter you have to come up with a new tag line for ending your discussions.


Posted by I was there, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I still don't know what motivates you, but I no longer care. I posted the facts. You ignore them and insist that you are interested in the FACTS.

au revoir


Posted by Good call, CC, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 21, 2013 at 2:29 pm

I have been supporting Louise Street from the beginning. One of our council's goals should be to promote and protect the integrity and character of its residential neighborhoods. As property values continue to climb, there may be other incursions. Residents should not have to keep having to defend their property and quality of life!

Appending a real name to a misstatement does not make that misstatement true. Many of us live in homes that have easements, and the city most assuredly cannot sell such rights to the highest bidder. That's not how easements work.

Louise Street residents, now that you've had a taste of city government, don't become strangers. There are many other MP residents who value our neighborhoods and are trying to fend off encroachments from deep-pocketed developers. I hope you will support us, as we have supported you.


Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Good! Learn anything here, Sam?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Anybody who thinks that this is over has failed to read the fine print:

"Property owners of 1024 Louise Street and 1017 Louise Street to provide Pedestrian Access Easements from Louise Street through the Abandonment area to properties located at 1825 Santa Cruz Avenue and 1833 Santa Cruz Avenue to the satisfaction of the Public Works Director. Said Pedestrian Access Easements to be recorded concurrently with the approved Abandonment."

"The owners of 1017 and 1024Louise Street will work with the owners of
1833 Santa Cruz Avenue to create an easement ACCEPTABLE TO ALL PARTIES, with
the Public Works Director and City Attorney having final approval of said
easement."


Posted by king of misdirection, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Here is the full quote from the staff report:

"The adjacent property owners of 1024 Louise Street shall record a Pedestrian
Access Easement against the abandoned portion of Louise Street, ensuring that
the property owners of 1825 Santa Cruz Avenue continue to enjoy pedestrian
access to Louise Street from their property. The Pedestrian Access Easement
shall be granted for the benefit of the property located at 1825 Santa Cruz
Avenue, providing a pathway a minimum of 5 feet in width between the property
at 1825 Santa Cruz Avenue and the new right-of-way boundary at the terminus of
Louise Street. The owners of 1024 Louise Street will work with the owners of
1825 Santa Cruz Avenue to create an easement acceptable to all parties, with
the Public Works Director and City Attorney having final approval of said
easement. The approval of said easement shall not be appealable."

Not a word about a driveway easement here. This is about the pedestrian easement.
Why is it so important for Sinnot to win?


Posted by Sell at Auction?, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Aug 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm

--------------------
Posted by Peter Carpenter
“Why didn't the city offer up its rights in a public auction rather than simply give those rights away?"
---------------------

One reason is that this type of action could easily prove to favor the wealthiest person participating in the auction -- and this individual might not give a rat's behind about the people living in the homes most affected by his purchase. City officials could quickly find themselves voted (or recalled) out of office if they started doing what you just suggested.

I don't doubt that just about everyone in Menlo Park (naturally) has a significant, and often passionate, interest in the neighborhood they live in, but few have the kind of money it could easily take to defend their interests if your “let them eat cake" suggestion became a reality.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"by abandoning it they have reduced their liability exposure (save taxpayer money) and have mostly stepped out of the picture, leaving it up to only the private parties to resolve any differences that they may have (again, save taxpayer money)."

On reflection I think you are right. The city is now held harmless and the parties will either negotiate a mutually satisfactory easement or they will go to court. It will be interesting to see what happens.


Posted by Menlo resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Mr. Carpenter,
Yes, there are flag lots on Louise Street that have limited frontage on Louise Street. In fact, the driveways to the two flag lots are only about 10' wide.
You are correct that building the 1825 Santa Cruz driveway right on top of a neighbor's driveway was not the "only" way. However, it was quite certainly the only way that was acceptable to Mr. Sinnott. He repeatedly asked for a driveway 16-20' in width, which would not have fit between the two existing driveways. The City minimum is 10' but Mr. Sinnott refused to accept anything less than 16'.
All of his encroachment permit applications showed the foot of his driveway on top of the driveway to 1024, effectively taking over a portion of that driveway.
Consider your own property - would you have accepted the City's action if it took the entire entrance to the driveway that exclusively serves your home and represents your only access to the network of public streets and insisted that a neighbor on an adjacent street must now share that driveway?

To the point about auctioning the land, the City is only able to auction or sell land that it actually owns. The City never owned the right of way at the end of Louise Street. As the City Staff and City Attorney explained last night, cities are provided easements to maintain public rights of way such as City streets, while the underlying fee is owned to the center line of the street by the adjacent property owners. Ever since Louise Street was originally developed, the City of Menlo Park has had only an easement for the right of way, not ownership of any kind. The fee simple (the true ownership) is held by the descendents of the original subdividers of the lot at the end of the street, not by the City. Simply put, the City had nothing available to sell or auction in this case.


Posted by move on, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Sam sacrificed his judgement to keep his investor and his attorney happy. Those guys are aggressive to a fault and they're going to cost him all his profit on this development if he's not careful.
Time to listen to his conscience now and just move on.


Posted by Spanky, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm

The Almanac censors.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 16, 2013 at 7:44 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As predicted this matter is now in the courts:

"Developer sues Menlo Park for blocking his driveway plan

By Bonnie Eslinger

Daily News Staff Writer

POSTED: 11/16/2013 03:00:00 AM PST

A developer who was blocked by the Menlo Park City Council from paving a driveway through a green patch of public right of way behind his house has sued the city and neighboring property owners.

When the city abandoned the land, it required the new owners to record deed restrictions to ensure it remains dedicated open space; they also signed an agreement indemnifying the city against any future lawsuits related to the property."

As noted:
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 10:42 am
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
What did the city receive for this gift of public land to two private property owners?

And yes, this will go to court and the Louse St neighbors are now obligated to pay the city's legal costs.

This (temporary?) win may be very expensive.


Posted by It's back, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Back on the City Council's agenda, May 12th, 2014. City staff recommending that Council reverse its Aug 2013 decision denying vehicular traffic in its conditional abandonment of Louise Street. Looks like the developer will get what he's wanted from the beginning. 20' wide driveway easement through historical green space.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The staff report makes fascinating reading:

Web Link

A lot of time and effort would have been saved if the parties involved had sought and received good legal advice before this all began - the outcome was both predictable and predicted.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
" would seriously compromise the historical character of our street"

I have looked at the Google street views before the " unauthorized clearing" was done and when part of it was being used as a graveled parking area and I have looked at it last week.
I also note that the Sinnott property fence has a driveway sized gate. I am not prepared to accept the so called historical character of this right-of-way. It appears to have been used in different ways over time. I understand that the current Louise St. residents would like to remove this property from the right of way but I fail to see that there is historical justification for doing so.

That being said, if I were in your shoes Michael I would sit down an negotiate a settlement with Sinnott. The result maybe a driveway and some very nice landscaping or no driveway and a payment to Sinnott or something more clever. Either way this would be much less expensive than going to court where both side will also have to pay a lot of legal fees.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 9, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From the staff report:

"In the months following the filing of the lawsuit, the parties have been in discussions in
an effort to settle the lawsuit. The City Attorney has been involved in those discussions
and has been advised that Mr. Sinnott and the other defendants have reached a
settlement agreement. As a part of the settlement, they have requested that the City
modify the original conditions of Abandonment to also include a vehicular access
easement for the benefit of 1825 Santa Cruz Avenue."


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Freshman Blues Don't Mean Wrong College
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 2 comments | 1,297 views

Background and Ideas for the Comp Plan
By Steve Levy | 21 comments | 1,229 views

When Grandparents Visit
By Cheryl Bac | 4 comments | 953 views

The States Proposed Rainy Day Fund Threatens Local School Districts Ability To Keep Their Financial Houses In Order
By Erin Glanville | 3 comments | 374 views

Aging and Training
By Paul Bendix | 1 comment | 202 views