Editorial: Petition on El Camino project worth signing Menlo Park, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Jan 2, 2013 at 7:46 am
Menlo Park residents who are fed up with the traffic gridlock on El Camino Real should strongly consider signing the petition at SaveMenlo.org that asks Stanford University President John Hennessey and developer John Arrillaga to revise their current plan to build a huge complex of medical and traditional office space at 300-550 El Camino Real.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 2, 2013, 12:00 AM
Posted by Stefan P., a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 7:46 am
El Camino is now pretty much congested every day during commute and lunch hours. I am seeing a lot more cut through traffic through my street. A 350,000 square feet office complex will certainly make things worse. Let's get traffic and related safety issues under control before we add more traffic to El Camino. I am not against development but it should be appropriate for Menlo Park and improve quality of life.
Posted by Too little too late, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 11:29 am
The Almanac was told about the likelihood of the Stanford buildout last spring. At that time, their assigned report was not interested, apparently preferring the party line.
The sad thing is that the Almanac could have been instrumental in getting the word out before the plan was signed/sealed/delivered. And instead, our only truly local newspaper punted.
Our city has no leverage now. We can hope to try to embarrass Stanford, but at some point their legal department is going to step in. We'll back down as soon as someone whispers "litigation" -- which is as it should be, as our legal firepower pales in comparison to Stanford's.
Posted by interested party, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 2:23 pm
What happens with this project has an impact just beyond the Menlo Park community. It is unfortunate that few signatures have been obtained thus far. Perhaps the organizers should consider other social media methods, like a facebook page, to collect signatures....remember how the Sharon Hts park was taken off the housing discussion during the fall....quite a successful method to register the community's disagreement.
Posted by public benefit needed, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm
The city needs to examine much more closely its new rules about development and what constitutes public benefit. According to the city website the project itself is a benefit, ignoring the loss of the Tesla dealership and its revenue to the city ignoring the impacts on congestion and safety at nearby intersections, and ignoring the lost opportunity for so much more benefit to the community in the form of housing and retail.
Her's what is on the city website about the project "The proposal would adhere to the Specific Plan's "Base" level standards, which were established to achieve inherent public benefits, such as the redevelopment of underutilized properties, the creation of more vitality and activity, and the promotion of healthy living and sustainability. The proposal is required to comply with the Specific Plan's detailed standards and guidelines, which include requirements to limit building mass (in particular on upper floors), encourage articulation and architectural interest, require wider sidewalks, and mandate LEED Silver compliance. This project would also be required to provide a 120-foot-wide, publicly accessible frontage break at Middle Avenue. This "Burgess Park Linkage/Open Space Plaza" would lead to a future grade-separated pedestrian/bicycle crossing of the Caltrain tracks."
The last sentence is totally misleading. The 'plaza" is the entry and exit for cars going into the new buildings!
Posted by Sam Sinnott, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 3:00 pm
Because the project is designed at the specific plan's base level, the owners are not asking for a floor area bonus in exchange for a public benefit.
However, it is common knowledge that allowing public access on private property is providing a public benefit. Sure- they are using this Burgess Park Linkage/Open Space Plaza to also access their buildings but that doesn't mean the public benefits less.
I am grateful the owners are willing to risk so much money on our City and provide this important link to Burgess and not ask for a bonus in return.
Posted by Nick Baldo, a resident of the Menlo Park: Belle Haven neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 5:52 pm
Personally I would never consider signing this. No plan is ever perfect, but the basic concept of denser development in downtown Menlo Park is obviously a great idea. I get the feeling most of the opposition to this project is just another prong of the opposition to new development generally. The best place for new construction-be it offices, apartments, or retail-is a transit accessible, high-rent area.
The more people try to block this stuff the more farmland and grassland gets destroyed in the Central Valley, and the more we become slaves to the automobile. Next weekend, go to the outskirts of Clovis, Fresno, Bakersfield, etc... and see what this strange obsession with maintaing an ossified, unchanging community has done to our beautiful state.
If somebody just thinks there should be a higher ratio of housing to office space, that's a fine suggestion, but not something I think it makes sense to go ballistic over. The only reason there isn't more housing downtown and along El Camino is the byzantine and overly-restrictive zoning code we use in the first place. Focus on that and spare us the hypocrisy.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Jan 2, 2013 at 6:06 pm
Unfortunately, this petition is pointless. That horse has left the barn. The folks signing this petition should have been at City Council meetings making their voices heard. Maye the Council wouldn't have approved the "Downtown Vision" that allowed this travesty. Too late now. If you think Stanford gives a rat's behind about what a few Menlo Park residents thinks you are sadly mistaken.
Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Jan 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm
The real on the traffic congestion was created a number of years ago when the Sand Hill/ECR interchange was created. If traffic was allowed to CROSS ECR at that intersection, there would be substantially less traffic diverted through Menlo Park. Consider the traffic pattern a person needs to take when exiting from 280 at Sand Hill and desires to go to the Willows or out to 101 and beyond? They are now forced to turn left onto El Camino, through Menlo Park and turn right at Ravenswood or streets further north on ECR. Completely wrong.
Posted by too little too late, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm
Palo Alto allows bicycles but not cars to cross El Camino onto Alma directly from Sand Hill. So vehicles must turn left onto El Camino, then make a u-turn at Cambridge, then get into the left turn lane onto Alma. Although this is a small percentage of overall ECR traffic, it is significant. The unnecessary left turns also exacerbate the dangers for pedestrians and cyclists trying to cross El Camino @ Sand Hill/Alma.
Creating a new road by extending Willow to El Camino (yet another train crossing -- how much would that cost?) would not eliminate any traffic, just displace it from a thoroughfare, El Camino, onto neighborhood streets in Linfield Oaks. That is not a solution. In fact, forcing cars to wind around to Ravenswood and then Middlefield and back to Willow is a Disneyesque maneuver that stretches out the traffic and prevents backups onto El Camino.
Menlo Voter is right. And any poster who says that any development is good development simply does not understand economics. And anyone who doesn't understand that more office space will have a multiplier effect on housing development needs to google "ABAG."
Posted by biker chick, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm
Think about what is in these spaces now: nothing. For such valuable real estate, it's really a shame that the space doesn't host any businesses or housing. Given that, I don't see why Arrillaga's plan is getting so much hate. Taking the common sense route (allowing for use of these empty lots), there will of course be some associated traffic. People are just irrationally opposed to development.
Posted by too little too late, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 3, 2013 at 10:29 pm
It is not "a shame" that the space is empty. Valuable real estate is underutilized because Stanford made a deliberate decision to leave it vacant pending a more favorable rezoning. Our city could have taken steps to address this problem but chose to ignore it.
People are not irrationally opposed to development. No one wants to see that property remain undeveloped. No one. But when you pay top dollar to buy a home in a community like ours, it's reasonable to expect that development will not impair our collective quality of life.
Those of us who attended the original downtown/El Camino meetings saw drawings of European-style plazas and outdoor cafes. Everyone liked those ideas. High-density, high-traffic offices serve the interests of no one except a few very rich people and institutions.
We can and should do better. Stanford needs to understand that Menlo Park is not the dumping ground for development they don't want on campus and that Palo Alto will not allow.
Posted by Menlo Resident, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Jan 3, 2013 at 10:39 pm
I agree with the comment above by No Easy Solution. It is time to eliminate the few scattered parking spaces from the El Camino Real so that the bottle neck is removed thus allowing traffic to flow more smoothly and safely. Besides, parking on busy El Camino Real is undesirable because it is difficult, at all hours, and not a safe choice.
Posted by Perla Ni, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm
I hear a lot of people feeling like the horse is out of the barn on this, that this is a signed deal. This is not true. Stanford wil be using the Menlo Park services - police, roads, sewage - and will rely on the goodwill of this community to provide that to them since they pay no property taxes as a nonprofit. That means all the taxpayers in this city DO have a say. We are in effect all subsidizing Stanford's use of our city. As you know, the reason for the Stanford expansion into Menlo Park is that they have reached their traffic cap in Santa Clara county. So this project exports their traffic to Menlo Park. And it's a bad deal for Menlo Park - there are no revenue benefits, there are no other benefits. And only the burdens of traffic and serving them with our public services. Stanford is still in meetings with the city council. And city council are very eager to hear the public response on this. So do sign the petition! It will be presented to Stanford, Arrillaga and City Council!
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 7:02 am
As I said before, Stanford couldn't care less what Menlo Park citizens think. They have been shoving their development problems off on us for years and will continue to do so. Especially since they were handed the keys to the kingdom on this property. If they follow the rules they need provide no mitigation. And traffic mitigation will be required. You can bet on it.
Posted by public benefit needed, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 9:01 am
Peter C There are no assurances that Stanford's project will be for commercial purposes that would generate property taxes.
TLTL got it right. No one likes weedy vacant lots. No one wants or expected traffic-intense projects that don't help with the housing and jobs imbalance, or that worsen rather than help with pedestrian and cyclist safety and east-west connectivity.
We had good reason to expect something other than a large office park because during the visioning workshops, we were shown plazas and cafes and heard talk about housing and public benefit for larger buildings. That isn't what Stanford is proposing, and they are getting rid of the Tesla dealership for a big loss in sales tax revenue. What is proposed doesn't represent the positives we expected as the tradeoff for allowing more development.
Our city officials will need to get some backbone to fix this. Our voices can help. Please sign the petition at www.savemenlopark.org and ask your friends to do so too.
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm
I agree with TLTL. The vision presented during our community workshops was wonderful RE: land usage and aesthetics. Why did our town create this false expectation and not ensure the vision became reality? The apparent "done deal" plans are, for me, extremely disappointing and discouraging.
Posted by George Fisher, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm
There is no access to the proposed 300-550 El Camino Real Project other than El Camino Real or Middle, College, Partridge, or Cambridge Avenues. The project is between El Camino Real and the Railroad tracks. My understanding is that the supporters claim it is a done deal, because it is allowed by the El Camino Real/ Downtown Specific Plan. Even if so, Menlo Park residents and public officials need to mount a major hue and cry, including signing the petition at Web Link to see what can be rescued through public opinion. The developers are friends of many of us, and can benefit from the project, even with necessary changes.
The reason for public clamor is the significant harm caused residents by the 6,407 per day net added vehicle trips caused by this project on El Camino and the Middle to Cambridge neighborhood streets (Project Draft EIR report page 4.13-38). How could this increase in traffic possibly be mitigated. Look at the present traffic. This additional traffic load is not offset by any net benefits to our city or its residents. Any additional sales tax by the 10,000 sf retail space (out of a total of 357,500 sf office/medical project) would be offset by loss of tesla sales tax. Any claimed public benefit by allowing public access to a future on site (small) plaza for occupants is nonsensical. Talk of access over or under the railroad tracks for pedestrians appears only pie in the sky and in any event related to any redevelopment related to a highspeed rail project, not included in the present project.
I reject any claim that residents should have objected earlier. The harm to residents and lack of public benefit should have been obvious to those drafting the documents and voting any approvals.
The project plans are available for inspection on Web Link. A graphic view of the 4 story project, also showing three plus lanes of traffic going north is on Web Link
Posted by Just Asking, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 4:41 pm
IS STANFORD MEDICAL OFFICE PROJECT SUBJECT TO PROPERTY TAXES?
As the great Yogi Berra said, itís like deja-vu all over again. How many times can Stanford give Menlo Park the short end of the stick? After nearly 5 years of working on the Downtown/El Camino Real Specific Plan that was supposed to have a shelf life of 20 to 30 years, we are now faced with a massive development on Stanford land on El Camino Real that generates traffic at a greater level than what was considered in any of the 5 year deliberations and studies. Medical offices are the highest traffic generators of any building uses. Hundreds of patients will arrive in 15 minute intervals all day entering and exiting parking garages. Combined with what we already experience on ECR and the Stanford proposed development at University Ave. in Palo Alto, we finally will experience true gridlock.
It could get worse. Stanfordís medical buildings could be University medical offices affiliated with the Medical School, a teaching hospital and educational institution which has a non-profit status. Does this mean that the medical office portion of Stanfordís development will not be subject to property tax? Was this a consideration during the creation of the Specific Plan?
Currently of the 18 Stanford parcels in Menlo Park, almost all the property taxes are paid by the homeowners, the lessees or the tenants and this includes the empty buildings on ECR where the Anderson Chevrolet and other auto lots once resided. With Stanfordís Medical Center moving some of their offices to these sites, the City might not gain any of the tax revenue based on the increased value of the new construction. Worse yet, even the current property tax could also disappear.
The Councils that worked on the Specific Plan had hoped for revenue generating retail businesses, some offices and some housing. In hindsight, the Stanford parcels should not have been included in the Plan because the Universityís land on El Camino Real is so large, it needed separate assessment and regulation.
Menlo Park will get the traffic. The question is, will we get the property tax revenue based on the very significant value of the new buildings? This is quite a different scenario than Palo Altoís which, sees that city earning sales and property tax from Stanfordís Shopping Mall, property tax from Stanford West Apartments and Oak Creek Apartments, and also gets credit for housing counts from Stanford West.
Neighborhoods closest to the Stanford Medical Building development are concerned about their ability to access the Civic Center and its benefits such as the Rec Center, the gym, the pool and the fields. The rest of the city should join their effort and work with Stanford to minimize the impacts of this development that is so out of character to our small town. Go to savemenlopark.com, sign the petition and learn about the groupís next meeting.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm
"I reject any claim that residents should have objected earlier. The harm to residents and lack of public benefit should have been obvious to those drafting the documents and voting any approvals."
It should have been obvious to anyone paying attention. Unfortunately, those that don't like this plan weren't paying attention when the documents were drafted and approved. It wasn't done in secret. If anyone cared to participate they could have, and had they been paying attention, they would have seen what our elected officials were approving and they could have objected then. It's too late now.
Posted by too little..., a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 6:12 pm
I agree that residents should not have to watch over our staff members' shoulders and should be able to trust them. Unfortunately, that trust is misplaced.
That said, there were residents who foresaw the current state of affairs before the proposal was finalized last spring. Some tried to get the council to separate out the Stanford properties, but that effort got no traction. Others tried to communicate via the Almanac, but our newspaper was not interested. Seems that once staff and the consultant had created a plan, no one wanted to rock the boat. Phrases like "years and years of effort" and "ample public process" were bandied about to reassure everyone that due diligence had occurred when in fact it had not. You simply can't hope that Stanford will do the right thing and give them enough latitude to do all kinds of wrong things.
Heads should roll. They won't. But I hope that in the future, more residents will take notice before it's too late. It's real easy to dismiss your neighbors as NIMBYs, and sometimes they are. But a lot of the time, those "NIMBYs" are the only people in town who have read the lengthy reports and can see without any doubt that the emperor is having serious wardrobe malfunction issues.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm
Sure senior housing was "spoken of." What made it to paper? What made it to paper is all Stanford cares about. Yes, it's a bait and switch. Stanford is famous for those tactics. Stanford doesn't care what you and I think, nor what impact they have on our community. If they did do you think they would have left those lots as eyesores for all of these years?
Posted by No Easy Solutions, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2013 at 9:20 pm
Any development there is going to increase traffic and the options to mitigate traffic are limited. In addition, having offices can provide ancillary tax revenues via employees/visitors dining and shopping in MP. Granted it probably won't replace the lost revenue from Tesla, but it is something.
Slightly off topic, but is there any effort by MP to keep Telsa dealership in town, such as using the other closed dealerships on ECR or maybe off Marsh Rd?
Posted by Ranch Gal, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Jan 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm
coming here in 1956, I remember smooth traffic albeit fewer cars then, but even back in the late 70's traffic flowed smoothly through Menlo Park due to 3 (yes THREE) lanes. Then they took out a lane and planted lovely useless trees and shrubs. Then I knew it would be a disaster. Why would they do such a thing? I remember hearing that with only two lanes the traffic would be forced out of Menlo Park and onto Middlefield or Alameda! Well that didn't work did it?
3 lanes is what is needed with timed traffic lights. Get a clue! Bring back THREE LANES to Menlo Park.
Posted by public benefit needed, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 6, 2013 at 11:36 am
Regardless of how many lanes exist, the best way to minimize traffic congestion and improve pedestrian and cyclist safety is to promote projects that do that. A huge office park doesn't. Medical office is the very worst because its traffic is almost impossible to reduce.
The Stanford project is not at all what we need or want in Menlo Park. I'm not against development, but what I understood we would get (housing, senior housing, hotel, undercrossing, improved east-west connectivity) is not at all what this project imposes. It dumps a lot of new traffic without commensurate benefit.
Posted by Assume the position, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 6, 2013 at 9:32 pm
Steve Elliott, managing director of Stanford Real Estate, made it quite clear of Stanfords desire for medical and office use, when, at the "Trees for ECR" forner Mayor Chuck Kinney conducted Bohannon group seminar at Burgess a few years ago, Steve fielded questions after Provost Etchemendy gave a speech about Stanford's Grand Academic Plan, and it has become a foregone conclusion that MP planning and councils genuflect to Palo Alto and the Farm on ECR development
Hey a potato farmers son from Idaho who became All American hoops player at the Farm then big time land developer, together with Nevada sheep farmer son Etchemendy , can carve up our pathetic ill governed MP like we are hapless peons is our native peninsulans fate due to our lack of cojones to push back
Posted by old timer, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Jan 7, 2013 at 8:12 am
The person who more than anyone else should be held accountable is Councilman (than mayor) Rich Cline. The whole specific plan idea was his and he literally put his head in the sand, refusing to do anything other than saying the consultants will work out the details. He was asked to hold public hearings before the EIR was drawn up, but he refused.
It is an absolute terrible reflection on the City Staff and in particular Thomas Rogers and others, who were deeply involved in the project and refused to look out for the City's and its residents best interests.
The wool was pulled over the eyes of the residents of Menlo Park, when the "visioning" part of the Specific Plan ended, and the residents thought they were getting a completely different plan, from what the new consultant and City Staff then engineered.
Mayor Cline went along with the new consultant's plans, saying it would be "cut down" later; that never happened.
Posted by public benefit needed, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 7, 2013 at 9:09 am
HKA PA - the project in MP will get built. They don't care if it works for our community. Unfortunately our city staff doesn't care either. They support developers, not residents or our quality of life. The city council can hold the city manager accountable to do this, though. Residents need to come out in force many times to help give the council some backbone.
Look at the city website for this project. It lauds the benefit of having something built on the site as if anything is better than what's there now, ignoring the negative impacts and lack of real public benefit of what is proposed by Stanford. A project with a lot more benefit to our community is needed.
Posted by Cut Through Traffic, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm
There is already a significant amount of cut through traffic in Allied Arts - people speeding through stop signs while talking on their phones trying to shave a minute from their daily commute.
Eventually there will be a fatal accident where a pedestrian is killed (likely a child) and people will insist there be action taken. This new development will only serve to increase the cut-through traffic and shorten the time to a child fatality.
In the end it will be up to the Allied Arts Community to take control of our streets and keep them safe for kids by making sure cut through traffic finds that our neighborhoods are not a good way to save time on a commute. There are a variety of ways to do this that range from random road blockages, large group walks and rides and of course the technically sophisticated social media speed trap that posts photos of drivers and cars that run stop signs or speed on our streets (my vision would be to have them accompanied by auto-egg tossers).
The police will play an important role as well if they put forward a consistent effort to monitor the area during rush hour and are generous in their handing out of tickets for traffic violations. They have stepped up this effort of late.
And then finally we'll be forced to petition to change traffic flows by blocking off streets (at certain hours to start), making certain turns illegal and a whole raft of other things that no one wants but we'll need to put in place.
Posted by menloshopper, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 10, 2013 at 6:18 am
Clearly a major flaw in the Specific Plan is not to provide greater checks and balances for large projects. For the Downtown, in comparison, the 'paseo' outdoor area and expanded sidewalk seating includes a trial period to see what works and adjust. Why is there no safeguard for an 8 acre project on El Camino Real, given the broad range of Plan development parameters?
Posted by Stefan Petry, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 10, 2013 at 9:58 pm
On 1/28 starting at 7pm during the Planing Commission meeting there will be a study session about this project. The public can ask questions and get more information. I would encourage everybody to go and learn more. I am not against developing those vacant car lots with a mix of housing and retail but this project is out of character (image all if El Camino in Menlo Parked looked like giant space ships had just landed). If you have not seen the plans you should look at them. With 1,200 parking spaces gridlock on ECR / Ravenswood / Sandhill / Middle etc. is guaranteed.