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A new plan for Park Theatre?

Original post made on Oct 6, 2007

A controversial plan to buy the former Park Theatre on El Camino Real for $2.2 million in city funds and lease it to Menlo Park resident Andy Duncan for a private dance studio is off the table -- at least for 30 days.
Menlo Park real estate broker Tom Hilligoss has stepped forward with his own plan to restore the derelict art deco movie theater as a performing arts venue, according to Mr. Duncan.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 5, 2007, 8:10 PM

Comments (49)

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 6, 2007 at 8:20 am

Um... why does the city council have anything to do with buying and selling of private real estate?

This ridiculous circus never seems to go away. Not for long though...

Posted by puzzled too, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 6, 2007 at 9:34 am

Because it makes them feel good?

Posted by hopeful, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 6, 2007 at 4:04 pm

If Hilligoss can preserve the theater as a theater, that's great. It really was lovely inside.
I hope he isn't looking to the city for a real estate loan. He should be able to find financing on his own. This has been a waste of time, and irresponsible when other parts of the city need a lot of attention (El Camino, commercial zone east of 101, sales tax revenue generating businesses rather than more offices for services).

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 7, 2007 at 1:13 pm

My neighbor sent an email asking for some information on recall protocol. He is ready to do something about this wasteful situation we are in. I'm with him and as soon as they tell us how to make the Council accountable, we'll involve everyone who is outraged.

The acceptance of Duncan's plan was the last straw.

Posted by reality check, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 7, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Steve: Council did not accept the plan. They voted to send it to negotiation.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 8, 2007 at 4:16 pm

Um... it looks like Steve is on the right track. Unless the Duncan proposal is thrown out and the council gets out of the banking and real estate business, this issue isn't over.

Posted by Cassandra, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 8, 2007 at 4:27 pm

Joanna is right. Steve is right. This issue should never have been allowed to consume scarce city resources, much less been considered as a candidate for public funding. Kelly is fortunate that an angel appeared, because the ruckus over this fiasco would have doomed her chances for county sup and for re-election in MP.

Posted by real politik, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 8, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Fergusson is already history. Bridges have been burned beyond repair. She can't turn this voter disenchantment around. Someone should ask Plng. Commissioner Vince Bressler, shy of John Boyle by a hundred votes the last election, to announce as running mate with Cohen so Fergusson focuses on Supervisor race in the spring. She'll just fade away.

Posted by skeptical, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 9, 2007 at 8:39 am

Real P, do you honestly believe that most residents know the name of the mayor of our fine city? Except for the five of us who post here on Town Square, how many people pay attention to what's going on?

Posted by Chlorined, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 9, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Look for Tim Sheeper to ask the city to build a tent over the Burgess pool area so that he can operate year-round, including the non-pool activities like stationary bicycles. Who will pay for this one?

Look for the neighbors across the street to protest the impacts on their view and noise from the blowers keeping the tent inflated.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 2:27 pm

The neighbor told me something. He received an answer to his question about a recall of the city council members who voted yes on this stupid idea.

The source, he says, states that any recall efforts have to go above the city... like the state. He told me on the phone so I can't remember details. If anyone here is an attorney or knows of one who would get into a class action suit, please say so.

I don't think caring citizens will rest until this idea is trashed and that Fergie's candidacy is marred by this scandal.

Posted by Recall or bust!, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 9, 2007 at 3:02 pm

You don't need to involve the state. See the California Elections Code beginning around 11100. For example, Web Link

Start collecting signatures!

Posted by JOanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 10, 2007 at 10:42 am

Perfect! It seems like petitions must collect in 5 days? I just scanned it briefly.

Posted by Anna, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 10, 2007 at 11:12 am

Joanna, A recall effort seems like a lot of trouble for what appears to be well-intentioned but wrong-headed actions by Kelly. My best guess is that the effort won't get much traction and will fail. Are you intent on doing this just to make her look bad so that she won't run for supervisor?

Posted by Wake up call for Kelly, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 10, 2007 at 1:08 pm

The most successful petition effort in my memory was Kelly's drive vs 926. Her energy galvanized the masses, and all over town you heard people talking about monster houses. So she knows the power of the petition. Whether or not a recall effort were successful, it would definitely get her attention. Would she modify her behavior in light of a petition drive? That's a different question.

Her total disregard for her constituency goes far beyond "well-intentioned but wrong-headed actions." We'll cut our council a lot of slack because they're volunteers and regular people like us, but when someone makes it clear that she has a different agenda that doesn't have much to do with the wellbeing of the community, well, then it's time to make some more noise.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 10, 2007 at 4:41 pm

1) My intention, along with other outraged citizens, is to make the Council members accountable to the residents.

2) Kelly, who is jumping ship for San Mateo, is not the only one who voted "yes." There are two others who will be involved in the recall effort.

3) Anything worthwhile takes work.

4) When Kelly runs for supervisor, San Mateo deserves to know what it can expect. Armed with the facts, it is up to San Mateo to decide if they will allow autonomous behaviour from their Supervisor despite a huge outcry.


Wake Up Call:
1) I couldn't agree with you more. The three Council members who voted yes, have demonstrated a complete disregard for their constituency.

Posted by rabble, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 11, 2007 at 8:47 am

I remember "926". Kelly, the rabble rouser, rode that issue, i.e. distorted that issue to ride her way to POWER. Whether the ordinance stayed on the books or not, it wasn't going to change a darn thing about the size of houses. What it was going to change was whether the a**hole down the block from you was going to have a say about your remodel project. My family did suffer the abuse of the use permit process so anything that got rid of it was ok by me.

Kelly is a classic know-it-all. That gum on your shoe you can't get rid of. Giving her power is dangerous. I would not vote for her for county dog catcher much less council or supervisor. Bring on the recall.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 11, 2007 at 3:01 pm

Gosh you all are so bold in your anonymity, so strong and so courageous. Come out from the shadows and stand with your name badge on if you want to be taken seriously. If this is the Joanna I think it is, you have a history of crazy. There I said it. Recall all you want, but I wouldn't follow Joanna if she were dropping a trail of fifties.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 11, 2007 at 3:24 pm

You'll see us when you shop at grocery stores. Something tells me there is more to your post than you would like to admit now. I read your manual... first, discredit those who DARE complain that GIVING taxpayer money to PRIVATE ENTERPRISE is wrong.

Well, unfortunately for you and the board, Menlo Park is too smart for that. I'm ignoring you, sir, because you have nothing to contribute.

Posted by Wake up call, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 11, 2007 at 5:42 pm

Jim, I speak out in public all the time, but I appreciate the anonymity of TSF as I think it enables people to discuss important topics that might be off-limits otherwise. The last thing most of us need/want is to start receiving crank phone calls from some of the nut jobs that post here. Joanna, I have no idea who you are (the only Joanna I know is Heyward's wife, and I suspect you are not she), but you are on the right track.

If anyone wants to take this offline, I'm game to follow.

Posted by Joanne, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 17, 2007 at 8:25 am

To make the most of our efforts and resources, a few of us are considering directing any of our recall efforts to Ferg's supervisor campaign.

If the Duncan deal goes through or if any proposal involving government funds goes through, then the supervisor campaign will have to deal with it... in a BIG way.

As far as the other two Council members who voted "yes," if the Duncan deal goes through, we will use our recall efforts and resources on them as they are unfit for office.

If the Duncan deal does not go through, AnD they do anything ridiculous like this again, then recall away!

I can only speak for my group of friends, associates and neighbors. There are many out there who are not pooling their efforts. Yet...


Posted by MyTwoCents, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 17, 2007 at 11:20 am


Here's my thoughts: Give it a rest, already!

Posted by kelly's folly, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 17, 2007 at 11:53 am

MyTwoCents, I think it's more like my TwoBillionCents. Hilligoss may have given Kelly a graceful way to excuse herself from this mess, but her actions won't be forgiven or forgotten by those of us who are paying attention.

Posted by MPworkingMom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2007 at 2:56 pm

I have two proposals for channeling the outrage that many of us feel:

1. Lobby the council to use the money to refurbish the dance studios and classrooms at the Rec Center. They are in sad shape, and a better facility would truly be a public benefit.

2. Identify, encourage and support viable council candidates for next year's election.

Recalling Kelly does no good if you can't find someone to fill her seat on the council.

Posted by Joanne, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 17, 2007 at 2:59 pm


If you overlook incompetence in our government, then you deserve the government you get.

We all have jobs and families and have too little time... but many WILL take the time to let Menlo Park and San Mateo County know that we WILL NOT STAND for incompetence or misuse of our funds.

Maybe the three council members thought no one would notice or care about patronage Web Link

Want to give favors? Face the consequences.

Posted by MyTwoCents, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 17, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Reading these posts, it sure seems like most (if not all) the anti-Kelly/anti-other two council members/recall effort have been written by the same person - "Joanna" along with a bunch of generic alias.

Just my two cents!

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 17, 2007 at 11:08 pm

I won't let you hijack this thread. I don't know what kind of games you play, but I'm too old to play in the sandbox with you and use multiple names.

This will be the last thing I have to say to you: You and your friend Kelly can choose to believe that Menlo Park doesn't care about the corruption. You can choose to believe anything you want. If you have nothing constructive to contribute (groundless accusations are not constructive... and mature), then stop and move on. Enough of you.

Moving on...

My thing is being vocal... I know others who are against corruption whose thing is not writing on websites but getting things DONE and in a BIG way.

Stay tuned... this 30 day stay is time to prepare.

Posted by wasting_tax_$$, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 18, 2007 at 12:40 am

Let's not forget that Kelly and her allied council members approved $50,000 for yet ANOTHER bike tunnel study. This time, her so called Green Ribbon committee is trying to get a bike tunnel because its "green". Never mind it might take about a thousand years to recover the millions of $$ and to offset the very not-green construction materials. It was a stupid idea under Mayor Steve Schmidt and it's a stupid idea today. Go Joanna, Go.

Posted by real politik, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 18, 2007 at 9:28 pm

Check the headlines. Hilligoss walks from the Park Theatre deal, Crittenden won't pass up windfall bailout from city. Tells TH to take a hike, wants to deal with Duncan.
So we're back to "Duncan's" donuts, Kelly's folly.
Same old, same old.
Time for some old fashioned town hall crashing and council bashing!

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 19, 2007 at 12:20 pm

I said it before and I'll say it again... approving this Duncan deal is certain political suicide. Menlo Park will not sleep through this one.

The recall effort will roll out for those THREE faster than you can say "misuse of public funds."

Posted by sick and tired, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 19, 2007 at 12:43 pm

I voted for two of the three new councilmembers and I did so because I was sick and tired of the old divided Menlo Park political scenery. I wanted new ideas and new people and I have been happy with this council for that. They don't undercut each other and for the most part they debate openly topics and let the community in on such debates. This is a major improvement. The rhetoric on this board smacks of those same people and that same political divide. I understand not agreeing with the votes and expressing frustration, but not in this way. Your tone is awful and reeks of old Menlo Park politics. You words are calculated and you are in the crusade mode again. This is what most of us "nonplayers" of Menlo Park don't like. Be upset and activate, but please avoid the threats and recall campaigns and referendum and the derogatory language toward each other and the council. I, for one, heard enough of this last year and before that. I don't mean go quietly, I just mean strive for a better dialogue.

Posted by politics is a contact sport, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 20, 2007 at 12:34 am

"sick and tired" you are deluding yourself if you think that by voting for the people who CLAIM that when they enter office they will end the divisiveness and controversies, that they will actually do so and then we can all sing "kumbayah". The fact is, like politics at the national level, there are real issues that are contentious and politics is about the fighting and compromise to settle them. The fact is, when you've had your ox gored, you would feel differently about politics. You think that this council is not divided, watch the council video from the night of the Park theater and see how far apart Robinson and Cohen were and the nasty sniping between them. Boyle tried to stick to the finance and does it serve the public question but the other four kept mouthing platitudes and emotional appeals.

All I know is that in the past year or so, I have NOT been impressed with this council's ability to get things done.

Posted by angie, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 20, 2007 at 10:32 am

Thank you, "politics is a contact sport" for being clear minded and offering a good summary about our current council. "Sick and tired" and many others were fooled, those people who are divisive and nasty, unfortunately are sitting on our council today. Kelly led the referendum against 926 and Cline and Robinson supported the recall of the Derry project after three years of public process. This council majority as candidates called for "open government", "public process", and strict compliance to the "Brown Act" etc etc, but as council members, they have done just the opposite. Look and listen carefully to Cline, he appears to be dumb and always say one thing and vote the other way. Due to his confusion, the city is locked into a very bad multi-million dollar deal.

Posted by whoa, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Wait a minute! I think that the Council decided to evaluate what sort of deal it might be willing to agree; The city is not yet at all locked into this deal. As with most of those posting here, I think this has been waste of time and not a good decision. However, I think there remains a chance to get out of it, particularly now that the entire Council knows that a private party IS interested in the theater, and interested without requiring city money.

By and large this council does openly debate issues. I find it quite refreshing that when I hear that "the Council" approved something, I have to then ask "who voted which way" unlike the last Council which almost always voted with one particular split on substantive issues.

Posted by Angie, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 21, 2007 at 10:35 pm

Well "whoa", I don't blame you for not understanding the issue, Cline didn't understand it, why should you? This is very typical situation in Menlo Park, people are well educated but with an attention span of 5 seconds, and they seldom have the time to become informed.

What the city council did on that awful night was to agree upon the price with Mr. Duncan, a whopping 2.2 million to purchase a 60 year old crippled building. It's like a house buyer and seller agreeing on the price, everything else is detail. Does it matter who is to paint the house or tent for termites? If those details of the deal matter to you, I hope you will live long enough to enjoy the theater, after the city gets it back from Mr. Duncan when the 55 year lease is up. What's a 115 year old building with a 55 year old renovations worth? 10mil, 15mil or nothing? Should I mention the dishonestly obtained Utility Users Tax that happens to just about pay for this 'purchase'?

And the public process you mentioned, what process was that? Mayor calls for a special meeting during the summer vacation time, at that meeting no direction was given due to lack of support other than the Mayor's. But Mr. Duncan came back with two "options", and staff time was wasted to prepare this report, but under who's authorization? The Mayor's. Is that stealth government or what? It appears that you like this council and voted for them. You and our town will be stuck with them awhile yet.

You are correct about one thing, that I am wasting my time here. There is no one to lead a recall drive or a referendum. People are just blowing off steam. No one is nasty enough to do what they have done to others to get elected.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 22, 2007 at 8:54 am

Angie, well said! You aren't wasting your time. Stay tuned... the gears are moving.

Posted by whoa, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 22, 2007 at 9:52 am

Angie - you misunderstood what I wrote. I think the Council and staff have wasted a lot of time on this issue when there are more important issues. I remain hopeful that the Council, or at least the swing voters, will see the light. There is no reason for the city to be involved in "saving" the theater, especially when there is at least one private party willing to do so, and willing to make it a publicly accessible venue.

Posted by wasting_tax_$$, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 22, 2007 at 11:29 am

"whoa", please re-read this thread and other Park Theater threads. Many informed people have posted good info. Hilligloss has withdrawn his offer, without doubt because after a 2nd look, the project CANNOT work without BIG zoning concessions from the city. The Park Theater is not earthquake or fire safe and is asbestos and lead paint ridden like all buildings of its age. The ONLY somewhat pretty part of the theater was the front facade and the ONLY part that MIGHT deserved to be preserved, or better yet reproduced as the front of a new building. This awful thing has already been turn down by every other developer in town and not just because it's a political hot potato. This hair-brained scheme has been the mayor's project during her entire term in council and she has probably twisted many arms to try to make it work.

"whoa", you're very right, there are MANY higher priorities that this town needs to deal with. Why you might ask is she obsessed with this? She takes full credit for "saving" Kepler's, she hopes to do the same with the Park by appealing to the sentimental memories of a few people in town. No doubt about it, she's about politically calculating as Karl Rove.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 22, 2007 at 2:02 pm

... but Karl Rove was untouchable. The mayor isn't and can't escape this debacle. The mayor's run for supervisor will no doubt be marred by this corruption.

Posted by whoa, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 22, 2007 at 5:30 pm

I have reviewed the threads about the theater and I don't see the things some of you suggest are there, so you must have some insider information.
Let's focus on the issues here, and not vilify individuals even when we disagree with their position on some issues. This energy should be aimed at persuading Council members to back off now. Sure, certain ones might be unwilling to change their minds but why not try? I will do my part.

Posted by Martin, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 23, 2007 at 5:27 pm

The Park Theatre is 60 years old. I'm 77 years old, thus 17 years older, a (very modest) institution in Menlo Park, in a state of considerable disrepair, and in need of major reconstruction.

I will dedicate myself to becoming a historical landmark if the city will provide me with the $500,000. for all the interior and exterior work necessary for this restoration.

No zoning ordinance changes will be required. I will be pleased to give the Mayor and City Council all the credit for this cultural achievement for our city. And, I expect to require no additional costs in the future.

OK, $250,000. but that's my final offer.

Posted by Rory Brown, Almanac staff writer
on Oct 23, 2007 at 9:46 pm

Rory Brown is a registered user.

For the latest Almanac story on the Park Theatre, go here:

Web Link

Posted by Concened Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 24, 2007 at 9:11 am

I live in Menlo Park and enjoy the character of our downtown and many of its establishments. I think that setting clear policies and incentives to preserve that character is a reasonable thing for our city government engage in. HOWEVER, I think that the idea of buying the Park Theater to lease back to a private dance studio is absurd and irresponsible.

The council has yet to articulate a vision for our downtown, yet to implement any policies to incentivize the "right kind" of redevelopment, and yet to make any tough decisions about what (if anything) is worth preserving about the Park Theater. Instead, after turning down the original developer's proposal to make the Park into offices (without any city money) they seem to have latched onto another developer's proposal to turn it into a private dance studio with a $2.2 million subsidy.

The citizens of Menlo Park should not stand for this kind of irresponsible government!

Lets take the time to complete the downtown visioning process, then put in place whatever policies and zoning changes we need to encourage developers to come forward with the kind of proposals that the community wants. Until that time, we should not be cutting any special deals.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 24, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Maybe they thought we were bluffing. Maybe they thought Menlo Park would take this lying down.
Web Link

Let's get this started. We cannot let Fergie et. al make a mockery of Menlo Park. We don't like corruption.

Recall Fergie

Posted by curious, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:12 am

Although I don't like AT ALL the idea of the city government subsidizing private enterprise, as is contemplated with the Park Theater, I think it's misguided and irresponsible, but NOT corrupt. What's corrupt here? Please enlighten us.

In contrast, there was a sweetheart deal to have Sheeper run the city pool, with no competitive bids (there certainly was time), no requirement to pay rent for a new $7 million facility that taxpayers still are paying off, and the operator is charging more than other community pools with no sharing of profits with the city. That was a very smelly deal but there was no effort to recall councilmembers, even those who belonged to Sheeper's swim group. Yes, residents get to use the nice facility and it seems to be operated well so that aspect is quite different. I just get the sense that a different standard is being used here to call one situation corrupt and not another.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:53 am

Way to go Steve!! I signed up. I can donate some money for flyers. We can finally move forward and tell Fergusson, Cline and Robinson that they are accountable to the citizens of Menlo Park.

Curious, I've used the word corrupt before. If Steve means it the same way I do, then it is because there is a CONFLICT of interest between the Three and the Dance Studio.

In addition to the conflict of interest issue, there is the acting with impunity issue. If those Three, headed by Fergusson, decided (which they did) to ignore the outcry of the citizens, then they will be on their way out!

Again, way to go Steve!

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:55 am


To address your other concern, I believe that we should look toward our paralysis of the past. If we sat down and took it back then, that is no reason why we should ignore this slap in the face.

Posted by enough, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 25, 2007 at 1:21 pm

There is no evidence of conflict of interest or corruption and I would assume that if you had to come out in public you would use those accusations much more carefully. Howl at the moon all you want. Some of us agree with the argument against public funds with the theater, but we do not like where you are going now. Perceived conflict of interest -- they care about saving the theater for a political reason -- is not conflict of interest. If you have proof they have money in the deal or something like that, then prove it. Otherwise sell crazy somewhere else. You are weakening your own argument with that nonsense.

Now here is where "Joanna" says I should be ignored and muted because I disagree with her methods...

Posted by not sure, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 25, 2007 at 2:31 pm

I cannot see any evidence of corruption or even of conflict of interest except the mildest sort, that KF's kid dances at the Duncan studio. But, that doesn't mean that this decision is fair, well thought out, or desirable for the city. In fact, it makes absolutely no sense at all and should rescinded immediately.

I'm not sure I can get behind a recall. If we recalled every official for a single bad decision, we wouldn't have any left. However, I can whole hearted support a REFERENDUM against this though. So why a recall?

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