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Best Laid Plans Sabotaged

Original post made by Watchful Eye on Jun 23, 2009

The June 17 Almanac article, The Best Laid Plans states that "Morris Brown interprets the referendum drive on the four-story Derry project, during which he collected over 3,000 signatures, as a sign that many residents don't support buildings that tall". He is shocked that buildings over three stories tall on El Camino are even being considered.

Finally, is this an admission from Mr. Brown that his referendum was not about the flawed process conducted by the Winkler/Duboc Council but instead about his opposition to the height and number of living units in the project?

People who signed the referendum believed that their signatures would force the Derry and Cadillac projects back to the council where a new process would take place. Who could have predicted that a self-appointed committee would negotiate elements of the Derry project behind closed doors? The referendum's professed remedy was that these projects needed to be put through the City's planning process correctly. The height and density of the Derry project were not part of the referendum's legal language. In addition, the $2,000,000 extortion money dragged out of the developers was a weapon concocted by members of the secret committee, some of whom such as Paul Collacchi and David Speer were not even Menlo Park residents.

Two years later, the Derry project appears to be dead, at a loss of needed below market units and a project that would have been considered a progressive transit oriented development. So much for environmental leadership from the city council members who ran for office on green platforms built with the popular timber of global warming, sustainable communities and bicycle-friendly streets.

Mr. Brown has been described by this newspaper as a shadow looming over the visioning process, an exercise costing the city some $1.16 million. Perhaps, this looming shadow ought to reconsider his interpretation of his 3,000 referendum signatories. Many of us understand the true motive behind Brown's heavy-handed referendum. His credibility has been damaged and both residents and developers alike now know that this weak council has allowed the threat of future referenda to become a planning policy tool. Menlo park is well on its way to become a dead zone on the Peninsula thanks to a handful of people like Morris Brown who lack not only vision, but hope.

Comments (29)

Posted by Joan, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 23, 2009 at 4:11 pm

I was uncomfortable about the way the Derry project was reworked after the referendum (I think the council should have been involved, not a secret committe), but I think it's going way too far to say Morris Brown is a "shadow" looming over the process. He and others involved in the referendum spent massive amounts of time, energy and money on stopping a project that had been improperly approved. Somehow I don't think any of them enjoyed it, or are eager to do it again. So what kind of shadow is he casting just by watching and participating in the city's planning process?

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Sounds like the original poster does not even attend the workshops for the downtown but wants to cast it in doubt...

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 24, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Watchful Eye got it right. Now Heyward Robinson, Richard Cline, Kelly Fergusson, and Andy Cohen can once again gloat on how they thwarted progess in Menlo Park. Morris Brown did not do it by himself he had help from his shadow people.

The 4 do-nothing council members and their "Spiritual Advisor" need to be shown the door. We can recapture the City form these Union leaders posing as City Council members by voting for people who will put the interests of the residents above the interests of the SEIU.

Posted by a petition signer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 24, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Sorry, Mr. Lawrence, but your conspiracy tale is nonsense.
Those of us who signed the Derry referendum petition are not union leaders (so what if we are, though), we did read what it said when we signed - that the project approval should either be rescinded or put to a vote of the public. More than 3,000 residents signed the petitions and most did so in public places in daylight.

The primary reasons there was so much support: the project did not conform with city rules for zoning or the general plan, or even how to count parking. The city failed to negotiate benefit for essentially giving away a lot of value for free.

We also know that the project developers sought out Morris Brown and they decided to work out an agreement. Yeh, it wasn't the usual process but the developer has the right to revise their project through a process that makes sense to them.
A revised project was brought forward by the developers. That revised project was reviewed by the Planning Commission, with a recommendation to the Council to approve. The developers did not go to the next step, most likely because of the economy that is affecting the availability of credit for construction and home purchases. Guess what. The revised project is larger than what is currently allowed on El Camino also. So much for your claim of "no growth." I thank Mr. Brown for putting his money where his mouth is, and forcing public review of a major policy change cloaked as a project approval.

Posted by Ok, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Ok, so now "Petition Signer" the "city failed to negotiate benefit for essentially giving away...", what does it mean now? We have NOTHING in that space but a bunch of abandon, trash strewn lots. We have lost approximately $2M in tax revenue, no new affordable housing, and continued blight. The intention was INDEED to make sure that a development stuck to only 2 to 3 stories high. This strategy has failed. At some point citizens have to realize that perhaps a developer could in fact construct a building higher than 2 stories high, be profitable, and actually add a valuable property to our commercial district. We HAVE to get off of the height requirements. You can easily build a building that is higher than 2 stories, with large frontages, great architecture, nice colors, lots of great landscaping etc., and make it look great. But no, instead we will continue to have the Derry Dumps. Thank you Mr. Brown, your whole team talks out of both sides of your mouths. You will ALWAYS think of some new strategy to push down the height to 2 stories. My prediction is that the visioning process will die a cold hard death, because your team cannot, and will not compromise, or even open your minds a little.

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:24 pm

A petition signer is naive. It was misleading and untrue statements made by the signature gatherers that inveigled many people into signing it who would have otherwise not signed.

Had the signature gatherers stuck to the wording on the petition, they would have gathered far fewer signatures. But they knowingly deceived people with fear mongering and Morris Brown achieved his quota. ACORN would have been proud of them.

OK, so now is spot on. Morris Brown usurped the authority of the City Council. That was wrong and he should be ashamed.

Menlo park will not have a successful visioning process as long as we have council members with no vision. So far, John Boyle is the only council member with vision. We need to change that come Novemeber 2010.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Hanks doesn't go to the visioning meetings either folks because he has washed his hands of this council because they bested his friends Lee and Mickie.

Posted by a petition signer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Well "Ok, so now..." it appears that you are blaming a legal and legitimate local referendum process for the global economic downturn and seem to believe that nothing will ever happen on the Derry property. Please! Things will get better, there is a nice revised project the Derry developers only need to take to the Council for approval.
Mr. Lawrence, you don't "get" that your beloved buddies Mickie, Lee, Nicholas rejected staff suggestions to start planning for El Camino years ago, and did nothing to retain the car dealers or to fill the vacant lots with thriving businesses. Do you really think people in this town are so ignorant that they don't have a clue about what they sign?

Posted by No more housing, please, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm

I signed that Derry petition.
I actually sought out the petition so I could sign it. So did my spouse. Nobody talked us into anything.

I signed the petition because the LAST thing Menlo Park needs is more housing. And we need BMR housing about as much as we need subsidized childcare. Same goes for the entire Peninsula.

I am glad the Derry project is stalled (or dead). Has anyone noticed that units in the other high density housing complex built on Linfield Drive have not sold?? Construction has been stalled for over a year. No demand for housing. All this crud about needing more housing - we do NOT need more housing.

Is the Derry property pretty? Certainly not. But I prefer the run-down car wash to high density housing. If you're offended by the current "blight" on the Derry property, then lay down some sod on it and call it a park. Oh - that's right - there's no MONEY to be made from a park.

Posted by OK, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I think the thing that most of you "Long Live The Derry Dump" supporters fail to realize, is that this property belongs to someone else, not you, not the city, it belongs to someone else. As long as you, and people like you, keep pushing down ANY type of development, we WILL continue to have our most precious "run-down car wash", no developer in their right mind would want to do business in Menlo Park. I wonder if people had the same attitude about you folks when you looked for housing, but only had a limited supply to consider, or overpaid, or had to outbid. We're not talking about a HUGE number of "high density housing", and we're not talking about "a huge problem with traffic". You guys continually overexagerate the issue. Traffic is bad in Menlo Park from 8:00 to 9:00 AM and 4:00 to 6:00 PM because..................IT'S RUSH HOUR!!! Find another city in America that doesn't have traffic during that time, besides La Honda or maybe Bodie, California? Please look at the issues logically, and please put down the STOP sign every time the word "development" comes out of a forward thinking individual. You again are turning this town into an ugly, outdated, vacant car lot!

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 25, 2009 at 3:58 pm

We need the Derry Project. To think we can thumb our nose at all development is just crazy talk. Map the city growth path with the school growth path better. Figure it out at the top.

Posted by enough, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 4:13 pm

No, we aren't thumbing our nose at all development. Just the development that doesn't make sense. Housing is the most expensive use of land for a city, especially in California, where the cost of providing services to each home rises exponentially faster than the amount collected in property taxes. The denser the housing, the more expensive. Hotels and retail -- which current residents need! -- replenish rather than deplete city coffers. No point cramming in more residents when we're not adequately serving the ones we have.

We don't have enough recreation facilities for existing residents. We don't have enough space in schools. Because land is "too valuable" there aren't any vacant lots that we can transform into parks or schools. Oh, you can keep trying to pack 'em in, but the pie isn't going to get any bigger. The quality of life will deteriorate even faster.

Growth for the sake of growth is just plain dumb. There are beautiful, thriving towns all over the world whose population hasn't changed for decades. (I may have to move to one). Most of us chose this city because we wanted to live in Menlo Park, not Manhattan. And now we need to hold the line or we're going to be crowded out of our own city.

Posted by OK, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Comments like: "No point cramming in more residents when we're not adequately serving the ones we need!" - what are we not adequately serving?? This is not true. We have plenty of recreation facilities, even when you folks voted down building fields on top of a dump, we're still "o.k." - Your statement again is untrue. There are plenty of towns that are not changing their population, because they are NOT thriving, and they aren't in California. We are in the middle of Silicon Valley, not in the Sierras. Adding "some" housing, or "some" retail is a good thing. If you don't like change, perhaps it is time for you to move. Change is coming, wait when HSR gets here and you continue to protest, while the train is roaring by your home. The changes we propose are good changes, changes that help, not hinder. I am very aware of the schools, and the changes that are being made, we are set, and will be for quite some time. The schools have nothing to do with the changes we would like considered. Additional retail, commercial and SOME condo's aka "density housing" are not venues for large families for kids. C'mon, let's debate this with real facts and figures.

Posted by a petition signer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Who in this thread said they don't want any change? It is simple and convenient and dead wrong to suggest that any one did.
In fact, I don't think very many people want to keep the Derry area or El Camino from being renovated. Even the referendum drivers were willing to accept a nice, much larger project than current rules allow. Why are you (including the Almanac) painting fellow residents so negatively?
Menlo Park WILL change. The question is, in what ways and what will be the impacts and are those acceptable. An honest debate about that would be refreshing rather than bash others who live here.

Posted by You gotta be nuts!, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Whoever calls the Linfield development "high density" is just the kind of person who wanted to kill the Derry project. This person has set a new record for hyperbole.
I wonder if Mr. "No More Housing Please" might be a neighbor who lives adjacent to the Summerhill Project on Willow. He or she might even be the person who filed a lawsuit in an attempt to shut the Summerhill project down but instead only wanted new windows and driveway as hush up and go away gift from the developer
The density of most of the apartments on Waverly is 25 units an acre. The Summerhill project is probably 10 an acre. The density at the Linfield Project is probably 12 to 15 units per acre.

Can someone define "High density"? In Menlo Park there are 2 residential projects that were approved in the early 1990s that are 40 units an acre. Where does any one get off calling 12 to 15 units an acre "high Density"?

Posted by enough, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Big difference between apartments and single-family detached homes. Many Waverley apartments are studios or one-bedroom units, not at all comparable to the new 2,000+ square foot 4-bedroom houses that did not conform to any existing zoning (minimum lot size = 1/4 acre) resulting in the developers having to obtain special zoning. Of course, spot rezoning is illegal in this state, and the law also frowns on ad hoc changes to the General Plan, but the council chose to ignore those details.

Of course those projects are not as dense as they could be, but they are high density for Menlo Park. None of those Linfield or Willow units have yards much bigger than a hankie. The Linfield units lack driveways. When you flout the zoning regulations, something has to give.

Many towns don't require a minimum 1/4 acre lot. Others are more restrictive: Atherton, for example, requires a minimum of an acre. As I said before, most of us moved here -- and paid Menlo Park prices -- because we wanted the ambiance that accompanies a lower density community.

To OK, so now: you've apparently never participated in sports, coached a team, or cared for children who were involved in recreational activities or you would know how inadequate our recreational facilities are. The dump "solution" was a facade covering a truckload of flaws and deal-killer problems; the voters overwhelmingly voted it down because we saw through it.

And please don't tell me that the new developments won't have any kids in them. We hear that every time a new housing development is proposed. Vintage Oaks was supposed to have something like five children, total, remember? What a joke.

Enough. We're built out. Done. Now let's concentrate on fixing up what we've got -- there's plenty of work there, even if it's not the get-rich kind.

Posted by get real, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 25, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Poster "Ok, so now" above, , re: "I am very aware of the schools, ...and we are all set". Like, dude, drive by Oak Knoll, currently with 250 more students than any comparable sized K-5 campus in SM and SC counties, (500 kids max). Just get out and look at the monster complex they are building with our taxpayer funded bond money, and let us know, how, when the district says that due to drastic operating fundng cutbacks, they can't hire enough teachers, music instructors, and support staff, that we are "all set". Rumor has it that big contributors to the MPAEF can select "desired" teachers for their OK kids.
You are the problem, growth for growths sake.
Are you like from some Manhattan urban environment that sees Menlo Park as underutilized density opportunities?

Posted by get it right, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm

The comment about spot zoning above needs to be addressed.

Spot zoning should be avoided; it is lousy planning and in general should not be given.

However, spot zoning when up-zoning a property is not illegal.

The only spot zoning that is illegal is if a property is down zoned. That is it is illegal to down zone a property, causing a property owner to lose value, where surrounding or more comprehensive zoning did not take place.

Thus, the up-zoning that David Bohannon is asking for in a portion of his land holdings in the M2, is certainly spot zoning, but it is not illegal. It should not be done, but it is legal.

If these parcels were currently zoned for 8 story buildings and the City decided that was not any long suitable, and the City attempted to down zone these parcels, that indeed would be illegal.

Posted by OK, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I don't know how other forward thinking, levelheaded people participate in this blog? Many of the comments made above have absolutely no factual content. How can you debate items like: "Dude, currently with 250 more students than any comparable size...." - WHAT comparable size? You're crazy, you made this up. I find it deplorable that you think learning inside of a run down trailer is a better learning environment. Your other comment about "rumor has it that big contributors to MPAEF can select...." - that's a blatant lie, I know this as fact, I am very close to this Foundation. Please stay off the blog with your fear mongering, you have no idea what you are saying.

And to "Enough" - "5 children"?? Good try, another fear mongering tactic, why don't you and "Dude" get together and start your own little commune in the hills with your "no change, no how" philosophy. This is ridiculous. By the way, I have been an AYSO coach and, Little League coach for a number of years. We're dealing with the bed that you, and your uninformed voters handed us. Have fun in that beautiful park, in which 1% of Menlo Park's population has even stepped foot in!

Posted by forward thinking. level headed, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 26, 2009 at 9:14 pm

next slide please

Posted by Not So Well Endowed?, Leading University Confirms, Proven Results!, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 26, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Oops! That _*&0))++ spam!
While we're on the Oak Knoll School Gross_spansion issue, what's wrong with a couple of endowed chairs for the teachers @ Oak Knoll, inscribed with
the contributing family's crest, so their Johnnie/Jennifer gets the "preferred" teacher? Happens all the time.
With the massive 40 foot tall structures being erected, OK is shaping up to be a center of "higher" learning, so let's keep going and sell the naming rights.
Oak Knoll Otters is so Fifties.
How about, staring with the facility, Oak Knoll PS, has a Manhattan ring to it, commensurate with the outsized buildings going up. Hey, try Oak Knoll PS, for Oak Knoll Paradigm Shift, and we could try Oak Knoll Future Biz School Types instead of Otters.
Your turn Soccer Dad, "OK..", now what.

Posted by OK, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm

"Not So Well Endowed" - good luck with the whole, "I hate the schools in Menlo Park, I can't stand kids, and how dare anyone try to improve things around here, for I am the God of No Change" thing. I'm sure you are sitting happy in your much appreciated home (if you are even industrious enough to own a home), brought to you by the SCHOOLS of Menlo Park, there is no other reason. It's the schools. Darn I wish you types would get that, then again we're asking that you be good at math. That's not gonna work.

Posted by God of No Change be good at math, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 26, 2009 at 11:04 pm

negative result, so much for your math skills

Posted by enough, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 26, 2009 at 11:26 pm

OK so now (hereafter abbreviated OKSN), I have to wonder if you have political aspirations or just poor reading comprehension given your penchant for distorting and twisting the comments of others. We all want a better community, so you negate your entire argument (which isn't that strong anyway) by imagining that anyone is saying otherwise.

If you've coached soccer, I'll bet you haven't done so for kids older than kindergarten, or you'd be complaining that the only practice time available to you was at 4:30 on a Friday evening on a field across town that you were sharing with 7 other teams. Basketball is even worse: for years, I coached teams that played at 7 am on Saturday because that was the only time Burgess gym was available!

I was on the MPAEF board and I've been a parent in the MPCSD for a while. NSWE may be exaggerating, but there is an undercurrent of truth. There is a district parent who did a study a few years ago proving that children of PTO officers were always assigned to the preferred teachers; not much has changed since then, but her kids always get the best teachers!

To return to the original topic: the residents of Menlo Park have repeatedly said that the number one goal with future development is to retain our village character. Wide sidewalks with lots of retail, including restaurants (sales tax revenue producers) will enhance El Camino. Adding multi-storied buildings to house sardine wannabes would be a drag on our infrastructure and ultimately degrade the entire community.

Posted by OK, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 27, 2009 at 10:26 pm

I'm not sure where you're going with your blogging??? I've always been fine with the "village character", and who wouldn't? My concern is that we will get no where unless people like yourself won't even consider a 3 or 4 story building, set off, with a large GREEN common area, something that looks very nice, amongst many more 1 story and 2 story buildings. Kepler's our most popular, village gathering place is at least 4 stories high - that's all the evidence anyone needs. Your MPAEF and/or PTO statement has no evidence of any kind. It's just heresay, and false rumors. Perhaps those parents are the most aggressive about asking the principal? Heck they volunteer their most valuable time, and quite honestly probably deserve special favors, with the way people like yourself and NSWE treat these volunteers! If these type volunteers commit so much time, they probably care so much about their kids education, that they aggressively pursue better teachers. Who cares? Perhaps you and NSWE need to volunteer, get involved, and stop perpetuating the rumor mill, and false claims. More than likely you've never served on the Foundation board, and/or coached. I've been coaching for 5 years now, and we deal with the cards that were dealt by you and your buddies voting down the open space fields. Please stop whining.

Posted by Sheeple Bleeple, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:19 pm

OK. so now..., you and your ilk screwed the Oak Knoll neighbors with your arrogant justification of these monster structures looming over their homes. The original voter approved plan had the MPR and 2 story classroom bldg. placed on the back basketball courts, then changed by Ackerman's hand picked site committee, without any immediate neighbor input. Indeed, the most immediate neighbors were deliberately excluded from participation
Thanks Christine Aronson, Kim Guthrie, Terry Thygesen, Bruce Ives, Cherie, Jaeger and the rest of you arrogant board and PTO members for ruining such a special place that Oak Knoll represented for generations of kids.

Posted by Ok, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 28, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Yes, finally someone with some sense! Thank you very much Christine Aronson, Kym Gutherie, Terry Thygesen, Bruce Ives, Catherine Jaegar and everyone else that had the patience of Saints, while listening to neighbors ridiculous NIMBY comments for well over a year, and SEVERAL OPEN PUBLIC meetings. Gosh, don't you wish people that moved next to schools realized at some point that maybe, perhaps, concerned citizens would want to upgrade the property, replace the double-wides, and give our future generation a REAL environment, in which to live? I guess above comments from Sheepie Bleepie types, just didn't get their own way, so we continue to endure the aftermath. Thank God all of the mentioned above were determined, bright, forward thinking individuals!l Sorry Sheepie Bleepie, next time try using accurate fact finding, and real reasons other than stating, "but it's for the children", did that continued comment run it's course!

Posted by (O)ld (K)oolaid, same lip synch, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm

"But it's for the adults...who think it's good for their children"
What is a REAL environment for an elementary school in our community that removes heritage Oak Trees, builds oversized structures that dominate/shade neighboring residences, builds an Astroturf adult sized soccer field on a community playground? Great lesson for our current and future generations of kids about deliberate deceit from the aforementioned individuals who care little about their impact on neighbors when they deliberately exclude them from initial planning changes. Check the facts OK, or have you had seconds on the Koolaid?
If you have the cojones, come over and talk with the affected neighbors.

Posted by OK, so now..., a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 29, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Here we go with the threats again. Sounds like it's the same people on this blog, that were going wacko over the curb cuts. Threatening to beat us up, because we cut down some trees? NO, it's because it ruined their view out their windows. Several neighbors don't even own the land, a couple are in the process of moving, the district is planting twice the number of trees than are currently on the property, some of the trees getting ready to get uprooted won't even last another 10 years.............sorry (O)ld (K)oolaid......we went down this road, and you lost, get over it! It's over, go back to bed, the dozers are there, they're doing a great job, and ironically your property will increase in value.(even with the new turfed ball parks that are eco-friendly, and don't need tons of water) Thank you again, to all that worked so hard to make this happen! Thank you Andy Cohen!

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