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Council members express 'grave concern' to David Bohannon over focus groups

Original post made on Jan 13, 2010

Two members of Menlo Park's City Council met with land developer David Bohannon Tuesday to express their "grave concern" over focus groups the Bohannon Development Co. is holding in connection with his proposal for a million-square-foot office/hotel complex near Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 11:34 AM

Comments (105)

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Posted by Anon....
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Cool. Let them build it. But soak them for some land to be donated for community use - since all we hear about is this rec-in-lieu fund that can't be spent cuz there ain't no land...


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Let it rise! A hotel in that location will have little impact on neighborhood traffic and it will bring tax revenue & jobs. It makes far better sense to put new development near Hwy 101 than to add to downtown gridlock with El Camino projects.

Why is a referendum bad? Doesn't that allow the citizens to express their views? Isn't the City Council supposed to represent our wishes & best interests? Does Ms. Ferguson have a NIMBY problem?


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Sounds like Mr. Bohannon is being a prudent businessman. I'd want to know how impacted citizens felt about my project, too.

Bohannon isn't doing anything illegal. Ms. Ferguson and Mr. Cohen are way out of line.

They should conduct their business in the light of counsel meetings.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I give Mr. Bohannon credit for taking the time to reach out to the public. I am not sure if it is his way of telling the same message over and over again until we are used to it. The message has not changed - this is the project we have to build, it can not be changed because this hotel product needs this much office space to support it and the office (hotel and health club) space dictates the size of the garages.

This type of outreach has been missing in previous "big" projects in the early stages of design development.

The current design has not budged with all of the public meetings.

Hopefully, Mr. Bohannon is not intending on shoving this design down the throats of the PC or CC and will be working on ways to mitigate all of the information he has obtained (including public comment, PC and CC comments) from his outreach and the EIR before the next phase of the design development documents hit the PC and CC.

It is agreed that the best place to put this project is not in the center of MP.

Negotiations are key here. There are ways to negotiate some significant public benefits while we allow Mr. Bohannon the ability to significantly increase his buildable (and rentable) square footage.
For example:

1. Parks - trade existing Bohannon property for more parks within MP
2. Public transportation to and from the site to downtown MP at both commute hours and for midday shopping
3. Enhanced bicycle connectivity
4. etc.

This is a work in progress. Keep up the comments, attend the PC and CC meetings and provide input early and continually. The suggestions from the public are not taken if they are provided too late in the process or if they are not followed through.


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Posted by Truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Mr. Bohannon has been saying this past month that he will start collecting signatures for a ballot measure.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm

The phone poll is not simply a way to guage support. The questions are very biased (I know firsthand), and the answers will be misused. That's what happened after the previous focus group. The intention to gather information sounds benigh but his implementation is not.


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Posted by Ol' HomeBoy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Before Ferguson and Cohen get their underwear all bunched-up, shouldn't they ask Mr. Bohannon to stop all global warming so the glaciers won't melt and the polar bears can be happy. Then he can build his project and we can have big, beautiful lawns. I mean, isn't that what all really want?
These city council nimrods don't have a clue how to negotiate â€" especially since the City has nothing to negotiate! "...go around the council and apply pressure to compromise"? What is Ferguson smoking?
This is no Bohannon power play, it's just good business by a family who has been here and built good projects in Menlo Park for over half a century â€" long befor Fergie and Cohen ever set foot in Menlo Park.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ferguson and Cohen are totally off base on this issue. We live in a democracy and we have the right of free speech. Their attempts to muzzle citizen dialogue is irresponsible and undemocratic. If they cannot stand the heat of an informed public then they should resign.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2010 at 2:29 pm

One of the biggest (valid) complaints levied at developers is that they do not do enough public outreach on projects. Here we have a developer doing what we all want to see more of. Kelly and Andy are threatened by that WHY? THe article quotes Kelly as saying its because it may produce input that is contrary to their (CC) view of what is good for the City....makes no sense to me.


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Posted by Prove it
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Truth, you claim, "Mr. Bohannon has been saying this past month that he will begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure". Pray tell, where, when and to whom has he been saying that?


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 13, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I appreciate that Bohannon is nominally doing all the right things vis a vis public outreach. However, his surveys are extremely biased and misleading (I was surveyed) and, as noted above, he has not revised his project in response to the formal feedback he has received. Note also that he is not asking for approval for a project per se but for upzoning his property.

Stop and reread that. He doesn't plan to build anything in the foreseeable future. He's admitted that. He wants the city to give his property a different zoning designation that would make it more valuable. So all the talk about revenue to the city, to the schools, the job promises -- all pie-in-the-sky. He can get his rezoning and turn around and sell the land for more money.

Even if this were not the case, there are many problems with the proposal apart from the environmental/traffic ones (yes, it would have an impact on traffic in the rest of MP even if it's "way over there"). Quite a few of us believe that this property should stay zoned as is, for light industrial.

Office buildings don't produce revenue. No sales taxes. Light industrial does. A lot. Light industrial also creates real jobs for lower income residents.

Dave has a lot of money, and I think the concern is that he will produce glossy brochures that will lull the residents into voting for this pig in a poke. We residents are smarter than Kelly and Heyward may give us credit for, and once the facts about this project are widely known -- the real facts, not the Bohannon spin -- the majority of the public will understand that it's not in our city's interest to allow it to proceed as planned.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm

The concerns of councilmembers Fergusson and Cohen are legitimate. From the phone poll, it is clear that this effort is an attempt to skew opinions with biased information. Yes, Bohannon has the right to do this, but it is not in good faith in the middle of negotiations.

It says a lot that Bohannon is unwilling to provide the script of questions (even after the fact), allow observers, or provide an unedited transcript of the focus group or the phone poll. I am hopeful that participants will speak to the press and council about both activities. Sunlight could be good.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 13, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I think Get Real said it perfectly. "(Mr.) Bohannon has the right to do this." There should be no "buts" after that statement.

A businessman is going to act in his own best interests. That is his right and I think we all understand that. He is an advocate and, like a trial lawyer, it's his job to present his BEST argument, not necessarily a FAIR one. I'm sure Mr. Bohannon's adversaries won't be exactly FAIR either.

Gee, a survey that may be biased to favor the client? That's not exactly newsworthy.


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Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Fergussen and Cohen got elected on anti - development platforms and are representative of the group that brought you El Camino Real. They naturally want to control the public's opinion of the Bohannon project because they are against it. Unfortunately for them the winds of change have shifted away from punishing evil developers and towards improving our City. Complaining about Bohannon's outreach and focus groups is evidence of who they are - no growth nimbys.


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Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I applaud Mr. Bohannon for taking the initiative for trying to develop part of the City. All one has to do is look at the development progress that has been made on El Camino Real in the last several year. The only two projects that have been successful were the rebuilding of Safeway and the planting of trees.

There have been several articles about the city struggling with money issues for one reason or another. Do you think having growth might bring some needed revenue to the city?


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 13, 2010 at 11:16 pm

The right kind of growth would bring much-needed revenue to the city. Bohannon isn't offering that kind of growth. Except for the hotel, his project would cost the city a lot more than it would generate in revenue -- and that's before calculating the negative impacts on the environment.

Remember: he isn't asking for permission to build anything, not even a hotel. He is asking for rezoning. He has said, in public, that he cannot commit to building anything within the next five years (perhaps even longer, but he was explicitly asked about a five year timeframe).

Development and change can be good. The economy has contributed substantially to the delay in improvements, and that's true across the board. When the economy rebounds, we'll see the kind of market-driven renewal that our city should have.

Until then, it is massive folly to grant Bohannon the upzoning he demands. Those of you who profess to care about improving the city need to look elsewhere. Bohannon's focus is squarely on improving his own financial situation, which is what upzoning would achieve, not on building a project that benefits the city.

To say "any development is better than no development" is just plain dumb. If this million-square-foot behemoth were built, we would be stuck with the consequences for decades. For a project to be successful, it must represent a win-win for the city and for the developer. The Bohannon project? Not in the ballpark, not even on the road to the stadium.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 14, 2010 at 8:49 am

There clearly needs to be some kind of balance here. Developers are not the enemy. Someone developed the buildings that house Draegers, Safeway and Keplers, didn't they? You probably like them.

As I drive through Menlo Park on El Camino Real, I'm struck that there is a movie theater that has been abandoned for years, several formerly thriving car lots that are now growing weeds, and lots of store front vacancies. All of these events didn't happen during the last year when the economy turned so sour.

Perhaps you've noticed that Redwood City - with a far less affluent consumer base - has completely revitalized its downtown during that same period. A new movie complex, lots of new restaurants and retail stores are all moving in and, for the most part, seem to be doing reasonably well. Why is Redwood City doing so well? Perhaps the city isn't seen as hostile to any new construction.

I'm not implying that Menlo Park should try to emulate the Redwood City model. Redwood City is far more commercial. But Menlo's officials - especially Fergussen and Cohen - seem to be completely anti-development... except under their very narrow terms. We've seen this before and it doesn't work for developers who can simply pick up their marbles and go elsewhere.

In the meantime, those once thriving car lots continue to grow weeds and the massive tax revenues they created for our cities are a distant illusion.

There's got to be a middle ground that works for everyone. Instead of getting entrenched in their own dogma, our citizen should encourage our elected officials to find that middle ground.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:19 am

Redwood City's downtown is in a redevelopment area. They got lots of federal money to fix it up. Apples, meet oranges.

The main problem with El Camino is that Stanford has allowed its properties to lie fallow. Not only are they vacant, they are overgrown with weeds. Our city staff seems to be afraid to put the big gorilla's feet to the fire, but it's way past time for Menlo Park to enact a vacant-or-abandoned tax. Maybe then Stanford would have some incentive to do the right thing.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:50 am

Nice try, watcher, but you missed the point entirely. "Swing and a miss," as the Pizza Whisperer would say.

About five years ago, Redwood City officials made a conscious decision to promote redevelopment and committed their own dollars and regulation revisions. They now have a policy of welcoming reasonable development and the results are impressive.

Menlo Park's officials are consistently hostile toward new projects.

Federal funds have NOTHING to do with that argument.

I'm not suggesting that Menlo try to duplicate RWC. I'm suggesting they entertain commercial ventures that will convert those weeds into tax revenues.


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Posted by RWC
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

New retail spaces in the newly "renovated" Redwood City Theater are still vacant as are many buildings downtown, and letter writers to the previous Redwood City edition of the Palo Alto Daily used to complain about it and cite downtown Menlo Park as a desirable goal.

The grass is always greener, and most of us are very, very local in what we know about our own communities and those right next door.


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Posted by Insider
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 14, 2010 at 10:02 am

Of course Bohannon has the right to do this kind of thing, and it can be shown that American politics at all levels has become very different in the last 30 years with the rise of Big PR persuasion technology.

Bohannon is not asking people what they want with the intention of building that, he is asking them what they want to better market his product so that it appears to be that. Cargill did the exact same thing, and Stanford uses the same technology. This is a technology which allows him to learn how to best market his product and test which of his advertising messages is best received by those who receive it, particularly those whose only real knowledge consists of 10-second sound bytes.

He will also "share" the results privately with council members to convince them, particularly those seeking re-election, that the public supports this project. The real information, including all its cross tabulations will stay carefull guarded since it would also reveal his projects weaknesses.

As far as "outreach" and "planning."

Council is doing legitimate forward-looking planning with the downtown process, but put its planning for the M-2 zone, where Bohannon is located, on hold.

Bohannon is pre-empting the M-2 planning process by making his proposal before council completes its M-2 plan, even though he has said he will not commit to building a project within five years of approval.

Surey council can complete an M-2 plan in five years, so what is the need to process this application now, before they complete their plan, and why is Bohannon trying to get approvals now for something that will take 20 years to build.

He's exploiting the current economic downturn to give the appearance that he is doing something that will contribute to the end of the recssion though he will not build his project until well after the recession was ended due to the actual investments and risk made by others.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 11:14 am

It is absurd to assume that anyone who expresses concerns about the current project proposed by Bohannon is against redevelopment or growth. There are plenty of reasons to seek modifications to the current proposal - start of construction in the next two years, revenue-producing uses in the office buildings not just from the hotel that is only a small portion of the square footage planned, reduction of traffic impacts, support of additional housing to address the addtional housing demands from the project, etc.
For those who want to blame the current council on the state of El Camino, please read financial reports about the US and local economy and its impact on construction and credit. And also look back to the time when car dealers started leaving Menlo Park and the previous Councils who were in office but declined to do anything (not even create a plan). Their answer was to hire a Business Development person whose results are obvious.


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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Dave Johnson can't turn wine into water. It is unreasonable to expect stellar results from Dave Johnson when he is being hamstrung by the City Council. One reason those properties remain vacant is that the City Council places restrictions on what Mr. Johnson is allowed to negotiate. If Dave Johnson were given more negotiation latitude then the urban land blight on El Camino could be eradicated and some beneficial development could take place for the City of Menlo Park.

It is unfortunate that the current council's no growth attitude is keeping El Camino in its current debilitated state.


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Posted by Stunned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Wow. Remarkable that the council is criticizing a developer for seeking public opinion.

Perhaps our CC should hold a public opinion poll of their own before they presume to know what is best for Menlo Park.

Are Ferguson and Cohen really equipped to be negotiating complex property rights worth tens of millions of dollars?

The CC should run a PUBLIC debate to decide what the city wants in return for giving Mr Bohannon the rights he is seeking and then let someone with more business expertise do the negotiating.



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Posted by Politico Watch
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm

The only Grave Concerns are Fergie and Friend re-election.


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Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Excuse me -- Dave Johnson should be able to negotiate with developers, not the council? Town Square has become Twilight Zone territory. And Stunned, Fergussen and Cohen were ELECTED to do our business for us, remember?


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Posted by Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

So now Dave Johnson should determine zoning for Menlo Park? He is already unqualified for the position he has.


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Posted by Gomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm

This is a vaporware project. Mr. Bohannon is asking for a 20 year window in which to build the project. The city shouldn't hamstring themselves for future opportunities on that land and count their chickens before hatching.

With the 20 year development agreement window, what's the rush to approve this project? Clearly Bo isn't ready to build an an outhouse ove there.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Regarding the overall economic conditions contributing to the vacancies, there is no doubt that has been an issue, especially in the last year and half. But that doesn't explain the movie theater or lots of other store fronts that remain vacant and new projects that will never be permitted.

Yes, there certainly are some vacancies in Redwood City - but far fewer than existed just two or three years ago. Can Menlo Park say that? And there are many more new businesses there and each produces sales tax revenues for the city.

In an article about this issue in another newspaper, there were quotes from Fergussen and Cohen that they need to "control" the dialogue.

I didn't know that citizens elected officials so they could control our discussions...

That's my complaint. Let the developer do his job trying to make his best case. Fergussen and Cohen and the anti-development people can shoot it down. They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Menlo Park has a council that loves to spend money on their pet projects while it continues to be hostile to business interests that produce tax revenues. (Sounds a lot like Sacramento and Washington, doesn't it?)

You know, eventually, they're going to run out of other's people money to spend...


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Posted by CB Richard Ellis
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Why is Bohannon trying to build another empty office?

Web Link

Silicon Valley Bloodbath Leaves Entire Office Buildings Empty

"Silicon Valley is beset by the biggest office property glut since the dot-com bust, leaving the US technology hub with empty high-rises and office parks that make it impossible for landlords to sustain average rents.

More than 43 million square feet (4 million square meters) — the equivalent of 15 Empire State Buildings — stood vacant at the end of the third quarter, the most in almost five years, according to CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. San Jose, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto have 11 empty office buildings with about 3 million square feet of the best quality space.

"There is a bubble bursting in much the same way as the residential market burst," said Jon Haveman, principal at Beacon Economics, a consulting firm in San Rafael, California. "None of those towers will fill up anytime soon."


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Posted by CB Richard Ellis
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:43 pm

"Asking rents averaged $34.56 a square foot for Class A space in the third quarter, 21 per cent less than a year earlier. The rate for flex space was $14.16 a square foot, down 16 per cent, according to CB Richard Ellis."

In asking to for a rezoning that would triple the amount of allowable developement, and convert the permitted use from "flex" space to "Class A" office space Bohannon is asking Menlo Park to write a new law that will allow him to collect 3 x (34.56/14.16) = 6.8 times as much revenue as he could currently collect under current zoning laws.

Bohannon is looking to develop 16 acres. To collect as much rent under the current zoning as he would under the proposed rezoning he would have to purchase 5.8 x 16 = 92.8 additional acres. At $2M/acre, Bohannon would have to pay nearly $200M to acquire the land, but by rezoning the current land the city is printing nearly $200M worth of development rights for Bohannon.


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Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm

"Politico Watch" hit the nail on the head with his comment above.


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Posted by Disagrees with POGO
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 14, 2010 at 2:17 pm

According to the latest CB Richard Ellis commercial quarterly report, Q2, the average asking price for Class A office space in Menlo Park was $7.00 per square foot. The closest city in San Mateo county was Foster City whose asking price was $3.05. All other cities were asking under $3.00 including Redwood City which has an asking price of $2.95, less than half of what Menlo Park gets.

If I understand POGO's argument he is saying that Menlo Park is so hostile to business that business is still willing to pay twice as much to locate in Menlo Park as any other city in San Mateo County.

Price reflects supply and demand. Prices (i.e rents) are highest in Menlo Park because there is enormous demand to locate in Menlo Park.

Vacancies persist, anywhere, because property owners don't, for personal and financial reasons, reduce rents enough to attract tenants away from other locations. Surely economic downturns impact total demand, thereby softening rents, but buildings that stay vacant do so because, for whatever reason, the owner makes the choice not to reduce rents enough to attract a tenant.



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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I appreciate all the real estate data about prices per square foot but it's way off topic and simply not relevant to this discussion. But like a lot of posts, when you can't win on principle, you change the subject.

Last I looked, this was the builder's call. Perhaps Bohannon thinks the market will come back strong. That's his right.

He's a big boy and he can make his own investment decisions. If you've ever bought or sold a stock or a piece of real estate, you made a decision. In America, it's an investor's right to be wrong or right.

I didn't know that our permit review process included a section that required a specific profit target.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2010 at 2:55 pm

"By rezoning the current land the city is printing nearly $200M worth of development rights for Bohannon."

The exact numbers may be in dispute, but if you don't understand that this is at the core of the Bohannon proposal -- not constructing buildings or a hotel, but rezoning -- then I recommend you do some homework before you post here.

Let's not divert this project discussion into an attack on the council. Remember, they are *volunteers* who do not personally stand to gain or lose whether or not this project is built. All five of them take their jobs seriously, and invest many many hours in their work. Each wants to see Menlo Park get better, prettier, financially stable.

If this project conformed to the General Plan, if it met zoning requirements, it would have been approved in a heartbeat. If Bohannon were asking for minor modifications and an amendment to the plan, there would have been a discussion at a meeting and it would have been approved. But Bohannon basically wants to throw out the existing rules and have new ones written to suit his needs.

We are fortunate to have dedicated planning commissioners, council members, and members of the public who are questioning this boondoggle. It would be so much easier for the council to rubberstamp the project, add it to their own political resumes, and duck out of town before the bricks start to fall. They are taking the tough road because they care about our community.


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Posted by Real Outreach
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Yes, Mr. Bohannon has a right to do focus groups, but he should show the results as well as the questions and recordings or transcripts to al least the Councilmembers, if not make it available more widely.

What Mr. Bohannon is doing now is NOT the kind of outreach that some other major projects have done where the input is actually used to design the project from the first. Here, the project is already in negotiations. Finding a win-win involves transparency and true collaboration. If Bohannon is not willing to share what the public is saying, then we have a strong clue about motivations. But if he shares it at least with the Council and other negotiators, it should be able to actually help achieve a win win without having to go to the ballot at all.

Everyone just needs to take a chill pill and not over-react. Let's all keep our eye on the ball here!


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Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Last year our city council majority (not Boyle) actually made building on El Camino and other C zoned areas more resrictive by modifying the zoning ordinance. They reduced the amount of floor area that can be built. They are anti development. That is their agenda. However, they want to stay in power and will not openly oppose projects that are popular. They will just stall and attack the motives of property owners. That is why they are complaining about Bohannons meetings.

Cohen was pivotal in killing the Derry Housing project near the train station. Sure looks good now.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 3:41 pm

If the council is so "anti-development", why did they approve the 1300 El Camino project recently? And the other buildings where the Acorn and Gaylord restaurants used to be?
The Derry mixed use project was the subject of a referendum in which the original design lost. The revised project was approved by the Planning Commission and the Council is still awaiting the project's arrival for their approval. The delay is not due to the council. Similarly, the approved project next to Beltramo's is on hold by the property owner. Why is that the Council's fault?
Regarding El Camino, the real culprit is Stanford who owns the land from the creek to Middle. They have said they don't want to do anything for several years. So why is it now the Council's fault for a decision made by a major commercial property owner?


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Posted by Correct!
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Nice politically correct comments from "get real" but "Long Time Resident" is correct. The Derry Project spun out of control once the false petition drive took place, the delays began, developers are no longer interested because of the economy and it's a no win proposition for them. If it was, the project would have been built already. To "Long Time Resident's" point, "Sure looks good now" - especially the abandon car wash, temporary discount outlet etc.(conservative estimate of lost tax dollars now, $2M) Fine example of that vibrant downtown these 4 are pretending to create. We hear the Stanford excuse all of the time, but that's not true, these 4 never speak to Stanford, they play a little game of cat and mouse. Look at the theater, another joke of "ideas" coming from these four forcing a parking issue, or forcing other restrictions. It is so obvious what is going on, NOTHING has been proposed and become "shovel ready" and built, since this council class came on board, AND that IS the agenda, the strategy. Be as political as you want, facts are facts. Welcome to MP politics.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 15, 2010 at 8:16 am

Get real -

You should ask the developer of those projects about his experience. I'm not suggesting the approval process should be easy. But these projects were a horror story and might very well be Exhibit A of a dysfunctional and arrogant local government.

The developer once told me how arbitrary the Planning Commission and City Council was and that he felt he had to "kiss the ring" of the certain Council Members before they would consider approving the project. Their demands were often outrageous and they would often switch from wanting one alternative to another and then back again.

Each of these changes costs money and makes the project less attractive. It's arbitrary, arrogant and hostile.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 15, 2010 at 8:44 am

Derry is not relevant to this discussion, and the current delays are primarily due to the economy and the spats between the owners and a not very trustworthy developer. The fact that some of you feel it's necessary to make ad hominem comments about our council members and to dredge up 4-year-old projects rather than to address the very real issues that Bohannon presents suggests to me that you know we are right.

This project isn't about a development. It's about rezoning. About printing money to hand over to Bohannon. Can we stay on topic?


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Posted by Correct!
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 15, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Sorry Council Watcher, you can't sell me. POGO is correct, this issue IS all about the culture that has been created in this city, the pendulum has definitely swung very far left. We should, at the very least, be somewhat "pro improvement" and not automatically create problems, and delays, and not hold certain council people, and citizens for that matter, accountable for this issue. You need not have to look very far to see the continued trumped up excuses and delays then El Camino and the car dealerships, the Mattison property, the theater, the Derry Project etc. Now we're starting on the other side of town where we currently have NOTHING to discuss here, other than improving the area. However again, that side of the pendulum has begun to create issues, and exaggerate claims. I, for the life of me, have no idea why a developer would even consider creating something good here.


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Posted by True Outreach
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Dear "Correct!"

Actually, the Council members you are complaining about (Fergusson and Cohen) are NOT very far "left" at all. Last time I looked, transit oriented development is a key element of strong progressive platforms on city planning, and they could do way more on that. Other key elements of progressive planning are strong transportation demand magament and Green Building/Retrofit efforts for energy efficiency and renewables among other efforts on Climate Action. These are essential to ensuring our longer term future quality of life in a cost-effective way (as well as our shorter temr quality of life).

I believe Rich Cline and Heyward Robinson, as well as John Boyle (to some degree), understand this. If they are all re-elected, we could see something great come out of this whole Gateway and El Camino proess. (Fergusson and Cohen's terms are not up this year - but they will be influenced -- and if necessary outvoted -- by Robinson, Cline and Boyle)

We need to encourage all 5 members of this Council (and Planning Commission, and Planning Staff) to grow and develop their skills to deal with huge projects like Gateway and the Downtown Specific Plan --the likes of which this City has not seen in a long long time if ever.
Finding a win-win is going to also need to involve working in a mutually collaborative way with developers like Bohannon, so he should agree to as much transparency as possible on these "Focus Groups" and their results. Our community expects and deserves nothing less. Period. Too much is at stake.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Correct!, you are actually inCorrect! Anyone who claims that this council is not pro-improvement is simply not paying attention. Have you attended any of the El Camino/downtown visioning meetings? Noticed any of the new construction? Talked to a council member or planning commissioner? I doubt it.

Even with the visioning, our downtown is looking pretty good, with a bunch of new stores. Given the state of the overall economy, Menlo Park's performance is well above average.

Again, these snarky comments about our council members continue to try to derail the discussion from the Bohannon project. Let's get real. If the council truly wanted to knock the pins out of this project, they would have said to Bohannon "sorry, dude, you're so far away from anything we'd consider that we don't want to talk to you. Come back when you've knocked down this project to 1/10 the size." Instead, they're saying "let's negotiate and figure out a win'win."

Bohannon, instead of negotiating in good faith, is trying to get the upper hand by manipulating public opinion. As I said before, I think those efforts will backfire. The residents are not stupid, even though a few may be somewhat duplicitous


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Actually, the article isn't about the Bohannon project. It's about the Council Members expressing grave concerns about Bohannon's use of focus groups. The article wasn't about the merits or demerits of the project, in fact, it didn't even cite them!

The Council should understand that Bohannon is an advocate for his project and is entitled to make his best case. That can be with the results of a focus group, fancy graphics, or even outlandish financial projections. The opposition will get their chance to refute them and I'm sure that they will be equally transparent when they disclose their financial backers and the results of their focus groups.


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Posted by downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm

If the city council is supposed to represent the wishes of the residents, they should welcome. a referendum. Right now, it's all about what Ferguson & Cohen .don't like


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Council Watcher -

I'm late to this discussion but I want to let you know that I've learned a lot about the Bohannon project from you and a fair amount about the city council as well. Thanks for being so engaged and willing to write about it.

I agree that a lot of this trash talk about Andy and Kelly is not only unhelpful, it's mostly off-base. Andy's a neighbor and I've gotten to know Kelly some over the years. Neither strike me as anti-development and certainly neither is far-left. They want what's best for the community, which is probably why both have been re-elected. If a developer wants to throw out the zoning laws for his special development, I'm glad both Kelly & Andy (and Rich and Heyward for that matter) are there to demand a very good explanation before they OK any variance.
And going slow on development along El Camino/Santa Cruz until the visioning exercise has run its course only makes sense.

POGO -
You wrote ealier:
"About five years ago, Redwood City officials made a conscious decision to promote redevelopment and committed their own dollars and regulation revisions. They now have a policy of welcoming reasonable development and the results are impressive. Menlo Park's officials are consistently hostile toward new projects."

Could you provide some examples of new projects that have generated a hostile reception by city officials and which officials you're referring to?
Derry Project? I believe that was killed by a referendum of citizens who objected to the end-run around the zoning laws for this area.
Bohannon project? There's apparently no real project being proposed - just a variance that enriches Bohannon without a single building being built.
The Park theater? Again, a property owner who thinks the zoning laws shoudn't apply to him.
On the plus side I see new buildings and remodeled buildings going up all over. If Andy and Kelly are so anti-development, they're obviously not very successful at it.
Which tells me that they're not anti-development at all.


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Posted by Opinionated
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I participated in the market research study. Nothing wrong with asking people what they think. Personally, I think the Council is being smart in delaying the project and scrutinizing the promises being made by the developer. The last thing the City needs is another vacant lot or office building. Jobs are great, for sure, but unless the City ensures that this development is built in a timely manner and the promises of improvement to the community are made, it's of no benefit to the community. Where are these 2 soccer fields being promised going to be built? On what land? Are tenants lined up to fill the office space? When will construction start (assuming the project is approved) and when will it be completed? The intention of the focus group was to get info so that the developer could side step the City Council and put his project on the ballot. Really not in the best interests of the community to go this route.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Steve -

This morning, I had to drive from Belmont to Palo Alto on El Camino Real. It's a stunning drive if you pay attention.

Yes, the economy has clearly taken its toll on many businesses, but it is equally clear that Menlo Park has fared far worse than other towns and cities. That's very strange, because Menlo Park is one of the most affluent cities on the Peninsula and its citizens appear to be extremely loyal and supportive of local businesses (example: the pharmacy and hardware stores outlived their nearby peers by more than a decade).

So why do San Carlos, Redwood City and Los Altos seem to be faring better? They don't appear to have nearly the number of closed businesses (especially formerly LARGE businesses) or empty lots that are found in Menlo Park. And I'm not talking about businesses that are simply renovating existing sites (like Safeway), I'm talking about new businesses and new shopping. Why hasn't that same economy stopped their development so dramaticaly?

I would suggest the reason is that Menlo Park officials are so notoriously negative, arbitrary, and so casually put developers through hoops, that those developers now simply avoid taking on projects in Menlo Park. The attitude of the town toward Bohannon is just another example. So it's just not worth the effort anymore, they look elsewhere for projects.

Now that may make those "no growth" people happy... until they realize the amount of tax revenues that are now missing from the Chevrolet and Cadillac dealers (hint: 8% of a $50,000 car sold every day is a lot of money...). Those taxes allowed the city to underwrite a lot of programs like daycare, swimming pools, and even BMR housing. No more, and the longer those lots stay empty, the deeper the budget shortfall.

And to "Get real" - You said: "... if the council is so "anti-development", why did they approve the 1300 El Camino project recently? And the other buildings where the Acorn and Gaylord restaurants used to be?: Newsflash, my friend, the Gaylord Restaurant has been SHUTTERED for better than three years and not a single developer has even ventured to offer a new project for that site (and that three year period includes some pretty good economic times, also). The Acorn is the only new project on the entire street and given the current political landscape, I'll bet that developer will never build in Menlo Park again.

So keep re-electing this gang. I firmly believe people get the government you deserve.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I agree 100% with POGO.

Menlo Park is certainly no where near the cutting edge when it comes to innovation and prudent development.

And you do get exactly the government you deserve.

The suggestion that citizens should not have input on these issues is simply wrong and offensive to the basic principles of a democracy.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm

POGO - a project recently approve on the site where Gaylord's has been. You should take a look at downtown Menlo Park. It is the envy of other cities with very few vacancies.
Some of the developers you cite have been pushing projects that are not part of the city's current General Plan or Zoning Ordinance (including Bohannon). Are you seriously suggesting that "anything goes", that rules are intended to be ignored? The current Council is the only one in recent history that decided to try to create a NEW plan for El Camino and downtown. With the economic slump, it appears the timing was ideal. The only beef I have is that they are seriously looking at the enormous Bohannon project, which is unlikely to be constructed for many years, in the absence of a plan. As another writer states, there is no Bohannon project, just a rezoning grab.


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Posted by DJ Brawner
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 17, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I can understand why POGO & others do not reveal their names, they would be embarrassed to face the public with the mouthings that they try to proclaim as TRUTH AND FACTS. [portion removed; disrespectful language] Tell us about all of the commercial development that has been approved in Woodside the last 100 years, as well as the commercial development approved for Atherton ??? The phonies that use this blog to attack the Menlo Council and residents are nothing more than cowards.


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Posted by opinionated
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 17, 2010 at 6:31 pm

BTW, one of the questions posed at the focus group was:

IF you this development were to appear as a proposition on the ballot, how would you vote?
Clearly, the intention of the focus group was to gauge public opinion and find out if the developer could succeed by bring the issues directly to the public and doing an end run around the City Council. That was no secret at the meeting.

The City Council members are wise to beware..

Any promises made about the development better be iron clad, cause this developer seems like a weasel.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I cannot speak for POGO and others but I served as a Planning Commissioner in Palo Alto for 4 1/2 years - during which we rewrote the General Plan. I have also been on the Board of an entity that has locations in Menlo Park.

And given that background and perspective there is no doubt in my mind that Menlo Park is anti-development and anti-innovation. There are millions of dollars worth of vacant properties on El Camino that could and should be producing revenue for Menlo Park. But maybe that is what a majority of the citizens want - if so, then I hope they are prepared to see significant cuts in city services as property tax and sales tax revenues shrink.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Get real -

Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for making me aware of a possible new project to replace the Gaylord Restaurant. I was also wrong that the Gaylord has been shuttered for three years - it's actually been more than four years. So double apologies.

Since you've informed me that there is now a pending project for this site, it will be very interesting to see how long it takes to get it approved and through permitting. Let's both watch this project closely and when (and if) the contractor breaks ground, perhaps one of us will change our mind about the efficiency of our Menlo Park officials.

I hardly believe that "anything goes" when it comes to development. I strongly believe development must be consistent with the city's general plan and architectural standards (and, by the way, I have more than a passing familiarity with general plans...). Unfortunately, that consistency with local standards may now mean a new project has to look like an empty lot (that's supposed to be sarcastic).

There are many appropriate projects that could easily drop into the those empty lots - office space, condos or apartments, retail shopping, etc. But as long as Menlo Park's elected officials keep making ridiculous and onerous demands that only serve their own narrow political objectives, the only thing that will continue to thrive will be those weeds.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm

The Gaylord's project is here, and was approved a while ago: Web Link

If it has not moved ahead, don't blame the city! By the way, I defy anyone to prove that our zoning requirements are more onerous than those of other peninsula cities. On some parameters MP may be a little tighter, but in other areas the city is more lenient. If you compare mid-pen cities, you'll see that the zoning is pretty similar on average.

Stanford is responsible for the biggest eyesore on El Camino. We lost those auto tenants on a prior council's watch; that council was absolutely ineffective in dealing with that loss. The current council is attempting to move matters ahead with the visioning project. Stanford is being coy and needs some tough love.

It is nonsensical to suggest that "narrow political objectives" are driving the council's decisions. You don't need to be a political expert to realize that it is in any politician's best career interests to approve projects. Our council members are not career politicians, so they are trying to do what is best for the city.

Having driven the stretch between Belmont and Menlo Park many times, I can only conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, this is all beside the point. The question on the table is whether or not we roll over and give Bohannon whatever he wants without expecting a reasonable quid pro quo. Given how much money he is spending to influence public opinion, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the shell gaming on this board is being conducted by people on his payroll.



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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2010 at 9:09 am

Council Watcher -

It's funny how people can get off topic so easily.

This isn't about the date that a tenant abandoned their facility. You said these tenants left "on a prior council's watch." For the most part, these sites were abandoned in 2005, 2006 and 2007 so that's not exactly true, is it? But what is undeniably true is that these sites have remained abandoned during THIS council's watch. And this, at a time when other nearby cities and towns have seen growth.

And this isn't about how pretty a development may be. We can have development AND it can be pretty.

The point of the original story, which you conveniently and consistently ignore, is how our elected officials handle development projects. Certain Menlo Park Council Members are consistently confrontational, negative and arbitrary and the handling of Bohannan is just the latest episode. There are many other examples... I won't list them because they have already been noted in this blog.

I'm not passing judgement on Mr. Bohannan's project. It may be good, it may be bad. The point is that developers are "opting out" of projects in Menlo Park and this type of confrontation from our officials is the reason. No one wants to be dragged through the mud and a developer can find projects elsewhere.

Maybe you think the boarded up theater and restaurant and the empty car lots are beautiful. I think it's a shame and a total waste of an extremely valuable asset. And you can blame it on Stanford, but I think the real reason is that no one wants to deal with these city officials.

I personally like to see a thriving downtown and business community where our local citizens can shop, eat and work.

All of us will pay the price for this confrontation and petulant behavior when our cities can no longer fund projects, keep our roads paved, or pay our fire and police because the tax revenues from these businesses has vanished.


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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 18, 2010 at 9:52 am

It is too bad for Menlo Park that POGO lives in Woodside. POGO would be an excellent Menlo Park City Council member. He cuts to the chase with focused clarity and does not engage in deception or obfuscation.

But why would anyone living in Woodside want to live in Menlo Park with our totally dysfunctional City Council who loves to excoriate developers and devotes its time to pet projects that don't resonate with Menlo Park residents. Two of the current council members (both ex-mayors)use their positions on the Menlo Park City Council, not to serve the residents, but to further their own political careers.


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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Our council majority, except Boyle, voted to reduce the size of buildings on El Camino in 2009. They actually modified the zoning ordinance to make it more difficult to build in the commercial zones. The current specific plan being discussed for El Camino and downtown is far from becoming an ordinance. Although it appears to be a progressive document now, it has not gone through the reduction process of our no/slow growth council and planning commission. When they are done, it will not resemble what the consultants (for the citizens) recommend. It may never even become an ordinance with our current council.

Council watcher - our densities (floor area and unit count) are far below other bay area cities. Some of the guest speakers invited to address the citizens in the El Camino visioning process were stunned when informed about the densities allowed. Many claimed they were ridiculously low (off by factors of 5 to 10 times).

Our council majority and their backers use process to strangle and kill projects. Cohen's people were behind the referendum that killed the Derry project on Oak Grove. They used that technique because they were out of power for the 3 years of public hearings it had already gone through. The 'grave concern' expressed by Cohen and Fergussen about the Bohannon project is their way of saying they can't control process and therefore the project.


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Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

The Park Theater closed in the early 2000's, before the current council. Its owner defaced it by removing part of the sign. He has proposed a few projects on the site, none of which conform with existing zoning rules.
The car dealerships began failing in the same time frame.
Another project on El Camino was approved recently, at 1300.
The real issue with the Bohannon project is why would the council approve any major deviation when it's clear that no construction will begin for years because of the lack of credit. There is time to create a plan for that part of town, just as the downturn is a good time to create longterm plans for El Camino.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Hank-
I doubt you have any knowledge of what either Kelly or Andy's political plans are so to claim they're acting to further their own political careers is simply speculation on your part. About what I've come to expect from you.
Similarly with your claim the council is dysfunctional. You provide no evidence - just more bile because they're on the other side of the political fence from you. Well, get over it. Menlo Park is a fairly liberal community. Kelly & Andy must be doing something right in representing their constituents because they've both been reelected to second terms.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

As for the car dealerships that have closed - it certainly has been a hardship for the city because of the loss of sales tax revenue. I believe that the current council would be happy were these dealerships to magically reopen because it would go a long way to solving the reduction in income the city is working under.

However, as I understand it, the reasons they closed had nothing to do with how the City Council views development. They closed because they weren't attracting enough business, because their lots were too small, and because they weren't located along the major freeways where their competition had located.

I'm not sure why Stanford hasn't made a greater effort to find new tenants since they're losing the rental income on these properties, which must amount to millions of dollars over the years that they been closed. I have to think that the lousy economy has much to do with this, along with the fact that these oddly shaped, oddly located properties really appeal to a fairly limited kind of commercial tenant. My sense is that these factors, much more than Council attitudes, have kept the Chevy, Ford, and Lincoln-Mercury lots empty.

On the positive side, Tesla has taken over the Lincoln-Mercury showroom, a real feather in Menlo Park's cap. Also, the former Cadillac lot is part of the 1300 El Camino project that the Council approved for commercial development only last October.

And yes, both Kelly and Andy voted for the project - imagine that!


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Facts:

It's not when these businesses closed that's the issue (but you are wrong about the car dealerships - both closed in 2005 just a few months apart... and Ms. Fergusson WAS on the Council at that time). But again, I don't hold the Council responsible for those closings.

They have, however, played a big role that they haven't been replaced during those five years. It's their decidely no growth, anti-development, arbitrary attitude toward developers that kills it. Without commenting on the merits of his project, their current treatment of Mr. Bohannon is just another example of their abitrary and negative attitude. Don't you think other developers take note and say to themselves, "I'm not going to build in Menlo Park..." It's just not worth it.

All of those empty car lots and boarded restaurants and theaters aren't doing anyone a bit of good. Watching excellent assets sit idle isn't my idea of good stewardship or management.


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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 18, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Steve,

You are one for two. I was not referring to Andy Cohen.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Pogo -
If these excellent assets as you call them belonged to the city I would agree with you that the Council was not being a good steward. In fact the auto dealerships are not owned by the city and so the Council has only a marginal role to play in getting them rented. Stanford, the current owner of all but the Cadillac property is the entity with the most to gain by getting them developed to start generating income for the University again. Since Stanford is not generally considered a bad steward I have to think they either have other plans for these sites or the current economy just won't support new development at this time.
Stanford also is generally not shy about defending their interests and if the Council were the impediment to developing these properties that you claim it is, then I would think we might have heard something from Stanford in this regard. Given the coverage the Almanac and PA Weekly gave to the battle between Stanford and San Mateo County over the trails through "The Dish", 'm sure both would love to report on a battle between Stanford and the Menlo Park City Council.

So if Stanford isn't moving to develop these properties, the only other developer who might have a bone to pick is Jeff Warmoth, the developer of the 1300 El Camino Project. But as far as I can tell, he's quite happily working on the final plans for this development, given the Council's 4-1 vote approving it last fall.

If you know of other developers who have written Menlo Park off because of Council attitudes, please let us know. Otherwise, you're just speculating about things like Hank.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Stanford isn't a developer... they own the land. They can lease it or not - it isn't going to make a huge difference to them one way or the other. They have LOTS of open and empty space.

It takes a developer with a vision to say "I want to put some apartments (or retail stores) on that site." They do that because they think they can make some money. That developer would then approach the landowner - in this case, Stanford and then pursue the project through the city.

Unfortunately, developers are avoiding Menlo Park like the plague. Stanford isn't the issue, Menlo Park IS. You can believe it or not but those empty lots and boarded up buildings don't seem to be going away, do they? Our city officials COULD be proactive and approach Stanford and tell them what they'd like to see... but there has to be some financial gain in it for the developer or else it won't get done. That proactivity is noticably absent in Menlo Park.

And I agree with you that I'd love to hear what Mr. Warmoth has to say about Menlo Park's attitude. Unfortunately, that will have to wait until the project is completed because it would be suicidal of him to say anything negative at this point. And even then...


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Posted by Hermione
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Stanford Management Company certainly is a developer, and one that's had no trouble running roughshod over Menlo Park in the past. If those suits want to see something go up on their empty lots on El Camino right away, there would be a lot of action.

Has anyone pondered the possibility that these vacant car dealerships had long-term leases and are still paying rent to Stanford? It might explain why Stanford is in no hurry to find new tenants.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Word is that Stanford is still collecting money from those leases. And Stanford most assuredly is a developer. Check it out: Web Link

>>>developers are avoiding Menlo Park like the plague<<<

Pretty funny to make this comment on a thread about the biggest development project ever proposed! I don't see any lack of developer interest in Menlo Park, and if a few renegade developers find our zoning offputting, well, so be it.

Remember that the Menlo Park address seems to be valued by many in the legal and financial services sectors. We will lose that cachet if we allow willy nilly development, and current commercial property owners will find the value of their investment declining. Not good.

>>>Our council majority, except Boyle, voted to reduce the size of buildings on El Camino in 2009.<<<

What on earth are you talking about? The floor area ratio clarification? Easy to throw out accusations without substantiation. Again, when the issue comes before the public, I don't think these scattershot smear tactics are going to help Bohannon one iota. And I have a hard time envisioning how Bohannon will frame this project for the ballot without making himself sound self-serving and greedy.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Stanford CAN develop, but they didn't develop these car lots and they don't routinely develop retail space. I guess they could put up more medical suites or office space on these sites if they'd like.

But you are WAY off topic. This isn't about Stanford Management.

The real impediment here is City Hall.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2010 at 4:31 pm

"...We will lose that cachet (sic) if we allow willy nilly development..."

I think we're all safe from that threat, Council Watcher.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2010 at 9:09 pm

So we're all agreed: Willy nilly development is not a good thing and our Council should be congratulated for avoiding it.


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Posted by deep thoughts
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Woodside sucks.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 8:12 am

Our town has a balanced budget (a surplus, in fact), no debt, enough cash reserves that we could do without any tax revenues for a full year, and has for more than a decade. We have decent roads, excellent service from the sheriff and fire departments and our pension liability is under control. And we do it all without much in the way of sales tax revenues (because we have so few commercial businesses). Our Town Council and Planning Commission seems to get along nicely, is responsive to citizens, and has managed to avoid scandals.

One could do a lot worse.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 8:16 am

...and when you can't win on the facts or principle, you can always resort to name calling.

"Deep thoughts" should run for City Council. You'd be perfect.


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Posted by deep thoughts
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 8:50 am

Woodside leadership is like watching a minor league baseball game. Quaint and nice and a good experience, but there is little strategic planning going on, a paltry budget, lack of diversity at all, no resource management to compare to any city really.

Just a cute little town. Kind of like being student body president.

Sounds good, but not much to it.

I think our general fund reserve is around $25M. What is it in Woodside? We have four different school districts, how about you? Private school A...B...C...We actually have a low income community that requires subsidization so that kids can have after school activities while parents work two jobs. We have a train station and a ROW that we have to defend.

Do you subsidize the little five-year-old Mary's first pony? Is there a horse carriage to get the rich folks to Bucks for the insider trading old folks groups?

Woodside is nice little rich commune, but little else.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 9:17 am

You obviously know very little about our town but that doesn't surprise me at all.

It also sounds to me like both of us ended up in precisely the right places.

As I said, given your negative tone, you appear to be perfectly qualified to run for City Council... unless, of course, you're already on it.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

deep thoughts, thanks for the laugh! Sorry, POGO, you will have to do better than that. Point goes to deep!

P.S. "cachet" is exactly what I meant. If you don't know the meaning of the word, google it!


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Posted by Circle Jerk
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

This "Comment" section seems to have turned another typical Menlo Park pissing war. Man-up and attend the next, boring council meeting when this topic is discussed. Let's see all the faces (and real names) on both sides of the issue. If you feel strongly, why not publicly confront Fergusson and Cohen or Bohannon, directly, on their stances and motis operandi.
I'll be the one who yells, "Get a rope!"


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Posted by relative newcomer to Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm

There's been more heat than light in these comments. Although a few made reference
to the General Plan everyone needs to understand that the Menlo Park General Plan has
not really been revised since 2003. Most of the surrounding cities have currently revised
General Plans to guide their development.This lag in planning has occured under the
the watch of both councils ...so there's enough blame to go around. Without a vision
and a roadmap to respond to changing conditions we're in the position of reacting rather
than planning. Change is inevitable. Our task is to shape the change we want to see.
I'm just saying.....


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Nicely said, relative newcomer. You're exactly right.

Again, this is why you elect members of the City Council...


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Sadly, when did anyone campaign for Council on a platform calling for updating the General Plan?

In Palo Alto the General Plan is the Holy Grail, in Menlo Park the General Plan is unknown to the electorate.

Menlo Park needs new ideas, new people and new blood in its political arena - where will these people come from?


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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 19, 2010 at 3:20 pm

So is a specific plan of the entire downtown just not enough? Sheesh.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Truth writes
"So is a specific plan of the entire downtown just not enough?"

Actually NO. California law gives a city's General Plan a very special place as the expressed wishes of the citizens of that community. A so-called Downtown Plan has no such legal significance - particularly if it is inconsistent with the latest general plan.


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Posted by Long term resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 19, 2010 at 6:18 pm

The ordinaces are the law not the general plan.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is very useful to know the facts:

The State Legislature declared in 1976 that "decisions involving the future growth of the state, most of which
are made and will continue to be made at the local level, should be guided by an effective planning process,
including the local general plan, and should proceed within the framework of officially approved statewide goals
and policies."


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Some additional information regarding the special status of a city's General Plan:

California state law requires each city and
county to adopt a general plan "for the physical
development of the county or city, and
any land outside its boundaries which bears relation to
its planning" (§65300). The California Supreme Court
has called the general plan the "constitution for future
development." The general plan expresses the
community's development goals and embodies public
policy relative to the distribution of future land uses,
both public and private.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The State law:

Every city and county must adopt "a comprehensive,
long term general plan" (§65300). The general
plan must cover a local jurisdiction's entire planning
area and address the broad range of issues associated
with a city's or county's development.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Peter -

You and I both know it's futile to point out the flaws with these posts. These people don't respond to facts and eventually they get frustrated and resort to name calling (not that we can't take that... but it's really juvenile). I've come to believe some of these people are already on the Menlo Park City Council.

I try to reserve my efforts for serious people who are truly interested in discussing the issue.


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Posted by relative newcomer to Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 20, 2010 at 8:04 am

Thank you Peter for bringing forward the factual basis for city planning. It never hurts
to inform the electorate and the city leadership. For the past six years, perhaps longer,
this city has experienced ad hoc development through private developers' initiatives. In
this current economy the developers have vaporized for the most part and the city is left with vacant properties including office space. This passive approach to planning has left us
with a leadership vacuum. Either the current council needs to step up to the plate or its
time for a game change.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 20, 2010 at 9:03 am

The Downtown/El Camino specific plan will result in amendments to both the Zoning Ordinance and the General Plan. Prior Councils have punted on revising the General Plan overall. At least this one has opted to tackle a portion of the city. The problem with the Bohannon proposal is that it seeks changes to both the Zoning Ordinance and General Plan, both driven by a single developer for only his part of the "light industrial" section of town.
As others have stated, the proposal is a rezoning "grab" in the absence of planning. With the office market and credit market in the current state, it's inconceivable that construction will be completed anytime soon. The Council is nuts to approve this in the absence of a plan for that general area, which could be completed in the next several years.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2010 at 9:57 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Unfortunately updating/revising a city's General Plan is HARD work, but ordinances must follow from and be consistent with a city's current General Plan.

The ONLY people who can adopt a new General Plan are the City Council. If the City Council refuses to do its job then perhaps it is time for some new faces.


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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

I can name half a dozen cities with new area plans or specific plans. I guess Peter of Atherton is saying he knows better than all these cities and POGO of Woodside has no relevant place to post with his "neighbors" in Woodside. Our downtown basically carries Atherton, a town with virtually no planning needs aside from parks and roads.


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Posted by Read the GC 65300
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 20, 2010 at 10:37 am

Thanks Peter for directing posters and observers to the authority of the State Mandate for General Plan and Zoning Ordinances.
One of the most critical operative clauses of the governing language is indeed "correlation of the land use and circulation elements" and "a coordinated , integrated set of General Plan elements"
This is critical because for decades Menlo Park has paid lip service to an inadequate transportation network that seriously impacts residential neighborhoods with overflow and cut through traffic. Tried driving north on ECR at 6pm on a weeknight?
Local school districts are overcrowded, long term water and sewage capacity are suspect. Police and fire protection services can hardly keep up with present demands.
Menlo Park has not had adequate infrastructure to support the development of the last 20 years, let alone what is "envisioned" by the consultants and city planning staff in the "ECR/Downtown Visioning Plan".
Stanford and Palo Alto keep building bigger and bigger, all the while pushing more and more traffic onto Menlo Park streets.
Until we have a city council with the cojones to go toe to toe with Palo Alto and Stanford on sharing traffic burdens we will only pander to the growth is good lobby while neglecting our infrastructure constraints.
The State Law and judicial rulings are clear. Municipalities must have a current Master Plan for orderly growth and development that does not exceed its infrastructure constraints.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Actually, truth, Woodside has several "specific area plans" and there is a group that is updating our General Plan as we speak.

You can ridicule and name call all you want, but it definitely works for us.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm

And if you look at The Almanac's logo at the top and bottom of this very page, you'll see that Woodside gets the same billing as Menlo Park. This is our newspaper and forum, too.

Imagine that.


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Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm

The forum has multiple categories in which people can post. There is a Woodside category. This is the Menlo Park category. I hope you'll forgive us if we poor folks in the flatlands don't appreciate having the country club set tell us how badly we are managing our town.

I have talked to various council members for years about updating the General Plan. My understanding is that our current plan dates back to 1994, although some of its components are newer. The response has typically been along the lines of "it would cost too much and take too long." The plan has been thoroughly amended, but no single project has required the magnitude of changes that Bohannon demands.

Our council members are in a tough spot. They are volunteers (they receive a very modest stipend) serving our community. No matter what they do or say, they receive criticism, often from the very people who helped elect them. Given that they are peer leaders rather than career politicians or professional city managers, I'd say they are doing remarkably well, and that this council represents a vast improvement over the one that was voted out/retired in 2006.




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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 21, 2010 at 7:15 am

Kelly and Andy seem to think that they have the right to vanquish Mr. Bohannon's first amendment rights if what he proposes does not resonate with their "No Growth" philosophy. However, they had no such reservations when their side undermined the Derry project after it being publicly noticed numerous times with the community given ample opportunity to weigh in at every step along the way.

This is just plain hard left partisan "No growth" politics. And as far as the specious claim that this council is a vast improvement over the 2006 council, nothing could be further from the truth. Under the 2006 council we got the Rosewood Hotel. The one Andy try to stop by storming out of the City Council meeting like a petulant child.

And what have we got with the current Council? An El Camino Skid Row!
The current Menlo Park City Council has a tarnished reputation among developers and is seen as being imprudent, recalcitrant, unreasonable, and overall a general pain in the *ss.

What we need is smart growth. But the current council is so fearful of their far left supporters, that they will only approve a trickle of the needed development.

We are in desperate need of new blood on the City Council. We need members who are not beholden to the far left, the San Mateo County Labor Council, and the SEIU. We need City council members who will act in the best interests of the residents.

You can make a difference next November. You can vote for the far left side of Rahm Emanuel who said on national television "The first amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] is highly overated" or you can vote for reasonable people who will serve the best interest of the residents of Menlo Park. [Portion removed]


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Updating a General Plan is hard work and may well be expensive but an out of date General Plan is, in my opinion, the fundamental problem in Menlo Park.

Here is the State guidance on General Plans:
" Keep in mind that while an area or community plan may provide greater detail to policies affecting development in a defined
area, adopting one or a series of such plans does not
substitute for regular updates to the general plan.
Many of the mandatory general plan issues are most
effectively addressed on a jurisdiction-wide basis that
ties together the policies of the individual area or
community plans."

"By statute, the housing element must be updated every five years."

"If the board or council finds itself making frequent
piecemeal amendments, major defects may exist in the
general plan. In these cases, the jurisdiction should consider
a plan update or a major plan revision to address
these issues."

The Council should get back to basics and start dealing with the underlying issue, the absence of a current General Plan, rather than chasing the symptoms. The General Planning process is well designed to identify and expose to debate the fundamental values and priorities of a community.

"Element consolidation is another
means to achieve internal consistency within the general
plan. Performing periodic comprehensive reviews
and updates of the general plan can help to identify
internal inconsistencies so that they may be corrected."


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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2010 at 9:50 am

Peter, can you tell me how you came to believe you have more knowledge of Menlo Park than the council or city management? And tell me why Atherton continues to be riddled with controversy with your vast wisdom just down the street? Are you fixing Atherton too and we just don't know it?

Cutting and pasting from a web search does not an intellect make.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2010 at 10:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Truth (???) asks: "Peter, can you tell me how you came to believe you have more knowledge of Menlo Park than the council or city management? "
I have been a Planning Commissioner for 4 1/2 years in Palo Alto and an elected official for 8 years - my posting have to do with process and it is the process in Menlo Park that is broken. You can't deal with the substance of an issue if the process is broken.

Truth (??) asks:"And tell me why Atherton continues to be riddled with controversy with your vast wisdom just down the street? Are you fixing Atherton too and we just don't know it?"

I am working diligently to help solve Atherton's problems and if you had read the Almanac recently you would be well aware of my efforts.

Truth states:"Cutting and pasting from a web search does not an intellect make."

How true, but knowing what to cut and paste is the critical intellectual action.

Now - back to the subject of the thread - and please put away your ad hominem toys.


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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm

So the updated GP in Atherton in 2002 was a credit to you as a member of the fire district? Are you saying that you personally have played a part in the GP process of Palo Alto or Atherton?

If someone unknowing were to read these posts, one could easily infer that you are claiming to have direct and applicable GP experience. That you have driven the process.

What I am saying is that talk is cheap. Modifying or updating a GP can take massive amounts of resources and years of work to complete. Many cities go to extremes to try to avoid it because it sucks away funds and time from other projects during that lifecycle.

You act as if it is as easy as a council vote and a little dabbling here and there.

It is a huge endeavor. I like the approach our city is taking now although I would reverse the order of our planning to put our industrial zone before a dowtown el camino plan.

But we are planning and we are debating land use and zoning and our future.

But that is all poppy cock to you right? After all, you served on the fire district and ran the GP process in Atherton and Palo Alto. So you should know...


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Peter -

Good response to Truth! You scored 3 to zip on that one.

As for the General Plan, I'm a little confused. "Relative newcomer" stated above that the plan was last revised in 2003. "Council watcher" says 1994. So what is the age of Menlo Park's General Plan? And more importantly, how often should one be revised? I can understand why housing might need to be updated every five years but, if it's intended to guide long-term development in the city, I'm not sure why frequent modifications of the whole plan are a good thing.

To bring this discussion back around to the original subject, it does seem like certain things are becoming clear:

Bohannon is asking for changes that are at variance with both current zoning laws and with the current version of the General Plan. Yet he has no specific development in mind that would justify these changes. As as been discussed earlier, this is a proposal that clearly a good deal for Bohannon but with no clear benefit for the city. In fact, it's easy to paint a scenario where Menlo Park loses were such a variance to be granted. No wonder the Council is leery of his request.

As POGO pointed out earlier, Bohannon is just a business man looking out for his best interests. No surprise there. Well, Kelly and Andy, who "constitute the council's subcommittee on the project" (1/20/10 Almanac article) are the representatives of the people of Menlo Park charged with looking out for the best interests of the city. Since both have been reelected recently, it tells me that the people of Menlo Park think they're doing a pretty good job of it.

This makes me want to know more about what the General Plan says about development in the industrial part of town where Bohannon is asking for changes.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

To answer Truth's question:"Are you saying that you personally have played a part in the GP process of Palo Alto or Atherton?"

Yes, while I served as a Planning Commissioner in Palo Alto we rewrote the entire General Plan. And as I have posted above redoing a General Plan is HARD work and expensive - been there, done that.

The critical point is that in the absence of an up to date General Plan a community simply cannot make intelligent land use decisions.
Just look at how dramatically the economic conditions have changed in Menlo Park since the last update of the General Plan. No wonder there is so little agreement on how to deal with individual projects when there is no agreement on goals and public policies.

As posted above "The California Supreme Court
has called the general plan the "constitution for future
development." The general plan expresses the
community's development goals and embodies public
policy relative to the distribution of future land uses,
both public and private."


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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I stand corrected. In 1974 and 1975 you did play a part in the PA GP. I actually don't disagree with your last post at all. I think the idea of area plans is still valid, given that you may have a certain district that requires more attention and sooner.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the State guidance on General Plans:

" Keep in mind that while an area or community plan may provide greater detail to policies affecting development in a defined
area, adopting one or a series of such plans does not substitute for regular updates to the general plan. Many of the mandatory general plan issues are most effectively addressed on a jurisdiction-wide basis that ties together the policies of the individual area or
community plans."

I do not believe that any change in the Light Industrial zoning in the area of the Bohannon project could legally occur WITHOUT revision of the General Plan. I also believe that the ambivalence towards development in the Downtown area is reflective of an absence of agreement on the community's development goals. Ergo, I believe that an updated General Plan is essential to progress - if, that is, you want progress.


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