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Menlo Park forges ahead with plan changes

Original post made on Dec 14, 2011

The desire to make the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan process as comprehensive as possible boxed the Menlo Park City Council into a corner on Dec. 13.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 3:14 PM

Comments (28)

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Yeah, let's spend more money and think about this even more.

Menlo Park still won't have a plan; they haven't had a plan for the past how many years? How long have businesses been vacant on El Camino -- the car dealership across the street from Safeway, to name one, has been empty for 6 to 8 years.

What incentive do businesses have to come to the downtown area? While MP discusses its plan, businesses are locating elsewhere.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:46 am

Throwing good money after bad. Shame on you.

Posted by Scolar, a resident of La Entrada School
on Dec 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm

It's good to be a consultant for Menlo Park isn't it. Once you're in, everything is a gold-plated change order.

Posted by Angry, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm

This is the ultimate in wasting the taxpayers' money! We do not need more costly studies. We need simple dialogue among the affected parties (residents; business owners; property owners; city government). These consultants have operated with a tin ear since the beginning of the process. Why pay them even more money in the hope they will now listen to the people who live and work here?

Posted by easy target, but a good move, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

To the knee-jerks:

Put the additional subsidy into perspective: this plan will be great for the long-term vitality of the city, and the economic vibrancy that will result will easily defray its relatively small cost. Nothing gets done here because of the daunting notion of taking a project through a never-ending and often unsophisticated public review process. This plan more clearly lays out the city's objectives and defines review processes that provide developers enough certainty to be able to make the economic decision of whether to pursue a project. The plan offers no give-aways, only greater clarity, which is badly needed by all sides of the equation.

Approving this plan will bring immediate results and great community benefit to Menlo Park. I really think the nay-sayers will be happy in the long-term and that Council is to be applauded for their focus in these final stages.

Posted by Frugal, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I guess I'm a knee-jerker.

Why didn't we look at just El Camino? That's where there's real need for some guidelines.

The Santa Cruz plan in a developer/city staff abomination and clearly not what anyone who's informed of the details will support. Dead on arrival in my opinion. But it won't be the first time.

Posted by Henry Riggs, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm

When you want an inclusive process with public discussion of esoteric issues - from investment viability to shadow studies - it costs time and money. If the process includes heartfelt fears and objections from the partially informed (the plan itself is about 350 technical pages, the EIR hundreds more), you respond with more info. Every time a former planning commissioner writes a four page commentary of the plan (and there have been several) it gets responded to. Every time a 'call to arms' is circulated at farmers market, it gets responded to. We have a very involved community.

Personally, I'm not pleased that the consultant didn't believe us when we told them how much push back we get in Menlo Park, but they didn't budget for it.

Although this added info will still not satisfy those who just don't want change, council is providing that info. The saying goes, "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Posted by Bob, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm

The plan calls for shutting down parking lots to build garages for what I'm told will take at least a year. So the business's that are left will suffer even worse. If they are still around when the garages are done. So a new downtown with even fewer shops, doctors, dentists, etc. as there won't be many

Posted by Henry Riggs, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I should add that, because of all this public input, the planning commission and council improved the plan, notably limiting the potential parking structures, lowering the faces of El Camino bldgs and respecting Santa Cruz parking, among others.

Posted by easy target, but a good move, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Henry, you hit it on the head. Council made the right call. Thank goodness they chose not to be penny-wise but pound-foolish -- putting forth an incomplete document only would serve to undermine it and render moot all the work and money that's gone into it to date. Developers already have some concerns with the fuzzy defnition of public benefit -- can you imagine the loss of confidence in the process that would result from asking them when making a Specific Plan application to present their own land use case studies for the discretionary (read: unpredictable) review and approval of the City?

It's paradoxical that people who are complaining about the Council not listening to them and objecting to this appropriation fail to realize that the appropriation was only necessary because the City is wanting to be responsive to the questions raised by vocal community members. Damned if you do, indeed.

Posted by fox is in the coop, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm

After some members of the council asked an ad hoc group to return with some ideas about how public benefit should be determined, council shut off the public and asked staff to come back with ideas. Now staff says they are talking with developers to create the process for how public benefits would be negotiated. After the plan is in place, that process will occur between staff and developers!

The council asked staff and the consultant to figure out what upzoning would make development feasible, a task that isn't even necessary (several sites already have approved projects that came forward under current rules and were deemed feasible at the time and will be again as the economy improves). This feasibility work will be done in consultation with developers!
The results of all this work will come back in final form. Developers won. Residents lose.

Posted by fox is right, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:06 am

When the council blew off the public benefits committee -- comprising residents of all stripes -- and handed that key task over to developers, it was pretty clear the fix was in.

Whenever you eliminate the checks & balances of a project, you undermine the results. The developers are now limited only by their greed, and can make their own determinations about how (if at all) the public should benefit. Since their usual stance is "all projects benefit the public by definition," we can expect public benefit to sum to zilch.

Oops, council, you did it again.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 16, 2011 at 6:56 am

Let's see, what happens when you entrust a group of anti-development residents with back door negotiations?

Ask the Derry Project supporters how they feel about an approved project getting hijacked and backdoor negotiations with no report out to the public at all. Anyone ever find out what Andy's kitchen cabinet got in return? Any public update at all?

Who knows if the residents were seeking payment to cover costs of the referendum?

All we know is that the objectors to this plan are the same people who took a city project behind closed doors resulting in no project and now they want to get control of negotiation rules for the specific plan.

This is ludicrous. Next request will be to have a seat at the table with Facebook execs.

And it goes on and on...

Posted by fox is in the coop, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:21 am

"Truth" - the city attorney confirmed that there was no monetary or other gain on the part of the Derry team. You don't want to acknowledge the truth.
It is not uncommon for projects to get modified "privately" before they are submitted or resubmitted for public review.
That developer chose to modify the project and resubmitted it for the full public review process. It was approved by the Planning Commission, with some modifications and the developer chose not to proceed for final approval by the City Council. What's more public than that?
Now that there is a new developer for the Derry project, and the current upzoning far exceeds the original Derry project, the council and staff are ignoring the public in favor of developers.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm

So can we get the notes from those private negotiations? Did the CC grant the rights of negotiation to these residents? You spend so much energy trying to persuade people to believe that this council is ignoring the people, yet your only response to a hijacked negotiation is that it went to the PC after the developer caved? Who is ignoring the public again? And no doubt you were standing tall against the Gateway project, right? And you probably made a similar accusation about the council, a different one, back then, right? Yet when the public voted on it, what was the result? 65%? I think the council knows exactly where the public is on these items and it is you and your collective group that have now lost touch. Not the council.

Posted by fox is right, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm

The public benefits group was a different set of people from the Derry negotiators. The groups had in common two things: none of their members stood to benefit financially and all the members cared about Menlo Park.

Can you say the same about the developers who are now charged with providing benefits for the public?

As for Bohannon, no matter what side you're on, was there ever any doubt that a rich man could spend his way into the voters' pockets?

Who do you think should be speaking on behalf of the public, truth?

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm

They had no right to negotiate and a lazy city attorney is the only reason this did not become a bigger deal. Council members are elected by the public to represent the public. They care about the community and they stand to make no money. They and only they should have that authority.

Of course, you don't like their position so you disagree.

I guess you see it okay to gather a group of citizens and take that elected power away from the public? I disagree. If you want to have that right then run for council and be vetted in public.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I don't understand why my posts get deleted. I am simply asking K.F. to check her facts.

Posted by fox is in the coop, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

"truth" really has a conspiracy theory going! When a developer rethinks a project, they consult with whomever they want. That happens all the time. For Derry, I understand the developer asked to meet with some of the referendum leaders. What is wrong with that?
The issue I am making here is that city staff is developing new rules or negotiating with developers, and doing that by talking with developers! The staff apparently hasn't continued to seek input from residents or others who don't stand to gain from the recommendations they (staff) will make. That's just plain wrong. Where' the investigative reporting?

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm

You are arguing for your residents, the folks who want no development. Let's not try to pretend here. Your entire strategy is to keep such a high bar that no one will develop. That is why Derry died.

Posted by fox is right, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Oh, right. The mythical "foks who want no development." I'd like to meet just ONE of those people. (I know everyone who was involved in the Derry negotiations, and all are in favor of development that enhances our city.)

At the community meetings, there was pretty widespread agreement on that, and I guess some of us naively hoped that the consultants would come up with a plan that would take us from where are today (ugly vacant lots) to a quaint European-style downtown with lots of street life. Instead, the consultants seem to have little interest in community needs and an almost exclusive focus on developer demands.

Given how much time so many of us have invested in the process -- with so many hopes -- that is beyond sad.

Posted by fox is in the coop, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 7:59 am

The truth is that most of the vacant El Camino lots have approved projects. Those happened in the last couple years despite the downturn. Savvy developers calculated that they could make money even under current rules! It is only a matter of time, a short time, before financing is available again. The commercial market on the peninsula has picked up considerably recently.
But perhaps the delay is due to the fact that the way the Plan is designed with a new "base" zoning, the very same developers could build more - a lot more - without providing a single extra penny of public benefit.
It is not the city's job to make developers as profitable as possible. The Plan has many enhancements that would make development less risky, such as guidelines. The city should focus on keeping Menlo Park a nice place to live, and should revisit the Plan Goals. None of them talk about providing extra incentives to develop. Instead,the Council should start talking about how to maximize the benefits of additional development, and how to minimize the negative impacts that the environmental studies say are significant and can't be mitigated.
The closed door discussions that should be of concern are those between staff and developers as they concoct how "public benefit" will be determined. It is really smelly that these are the same two entities that would "negotiate" the public benefit when the Plan goes into effect. Unlike residents with no monetary gain at stake, developers stand to gain (or save) a lot of money from extra development and how the threshold and rules for public benefit are set. Just think, if someone were on the take, how different would it look? The process does not pass the sunshine test.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

The Derry Project was approved and went through a public process to gain approval. The anti-dev group did not like the size of the project and created a city wide nasty political fight via a referendum that resulted in a massive delay to the project. You threatened to litigate and forced the hand of a developer to the point of no project. There were two projects on that site and you killed the other one too. 1300 ECR came up and it was opposed as well. Three different times this developer has had to return with a change -- local merchants teamed with unions to threaten to litigate. What do we have now? An empty lot. The Park Theatre fiasco, more than once mind you. What do we have now? Crap.

Should I keep going?

Should we talk about how your group opposed what is now the Kepler's building and the only dynamic area in our downtown?

Do we have to go there because you want to try to lie and rewrite history?

This plan started as a result of the BS that has gone on for years in our town. You are a direct reason this town has so many gaps because you refuse to allow any planning except for one or two story fairytale stuff from the 1950s.

If I not correct, you opposed even the new gymnasium because it was too big and would create huge traffic problems, even though it was more than half paid by a donor.

When do the lies stop? I would hop Gateway would be a message to your group -- but I guess not.

The EIR studies the maximum impacts and has to mitigate those impacts. Why does the EIR process work in other towns, but your group acts like this town needs its own rules? Name one city that has residents negotiating in front of staff and council? Can you?


You can throw out Sunshine Laws all you want. The fact is this city has had four years of open dialogue. You just do not like the result of that dialogue.

Just like Derry. Just like Gateway. Just like the gymnasium.

And on and on we go.

Posted by fox is in the coop, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Who is "you" and what "group"? I certainly was not even around when some of the things mentioned happened. Can't individuals raise concerns? Or are you saying that the public process has ended?
And BTW a referendum is a legitimate part of the public process. The original Derry project exceeded city standards and a developer-friendly council negotiated a token public benefit. The revised project was held back by the developer after it was approved by the Planning Commission, right? It only needs Council approval to proceed.

Providing input to Council decisions happens all the time, from commissions and from the public. Unfortunately, a lot of input comes from developers to staff behind closed doors. Back to my original point, it is unseemly when the subject is how public benefit should be negotiated. The fox is in the coop!

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

This string is pretty much over now, we have reached full circle.

You believe your group of residents are able to act on behalf of all residents, regardless of input and the actual sentiment of thousands of people in our town.

I do not believe you should be able to gather a few people and represent the city's interests. You get to send emails and make statements at meetings and ask for meetings with electeds and staff just like the rest of us. No more and no less.

If you want more, as I said, run for office and be publicly vetted. That is the right process.

The folks at the dais were vetted and have been elected to represent. You have not.

Since we are repeating, I will sign off now.

I will say, I mean no disrespect to you. I just disagree with you, and vehemently.

Posted by Truth Is Correct, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm

....and not only is Truth correct, there is a growing sentiment among "normal, common sense people" that are tired of looking at vacant lots,(car lots), trash strewn lots,(Derry Project area) graffiti drawn buildings (movie theater), and big white signs that stand for decades!(Mattison property) It is beyond the excuses and the ridiculous reasons, we want something in these lots, something that at least looks pleasing to the eye. I am past what taxes can be derived from these lots, I would at least like Menlo Park to be cleaned up and look like the spot where we pay $15K+ annually in taxes! Enough little group with nothing but time on your hands to pick up every little issue with every EIR, you need to stay home and stop the obstruction!

Posted by fox is right, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Many cities have imposed a vacancy tax to prevent the problem we have on El Camino -- the vacant lots, the trash, the graffiti.

Our council is afraid to do so. I guess they don't want Stanford and the other big land owners to get mad? But that would help solve the aesthetics problems that bother so many.

This is a separate issue from El Camino/downtown rezoning. Be careful not to confuse the two. No matter what happens with the rezoning, owners will still be able to abandon their properties and leave them as a public nuisance.

After working on council campaigns for over a dozen years, I can assure you that the best candidates may or may not win. In the years that 3 candidates are up for election/re-election (2006, 2010, 2014, etc) it is almost impossible to get elected without union endorsement. "Vetted" candidates? Don't make me laugh. Most MP voters are far too busy to do their homework. And those union flyers -- flushed toilets, anyone?-- are pretty persuasive!

We are fortunate that a small number of residents are willing to subject themselves to taunts on TownSquare because they care about their city and aren't afraid to say so.

Posted by fox is in the coop, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Fox is Right - great idea to have a vacancy law. Maybe also something that would require lots to be kept clean and weed-free or a lien for the city to clean up if they won't.
Truth and Truth is Correct - maybe you don't know that Most of the large empty lots on El Camino have approved projects and the Park Theater was closed and defaced by its owner. The worst offender is Stanford who is still collecting rent from the old car dealers. Talk to the property owners about cleaning up their properties!

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