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Opinion: Hard lesson learned in downtown plan

Original post made on Jan 18, 2013

Some Menlo Park City Council members and others have expressed dismay that the proportion of housing and retail is small in Stanford's proposal for its eight-acre property on El Camino Real, especially in the context of current housing goals forced on the city through the state housing element process.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013, 7:49 PM

Comments (17)

Posted by A long time resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm

First, thank you John for this candid account of how the Stanford project came about, the first I've seen.

My question is: Why did our expensive planning consultants not foresee or warn us about this possible outcome, particularly with a single landowner controlling such a large piece of El Camino?


Posted by Finally, the truth, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Well said Mr. Kadvany and I can only hope that the other Planning Commissioners are as rational and knowledgeable. The shame is that it took 5 years, over a million dollars and 2 elections at the council level to get us to this point which is that an unpaid, volunteer body will be saddled with the responsibility to see where the city can find any legal avenues to revise the Stanford development and deliver a community-friendly product. So much work for all involved and specifically the residents who have every right to be disappointed in their elected council members and frightened of the impacts of the development that will spill into their neighborhoods.

We will all be holding our breaths as the Planning Commission wrangles with the design, circulation, traffic and safety issues of this development. The council members who approved the Specific Plan and the staff and city attorney who did not warn and protect the city will be defensive. Watch out for a whole lot of marketing from these people. Only Mr. Cline has been honest in his admission that he got snookered. The others will want to put lipstick on this pig. Another coup by Stanford.


Posted by time to course correct, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2013 at 2:29 pm

We can question all we want about how things got to this point, but who will show leadership now? It's great that key officials like Kadvany and Cline say they are surprised about Stanford's project, but it was allowed by the Plan that they passed. There is time to review and course correct so there aren't more surprises over then next 30 years of the plan.


Posted by Vincent Bressler, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm

The planning commission will preside over "architectural review". We are a quasi-judiciary body for this process, so we must limit our consideration to those matters falling under architectural review.

I believe that the city council must act.

Please note, not everyone on the planning commission was surprised by this outcome.


Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Kadvany reveals just how incompetent are he and others, since they had the chance and could have voted to stop this disaster. Indeed on the PC, Bressler voiced opposition, but he was hardly listened to. He was an exception.

Certainly Cline,than Mayor, who after starting this whole initiative, and spending $1.5 million and who was asked numerous times to have more public input and rein in the consultant, but refused, is at the top of the list of elected officials at fault. One can only conclude that Cline got what he wanted. It is certainly not what the voters wanted and is only now is it being revealed just how much not wanted this specific plan really represents.

The approved Specific plan "gave away the farm" to the Farm.

Most at fault is City Staff, particularly the planning staff. They are supposed to be professionals looking out for the interests of the City and its Residents. Unfortunately they instead cater to development interests and on their heads, this disaster really belongs.

But it doesn't stop here. It goes on and on. Next week the City is about to give away millions and millions in potential income, to Facebook in a development agreement for their proposed new campus.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2013 at 4:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Most at fault is....."

Let's not forget the citizens who failed to attend commission and council meetings and who failed to ask hard questions. In a democracy you get the quality of government than you deserve - and demand.


Posted by George C. Fisher, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 19, 2013 at 6:43 am

Now is not the time for recriminations, blame or speculation on what might have been. Now is the time to address the problems before us, which include a 17% traffic increase (over 6400 trips per day, 550 trips per peak hour per Environmental Impact Report) on El Camino Real between Cambridge and Middle, not only clogging El Camino, making the intersection at Middle a complex unsafe hodge lodge, but causing cut throughs through out all of our residential neighborhoods. We need creative solutions by everyone, including Council members, who should not be defensive or protective of past actions, but driven by true leadership to solve the important problems at hand generated by a 400,000 square foot primarily office development, with little Menlo Park benefit.


Posted by time to course correct, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

George is right. Now is the time to deal with the problems now before us. There are no lessons learned if no corrective action is taken. The Stanford project represents problems with the plan. It needs fixed. The Council must show its leadership.


Posted by Finally, the truth, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I don't think the blame should be placed on residents. Every 2 years we have a city council election and promises are made by candidates about their love of Menlo Park, their interest in protecting it's small town character. In addition the Specific Plan took 5 years, more than 4 of which was spent on the downtown area. The El Camino Real portion got the short end of the stick. Most people who were notified about the process only saw the words, Downtown over and over.

The council is to blame and the staff and city attorney protected Stanford. The residents trust their elected officials to look out for their interests. How much city involvement is required to keep on top of the council's actions. The council now has 2 members who approved the Specific Plan, one new council member who may help the residents. One member who has taken himself out of the action by owning property on Alma and the last, our Mayor who has said that the Arrillaga gifts to the city is benefit enough for the Stanford Development.


Posted by Edward Syrett, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Indeed, this is no surprise. The El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan was concocted by a consulting firm and rammed through with blatant disregard for the wishes of the downtown merchants most directly affected (and for those of their patrons, of whom I am one). It's full of nonsense about "vibrancy" and fixes for things that aren't broken, while things that ARE broken, such as the Park Theater eyesore, sit there year after year mocking residents for our lack of political will.
Whatever else you may say about Stanford University, the people running it know what they want and how to get it.


Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 20, 2013 at 11:54 am

To Peter Carpenter:

Peter:

Your comment above

"Let's not forget the citizens who failed to attend commission and council meetings and who failed to ask hard questions. In a democracy you get the quality of government than you deserve - and demand."

might well be accurate in many instances and in other cities, but in the case here, the input of Menlo Park Voters to the the specific plan, was indeed quite large, with some meetings being attended by over 200 citizens. For a City the size of Menlo Park, that is hardly a reflection of the citizens not caring and not asking hard questions.




Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If the outcome is not what a majority if the citizens desired then the level of citizen participation was inadequate.


Posted by time to course correct, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 20, 2013 at 1:01 pm

With staff and consultants insisting that their draft was correct, and with council meetings stretching into the wee hours, the Council made a decision. Some no doubt were just tired and felt the pressure of the long process, most of which occurred behind closed doors.
Again, the point is that what is starting to happen using the Plan is not what a number of decision makers expected or apparently wanted. So they should revisit it to figure out how to make the Plan better. Now.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" So they should revisit it to figure out how to make the Plan better. Now."

Fine,but nothing that is done now can change the fact that Stanford is legally entitled to do exactly what they have proposed to do. If you now want to change that established entitlement then you should be prepared to pay Stanford big bucks for their loss of property rights.


Posted by Alum, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 20, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Props to Vincent Bressler and Patti Fry and all the others who got it right and ran up against the stone wall that is our council, planning staff, and city attorney.

Many of us saw this coming. And many residents went to meetings and became discouraged when it was clear that nothing that was said or did was going to have any impact on the outcome.

This is an expensive place to live, and our city staff get good salaries. Residents have to work long hours to pay the mortgage, and many don't have time to attend meetings that stretch on until late night. You can't fault people for that. We are paying for a topnotch staff but instead getting people who fit the worst stereotypes of public servants.


Posted by Stefan P., a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 23, 2013 at 9:13 am

I'd like point out the recent expansion of the project. Stanford's original plan submission from November 2012 showed a total project size of 357,000 sq.ft. The revised submission from last week shows 443,200 sq.ft. of built-out area. That is an expansion of over 80,000 sq.ft. For reference, the average Walmart is 102,000 sq.ft. (Web Link). We are looking at the equivalent of 4+ Walmarts in one location on El Camino right at the border between PA and MP. Who thinks that is smart?


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 23, 2013 at 10:24 am

Stefan:

The plans posted on the city's website, as well as the plans I reviewed in November, show a total project size of 443,200 square feet. The city hasn't posted the latest revision yet, but the plans were already at 443,200 sq. ft. before this additional housing came in.

Sandy


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