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By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Save Menlo ? Let's Get Real

Uploaded: Jun 16, 2014
A few years ago, I stumbled out of bed and made my jetlagged way to Menlo Park's Sunday farmer's market. Someone handed me a leaflet. Save Our Farmers Market. Alarmed, I asked the leafleter who would shut this cherished institution.

Actually, no one. There was talk of a parking structure, and the farmer's market might move. Atop the structure? On one of the covered levels? The leafleter didn't know.

This experience slightly confused me. Days before, in Le Vésinet, a posh Paris suburb, my wife and I had toured the farmers the town's parking structure. My cousin introduced us to his favorite merchants, including "the Corsican spice thief," a shadowy purveyor of rare seasonings. Why was all this in a parking structure? I don't know. There's more rain in France. Property in Le Vésinet is limited and it is in Menlo Park. So the French build up, not out.

As for that planned parking structure...and the "threatened" farmers market...the whole experience was quintessential Menlo Park. The supposed problem was inflated and distorted. While issues such as dealing with cars, supporting downtown merchants and absorbing Silicon Valley growth, got lost in the tumult.

Before our current boom turns into another cyclical bust, can't we have a real discussion about how to "Save Menlo?" The Spanish-style complex of apartments, offices and retail space proposed by Greenheart is the logical place to start. Aside from Menlo Park's internal requirements for "public benefit," how does the project measure up in terms of smart growth? (See Steve Levy's blog "Invest Or Die" )

One good standard: the GreenTRIP certification program. Managed by TransForm, with funds from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, GreenTRIP takes an objective look at developments and their traffic impact. How does the Greenheart project stack up?

Let's find out for real.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by good question, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Jun 17, 2014 at 10:04 am

Levy's article is about residential community, and the Smart Growth needs for housing near transit. Greenheart is office-intensive, adding way more office than anticipated in the expensive downtown plan put in place. That much office brings commuter traffic and will end up putting more pressure to add even more housing than in the plan.
That doesn't stack up right in my book.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jun 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Good question/bad understanding of the facts. Look at the Greenheart proposal before making inaccurate statements about it:

"Greenheart is planning to build two three-story buildings with 210,000 square feet of office space, and up to 216 apartments on its nearly 7-acre site, with 16,000 square feet of retail incorporated into the commercial buildings and 7,000 square feet in the residential. Ninety-five percent of the on-site parking would be provided by an underground garage with entrances off El Camino Real and Garwood Way."

"The proposal also includes renovating Garwood Way and creating a bicycle/pedestrian path to connect with the Caltrain station on Merrill Street."

Compare that to what would happen with Greenhearts multiple parcels IF they were forced under the fatally flawed Lanza/Fry initiative to develop each parcel independently and there was no incentive for offering public benefits.

Posted by Paul Bendix, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jun 17, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Actually, Levy's article is about smart growth. The latter means, among other things, placing offices near both transit and housing. So how much of the commuter traffic you cite will use transit? How could that number be increased? How many people will prefer to live within a walkable distance of their offices, thereby reducing vehicular traffic? These questions help determine how "smart" this growth really is. Of course, there will be growth...the real issue being where, whether it adds to urban sprawl and inefficient use of land and resources.

Posted by randy albin, a resident of another community,
on Jun 18, 2014 at 1:24 pm

well,let's have Menlo become real. there once was a middle-class on the is necessary to level the playing field. can people who grew up here actually afford to live here? let's have Menlo become real, for sure

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jun 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Stanford and Greenheart have proposed to build more moderately (in relative terms) priced housing than has been built in Menlo Park in the last 20 years.

But Save Menlo doesn't want ANYBODY else in their little life boat.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jun 18, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

IF the Lanza/Fry initiative were to pass and Stanford decided that it could not economically develop its 8+ acres given the crazy limitation in the initiative then perhaps Stanford could decide to simply make a generous contribution to Menlo Park by constructing ALL residential units.

The base density for these parcels is 40 units/acre or 320+ units.

Or Stanford could be really civic minded and do all low income housing where the Public Benefit Bonus Density is 60 dwelling units per acre for a total of 480+ units.

Careful what you hope and vote for - this initiative is fatally flawed.

Posted by Joe67, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Joe67 is a registered user.

"While issues such as dealing with cars, supporting downtown merchants and absorbing Silicon Valley growth, got lost in the tumult."

Unfortunately, this is not a sentence. While reading this article, this fragment made it hard to read.

Posted by Paul Bendix, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jun 19, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Good point! How is this?

"Issues such as dealing with cars, supporting downtown merchants and absorbing Silicon Valley growth, get lost in the tumult."

Posted by ReadyForRisk, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:59 am

I understand that Stanford and Greenheart, as developers, hope to profit from the margins they can get from up to 50% office compared to more residential or retail. I'm willing to risk it that the city can get better buildings, better public space, lots of residential and additional benefits if we are forceful enough, in trade for those margins. The initiative may have worked at some point in the past, and Menlo Park should have been smarter about what could be built through the Specific Plan. But the initiative is a bad response today for that past and for where the city is at. Paul is right that the initiative is as confused and misleading as the supposed threats to the Farmer's Market from the Specific Plan. But the stakes are bigger and a vote on the initiative will occur in November.

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