If You Had the Power To Improve Downtown Menlo Park What 3 Things Would You Do? | Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park | Dana Hendrickson | Almanac Online |

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Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park

By Dana Hendrickson

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About this blog: I hope readers of my blog will join me and other members of the Menlo Park community in a collective effort to transform our downtown into a much more appealing place, one where residents enjoy a lot more positive experiences and ...  (More)

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If You Had the Power To Improve Downtown Menlo Park What 3 Things Would You Do?

Uploaded: Jan 29, 2021
Downtown Menlo Park, like other central retail districts across the country, continues to suffer from the year-long COVID-19 pandemic. Empty storefronts, large job losses and plummeting sales testify to the severity of the economic damage, and most remaining businesses are still struggling to survive. Fortunately, there are now encouraging signs that both the healthcare and economic crises have bottomed out, and business owners in downtown Menlo Park can expect a rebound of sorts in the next few months. That’s good news for our entire community.

However, what an actual economic recovery will mean for Downtown Menlo Park worries me. The current downturn will have lasting effects and reinvigorating downtown will not simply happen on its own. Many residents were unhappy with the state of downtown before COVID-19 and even a full recovery would disappoint them. Main street does lack an appealing mix of small retail businesses, more than a dozen vacant storefronts mar Santa Cruz Avenue and streets are poorly maintained and often dirty. However, Downtown Menlo Park also has many strong points including convenient access to dozens of service-related businesses, e.g., restaurants, salons, and home furnishing retailers; above average income households in Menlo Park and Atherton, and 500 new apartments now under construction nearby on El Camino.

So how likely is it that downtown will become a more appealing place to shop, eat or simply visit IF there is no concerted effort by residents and the city government, something that has been lacking for decades. The City’s Specific Plan (2012) is full of good ideas for civic investments, ones collectively identified by residents. But no significant ones have been undertaken during the past eight years. Is this because no one feels they own its implementation?

Here are the goals for downtown included in the Menlo Park Vision Plan. It is safe to say that very little progress has actually been made.

• Maintain a village character unique to Menlo Park.
• Protect and enhance pedestrian amenities on Santa Cruz Avenue.
• Expand shopping, dining and neighborhood services to ensure a vibrant downtown.
• Provide plaza and park space

Reinvigorating downtown will require a much more refined and pragmatic vision, civic and private investments, a well led economic development program, and extensive community engagement. I personally would like an attractive place to run errands, dine, stroll, and attend regular special events with family and friends. I already visit downtown 3-4 times a week, mostly to run quick errands. The following are the kinds of “attractions” that would expand and increase my usage.

1. Open the entire length of Santa Cruz Avenue to traffic between University and El Camino EXCEPT the south side lane in the block between Doyle and Curtis. This current experiment in outdoor street dining's very popular, draws people to downtown and is a primary source of vitality on main street during lunchtime and in the evenings. Although a few retailers might oppose this closure, the City Council should acknowledge the significant value of this unique community attraction and accept a trade-off that benefits the entire downtown.

2. Create an attractive, professionally designed plaza in front of Walgreen's and Starbucks - a place for special events, socializing, listening to "gentle" live music, reading, people-watching, relaxing and other suitable activities.

3. Extend the business permits for outdoor dining areas at least to five years in order to encourage restaurant owners to invest in attractive and comfortable facilities.

4. Create at least 50 additional, short term parking spaces in the plazas by eliminating a similar number of daily parking permits. Offer displaced permit holders FREE permit parking in a nearby lot leased from a private property owner, e.g., church.

5. The existing safety barriers that protect outdoor dining are unnecessarily unattractive, visual reminders of temporary construction sites. These should be painted a dark more attractive color, and markings and reflectors should be added to make them visible, especially after dark.

6. The current conditions of downtown streets and sidewalks are disgraceful. Repairs, on-going maintenance and regular cleaning are required.

7. Add a second - perhaps smaller - farmers market midweek to help local framers, create an additional opportunity to purchase fresh produce and specialty food products, another reason to visit downtown. (In a new plaza?)

8. Minimize the number of vacant storefronts downtown, especially on Santa Cruz. Create a program to display art and other visually appealing exhibits in shop windows. Regularly rotate displays to create fresh new experiences.

9. Offer a series of special, mid-week evenings that feature Menlo Park restaurants . For example, wine tastings, dessert tastings, beer tastings, appetizer tastings, etc. Hold at least two a moth, spring through fall. (In a new plaza?)

10. Offer a series of weekend summer plays in Fremont Park in either the afternoon or evening. Encourage restaurants to sell "box" lunches or dinners.

11. Attract specialty food shops like the ones in the San Francisco Ferry Building.

12. Attract a microbrewery that serves craft beer and wines from our area.

13. The number of bicyclists riding on Santa Cruz will continue to grow. Add signs at every intersection that remind both motorists and bicyclists they must share lanes.

14. Create a safe place(s) to store bikes, electric bikes, and motorbikes – facilities that offer greater security than bike locks.

So what are YOUR top three priorities for improving downtown in 2021?
(Important note: Please remember our city currently has a very tight budget.)

Also note that there is currently an on-going discussion about Downtown Menlo Park on Nextdoor. Join in with your ideas.

Also, outdoor dining is now available!

Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Gregg, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jan 31, 2021 at 12:55 pm

Gregg is a registered user.

Palo Alto has built multi-level parking garages near University Ave and are completing a new structure next to California Ave.

Converting one block of street parking next to Wells Fargo into a multi-level parking structure would significantly improve short term parking and increase foot traffic on Santa Cruz Ave.

Is this still being considered by the city development plan?

Adding a Los Altos Grill style restaurant option would also thrive.

Adding an authentic Mexican taqueria (like a Gordo's in Berkeley) would be a great added low cost dining option.

Zachary's deep dish Chicago-style pizza would be a hit as well.

Thai or Indian curry option also missing from downtown.

I have heard owners of many retail buildings in downtown do not favor restaurants - will new street level El Camino retail space currently being developed be more welcoming to new food options?


Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 31, 2021 at 5:17 pm

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

Hi Greg:

There appears to be no interest in building a parking structure on the part of either the current city council or the Complete Street Commission. A parking structure is Incredibly expensive (see my December 18, 2018 post) and parking is inconvenient only at lunchtimes (according to what I hear).

Posted by West Menlo Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:20 pm

West Menlo Mom is a registered user.

This is a minor gripe, but the newspaper vending machines outside Peets are really unsightly and a nuisance.

Posted by Petosky_MI, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Petosky_MI is a registered user.

Parking is the biggest and oldest issue. I disagree that there is plenty of parking except at the lunch hour. What happened to the plan of a parking structure behind Flegel's? Everything is expensive and only continues to be so as the problem ages. Before the pandemic I was traveling within CA to places like Santa Barbara. While the streets in SB are in terrible condition, what I noticed was that all their parking spots are of a normal size. MP's are too small and too crowded. I've been hit twice by people backing out of their parking space. The concept of small cars being used in MP if the parking spaces are small has failed badly. The majority of cars driven in our area are SUVs. And I'm not sure whoever thought MP was being developed into a “village-like" atmosphere. Have you driven down the corridor on El Camino developed by the new too-close-to-the main-street buildings on either side of El Camino? It's the most urban village I've seen.

Posted by been there, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:33 pm

been there is a registered user.

Top 3 priorities for Downtown MP.
1. The Specific Plan included parking structures. Start with one. These are essential for increasing vitality in Downtown MP. I have made lunch plans at a restaurant on El Camino and had to walk 2 blocks to find a parking place. I won't do that again. Redwood City and Palo Alto are much better, but not perfect. Get the property owners on board since they will be paying for it. Palo Alto uses bonds and the payments are added to the property taxes.
2. Parking Structures
3. Parking Structures

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:43 pm

Dana Hendrickson is a registered user.

Posted by Really !, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Really ! is a registered user.

We moved here 10 years ago when MP was a decent small town.
Now it's just a worn down small town with no plan for improvement.
It has no character. Needs to be vibrant.
We (used to before CV19) would rather go to PA for about everything.
1. MP = stop go stop go stop go every block on Santa Cruz = pita.
Make it a 1 way from ECR to University.
2. Needs "go to" restaurants like Gregg recommended. Take a look at the bumpouts and parklets PA has installed on University. Santa Cruz is tent city.
3. Parking is a difficult and public lots are a potholed mess.
4. Sidewalks need work on Santa Cruz.
5. Can't do much about the newspaper "machines" except mayge install a creative shelter that hides their ugliness.

C'mon people...more ideas !

Posted by SenioraCit, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 1:15 pm

SenioraCit is a registered user.

Three wishes:
A promenade on Santa Cruz Ave from El Camino to University Ave--no traffic, no parking, beautiful landscaping, lots of outdoor dining and gathering spaces, free parking (yes, a big parking garage somewhere nearby).

A variety of retail shops (no additional hair and nail salons, please) -- no empty storefronts (small-business-friendly city regulations, taxes; incentives for property owners to keep retail-space rents reasonable, free parking, as at shopping center, etc)

Entertainment and activities (e.g., a roller/ice skating rink; movie theater, film festival); bowling, live music, dance floor, celebrations (Chinese New Year, St. Pat's, Cinco de Mayo, etc.)

Posted by Ms Walker, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 5:11 pm

Ms Walker is a registered user.

We miss the movie theaters! (There once were three in Menlo Park.) We always ate dinner out in downtown MP prior to the movie. I hope that the venue being built where the Guild Theater was remembers the movie lovers, especially for the kind of movies shown at the Guild and other former Landmark theaters.

Posted by RanchGal, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 6:53 pm

RanchGal is a registered user.

Been here since the ‘50's.
1. Enact loitering laws (we used to have them) for panhandlers
2. Incentives for landlords to keep their property rented
3. Remove those ugly traffic barriers or encase them in pretty fake shrubbery
4. Take clues from Main St. Los Altos and downtown Los Gatos. Very appealing there
5. Keep SC Ave a thoroughfare (we handicapped seniors can't walk 2-4 blocks.)
6.Eliminate trashy newspaper receptacles
7. No more nail/hair salons
8. Encourage nightlife

Posted by ChuckC, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Feb 1, 2021 at 9:43 pm

ChuckC is a registered user.

The thing we really need is a decent gun range. We shouldn't have to drive to the trashy south bay for target practice. There's quite a bit of space behind Ace Hardware that could easily be converted to a safe indoor range with seven to ten lanes and 50yard targets. There could also be some space for a small arms and ammunition vendor, affiliated with the range. This would save many Menlo people a lot of driving and no doubt would be welcomed by Menlo PD too since they could get their practice time in locally.

Posted by Debbie Hall, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Feb 2, 2021 at 11:15 am

Debbie Hall is a registered user.

I support all of your suggestions, Dana - thank you! I feel we DO need a multi-level parking structure, and the parking lots and sidewalks are in terrible shape (and sidewalks are really dirty in spite of the city's one- or twice-a-year cleaning). I recall that Menlo Park had a 'home decor' theme for new businesses, but do we really need more furniture and rug stores? One challenge is having to compete with downtown Palo Alto and Stanford Shopping Center. I support more restaurants. I miss Village Stationers for cards and gift items as well as school/office supplies. We definitely don't need more hair and nail salons, or coffee shops (though I'm surprised by the seemingly endless demand - Coffeebar was doing really well before COVID).

Question: would it help to make SC Ave. one way from ECR to University, and turn the other lane into a 2-way bicycle route? yesterday I was driving west on Santa Cruz as Hillview got out and 4 kids on bikes came INTO my lane, riding the wrong way on the inside of the road (ie NOT next to the sidewalk) when they encountered the barricade intended to close the street to eastbound traffic. Yikes! And I agree with the comment that there are SO many stop signs on Santa Cruz Ave - I generally avoid it and go to Menlo Ave or Oak Grove.

Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Feb 2, 2021 at 1:57 pm

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

Hi Debbie: You can send me a private message if you want to talk about any of your ideas. Dana

Posted by Lynn, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Feb 4, 2021 at 1:55 am

Lynn is a registered user.

A few more good restaurants - from above, a Los Altos Grill, a 271 local union (PA), a cute wine tasting venue (like the Cask in San Carlos), a Vesta (like in redwood city), some better to-go restaurant options, like someone said above. Some nice shops to replace a few of the many rugs stores/banks/goodwill shops/hair salons/expensive furniture stores, etc (not really sure what those should be, but really, anything would be better, imho), outdoor areas to congregate/sit, trees, bike lanes, walking paths, etc.

How do we make these things happen? Seems there are a lot of people who want these changes, yet our city makes absolutely no progress. It is really sad - I have also watched our town go downhill for the past 25 years and you'd think we had smart people who could solve this problem...but instead we got those islands on Santa Cruz, about 10-15 years ago, that were quickly taken out (at what expense, I can only imagine) and then I heard that they were thinking about putting toilets in at Sharon Park (for close to a million dollars). I do hope that was a joke, but I think that was a real thing. Who is coming up with, and approving, these crazy ideas?

Posted by duansky478, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Feb 7, 2021 at 6:58 am

duansky478 is a registered user.

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