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February 04, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 04, 2004

LETTERS LETTERS (February 04, 2004)

Neighborhood streets open to everyone


This is a response to the guest opinion by Ross Wilson in last week's Almanac. As I wrote before, there is legally no such thing as cut-through traffic. Despite Mr. Wilson's emotional description of the streets as "a stage," they remain what they always were: a network of publicly-maintained roads whose purpose is to facilitate transportation from one place to another.

Mr. Wilson refers to "Our streets." Householders do not own the streets. Neither Mr. Wilson nor any other local householder has authority or jurisdiction to determine an "acceptable" level of traffic on any street. (Acceptable to whom?) Every driver with taxable income pays the same percentage pro rata to maintain the streets as Mr. Wilson. Legally they cannot, and will not, be deprived of their use to satisfy homeowners who want to create the atmosphere and cachet of a private enclave at public expense.

Dr. Morton Grosser
Lemon Street, Menlo Park

When is Menlo Park not Menlo Park?


Let's call this The Great Maibox Deception -- if only because it strikes me strongly that if the letters and bills arriving in my mailbox say I live in Menlo Park then that's where I do live. But I am beginning to suspect there's a lot more to this than just my eyeballs scanning envelopes.

I was initially confronted by this dilemma, as I like to characterize it, many years ago when I moved to Happy Hollow Lane from Los Altos Hills. I'd raised my hand to volunteer some time and expertise to a city committee but was promptly told that I lived in unincorporated San Mateo County, not Menlo Park proper and, therefore, was ineligible. I didn't like this and would have accepted it except that I began seeing that the city wasn't quite clear about me and where I lived.

Ignorance on the part of city? Yes, Menlo Park City Hall still thinks in 2004 that I live in the city as I continue to receive city mailings inviting me to add my opinion, attend a meeting, or deliver some voluntary time.

But now, this letter is written as a result of last week's story by David Boyce on the "Knotty Traffic Problems in University Heights" (it's unincorporated county), which is following on the heels of the stories on the pedestrian-crossing death of Atefeh "Amy" Bijan and her week-later memorial service in the 2100 block of Santa Cruz Avenue (again, unincorporated county).

The residents of University Heights and along tiny, tight and narrow Palo Alto Way are feeling inundated with cut-through traffic and are asking for help. Well, the help is here. It's right around the corner -- in downtown Menlo Park. We shouldn't have to import it from Redwood City, a nearby enough geographical entity but ultimately a faraway and alien territory that is neither intimately engaged or familiar with the lesser-traveled side streets of our city's unincorporated neighborhoods, including my own.

As far as I am concerned, the memorial service for Amy Bijan was happening in Menlo Park. But the only City of Menlo Park vehicles that I saw on the occasion of the memorial service were the pair of police cars (one unmarked) and the medical emergency/fire trucks that somehow finagled their way through the maze of vehicles on Santa Cruz Avenue to turn right onto Sand Hill Road to reach a bicyclist hit by a car on Sharon Park Drive at around noon.

Why can't we make this all come together under the jurisdiction of the Menlo Park Police Department? Let the the police who patrol my unincorporated neighborhood or respond to my call for assistance be in vehicles that say Menlo Park Police Department, not California Highway Patrol, or the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department.

I would love to have the sense-of-community that would come if I saw Menlo Park Police Department staffers patrolling my neighborhood. I religiously shop at Menlo Park stores and businesses, I gladly tell the world I live in Menlo Park -- but the only evidence I have of that are the letters in my mailbox, my driver's license and passport. And I can't get City Hall and its community services department staff members to make up their minds.

Ted Bache
Happy Hollow Lane, Menlo Park

Don't sign up for zoning gridlock


Now that Menlo Park has finally completed a four-year effort to revise its residential zoning ordinance, a small group of disgruntled residents is circulating a petition to rescind the new rules or place them up for a vote in a referendum.

In addition to the inaccurate and exaggerated claims that they make about the new ordinance, they also consistently leave out one important fact: If they obtain sufficient signatures the old rules, which even they agree are problematic, remain in place until the vote occurs in November.

While their proposal may sound appealingly democratic, the reality is that Menlo Park homeowners and neighbors will be forced to live with the serious flaws in the old rules for almost another full year.

Alternatively, if the City Council decides to rescind the ordinance and try again, we can plan on even greater delays. After all, the petition backers have criticized the council's work on this issue over the last year as "moving too fast," so I suppose they would want to see at least that much more time spent on it.

The new rules are the result of years of work by many city residents and government officials. They deserve a chance to work. A signature on the referendum petition only supports continuing gridlock on this issue.

Frank Tucker
Politzer Drive, Menlo Park

Referendum would prolong old zoning rules


Some Menlo Park residents may be frightened by language in the referendum petition being circulated by Planning Commissioner Kelly Fergusson to overturn the new zoning ordinance.

They should understand that the current ordinance, in effect until February 12, is less restrictive than the new revisions. Developers of standard lots will thank them.

Please consider the following before signing the petition: * 1)Under the existing ordinance approximately 60 percent of the R1 residential properties in Menlo Park are not subject to any neighbor or commission review when conforming. * 2) The new ordinance requires 100 percent of these properties to be reviewed by neighbors and planning commissioners when built to the limits of the same existing ordinance. * 3) The only way to avoid neighbor or commission review with the new ordinance is to build to more restrictive standards. Those restrictions include deeper upper floor setbacks, limits on second story wall lengths, lower daylight planes at the sideyard, new minimums for permeable surfaces, reduced building heights for single story structures, and mechanical equipment setbacks from property lines. Ms. Fergusson asserts that the floor area limit has increased because attics are no longer included in floor area. Not true. People who need all the floor area as floor area routinely build to the limits of the daylight plane and building heights by raising ceilings to reduce attics.

Also, the claim that building heights are going up because the definition of grade has changed from "natural" to "existing" is not true. Height limits continue to be established from the site grade prior to construction.

The referendum petitioners have tried to define crawl spaces and basement grades after construction as natural grades. That option has been eliminated because height limits were never meant to be defined from the new grades.

The new ordinance does provide applicants on substandard, mostly smaller lots, an option to avoid the costly delay and upset of a public hearing if they build a less intrusive project. It takes power away from Ms. Fergusson and also my wife, Lorie, who is on the Planning Commission.

Please give the new ordinance a chance to work and don't sign the petitions.

Sam Sinnott
Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park

Zoning overlay a better way to go


The Menlo Park City Council recently enacted long-awaited revisions to our residential zoning ordinance. Now a vocal handful of residents are attempting to force a one-year delay in implementation of the rules with a referendum effort.

Enough already. The new rules correct flaws in the old rules, and after four years of debate, it's high time that the revisions be given a chance to work.

Rather than a referendum, there is a much easier way for residents to get the zoning rules they want for their neighborhoods, without dragging the entire city into their crusade. Menlo Park is a city of many diverse neighborhoods, and one size does not fit all when it comes to zoning.

The new regulations allow individual neighborhoods to establish zoning overlays with rules to serve their unique needs. Neighborhoods can allow only single-story construction, restrict the size of houses, and so forth.

Felton Gables already has such an overlay district. They are simple and easy to create, and they take effect in less than two months. The shortest path for the petitioners to get what they want would be to direct their energies into collaboration with their neighbors to create an overlay, rather than to involve the rest of the city for their political ends. Or are they pursuing a political agenda instead of their purported zoning concerns?

Sue Kayton
Doris Drive, Menlo Park


The movement afoot to upset the recently enacted residential zoning ordinance has a rather "sour grapes" flavor.

If the residents of Menlo Park will remember, the outgoing City Council majority comprised of Mary Jo Borak and Steve Schmidt voting with Paul Collacchi and Chuck Kinney approved a residential ordinance in November 2002 at their last meeting together.

That ordinance would have made remodeling and building a new home in Menlo Park next to impossible if not prohibitively expensive. It was repealed immediately by the newly-elected council (Lee Duboc and Mickie Winkler voting with Nicholas Jellins) and refinements were made under the new leadership to provide a more moderate rules-based approach.

The new ordinance, which I believe was developed over a period of four years with significant public outreach and notice, takes away the super power of subjective review by the Planning Commission and creates a tiered structure that allows freedom to design if the owner stays within the first tier of the rules. These tier 1 rules are more restrictive than the old rules. If the first tier rules cannot be met, then the property owner must notify the neighbors.

Contrary to what referendum supporters are espousing, the current ordinance does involve notification. Under the old rules, only 50 percent of the projects required notification. The new ordinance will eliminate surprises and will reduce, not promote, monster homes.

And, it will allow families to build the homes they design on their properties. No more neighbor-designed homes.

Do not sign the petition being circulated. The people who are supporting the referendum are the same no-growth philosophers who do not accept moderation. In truth we all want to live comfortably in Menlo Park and if we have a set of rules that will accommodate most reasonable people, then those rules should be allowed. I believe the new ordinance should stand and be tested.

Mary Gilles
Hermosa Way, Menlo Park

It's county's job to protect pedestrians


The Almanac's editorial of January 27 reads like a surrender. Is the newspaper suggesting we give up on safety and convenience for pedestrians? The death of Atefeh "Amy" Bijan, a resident of Santa Cruz Avenue who was struck while in the crosswalk, deserves the immediate and full attention of the San Mateo County's Public Works Department.

If the county were to remove the existing crosswalk from Santa Cruz Avenue at Palo Alto Way, there would be an unacceptable 500 yards between marked pedestrian crossings of this street. To suggest that pedestrian amenities be removed absolves the county from the responsibility of designing an environment that is safe for all road users.

Safety for pedestrians should not be sacrificed to facilitate dangerous behavior by careless, impatient and especially aggressive motorists. I suggest that Supervisor Rich Gordon and his traffic engineers consider the recently completed improvements on the Alameda as inspiration for solving this problem of pedestrian safety.

Steve Schmidt
Central Avenue, Menlo Park

Dining a Little Store a step back in time


A week or so ago, my daughter and a couple of her friends and a couple of my friends went to the Little Store for lunch. We hadn't been there in ages.

It was like stepping back into the time when Woodside was a horsey place, few people locked their doors, and everybody seemed to know everybody else. We sat at the red and white checked table clothed tables and we ordered and were served good food and thick milkshakes. We were home.

But not quite. When Marcel and Kay Mouney ran the Little Store those many years back, you could smell the delicious scent of coq au vin, the thick stew simmering and that specialty of Marcel's, Langue de Boeuf with capers, drifting out onto Woodside Road.

We celebrated our daughter's 21st birthday at the Little Store (I brought over candle sticks and a white table cloth.) Later on, Betty and Jim Flood and Jean and Ward Law gave a dinner party there for Hattie Gilmore, our favorite person who helped at dinners and cocktail parties.

Back then we could ask Marcel if we could have a private party at the Little Store when it was closed on Mondays and he would put on delicious French meals for the occasion.

So what's happening today? A neighbor who probably didn't check to see how long the Little Store has been just where it is, (about 100 years) complains about the parking, the noise, the disturbance to him. Marcel and Kay live just in back of the store in the home they built there years ago, and it's hard for them to have to deal with a litigious neighbor.

We who have known the Little Store for so many years hope that the present acrimonious feelings surrounding this piece of the real Woodside, the old Woodside, will be solved without further legal action. Can't we all just get along?

Trish Hooper
Portola Road, Portola Valley

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