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June 16, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

LETTERS LETTERS (June 16, 2004)

Misconception in editorial on Allied Arts ruling


I am one of the over 200 Allied Arts residents who supported Allied Arts Neighbors in its lawsuit against the Woodside-Atherton Auxiliary and its projected expanded events usage at the Guild.

In reading the Almanac's June 2 editorial I was struck by the many misconceptions of the issues involved. You state that "Allied Arts is not a typical commercial enterprise." That is certainly true, but most commercial events centers do not lie in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The approved 43 nighttime events may be a few less than the Woodside-Atherton Auxiliary's fondest hopes, but from the neighborhood's point of view that's 43 more than took place before renovation when the Guild closed nightly at 5 p.m. and behaved like a residential neighbor. These approved equivalents of outdoor block parties every Saturday night from April through October are in addition to over 300 new revenue and traffic-generating private daytime events that have also been added. (These are "limitations?")

And all of this intrusion on the neighborhood is intended to generate an annual goal of $160,000, a figure that, with proper management, could easily be reached without resorting to disruptive nighttime events. The renovation itself, as repeatedly indicated by the Auxiliary, has been financed by $7 million (not $4 million) in gifts, which are not to be paid back through income from events.

You quote the decision's statement that the "city...had acted with palpable care." In fact, the City Council never even discussed the environmental impacts of the project and approved the revised mitigated negative declaration without comment. Even at this time there are no plans in place to manage the parking and traffic.

And whatever parking and traffic plan is eventually developed will not be subject to any public oversight. Contrary to your statement, the city permit does not impose "substantial conditions."

But the gravest problem with Judge Kopp's decision is its total disregard of the California Environmental Quality Act. This has the potential for setting a far-reaching precedent that can affect future environmental decisions in Menlo Park, San Mateo County, and the state. To call this a "welcome ruling" truly misses the impact that this decision -- where political acts of a City Council trump both environmental law and neighborhood livability -- can have on our neighborhood today and on all California neighborhoods in the future.

Georgia Windhorst
Arbor Road, Menlo Park

Longtime neighbor felt betrayed by Guild's actions


Having been mentioned in last week's editorial, "A welcome ruling on Allied Arts," I feel compelled to respond. Please note that I am writing strictly on my own behalf, as someone who has lived across from the Guild since 1978.

In speaking out against the Woodside-Atherton Auxiliary's plans for significantly increased use of the Guild, I have been called a "pesky neighbor," a NIMBY, and worse. So here's a fact that may surprise you: I was one of the biggest boosters of the Allied Arts Guild for almost 25 years.

Friends or relatives coming to town? I always said, "They must visit the Guild. Don't forget lunch and shopping."

My son grew up pulling weeds alongside the gardeners on lazy summer days, and I was on a first-name basis with most of the artists and shopkeepers. I felt so positive about the Guild and the WAA's mission to support the Children's Hospital, in fact, that I volunteered to write the Guild's brochure as a pro bono project. I was happy to do so, hoping that it would help increase the Guild's business (even though that would increase traffic and noise on my street).

So I was more than a little dismayed that the Auxiliary never consulted its neighbors about its unprecedented plan to hold numerous evening events with hundreds of attendees and free-flowing alcohol at the Guild, which sits smack dab in the middle of one of the quietest residential neighborhoods in Menlo Park. Once I discovered this plan (and discovered is the correct verb, as the Auxiliary did not openly reveal it), the WAA rebuffed all neighborly efforts to think creatively (or to even work together) to devise a plan that would dramatically increase revenue (unlimited daytime events or one or two large fundraisers, for example) while respecting the neighbors' desire to keep the Guild "dark" after 5 p.m. as it traditionally has been.

So yes, I was disappointed in Judge Kopp's ruling. But first, I was disappointed that the WAA squandered the tremendous amount of goodwill it had among its neighbors, turning die-hard supporters into reluctant adversaries. I was also disappointed to discover that a charitable organization does not necessarily believe that charity begins at home.

But then, the WAA board members don't have homes here in the Allied Arts neighborhood. For if they did, I am sure they would not want to have their once-peaceful evenings disturbed in ways that no "noise ordinance" or "community liaison person" (as you mention in your editorial) can remedy.

Kathy Parker
Arbor Road, Menlo Park

Guild did a fine job with renovation


I recently toured the Allied Arts Guild with a member of the construction committee. I did not realize that $6.5 million of the $8 million for the renovation has been raised privately by the Woodside-Atherton Auxiliary, a non-profit. No public funds. None. Annually, this auxiliary makes a significant gift to the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.

I wish the Merner family, who purchased this land in 1929, could see it now. The Spanish look remains and glows; the new paint on windows and doors enhances the landscaping, which is presently in process; I congratulate both Cody, Anderson & Wasney Architects and Blach Construction for keeping the Guild the treasure it has been.

Every piece of iron work from the chandeliers to door brackets was removed, numbered, restored, repainted and rehung. Every tile on every roof was removed, numbered, useless ones thrown out and replaced with new. I couldn't tell old from new. Believe me, I looked.

The kitchen is entirely new except for the existing refrigerators. A great deal of thought went into this remodeling by the volunteers who serve lunch. You would want to help with the lunch service if you could see this streamlined kitchen.

There are new bathrooms, wheel chair accessibility, expanded terraces as they were in the '30s, fireplaces that work and the list continues for the marvels this group has achieved.

A big thank you is in order for the efforts of the Auxiliary and all those involved in the restoration. The Allied Arts Guild is an historical beauty for the entire Bay Area to enjoy, not to mention the number of children who receive help at the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital every year. I can't wait for October 1.

Sue Sterling Monjauze
Menlo Park

A response from sponsor of zoning petition


In response to Sam Sinnott's personal attack on me last week, I would urge Mr. Sinnott to set aside his personal feelings, and to join me instead in supporting a sincere, mediated effort to improve the Menlo Park's zoning ordinance.

His statement: "Readers and signers of the petition...were purposely misled" once again dismisses the legitimate, informed concerns of thousands of intelligent residents. It is an indisputable fact that the rescinded Ordinance 926 allowed bigger houses, as confirmed on the public record last December by Council member Paul Collacchi and staff member Tracy Cramer.

The simple explanation is that house size (floor area limit) remained the same, but the rules for counting house size were liberalized. This meant that many home designs under the existing counting rules would be counted as smaller home designs under Ordinance 926's loosened counting rules, allowing builders to add additional square footage to homes designs previously considered to be maximal. (See footnote.)

Hence, Ordinance 926, if it had gone into effect, would clearly have permitted bigger houses than the current ordinance. This is just one of the many fatal flaws in Ordinance 926. The numerous flaws and loopholes in Ordinance 926 were honestly and accurately documented, and brought to the attention of Mr. Sinnott and the council majority repeatedly by Planning Commissioners, other council members, and citizens. These concerns were repeatedly misunderstood or worse, ignored. This atmosphere led to thousands of hours of wasted staff and volunteer time. The ground swell of support for the referendum made it clear that Ordinance 926 had no chance of surviving public debate by an educated, intelligent Menlo Park citizenry.

Mr. Sinnott tries to discredit the Referendum Fact Sheet that I authored. Yes, it contains thousands of words tightly packed, with diagrams, onto 4 pages. Yes, I would make minor modifications to correct the diagrams (adding just 10 words and deleting six would do it), but all the concepts are accurate and I stand behind it 100 percent. I can back up every claim with direct citations from Ordinance 926.

Instead of personal attacks on those most technically knowledgeable, let us all approach future revisions to our zoning code with open minds and factual evidence. Please, Mr. Sinnott, show respect for Menlo Park's residents by giving future efforts to improve our zoning rules an honest chance to succeed.

Footnote: Per Ord. 926, Sec. 2, amending paragraphs 16.04.073 and 16.04.313 of the municipal zoning code.

Kelly Fergusson

(Editor's Note: Kelly Fergusson is a Menlo Park planning commissioner who led the referendum campaign against Ordinance 926. She is an announced candidate for City Council in this November's election.)

Have negative campaigning tactics begun already?


Less than three weeks ago architect/contractor Sam Sinnott stood before the City Council with Dave Bohannon and me to ask for a rescission of Ordinance 926 and an end to divisiveness in Menlo Park politics.

Two days after that plea, his wife (the office manager of his company) announced her candidacy for City Council. I guess that the urge to start the negative campaign tactics of Menlo Park Neighborhood Association/Menlo Park Matters proved too much for him to resist. His personal attacks on City Council candidate Kelly Fergusson (Almanac Letters, June 9) demonstrate what appears to be a highly selective commitment to civility.

Mr. Sinnott should credit Ms. Fergusson and her allies, who at great personal and financial sacrifice brought the zoning Ordinance 926 back to the council through a referendum petition, and gave the council another opportunity to correct a defective ordinance by rescinding it.

He could then begin to practice what he advocated on May 24 by promoting his wife's political aspirations in a more positive tone.

Steve Schmidt
Central Avenue, Menlo Park

Portola Valley cuts tennis, senior sports


In last week's Town Council meeting, Portola Valley decided to cut back on tennis facilities. While these facilities are used by family members of all ages, they are virtually the only sports facilities used by seniors.

Tennis is one of the three largest sports activities in Portola Valley, along with soccer and baseball. Beyond these three sports, participation in others drops by more than a factor of 10. Although the town has always maintained multiple excellent facilities for the other major sports, tennis has been the poor stepchild. Despite this, usage of the tennis courts has always been brisk, especially on weekends. Even though Portola Valley has sadly neglected maintenance of the courts over the past few years the courts are still heavily used.

The Town Council decided that the third tennis court would be replaced by an "all sport court" that would be used primarily for roller hockey, a sport played by only a handful of families and not hugely popular with the senior set. The council also said that it would consider replacing the third tennis court if some extra space became available in an already cramped design for the new Town Center.

Reducing the number of tennis courts will cause the discontinuation of a tennis program at Corte Madera School, where 35 students participate per session and a minimum of three courts are required. Also, a Portola Valley men's tennis group that has been playing at the courts for 30 years will have to be discontinued because there are too few courts.

We believe that needs of the hundreds of tennis playing families in Portola Valley need to be taken into account. In the case of seniors, it has been proven that exercise is a major contributor to health and quality of life. As the average age of our population grows we should be increasing sports facilities for seniors, not decreasing them.

Robert Kyle, president
Portola Valley Tennis Association

A change for the good on Woodside horse trail


What a tremendous example the recent relocation of the trail that connects Albion to Canada Road has been to our town.

The Bass family and their neighbors in this situation have worked so hard for so very long to include the different constituencies in finding a solution to their own problem and in the process have delivered to the town of Woodside and its equestrian community a more beautiful and safer alternative trail to the one that has been in existence for 20-plus years. We all should be grateful to them for taking the offensive and the risk of building a new trail at their own effort and expense.

Of course, there is a constituency in our town that seeks no change whatsoever and in this instance they have been a vocal minority. As Mr. Bass pointed out to the Town Council a few weeks ago, the equestrian community has voted with its "hooves" using the new trail by a margin of 11 to one.

Working out solutions to make both homeowners and equestrians happy is the best way to keep the trail system in Woodside viable.

Wendy Crandall
Josselyn Lane, Woodside

Shuttle drivers say they can go it alone


My first trip on the shuttle while my car was in for repair resulted in a conversation with the driver who said that the service does not need the present staff coordinator.

Not only are the drivers capable of continuing the shuttle service themselves, but they say they can handle any adjustments to the schedule, which recently resulted in only a three-minute change at each end after a consultant had been hired by the city.

This is from the horse's mouth and confirms that the staff position is redundant as long as the occasional answer to a question from someone without a schedule can be answered from another staff member.

Judging from my experience and the handful of users it might be less expensive to the local, county and state taxpayers to share or provide cab vouchers or have Crane Place, et al or volunteers provide the occasional trips. There was only one passenger who appeared eligible for the Redi Wheels program when the shuttle coming from east Menlo Park reached Willow and Alma. Has a rider count and a cost/benefit study been conducted?

Of course, there are many other positions held by members of a certain group bent on retaining power which deserve similar scrutiny and an accounting of the exorbitant costs already incurred by their unreasonable demands.

Margaret Petitjean
Waverley Street, Menlo Park

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