Bohannon project will go on the ballot


What is already shaping up to be a crowded ballot in November for Menlo Park voters will have to make room for a new item: the Bohannon (Menlo Gateway) project.

Menlo Park's City Council voted 4-1 in a tidy meeting Tuesday, June 15, to approve the project, subject to a citywide vote. A simple majority vote will be all that's required to grant the necessary approvals to the Bohannon Development Co. for the office/hotel project, a nearly million-square-foot development near Bayfront Expressway and Marsh Road.

Three council seats are up for election in November, and an initiative aimed at scaling back pensions for new city workers will join them. The City Council is scheduled decide next month whether to ask voters to approve increasing the city's hotel tax.

After reviewing the project over a series of meetings, the council wrapped up its deliberations this time in under an hour.

While he has been perhaps the council's most ardent supporter of the project, Councilman John Boyle dissented in the vote, saying that sending it to the ballot would set a bad precedent. Other council members countered that this is an exceptional case, and that they wanted to avoid the possibility of a potentially costly referendum that could in essence delay the approval process for up to a year.

In an ironic twist, Councilman Andy Cohen, who has said he does not support the project, voted in favor of it because he wanted voters to decide. He said he would have rather voted against it, but only if he was certain the motion would pass. Councilman Heyward Robinson threatened to abstain if Mr. Cohen dissented, and Mayor Rich Cline called the vote, as Mr. Boyle put his hands over his face.

Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson, who had earlier signaled that she would not support the project unless it included a profit-sharing provision, said she changed her mind after developer David Bohannon agreed to spend an additional half-million dollars on landscaping. She said the new work would make the site a welcoming entrance to the city, and to Bedwell-Bayfront Park.

Belle Haven residents packed the council chambers in support of the project, saying that it would provide a boost to the neighborhood.

During the public comment period, Planning Commissioner Vince Bressler said he had been "threatened with legal action and public humiliation" by the development company, after refusing to meet with the developer in private.

One man compared Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen's insistence on profit-sharing to a scene in the novel Dr. Zhivago, when a woman working for the communist government asks a character to cram more people into his house.

Chuck Bernstein compared the city bureaucracy to an "insatiable beast," in constant need of new revenue from projects like the one proposed by the Bohannon company, and said that the city should cut its expenses instead of approving the project.

But perhaps the oddest moment came when Morris Brown brought a tape recorder to the podium and played into the microphone comments Mr. Boyle had made during a previous meeting, explaining his reluctance to send the project to the ballot. Mr. Boyle and everyone else in the room listened as his recorded voice crackled over the PA system. It must have been especially surreal for viewers watching the broadcast of the meeting at home, if there were any, to listen to Mr. Boyle's now twice-recorded voice.

Mr. Brown said he was playing the clip back because he found the councilman's argument that the project and its implications are too complicated for voters to fully grasp "undemocratic."

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2010 at 1:07 am

Excuse the crudeness, but when is the MP council going to grow a pair?

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 7:41 am

This was the obvious solution since both the applicant and the opposition wanted it on the ballot. I haven't watched the full meeting, but I did see they voted to approve it, right?

You would prefer they ignore the wishes of the applicant when they didn't throughout the process?

Like this comment
Posted by Bored
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

4 hrs of pure babble ! Everyone including the council knew it was going to approve this project, so why waste 4 hrs to say yes ! This is the most dysfunctional council, we have ever seen. No one knows how to make a decision without waffling. Is Ferguson for real, all she is worried about is her plants, flowers and trees.When these 3 seats are up, hopefully someone from the Belle-Haven area will choose to run, we need 3 new people on the council! The Fire District got 2 new really good people on it, now it is time for the city council to do the same, no incumbents only new faces. How much is this going to cost our city that has a negative budget ? Get this project started with the least amount of BS & expense.

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

There is a two word description that most aptly defines the essence of the majority membership of the Menlo Park City Council and the first word is Cluster.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:23 am

Perhaps Menlo Park should adopt the Swiss Cantonal system wherein the citizens vote directly on practically everything.
"Voting in Switzerland is the process by which Swiss citizens make decisions about governance and elect officials. Voting takes place over the week-end, with emphasis being put on the Sunday. At noon on that day ("Abstimmungssonntag" in German), voting ends.

Switzerland's voting system is unique among modern democratic nations in that Switzerland practices direct democracy (also called half-direct democracy), in which any citizen may challenge any law at any time. In addition, in most cantons all votes are cast using paper ballots that are manually counted.

Approximately four times a year, voting occurs over various issues; these include both referenda, where policies are directly voted on by people, and elections, where the populace votes for officials. These votes take place during the weekend. Federal, cantonal and municipal issues are polled simultaneously, and the majority of people cast their votes by mail.

Only 25% to 45% of all eligible citizens typically cast their votes, but controversial proposals (such as EU membership or abolishing the army) have seen voter turnouts of about 60%."

If Menlo Park adopted this system and added internet voting then they could have an election every week. And the Council could simply meet once a year to elect a Mayor who, like the Swiss President, would have no powers except ceremonial duties. The Council's sole role would be to advocate as individuals for and against each of the issues being voted on by the citizens.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:25 am

C'mon tea baggers, you can do better than that!

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

Cut and paste does not an intellect make.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:30 am

Truth - know WHAT to cut and paste is indeed a useful skill. Much more so than Truth without either truth or facts.


More on the Swiss system - looking even better:

Every village, town or city has a deliberative assembly — in some villages, it is the town meeting (usually called "Landsgemeinde"), where all adult citizens may vote by show of hands. At such meetings the citizen can also present oral or written proposals which are voted on at the next meeting. In larger towns, elected assemblies take the place of the town meetings.

The municipal assemblies vote on changes to the "town statutes" (Gemeindereglement), governing such matters as the use of public space, on financial commitments exceeding the competence of the executive branch, and on naturalisations.


I love that part about voting on things which exceed the competence of the executive branch.

Like this comment
Posted by citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:53 am

Mr. Carpenter is soooooo right. Key word "competence" is soley missing..Instead of saying city council maybe they should be refered to as the "Village Idiots". The Menlo Park Village Idiots, kind of catchy isn't it ?

Like this comment
Posted by Judge Reinhold
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jun 16, 2010 at 11:19 am

Truth should be made a ward of the court.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

This might be the lamest group of tea baggers in the country. Glen Beck would be ashamed.

Like this comment
Posted by cajones come in many forms
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm

The Council voting 4:1 for this project was huge.
And it was smart of them not to let the usual crowd of referendum-happy, nay-saying would-be project slayers frame the debate WAS indeed "growing a pair." Often leadership means you have to do what's pragmatic and unifies a community, not purely act on "priniciple." I applaud the four who could see this (and those 4 don't always see eye to eye - far from it).

Bottom line: It was not worth risking the whole project going away - or a delay in the revenue stream for the City -- if the typical Menlo Park dynamic continued here and the nay-sayers caused a one-year delay. The developer himself felt this way, and so did all councilmembers but one -- Boyle -- and even he said he'd support the measure on the ballot once it was on the ballot.

There is nothing to be afraid of in putting this one rare largest ever project on the ballot - it's clearly good for the City and its impacts have been mitigated as much as possible and a decent package of much- needed community benefits will be received.

Better to be proactive and break the prior pattern.

Even more important now is to stay focused on the SUBSTANCE of that's good for this CIty, as well as the substance of this project, instead of obsessing on ***process, Process, PROCESS.*** (This means you, John Boyle).

Time to move forward, focus on the positive and grow up as a community and learn new approaches that work.

Like this comment
Posted by Make A Decision!
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Why do we elect leaders anyway? Seriously? Aren't THEY supposed to make this decision, based on the countless amount of hours of debate and discussion? Are these guys/gal THAT afraid of possibly not getting re-elected to a city council seat? Is power that important? It can't be the salary! What a waste of time, money and energy. The only thing I guess we can be happy about, is that there was not the time honored Menlo Park tradition of asking for a survey to be completed! And Ms.Ferguson, could we take that $500K worth of landscaping and put a big green blanket over the car dealership lots, the theater and Mattison property?

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Spare us the make a decision speecj. I just watched the meeting and there was no ambiguity about council's support for this project. The vote for ballot is to get this project on the table now not let it drift like Derry et al.

Stop trying to make a political point out of this, it looks cheap and obvious. Either you just want to play the political game or you didn't bother going to or watching the actual meeting.


Like this comment
Posted by disappointed
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2010 at 3:40 pm

They should put Kelly on the "Weeds and Seeds" Committee. OMG, are you kidding me ! $500k for weeds and seeds, flower pots and little white picket fences ! Hopefully her term is up, what is she on anyway ? I will tell you one thing, just be carefull, that we do not divide Menlo any further. East Menlo, West Menlo, Belle Haven. East Menlo & Belle Haven need their own person on the city council, since we always "speak for them". That whole area is important now & in the future..We do not need a "Mason Dixon Line" within our already divided city.

Like this comment
Posted by Kenny K
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I think she is on wacky tobaccy

Like this comment
Posted by acomfort
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm

This project is not worth worrying about.
It is not going to happen no matter the vote of the council or of the MP residents.
The developer will not immediately start building because the hotel industry is in such poor shape and he will never build this project because of the same reason.

""Occupancy and revenue are expected to plummet this year. About 36% of full-service U.S. hotels will lack the cash flow needed to pay their monthly mortgages in 2009 vs. 21% in 2008, says Mark Woodworth of PKF Hospitality Research."" (Web Link)

This recession is not over and the recovery is more like a receding horizon. In other words . . . it aint gona happen. Sorry folks.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Acomfort -

Given the amount of time it takes to get these large projects approved, financed and constructed, it is extraordinarly difficult to also factor in the state of the economy.

By the time the financing is required and by the time the hotel opens, it may be boom times in Silicon Valley again (one can hope).

Mr. Bohannon's challenge is getting voter approval, not financing and, barring outright catastrophy, not the economy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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