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."