Uninvited to the block party


Sometimes you get a refund you don't want. Nancy Couperus, Menlo Park commercial property owner and founding member of the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance, found herself in that awkward position after the Chamber of Commerce's downtown block party on Santa Cruz Avenue on June 23.

Chamber President Fran Dehn stopped by the Alliance's table as the party wound down, according to Ms. Couperus, and handed back $100 in an envelope, saying that since the association was considered a political group, it did not qualify to participate.

"I went home and scratched my head," said Ms. Couperus. "We thought it was a great opportunity to get information out to the public."

The Alliance consists of 64 business owners and 37 property owners who signed a petition opposing the city's development plan for downtown Menlo Park.

The chamber's application form for a table does not specify that participation is limited to local businesses. However, its website states, "Anyone with a Menlo Park business license is eligible to participate, as are nonprofit organizations who service the Menlo Park area."

The Bohannon Development Company championed its Gateway project at last year's block party, while the city of Menlo Park promoted its vision of downtown at this year's.

Since Ms. Couperus said she submitted the registration form weeks in advance, it's unclear why the chamber waited until after the party to revoke the registration. At a chamber meeting on June 29, she said the president told her that a temporary worker had processed the application and was not aware of the criteria.

Ms. Dehn did not respond to The Almanac's repeated requests for comment, telling her assistant that "she would be on the phone and unavailable."

According to Ms. Couperus, the chamber president did mention a "free speech" zone at the upcoming Aug. 11 block party and indicated the Alliance could be "there."

"But I don't know where 'there' is," Ms. Couperus said. "Having been fairly political in my life, I've noticed that free speech areas are not exactly in the middle of things."

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Like this comment
Posted by Mical Brenzel
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 29, 2010 at 2:15 pm

The attitude of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce to the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance baffles me. I would expect that the Chamber would champion the views of the Alliance, since they share membership and, I would have thought, the same objectives for business success in the downtown. However, the Chamber has been opposed to the Alliance almost from Day 1. The Chamber is losing the support of local businesses as a result. Many businesspeople are not renewing their memberships or have already ceased to participate. The Chamber should re-examine its purpose and constituency.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Jordan
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Strange conduct on the part of the Chamber, very strange indeed. Almost all of the members of the Alliance are members of the Chamber and have MP business licenses, which leads one to the conclusion that the Chamber was bowing to the demands of Bohannon et al (who loudly disagree with the Alliance) rather than applying some objective standard as to who could have a table at the event. When a Chamber begins to represent Developers, rather than businesses and owners of commercial property, it is no longer a Chamber of Commerce. The interests of the two groups are seldom the same, and, as the Bible wisely says: No man can serve two masters. If the current Chamber chooses to represent Developers, perhaps the business owners should look elsewhere or take the Chamber back to represent their own interests.

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