There's no getting around it -- no package of mitigating measures to call upon: A developed downtown area as envisioned in Menlo Park's downtown specific plan would adversely affect local roadways and already congested intersections significantly, resulting in substantially more clogged streets and dirtier air.
These and other effects of development outlined in the specific plan are listed as "significant and unavoidable environmental impacts" in the draft environmental impact report released Friday, April 29.
The plan -- developed with the help of city residents, staff and consultants over a many months-long process and unveiled last year -- calls for a revamped downtown area that would encourage mixed-use commercial and residential development along El Camino Real, increasing the allowable height of buildings by 8 feet.
It also includes redesigned parking plazas and two new parking structures off the Santa Cruz Avenue area west of El Camino, and amenities including widened sidewalks and more trees.
In addition to unavoidably worsened air quality and traffic congestion, the draft EIR identifies as "significant and unavoidable" impacts the increased generation of greenhouse gas emissions and noise levels.
The EIR also lists mitigation measures that will be required to turn other identified effects of development into "less than significant" impacts. The bulk of these mitigations are found in the section dealing with transportation, circulation and parking. Those issues are likely to be among the most controversial as the review process of the specific plan moves through the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Transportation Commissioner Raymond Mueller said a key concern for him is the traffic study showing a total of 13,385 more car trips per day into the downtown area under the development scenario outlined in the specific plan. That increase includes 899 more car trips during the morning commute, and 1,319 more car trips during the evening commute.
"These numbers alone are significant," Mr. Mueller wrote in an email to the Almanac. "Our city streets are already quite congested" during commute time, he said.
He is "uncertain and concerned as to whether the draft EIR has also taken into consideration the cumulative traffic impact from the (planned) Stanford Hospital expansion, and other developments taking place around the city, in its total traffic projections," he said.
Associate Planner Thomas Rogers, who is overseeing the specific plan process, said the traffic studies did take into account planned projects within the city -- including the 1300 and 389 El Camino Real projects -- as well as projects, such as the hospital expansion, outside Menlo Park.
Growth outside the city, he said, is accounted for with a 1 percent annual growth factor -- a figure based on "what we've observed in growth" over the last few decades. That period includes the massive residential and commercial development by Stanford along a widened Sand Hill Road, he noted.
Mr. Mueller isn't taking a stand against the project, he said. "I just am uncertain how we as a city can deal with the increase in traffic, and am looking forward to hearing other's thoughts on the issue."
Visit Draft EIR to see the document online. The public review period for the draft EIR runs from May 5 to June 20. Submit comments to Thomas Rogers at email@example.com or to the Community Development Department, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park, CA 94025, or fax to 327-1653. The report goes before the Planning Commission on June 6.