Willows traffic plan hits dead stop in Menlo Park

Council votes unanimously to halt project

The rhetoric was bloodthirsty, for a Menlo Park City Council meeting: One after another public speaker Tuesday night urged the council to kill it. Kill it dead. Kill it good and dead and beyond hope of resuscitation -- "it" being the latest iteration of the Willows traffic improvement plan.

The council was considering on June 7 whether to embark upon a survey to determine what Willows residents really thought about proceeding with the plan. A storm of emails to the council this week suggested that many residents already knew what they thought, and those thoughts mirrored the public comments during the meeting.

"This is a solution that has meandered in search of a problem that does not exist. If implemented, there will be significant problems," Patrick Daly told the council.

The suggested improvements fell into two categories, according to staff: Speed reduction and traffic volume reduction. It was the notion of restricting left-hand turns on Willow Road at O'Keefe Street and also Chester Street, along with creating one-way zones on Woodland Avenue, that drew particular ire from residents speaking at the council meeting.

The five-member council was pared down to three, as Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith and Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson recused themselves by virtue of living in the Willows neighborhood.

When the time came, the remaining members voted 3-0 to stop the plan in its tracks.

"I'm going to vote against this plan. I don't think it has a snowball's chance in hell of passing," Andy Cohen said, and explained that he didn't see the need to waste time teasing out individual provisions as colleague Peter Ohtaki had suggested.

Engineering Services Manager Chip Taylor said the data collected during the $120,000 study would still prove useful for future projects.

Transportation Commissioner Ray Mueller seemed satisfied by the result, if not the process. "While I agree with the outcome of the meeting, Mayor Cline missed an opportunity last night to reprimand staff and apologize to the public and to the Transportation Commission, for the gamesmanship staff played with respect to the Willows Traffic Study, and staff's misrepresenting the vote of the Transportation Commission in the City's budget meeting two weeks ago. It was unfortunate," he wrote in an email to the Almanac.

In April, the transportation commission voted 2-3 on a motion to recommend the plan to the council. At the time, Mr. Taylor said the commissioners had voted against recommending the plan.

However, staff appeared to reverse that opinion later -- Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens told the council on May 24 that the commission had taken no action. He also said it had considered two plans, when in actuality the commissioners evaluated one, according to Mr. Mueller.

As Mayor Cline ruminated last night, that was not quite the same as voting against the plan, but the oddly-worded motion caused headaches for those trying to track the study's progress and for staff trying to explain what happened.

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Like this comment
Posted by oldtimer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2011 at 4:47 am

The comment above from senior staff"

Engineering Services Manager Chip Taylor said the data collected during the $120,000 study would still prove useful for future projects.

is such nonsense. Here is staff justifying having thrown #130,000 down the rat hole. Yes, Mr. Taylor, it paid for your salary for a while I guess, and indeed you now have been promoted to a higher level in the Rojas scheme of City structure.

Those with longer memories will well remember the crash of "Smart Growth", which was a $500.000 disaster and the remarks made by Councilman Chuck Kinney , a diehard who didn't want to give up on that disaster. Chuck's position was the City had gained valuable information to be used in the future. Yes, that sure was valuable information.

The present Council can only be described as weak to almost doing nothing but "rubber stamping" staff recommendations.

The comment from new member Peter Ohtaki is such an outstanding example of, "well let's just continue on this road.

One would hope, and it is only a glimmer of a hope, that the present disaster "the Downtown/El Camino" specific plan, will be stopped dead in it's tracks and the sooner the better. It is well past time to recognize this is nothing but a consultant driven, "bring on higher density" and tranfrom Menlo Park into another cookie cutter "Redwood City" type of community.

Get with it Council. Stop being led like sheep by our present interim "double dipping" City manger and stop this nonsense.

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 8, 2011 at 9:13 am

I am not a defender of studies when it appears that they will serve no useful purpose. But every cloud has a silver lining. With every defeat comes a "Lessons Learned". The information from that study will tell the City what pitfalls to avoid.

Mr. taylor is a consummate professional who has worked assiduously to solve traffic problems around Menlo Park. Mr. taylor did not approve the study he merely pointed out that there is useful information that can be gleaned from it. I do not doubt his veracity and for arm chair quarterbacks to criticize Mr. Taylor without reason reflects poorly upon himself.

Peter Ohtaki is also a consummate professional who is impartial in his reasoning and provides inciteful comments. He has a mild manner that belies his passion and dedication. Just because he is not fractious does not mean he is not serious about his service to Menlo Park.

The present Council is doing a credible job. They are not rubber stampers. The new members Ohtaki and Keith are dedicated council members with no hidden agendas. They ask poignant and intelligent questions of staff and don't accept things at face value. They are a breath of fresh air and a most welcome addition to City Council.

Like this comment
Posted by Anne Schar
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 8, 2011 at 11:07 am

So sorry that so much money was spent on a study for something that was not wanted or needed in the first place. I do hope that there is good information. That would be nice. I am just happy that the council realized that further action was not desired by many (seemingly a large number) of residents of the neighborhood. I am happy that I took time to write my email.

Like this comment
Posted by martin engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm

As former Councilman John Boyle once said to me: "The reason we do so many studies is that we therefore don't have to make any decisions."

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Would not the results of the study only be good for that specific time? Data will change by the time anyone uses it, rendering it a waste of money. As Martin Engel pointed out with his John Boyle recollection - it's an excuse to not make decisions. Finally, someone calling a spade, a spade. Ditto all of these remarks, for Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Notimpacted
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm

A simple case of those who "might" be negatively impacted denying the entire neighborhood of improvement. Overall reduction in traffic would have been very desirable. Now we have no chance of ever improving the traffic volume in the Willows. Shame on those whose NIMBY voices screeched so loud as to drown out reason and good sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Local
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I am glad this isn't going to happen. As a westside EPA resident, MP native and who spends a lot of money and time in MP, I don't want to be inconvenienced and marginalized just because I don't live in MP. Many of us westside EPA residents travel to and through MP to get to our jobs, shop, see family and friends, go to medical appointments and SPEND $$$$! I make the effort to spend it in MP because it's my county, even though it's often easier to shop in Palo Alto or Mt. View. I hope people read this and appreciate the EPA residents who purposely spend money in our county, who are locals who want to stay local and spend locally.

When I grew up in the Willows, there were the constant complainers about traffic. There's traffic everywhere, because this is a bustling area. Have you tried getting to ECR from Embarcadero, passing schools, T&C, constant road work, etc? It's a nightmare now that they've redone T&C.

Botton line: If you all prefer that we shop at the TJs at T&C, the Peet's there instead of Cafe Zoe, La Belle instead of Spa in the Park, Books Inc instead of Kepler's, Pizza Chicago instead of Amici's, just make Woodland one way. At that point, I'd be happy to bring my business to PA - most of those places are closer, anyway. But it doesn't seem like it'll happen any time soon - it's good to read that many of the Willows residents are as practical now as they were when I lived there - for thirty years.

Like this comment
Posted by Sour Grapes?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

It's unfortunate that whenever someone disagrees with wasteful government spending in this town, they are labeled a Nimby. Easier to call people names that deal with facts.

"Nonimpacted" ignores the fact that over 75 Willows residents, who live on streets all over the Willows appeared at two City hearings in opposition to the plan. The consultants who drafted the plan wilted when questioned by the Transportation Commission. Those who opposed the plan included respected politicians, like the Vice Mayor of Menlo Park, and the Mayor of East Palo Alto. Moreover, the day the Plan went before City Council, one the leading advocates of the plan abandoned it in its current form, and in a letter asked Council to "kill it". Only an average of 3 WIllows residents appeared in support of the plan over the course of the two meetings.

Both the City Council, and the Transportation Commission couldn't find any merit in the plan.

This was a great example of the community coming together and saving the city from spending close to a half a million dollars.

Like this comment
Posted by Local
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2011 at 11:13 pm

It was great to read your post, Sour Grapes? because I wasn't able to make meetings due to scheduling conflicts. I am glad that EPA's mayor attended - he's a smartypants and knows the peninsula quite well. I think the traffic calming has worked in the Willows - I see people driving more cautiously - not all the time, but enough to notice it.

None of us like traffic- the noise, the pollution, the lack of privacy it creates. But the whole peninsula has experienced dramatic traffic increases in the last several decades. Many people want to be here and work hard to move here. Many of us natives work very hard to stay here. The result of all of this hard work? Lots of traffic!

At this point, I think if locals want less traffic, they should consider moving to more rural areas that have less traffic - that's the most realistic option if they seriously want less traffic in their neighborhood - one they'd pay a very high price for.

Like this comment
Posted by A Watchful Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 10, 2011 at 10:39 am

It was painfully clear that the latest iteration of the Willows traffic mess was spearheaded by the chair of the Traffic Commission, Penelope Huang, who lives at the intersection of Chester and Arnold, a block off of Willow.

Ms. Huang been doing her best to close access to Chester from Willow for many years, driving even more traffic down Durham and Gilbert, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. She should be removed from the Traffic Commission due to extended, egregious conflicts of interest.

Like this comment
Posted by Local
a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2011 at 11:11 am

A Watchful Neighbor, can you elaborate on her spearheading? I'd wondered, when I first heard of this latest "iteration", who might be fomenting from within, but then I figured I was just too cynical. Maybe she needs to realize a lot of the people "cutting through" are her own neighbors. I am sure she cuts through other neighborhoods as well - we all do.

Like this comment
Posted by A Watchful Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Local, I can try. Here are some links, which I hope make it past the Almanac's spam filter:

Three attachments, all of which she printed, bound, and distributed at the April 13th traffic commission meeting:

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link

Huang's last missive to the City Council, conceding defeat, which she printed and distributed at the June 7th meeting:

Web Link

Look for messages from Eric Doyle on the CC web site refuting most of this nonsense:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Local
a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Local, thank you for all of this info. I will review over the weekend. I appreciate your insight & "scoop" on conflict of interest.

Like this comment
Posted by KD
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jun 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I think it is odd to consider that just because someone lives in a location makes it an automatic conflict of interest. Don't you prefer to have a local community member on your commissions? It seems as if the process worked, as members of a community tried to effect a change, but other members decided it was not warranted. The essence of democracy. We all know that democracy is not always pretty, especially when your position loses.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Yes, it's not pretty especially when one of the intentions is to keep people from a lower socio-economic area from driving through the neighborhood - to get to their jobs or kids' schools & to spend money in your city. Glad that the snobbery didn't win out.

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

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