Menlo Park studies specific plan sans fiscal impact report

Planning Commission meets Thursday for second review

When the Menlo Park Planning Commission commenced its multi-session review of the proposed downtown/El Camino Real specific plan on July 11, it quickly pointed out there wasn't quite enough paper on the dais.

The fiscal impact analysis (FIA), initially intended to be released before the commission started its review, was missing in action. According to Thomas Rogers, project manager, the delay came when staff decided to add analyses of the plan's impact on school and fire districts, which weren't included when the city determined the scope of the FIA three years ago.

Commissioner Henry Riggs asked staff whether the analysis, prepared by consultant Strategic Economics, would be done by the July 21 meeting, and learned that it would not be. Mr. Rogers indicated that the FIA would be available before the commission makes its final recommendations sometime next month.

"It is disappointing that we should volunteer to have the three specific meetings and not benefit from this. There are statements and assumptions that are made in the draft plan, which, lacking the FIA, are simply not backed up," Mr. Riggs commented.

The effect, he said, is that the commission can't accurately assess whether the net impact to areas like the sewer district will be positive or negative, or how much more revenue Menlo Park could gain by allowing higher density development.

He'd also like to study whether the new regulations might encourage property owners to invest.

"Older buildings may not justify an infusion of capital if you can't increase the square footage. As a friend says, if you put a million into a 3,000 square foot commercial building and end up with a 3,000-square-foot building, you have to double the rent just to break even. No one wins," he explained. "With added density or additional height allowing the building to grow, such a project should be more efficient, more viable."

That would be good to know quantitatively, he said, but that won't be included in the scope of even the expanded FIA.

Mr. Riggs didn't think lack of an FIA was reason enough to postpone the commission's study, though. "Whether the FIA confirms we get 3 percent more net revenue, or 5 percent or 1 percent, there are better reasons to support renewal of downtown and ECR; if it shows we lose revenue, we will recommend that fees be adjusted," he said.

City staff agreed.

"Fiscal impacts are definitely part of the story, but they aren't the whole story," Mr. Rogers said. "The Planning Commission's review will rely on a wide range of factors, including project goals, community values, and individual preferences." He added that fiscal issues can be folded into the commission's final recommendation.

The next sessions of the Planning Commission review are scheduled for Thursday, July 21; Thursday, July 28; and Thursday, Aug. 4.

Click here to examine the proposed specific plan.

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