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Editorial: City has bargaining chips on Stanford project

 

The protracted debate over the Stanford/Arrillaga application to build up to 450,000 square feet of offices, housing and retail space on eight acres at 300-500 El Camino Real, the gateway to Menlo Park's downtown, is well under way and now the City Council must decide its position.

Last week the council formed a two-member subcommittee to devise a strategy to resolve the reservations many residents have expressed, including at last week's council meeting. We hope the subcommittee members, Kirsten Keith and Catherine Carlton, succeed in convincing Stanford to reduce the size of the project and to devise a way to substantially reduce the traffic impact it could have on El Camino Real and surrounding neighborhoods.

The council subcommittee does not go into these negotiations without bargaining chips. In fact, just because Stanford has submitted a tentative design does not mean the city is powerless to change portions of the specific plan. It is not until a detailed plan for Stanford's development is submitted and accepted by the city's Planning Department and a building permit is issued, that the city can't alter the project. So, at this point the city can:

■ Accept Stanford's latest plan, which decreased the amount of high-traffic-generating medical office space but roughly maintained the overall size of the project.

■ Support the two-member committee appointed last week to see if Stanford will make more changes that would reduce the impact of the project.

■ Or consider either slightly changing the stipulations of the specific plan or making major changes, which would require the council to approve a moratorium that would stop all activity on Stanford's application until the moratorium was lifted.

According to a city staff report on Stanford's plan, a moratorium needs approval of four of five council members (which could be a challenge with member Ray Mueller unable to vote on this project) and could last 45 days or up to 22 months if necessary. By enacting a moratorium, the council would give itself the time necessary to go through the complicated process to change parts of the specific plan, including time for noticed hearings by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Although it appears that Stanford will submit a detailed project proposal, it has not yet pulled a building permit. City Attorney Bill McClure said that from a legal perspective there are no vested rights for a developer until a building permit has been issued and an applicant has taken action on the permit. That is when courts have said a builder is entitled to proceed. All work that occurs before a permit is issued is considered "soft costs" that a developer cannot recover if rules are changed.

Clearly, the best course for Stanford and Menlo Park is for the two sides to resolve their differences in an amicable way, without moratoriums or other procedural roadblocks. But despite Stanford's recent move to reduce medical office space, the overall size of the project remains the same. For example, will the project produce hundreds of unwanted cars and trucks on the six Allied Arts streets that are most likely to suffer by virtue of being across the street from such a huge development. Some way needs to be found to mitigate that traffic impact, and even the impact of pedestrians, including school children, who will need to cross from the east to west side of El Camino Real at Middle Avenue. We also would like to see a more detailed plan about how Stanford would facilitate construction of a bike/pedestrian tunnel at Middle that would connect Linfield Oaks and Burgess Park to El Camino Real.

It is highly unlikely that opponents of this project are going to get all that they want before this project is approved. It would take a major effort by the council to pass a moratorium. But we hope Stanford responds to at least some of the opponents concerns.

We believe most Menlo Park residents truly want to see improvements made on this very visible property at the southern gateway to the city. But that doesn't mean a developer can ignore public reaction and offer an out-of-balance project. The City Council does have the power to stop an overzealous plan if it acts relatively soon. With that option on the back burner, we hope Stanford, and John Arrillaga, who has given so generously to Menlo Park, will be willing to reduce the size and impact of their project.

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Comments

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 23, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

A well thought through editorial and a proper recommendation: "Clearly, the best course for Stanford and Menlo Park is for the two sides to resolve their differences in an amicable way, without moratoriums or other procedural roadblocks"


Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Easy Does It
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Peter, apparently you missed the point that everything you've been saying ad infinitum about Menlo Park having no right to change the "rules" of the Specific Plan was clearly refuted in this editorial, as well as by Menlo's City Attorney.

To quote the editorial: "We believe most Menlo Park residents truly want to see improvements made on this very visible property at the southern gateway to the city. But that doesn't mean a developer can ignore public reaction and offer an out-of-balance project. The City Council does have the power to stop an overzealous plan if it acts relatively soon."


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Does anybody think that these folks are going to invest in a suboptimal project if it has to be redesigned to be part of a village?( Note that MP refers to the Merged Pool and NOT to Menlo Park)

"The majority of the University’s endowment assets are invested through the Merged Pool (MP), which is a diversified portfolio of actively managed financial and real estate assets valued at approximately $19.5 billion as of June 30, 2011. To facilitate the comparison of returns with results of other endowments and foundations, MP performance measurements are calculated on the 12 months ending June 30, 2011. The following discussion of endowment performance relates solely to investments in the MP. The MP realized a 22.4% investment gain for the 12 months ending June 30, 2011. Over the past 10 years, the MP achieved an annualized rate of return of 9.3%, growing from $7.9 billion to $19.5 billion.

The MP portfolio is constructed on a foundation of modern portfolio theory and strategic asset allocation. The portfolio is designed to optimize long-term returns, create consistent annual payouts to the University’s operating budget and preserve purchasing power for future generations of Stanford faculty and students."

The city has the POWER to say No, but hopefully it has the WISDOM to say Yes.


Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm

To second Peter's thoughts. Stanford (or more accurately the Stanford Management Company) while being polite with Menlo Park and it's NIMBY residents, it is by no means a pushover "small" developer. Their real estate portfolio is worth over $3 Billion, and they've partnered with one of the most savvy, honorable & prolific developers in the bay area (John Arillaga).

While this is a HUGE moment for many of you residents & Menlo Park. Stanford could leave this strip of blight undeveloped for years to come and NEVER feel a tinge of financial pain.

Stanford's ability to wait us out should weigh in our decision of what we "want" them to do vs. what is "required" for them to do.

They think/act on a longer term timeline than Menlo Park does, and we would be wise to remember that.

Roy Thiele-Sardiña


Like this comment
Posted by Stay calm
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

This is not a matter of accepting Stanford's proposal or stopping it. Every development process includes a dance. There's a give and take and a negotiation. It's unfortunate that a developer has to start with unreasonable densities and an inappropriate building design that causes a reaction of shock and fear. We are experiencing a normal push and pull between developer and residents. The problem with this situation is that the $1 million Specific Plan was sold as the perfect way to created certainty and resident buy-in.

The process was flawed with Stanford being allowed a seat at the table; the consultant was also working for Stanford on another project; Menlo Park staff got snookered by Stanford and the consultant and staff neglected to protect the city.

The sub-committee made up of Keith and Carlton will want a successful outcome and consequently they will listen to the opponents and learn how the city can correct the flaws in the Plan that has allowed Stanford to propose a project that does not fit in this shallow strip of land where all traffic ends up on an already congested El Camino Real.

The dust will settle. The project will be built. If Stanford and Mr. Arrillaga walk and we look at the blight for the next 20 years, maybe there will be council members in 2033 with more progressive thinking to produce a more reasonable project.


Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 26, 2013 at 2:54 am

The people who are against this project speak the loudest and make the most noise, so how do we know that the people who are not making noise may very well approve of the Arrillaga/Stanford project plans and are okay with it. Maybe more people approve than disapprove, but we do not hear from the people who approve it. Only the objectors make the noise.

Don't think I am not affected by this plan, because I have to drive past that area every time I leave the house because I live on Alma Street in Menlo Park just behind the Stanford Park Hotel, but I think Stanford should be able to build whatever it wants to, and I DO have to drive through that traffic that it will create. Maybe there should be a city-wide vote next time there is an election to find out whether the majority of the people this project affects approve of it or not the way it now stands. I, for one, do approve the project, and I am sure many others also do, or else do not care because it will not affect them. We always hear from the protestors.


Like this comment
Posted by new idea
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Sue:
Please join the fray. An idea to reduce the el camino real traffic is to allow a driveway into a garage under the buildings closest to you. This way, now all the traffic into this development will use el camino real and cut through the neighborhoods in the Allied Arts area on the west side. Do you approve of the project so much that you will support an east entrance into the underground garage at Willow and Alma.

Your generosity towards Stanford is interesting but you are not personally affected by the traffic unless you choose to use el camino real and there are options to you that make such a decision remote.

Your thoughts?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" an east entrance into the underground garage at Willow and Alma."

This is a great ideas as it would more uniformly distribute the traffic from this project AND it could easily provide for the pedestrian and bicycle east-west connections which were called for in the Specific Plan. However, when I proposed such a connection weeks ago there wer NIBMY screams from the Linfield Oaks folks because it would obviously put more traffic in THEIR 'backyards' rather than someone else's. -Narrow special interests at work again.


Like this comment
Posted by new idea
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 27, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Having a garage entrance on Alma at Willow would be a fair solution to spread the pain out amongst the 2 residential neighborhoods. This idea would only be good if the housing were in the southern end of the Stanford parcels. That way, Menlo Park residents would be traveling through Menlo Park neighborhoods to reach their homes. Who could complain about that?

Allied Arts should not have to absorb the cut through traffic alone. If our city council wrote a plan that allows Stanford's development on this strange parcel, then the Menlo Park residents must find a way to sort out the cars so there's reasonable movement on El Camino Real.


Like this comment
Posted by The gospel
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 27, 2013 at 9:50 pm

The specific plan as written prohibits a garage entrance in Linfield Oaks. And we all know the plan is perfect as is! Hypocritical much?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 27, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Please be so kind as to post the exact language in the Specific Plan that prohibits "a garage entrance in Linfield Oaks".


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is no mention of a car tunnel - either for or against - in the Specific Plan. What is proposed it connecting the project garage to both El Camino and Alma to better distribute the load but not to provide an auto through fare between ECR and Alma. Also including a car tunnel would spread the cost of a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel over all three uses - two lanes for bicycles and pedestrians and two lanes for cars so a 50-50 cost split.


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