One Atherton resident donated 65 percent of the funding during the first half of this year for grassroots coalition Save Menlo, the group backing an initiative to change Menlo Park's downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, according to its most recent finance report.
The report, filed July 9 with the county elections office, covers the period from January through June. Venture capitalist Gary Lauder, who lives in Atherton, donated $20,000 of the total $30,736 in cash contributions received during the first six months of the year.
Mr. Lauder said the specific plan had already passed by the time he got involved. "I always thought that the government would look out for our interests and only allow incremental development that the system can handle," Mr. Lauder said. "Having driven through downtown Sunnyvale a few years ago, I was shocked to see that the town had allowed tall office buildings to be built right to the property line, thereby creating urban canyons in the middle of this suburb…in some cases right across the street from single-family dwellings. This is proof that perhaps government does not always get it right and prevent inappropriate development ... at least from this outsider's perspective."
He serves on the Atherton transportation committee and takes a regional view of the congestion he expects developments on vacant lots along El Camino Real -- such as the Stanford-Arrillaga mixed-use project -- to deliver. The initiative would cut the amount of office space allowed in that proposal by 50 percent, as well as impose other restrictions on overall nonresidential development within the specific plan's boundaries.
Mr. Lauder said that "development isn't the problem," but "congestion, urban canyons and related unintended consequences of it are."
He suggests upgrading the road capacity first, then build. Until the government increases road capacity and uses existing techniques to improve traffic flow, then all major development should be opposed, he said. "This is partly to prevent further erosion of quality of life due to traffic congestion, and partly to get real estate developers to advocate for the proper road upgrades to enable further development."
Other donors, expenses
A "Committee for Referendum," based out of a Mountain View apartment, came in second with a $2,000 donation. Menlo Park downtown property owner Nancy Couperus chipped in $1,000, as did attorney Chip Lutton.
Twenty-nine people are listed as money donors; another contributed an estimated $107 in non-cash services related to display supplies.
The largest expenditure went to environmental and initiative specialist attorney Keith Wagner, based in Davis, for $14,232 in legal fees related to the petition drive. An additional $1,840 was spent on hired signature gatherers. The remainder of Save Menlo's $24,397 in expenses went for miscellaneous supplies such as signs and printing costs.
According to the city's summary, Save Menlo's initiative would restrict the amount of office space in any individual development to 100,000 square feet; limit total new office space to 240,820 square feet; and cap overall new, nonresidential development to 474,000 square feet within the specific plan's boundaries.
It would also redefine open space to mean only areas no higher than 4 feet off the ground, thereby preventing balconies from counting as open space.
Voters would have to approve any revisions to the ordinance as well as any projects that would exceed the nonresidential development caps.
The Menlo Park City Council is expected to vote tomorrow (July 15) on whether to place the initiative on the ballot for the November election or adopt it, after reviewing a consultant's analysis of how the proposed changes would affect development within the specific plan area.