Will they or won't they? Stanford University's abrupt announcement on Tuesday, Sept. 16, that it would postpone negotiations over its proposed mixed-use complex on El Camino Real sparked some irritation with city of Menlo Park officials.
Mayor Ray Mueller then called for a special meeting of the City Council on Sept. 23 to discuss "appropriate next steps," and in short order, the university decided, albeit with a certain reluctance, that negotiations could, in fact, continue. The special council meeting was then called off.
"That (Sept. 16) email stated our preference in timing. It should not be construed as a unilateral refusal to meet," Mr. Elliott wrote to the city on Friday, Sept. 19.
The postponement was attributed to the pending outcome of Measure M, an initiative put forward by grassroots coalition Save Menlo to change the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan. Voters will decide the measure's outcome in the Nov. 4 election.
The latest design for the Stanford complex would replace mostly vacant car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real with 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments. Measure M's passage would impose several changes, including cutting by about 50 percent the amount of office space allowed -- a reduction that the university said would send its project back to the drawing board.
"Considering these obstacles and the timing, just a few weeks before the election that will decide the fate of Measure M, we suggested that we thought it best to wait until the community has resolved this question before continuing work. This continues to be our perspective," Mr. Elliott wrote. However, if the city "feels strongly" about continuing negotiations, "we will of course continue to meet with the Subcommittee to advance such an effort."
Disappointed by the initial letter postponing negotiations without warning, Mayor Ray Mueller said it's obvious that calling for a special council meeting brought Stanford back to the table.
He noted that the council subcommittee, now composed of himself and Kirsten Keith, won't limit the discussion to Stanford's contribution to a bike-pedestrian undercrossing that would connect Middle Avenue with Burgess Park.
"I am committed to working towards the best potential outcome to preserve and enhance the quality of life of Menlo Park residents. Nothing is off the table to that end," he said.
What else is on the table? Mayor Mueller said the size and scope of a public plaza at the center of the complex; the mix of uses, and design features; he is personally "very focused on how traffic exits and enters the sites, and how to keep it away from our residential neighborhoods."
The previous subcommittee, composed of Ms. Keith and Catherine Carlton, worked with Save Menlo as well as university representatives to eliminate all medical offices from the proposal, increase the number of apartments, improve the public plaza, get Stanford's agreement to make "a substantial contribution" to the undercrossing, and collect more traffic data to further evaluate the project's potential impact. The university has stated it will abide by those changes should Measure M not pass.