News

Group hopes to jumpstart 'revitalization' of downtown Menlo Park

Menlo Park is notorious for conducting endless studies of the same issues: Traffic. Downtown parking. Traffic. Downtown vibrancy. Some residents hope to break that cycle and move forward with actual change.

Dana Hendrickson, coordinator of what he has dubbed "Re-Imagine Menlo Park," said he's hoping to capture the momentum raised during the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan debate in 2014 to revitalize the city's downtown district.

"People have said, 'I'm tired of all this voting stuff, what can I do? How do we do this? When do we see stuff?'" Mr. Hendrickson said.

While implementing the specific plan and other bureaucratic processes are underway, and developers Greenheart and Stanford are planning mixed-use complexes along El Camino Real, he said he didn't see any central coordination between all the different pieces.

"How do we work with the city so they view this as being supportive and not out of sync with what they're trying to do?" he asked.

The 'how' remains a question in search of an answer for the time being, although he hopes within the next three months to have a formal structure, perhaps a different name, and a way for people to see how they can help out.

So what does this ideal re-imagined downtown look like? It has a focal point, for starters, something that gives the area an identity. "Some sort of beautiful spot that says visually and aesthetically, 'this is downtown,'" Mr. Hendrickson said.

Also: More parking. One idea the group is kicking around is combining the two goals: Build the parking spaces underground, and above ground, create a park with trees, fountains, seating. "It would solve the parking problem and create a hub, an identity. Something to be proud of."

Mayor Cat Carlton said she's excited to get input from the community, perhaps via an advisory board. "Whether informal and resident-led, or whether the city runs it, I don't know at this point," she said. "Regardless, I want to make sure that we are listening to people. It benefits everyone to have good, open, honest conversation. What that animal looks like, I can't tell you right now."

Downtown has already seen some revitalization, with the Off the Grid weekly food truck event, the temporary paseo for movie screenings, and expanded outdoor dining.

Ms. Carlton seconded improving parking downtown as a logical next step. At a recent convention of mayors, which she said she paid out of pocket to attend, there was much talk of building underground parking structures with parks on top.

"I'm sure it's going to be controversial, but I'm really looking forward to talking about it," she said. "The (Menlo Park Presbyterian Church) has offered to help pay. We could put in electric car chargers, and have places for downtown employees to park and a permit program."

While that's a longer-term project, there are also fixes that could be made in the immediate future such as changing the default parking lot time limit to three hours instead of two.

"Two hours is just not enough time to go do what you need to do downtown and shop," Ms. Carlton said. "We want people to have enough time. We do it over Christmas and the world doesn't end. If you're going to have a problem you're going to have it over Christmas, right? So we've had our test run."

Other changes, well, those are harder to sort out. While the city would love to see "cooler, better stores" downtown it's "a chicken-and-egg problem. They want more foot traffic, and we're not going to get the foot traffic until we get cool stores."

There's also the delicate issue of how to work with the family trusts that own many downtown buildings and who aren't interested in selling or in change, according to the mayor. Part of that work entails making it easier for the owners to fix up their properties by taking steps such as revising the fire code, and by hashing out the city's economic development plan.

"Someone had the bright idea in the 1970s that wouldn't it be awesome if MP was the town for home decor and they actually worked on that. That was their goal!" Ms. Carlton said. "How many times, honestly, can you re-do your house? That doesn't make for an exciting downtown for the people who live here. I love the (furniture) stores that we have, but we have enough. We're full. That's why we're working on the economic development plan."

Go to mpcdforum.com to see the "Re-Imagine Menlo Park" website.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by John Kadvany
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 12:49 pm

At the last Planning Commission meeting the PC voted unanminously for the city council to prioritize a Downtown parking analysis to be funded now, not in future years as in the draft capital budget, so that the city can start planning now what to do in terms of where to locate a new parking garage (three sites possible in the Specific Plan), how to size them, how to price spaces, how to help Downtown businesses with the cost of parking for their employees, etc. Other options in addition to garages area also possible through the 'unbundling' of parking spaces possible through the Specific Plan. But none of this can happen without allocating time for staff and budget to do it, so let your elected leaders know if you see this as a priority.


3 people like this
Posted by Wake Up Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2015 at 1:39 pm

This whole plan is trojan horse.

It's not about creating better downtown shops. Don't be fooled. It's about money.

Developers cannot increase the height and size of the buildings located on Santa Cruz Avenue without more parking spaces. Every building has to have a set number of parking spaces dedicated to them. Mayor Carlton is backing a sweetheart plan for developers to add parking garages so they can add more stories to the buildings.

Lee Duboc talked about this in her last email newsletter.


5 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Wake Up Menlo Park comments simply continue the conspiracy theories spread by the proponents of the soundly defeated Measure M: Developers and our town council do not care about our residents and therefore should not be trusted. And we cannot rely on the intelligence and civic engagement of our residents No facts, convincing evidence nor analysis; just more fear-mongering. We should expect to hear a lot more of this "dark fantasy" as we move forward.


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 14, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Dana,

Is this true:

"Developers cannot increase the height and size of the buildings located on Santa Cruz Avenue without more parking spaces. Every building has to have a set number of parking spaces dedicated to them."


Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I do want to clarify two points made by the writer. I am NOT the coordinator for the referenced upcoming community effort but rather the editor of a new website/blog that will support all efforts to improve Menlo Park's downtown. Also, Re-Imagine Menlo Park is the name of my website/blog not the community effort.


2 people like this
Posted by insults
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Am I the only one who reads the Cat Carlton's comments as insulting the small business owners on Santa Cruz Avenue? These people are fighting to make a living Ms. Carlton and chose to do so in your City. They might not be cool enough for you but they deserve more respect.


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 14, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Insults:

yes you are the only one. We have a dead downtown for a reason. The place is a snooze. And I'm in my fifties.


Like this comment
Posted by dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 5:11 pm

[part removed] Catherine is trying to help (small MP business owners) with more convenient customer parking. Please note it is well-known that many businesses on Santa Cruz Avenue struggle to keep their heads above water because there are too few customers using our downtown. Residents and potential visitors prefer to shop at locations they find more appealing=> Palo Alto and the Stanford Shopping Center. Our current business owners would welcome and need a lot more customers!


Like this comment
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 6:52 pm

FACTs, the simple answer is you are correct, property owners are responsible for ensuring there is sufficient parking to support any new development. For a more in-depth understanding of developer responsibilities in the downtown area I recommend you read section F.9 Downtown Parking of the Specific Plan. It's available at Web Link. I look forward to your future comments on this topic.


3 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

"While the city would love to see "cooler, better stores" downtown it's "a chicken-and-egg problem. They want more foot traffic, and we're not going to get the foot traffic until we get cool stores.""

I think we have some pretty cool stores downtown. But one way to increase foot traffic and draw more interesting boutiques: close Santa Cruz Ave. between ECR and say University and make it pedestrians only. Restaurants and Cafes would flock there to put in outdoor seating. This worked in Burlington, VT (see Church Street there), and with some additional parking and routing traffic down Menlo Ave. and Oak Grove., it could work.


5 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2015 at 8:13 am

There are definitely a few good businesses downtown, but there are no real destinations (and no, a bunch of rug and furniture stores catering to the 60+ crowd doesn't count)

Even though we can easily (5-10 minutes) walk to downtown Menlo Park, we tend to end up in Palo Alto for dinner / entertainment, because there's actually things to do and interesting places to eat. Despite the efforts of some of the restaurant owners, the downtown MP dining scene is moribund. We do go downtown for Trader Joe's / Walgreens / Ace / Peets / etc, but the dining options are generally unappealing.

Downtown currently does not even have the basics like a Thai restaurant, let alone anything that would drive you to downtown MP to dine (this doesn't have to be expensive, something like Oren's easily makes the cut)

More parking won't fix downtown, Palo Alto does great despite far less parking and more wakling / biking / transit. Create a reason for people to get off the train, and they will. Right now you may as well snooze until you get to Palo Alto (to the south) or Redwood City (to the north) if you're looking for an evening out.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

An example of what a design competition produces - Why not a design competition for a new approach to MP downtown parking?

Pa Alto Weekly:

Bike bridge designs wow planning commissioners
Design competition nets three different visions for Highway 101 overpass

by Gennady Sheyner / Palo Alto Weekly

Jurors of Palo Alto's Adobe Creek bridge competition chose as a close second the gently curving bridge designed by Moffatt and Nichol, Steven Grover and Associates, Lutsko Associates, JIRI Strasky, Mark Thomas and Co


One cries for attention with its prominent red arch and a row of changing lights. The other is an understated ribbon that tries to blend into the Baylands. The third is inspired by a kayak, even though it's meant for bicycles.


The designs offer starkly different visions for Palo Alto's "iconic" new bike bridge, the subject of a recent design competition, but the city's Planning and Transportation Commission agreed on Wednesday night that any of the three would represent a big win for the city.


"I think it's hard to go wrong with either of the choices," Commissioner Michael Alcheck said during Wednesday's discussion of the new bike bridge.


"I think we have three awesome bridges here," concurred acting commission Chair Adrien Fine vat the end of the discussion. "Palo Alto would be lucky to have any of them."


The three finalists were chosen out of a pool of 20 proposals that the city received as part of its design competition for a bridge that would span U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek, giving south Palo Alto residents year-round access to the Baylands.


On Dec. 17, 2014, a jury chose as the winner the boldest and loudest of the three the arch concept proposed by HNTB Engineering, 64North, Bionic Landscape Architecture and Ned Kahn. The jury agreed that this design comes the closest of the three to achieving the City Council's stated goal of creating a prominent landmark structure that would serve as a gateway to the city.


The final choice will be made by the council, which will consider the jury's recommendation in late February. And while the planning commission waxed ecstatically about all three designs, members refrained from taking strong stances in favor of any of the three.


Instead, the general consensus was that despite their stark differences, any of the three would make for a proud addition to Palo Alto. Only Alcheck expressed an opinion about his preferred choice, giving the nod to the subtlest of the three proposals: the ribbon-like bridge designed by Moffat and Nichol, Steven Grover and Associates, Lutsko Associates, JIRI Strasky and Mark Thomas and Co.


Fine, who last week was elected vice chair and who ran the meeting in the absence of newly elected Chair Greg Tanaka, offered words of high praise for all three proposals. He was a bit puzzled, however, by the kayak shape of the design proposed by Endrestudio, OLIN, SBP and Biohabitats.


"It might not come across as a bike bridge – the fact that it's imitating a kayak," Fine said. "It's nice to know a bike bridge is a bike bridge."


Roy Snyder, a bicyclists and birder who lives in the Palo Verde neighborhood, made a pitch for keeping things simple and focusing on the bridge's function rather than the frills. The overcrossing, he said, "is the means, not a destination, nor the attraction itself."


"Nor should it be a distraction from the natural Baylands environment," Snyder said. "The Baylands are where the action is. The Baylands is where we want to go. We want to get there as expeditiously and easily as possible."


Commissioner Mark Michael expressed similar leanings. He called all the designs "impressive" but wondered if the HNTB design, known as "Confluence" is a little "too grandiose" and suggested that there might be a benefit to having a bridge that is simpler and has a lower profile.


"I do like the arch but I'm worried that it's gonna be quite the landmark," Michael said.


But after calling both the arch and the Moffat and Nichol proposals "impressive and inspiring," he concluded that they'd "both be terrific for different reasons."


"It's a shame there has to be a winner and someone who doesn't win," Michael said. "But whoever gets the second place, maybe that bridge should be considered for the span between Town & Country and Paly."


He wasn't the only one who struggled to pick a favorite. Judith Wasserman, a former member of the Architectural Review Board and chair of the jury that selected the arch proposal, said she was "blown away by how beautiful and poetic all of these were."


The decision, she said, was very difficult to make. Ultimately, the jury went with the arch so as to best comply with the council's hunger for a prominent icon. The subtlest design finished second in the voting and the kayak third.


"That's what most people who preferred the arch said that you will see this more than the other bridge," Wasserman said. "The other bridge was very elegant, structurally amazing, and looked like it was self supporting. We looked for sky hooks and didn't see them."


But much like the planning commission, Wasserman had nothing but love for all three bridges.


"I personally felt that you can close your eyes and throw darts and come out good," she said.


2 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:21 am

The primary problem with downtown MP is the old crappy buildings on and around El Camino. What we need is a redevelopment program that rips down these eyesores. We are not thinking big enough.


3 people like this
Posted by AJ
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Rather than publicly subsidizing the storage of private automobiles, why don't we properly price the existing parking supply that we've got and put those revenues into active transportation access to Downtown? I'd challenge the group to find a vibrant, walkable, interesting downtown that dedicates an abundance of land to parking.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 15, 2015 at 12:44 pm

How about this for a name: "Re-Imagine Menlo Parking"?


1 person likes this
Posted by Planning Commissioner
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 15, 2015 at 1:15 pm

The parking issue is very much Chicken and Egg. Written into our Zoning code is the almost endless requirement for parking, meaning that you can't have more/larger downtown without more/larger parking structures. To have a progressive and a less auto-dependant city, we need to start with the zoning code itself and relax the parking requirements for new development.

Can I see a show of hands please of those who wish to change the code? Methinks not, so we need to accept parking structures and do our best to integrate them into a sensible 'village' fabric.


1 person likes this
Posted by Headly Lamar
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 15, 2015 at 1:20 pm

@Norman: agreed. I'm so proud that the initial impression of my town are a set of junky shops, a run-down pizza joint, some vacant buildings, and a Swedish clogs shop. But then again, the 'Gateway' to my town is somewhere out past Marsh Road.


Like this comment
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 16, 2015 at 11:18 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

AJ is right. If we price parking appropriately, we will have all the parking we need. Truckloads of free parking isn't going to attract people to a downtown full of rug shops and furniture stores. It isn't the free parking that takes me to downtown Palo Alto, it's the shops and the restaurants there. And the parking in downtown PA is possible worse than here- I've had such a hard time parking in downtown PA that I bike whenever possible. Again, the lack of parking doesn't turn me off, it's the destinations that attract me there. When I do drive to downtown MP I never have a hard time parking, and I've never had a ticket.

Building a parking garage isn't magically going to fix downtown. It's just a big handout to developers who are perfectly capable of paying for it if they think it serves their interests.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 16, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Turnbridge Wells, actually we need to do BOTH: make our downtown more attractive AND expand parking to handle the additional traffic that would result IF parking is convenient. Doing only either one makes no sense whatsoever. That said, if you read our Specific Plan you will learn that BOTH are anticipated. The two planned multi-use projects on El Camino will bring hundreds of new workers and residents who will either find our downtown appealing or spend their time and money elsewhere. The outcome is ours to choose. The time to move ahead is now as these projects will be completed in a few years. Learn more at www.reimaginemenlo.com Re-imagine Menlo!


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 16, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Menlo Park needs to revitalize the downtown area and the city cannot force the current private property owners to do anything. The only way to move forward is to take the land owned by the city and currently used as surface parking lots and convert those very valuable properties into a real attraction by combining subterranean parking with a surface park, walkway, bikeway, farmer's market, public event space, etc..

Quit pointing fingers at who isn't doing what and start leading!! What needed is vision and the courage to act, not more studies.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 17, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Menlo Park's downtown is dismal. I walk down Santa Cruz almost every day and it looks so run down and dated - especially the 1970's looking street lights that are so dim I'm afraid of being mugged when I walk home at night. Why do we need so many (4) second hand shops on Santa Cruz? Can't they be tucked into some of the side streets? And why so many banks, carpet/flooring/kitchen remodel stores and crappy restaurants? The entire street is in desperate need of a makeover.

If Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo and Burlingame can all have vibrant and attractive downtowns, why cant Menlo Park?


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 17, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"If Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo and Burlingame can all have vibrant and attractive downtowns, why cant Menlo Park? "

Ask the folks that wrote measure M. Their attitude is the reason we have such a dismal downtown. Its our "village atmosphere." What a joke.


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