Menlo Park: Four changes the council wants in downtown plan


What can the city of Menlo Park do to improve its downtown?

After the city spent five years, from 2007 to 2012, trying to answer that question, it came up with the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the City Council began its first biennial review of the plan.

Council members offered direction to the city staff on a list of recommended changes.

No votes were taken, but the council appeared to generally concur on a number of changes.

Public benefits fund

Creating a fund separate from the city's general fund would allow the city to earmark fee and public benefit payments from developers to be used specifically for downtown improvements. At present, all developer fees go into the city's general fund and may be spent elsewhere in Menlo Park's budget.

The idea was put forward by the Planning Commission in its last meeting, and was generally supported by council members. Councilman Peter Ohtaki asked if city revenue generated by its 12 percent hotel tax downtown would also be included in those earmarked funds.


The council wants staff to propose new parking standards for buildings in and around the Caltrain station area, as well as hotels and "personal improvement services," such as fitness studios.

Parking requirements, council members said, should create enough spots to prevent "spillover" – the term for when parking is so limited that people's only recourse is to park in residential neighborhoods – yet not create so much parking that it reduces incentives to bicycle or use alternative modes of transport.

The parking rate emerged as a problem in the eyes of several planning commissioners recently when developers of a planned three-story office building at 1020 Alma St. were required under the specific plan to install 75 parking spaces in an expensive two-story underground lot, even though the site is across the street from the Caltrain station, and many potential workers there would be able to ride the train.

Councilman Rich Cline asked transportation manager Nikki Nagaya point-blank if the city's current parking requirements were too high. Her response? A simple "yes."

Alternative transportation

Council members agreed with staff that setting procedures for "transportation demand management" – basically attempting to reduce single-occupancy car trips – was important.

Menlo Park has already agreed to a county framework to measure how many trips new development might add, but it has yet to create standards for exactly what level of added trips would be permissible.

To promote low and zero emissions and fuel-efficient vehicles, the staff recommended creating requirements for office developments to install electric vehicle charging stations.

Setbacks and sidewalks

The staff proposed changes to clarify rules for setbacks (how much a building should be set back from its property line) and to allow variances in the maximum front and side setbacks. This would allow developers to customize their plans to better protect heritage trees, for example.

A sidewalk width would be set for streets currently without sidewalks.

In addition, the maximum signage area, which is capped at 100 square feet, could be expanded for bigger developments. The change was proposed by Steve Pierce of Greenheart Land Co., which is proposing to build an office-housing complex on 6.4 acres at 1300 El Camino Real. He said that with a development this size, with multiple retail sites, the allowed space for signs "just doesn't cut it."

At the council's Dec. 15 meeting, the staff plans to check back with the council to make sure the guidance was clear, and then move forward with analyzing the impact of those changes and drafting language for council approval.

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4 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 20, 2015 at 2:12 pm

So how much campaign money and favors are the council members and planning commission getting from these developers? I guess if we can't find parking downtown we can always park in the driveways of council and commission members. Never cut the amount of required parking.

The incentive money (PUBIC benefit money)should be for the city (PUBLIC) at large, now just downtown. Most of our populace lives elsewhere in town, and certain neighborhoods have higher economic needs than others. I thought we're all equal in the eyes of the city whether we live in Bell Haven, Willows or a fancy downtown condo.

Signage - 100 sq ft is 10x10 pretty large. How many of those will there be per project, how garish, how bright, how distracting? With all the smart phones it's much easier to know where the spa and design store are located, without needing huge signage.

3 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

really? is a registered user.

Favors? I think Whatever is drinking a bit too much conspiracy theory koolaid. Everyone want's more parking (as in parking garage) downtown- even the council. Some of the comments for changing numbers seem to be about making allowances for commuting, rather than populate menlo park with parking-lot-covered office parks.

3 people like this
Posted by Neighborly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 20, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Alas Palo Alto developers have finally run out of room in Downtown Palo Alto and need somewhere else to gratuitously over develop. I hate to see Downtown Menlo Park turn into another over built over crowded location.
fighting over parking, with too many pedestrians, Suggest everyone think about what a 2 story parking garage will look like. It's ugly and will start a domino effect of over development.

I also suggest everyone who lives with in a 2 block radius of Santa Cruz Ave. Spend some time in downtown Palo Alto looking for parking. You will end up driving around in circles.

This is your future.

p.s. Menlo Park has so much money why not keep the old cottagy look. They certainly don't need the money.

7 people like this
Posted by oldtimer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm

From the article we read:

"Councilman Rich Cline asked transportation manager Nikki Nagaya point-blank if the city's current parking requirements were too high. Her response? A simple "yes."

We are going to almost certainly have Cline as our next Mayor. His transformation from being a resident friendly councilman, to nothing more than a "bring it on development" councilman has been stunning.

Now we are to take a relatively new Staff person's opinion on an issue like parking requirements just shows you what Cline has become. How many times are we going to let staff mess up our City? You like the parking situation that has developed near the library and gymnasium?

We really need a new council and its first action should be to fire the present City Manager.

1 person likes this
Posted by Happy Thanksgiving
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 20, 2015 at 5:30 pm

"No votes were taken but the Council seemed to generally concur..."

Without votes or quotes, how do we know which Councilmembers supported studying which specific changes? The final votes on the changes won't be made until the impacts are analyzed.

2 people like this
Posted by Mark L
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 21, 2015 at 7:18 am

>To promote low and zero emissions and fuel-efficient vehicles, the staff recommended creating requirements for office developments to install electric vehicle charging stations.

The government already gives these car owners big incentives and refunds for buying those vehicles. In addition, electric cars like a Tesla can easily get someone from home to work and back without needing to charge at work. I don't see a reason to force developers to install charging stations. Also, if free and or/discounted charging is available at an office it might encourage more vehicle traffic instead of alternate transport.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 21, 2015 at 8:28 am

Palo Alto collected data on who is actually driving. Overall, only 55% of workers in downtown Palo Alto drive. And it's not office workers who are doing most of the driving - they take the train, walk, or bike. It's the retail, restaurant, and hospitality workers.

The Palo Alto Weekly has covered this pretty extensively.

So, yep, at almost one spot per worker, Menlo Park is requiring too much underground parking for these office buildings. We don't need giant empty underground parking lots that are literally locked away under the buildings. We need these employers to subsidize train passes or biking.

If we want to have a place for customers and retail workers to park, we need public parking garages, and we get that by accepting in lieu fees, not by building giant lots underneath new office buildings just for their workers.

4 people like this
Posted by quality of life
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 21, 2015 at 11:53 am

Once again, the Council totally ducked the question of why so much office space and what's happening to retail and restaurants. One speaker asked, but no one else seems to want the facts. And the Council ducked the question of when would they, not an appointed commission, make decisions about public benefit projects.

Our quality of life is supported by LOCAL and CONVENIENT (meaning IN Menlo Park and IN the El Camino and downtown area) stores, cafes, nail salons and other personal services. Even car repair.
The numerous office projects are replacing businesses that provided that support. We who participated in the downtown planning process expected "some" offices, along with additional housing, shops and restaurants. When there is growth, we need more of all. We shouldn't lose the very businesses that support us residents. The love affair with excessive offices will force us to go to other towns to shop and get the services we need. No one at city hall is even monitoring that.

6 people like this
Posted by Council Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

@quakityoflife those of us who watched the meeting know what your saying isn't accurate. Cline and Mueller both asked how to encourage retail. Mueller specifically asked staff to report back with a plan to promote and to preserve retail. Mueller also asked staff to report back with information how the Plan can be changed to encourage housing and affordable housing in future projects. Did you watch the meeting?

Like this comment
Posted by quality of life
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 22, 2015 at 6:53 pm

@ Council Watcher - so if someone asked the status of retail, what was the answer? More has been lost than added. Can't manage something if it isn't measured.

Like this comment
Posted by The facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Anyone who thinks that downtown Palo Alto's traffic study should be used to eliminate parking in Menlo Park hasn't tried parking in Palo Alto lately. Even the garages are full these days, and workers are paying for permits to park in the local neighborhoods.

Let's not even take into consideration the fact that most of the downtown Palo Alto workers are employed in retail and restaurant. Many are young adults who still live with parents, hence the high percentage of people who can walk to work. This will not be the case with the office workers who will drive. (We only wish we had more retail in downtown Menlo Park!)

Nice try, pro-development guys. You're still going to get rich, no worries there, but we'd just as soon not have the office employees taking up parking space in nearby residential neighborhoods.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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