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What happened in Menlo Park in 2015

In case you missed it: here's an overview of Menlo Park's last 12 months, which have been full of planning, development and more

As 2015 comes to a close, here's a brief look at notable events of the past year that may lodge in local memories or continue to affect city dynamics in the year ahead.

It was another year of heavy-duty planning. The City Council, city staff and a consultant team from PlaceWorks have been hard at work on an update of the general plan, the constitution for future development in the city. The focus is on the M-2 industrial area east of U.S. 101, as well as vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic flow citywide.

In community meetings, there has been healthy, albeit sometimes heated, debate about what Menlo Park's future should look like.

Development projects have inched along. Construction on Anton Menlo, a 394-unit apartment complex at 3639 Haven Ave., began in March and is expected to be completed by mid-2016. Greenheart Land Co. has 195 units of new housing under construction at 777 Hamilton Ave. that are expected to be completed in spring 2016.

Another Greenheart Land Co. project, a proposed 420,000-square-foot mixed-use development at 1300 El Camino Real, has been under environmental review all year.

Stanford came forward in September with another revision of its proposed development of 8.4 acres along El Camino Real, with more housing and less office space in response to criticisms of earlier iterations of the plan.

Architecture and landscaping plans were changed to be more in sync with the "village character" of Menlo Park, a Stanford official said. The number of rental apartments was increased to 215, and the amount of office space decreased to 145,000 square feet.

Residents continue to be divided over Menlo Park's future. Should Menlo Park install bicycle lanes on El Camino Real? What public benefits should developers provide in exchange for exceeding building limits?

Other projects won't see completion until at least 2016.

In March, the City Council voted unanimously to install sidewalks and buffered bike lanes on Santa Cruz Avenue between Olive Street at Hillview Middle School and Johnson Street at the start of the downtown area. Not much has happened since.

Renovations of the BBC building to transform it into a three-story restaurant with a rooftop bar are in progress but no completion date has been announced.

There were many city jobs to be filled, including planners and engineers to process a long list of development projects. Then, during a few weeks in the summer, four top administrators left the city for a variety of reasons, from retirement to greener pastures and shorter commutes.

With police Commander Dave Bertini filling in as interim human resources director, the city hired a number of people. City Manager Alex McIntyre swapped some staff into new leadership roles and brought former Menlo Park public works director Charles "Chip" Taylor back to the city to serve as assistant city manager.

In many ways, public safety improved. The Menlo Park Police Department won an award for its work to reduce crime in Belle Haven. Four city parks are going through a pesticide-free pilot study, and a class of pesticide called neonicotinoids plus some rat traps were banned across all city parks.

However, tragedies still struck. In February, a 35-year-old woman was killed when her car was struck by a train at the Ravenswood Avenue crossing, and most recently, a 41-year-old Palo Alto man was killed while jogging in the vicinity of Sand Hill Road and Santa Cruz Avenue. A woman who was driving drunk when her car struck and killed a Menlo Park couple in 2013 was convicted of murder in May 2015.

The city launched a six-month trial of using barriers to see if that would improve safety at the Ravenswood/Alma intersection, which invoked the ire of many residents.

Menlo Park got its first "Sister City" in Galway, Ireland, and plans to develop further international friendships with municipalities in Japan, China and India.

Menlo Park bade farewell to a number of long-standing local business names: Fosters Freeze, Su Hong and Sunset Publishing Corp. Su Hong To Go became Chef Kwan's, Angel Heart Cakes became Eva Sweets, and Sunset moved to Oakland and Sonoma. The ghost of Fosters Freeze may yet stick around in the shape of some yet-to-be-determined homage at the Little League snack bar in Burgess Park. Iberia restaurant plans to leave Menlo Park at the end of the year for Belmont. That space will become a new office building at 1020 Alma St.

New restaurants like Mademoiselle Colette and Bradley's Funky Franks stretched the spectrum of Menlo Park's food offerings. New businesses in Menlo Park like Shady Lane and the Marriott Residence Inn seemed to be well-received.

New nonprofits took off in Menlo Park in 2015. Random Acts of Flowers opened a Silicon Valley office in the city; it uses recycled and repurposed flowers to deliver bouquets to people in healthcare facilities. An organization named Menlo Spark launched an ambitious campaign to help Menlo Park become "climate neutral" by 2025.

Another sustainability-focused initiative, Peninsula Clean Energy, would give energy consumers the option to buy more electric power from renewable sources than is available from PG&E. Menlo Park may sign on to the program in the new year.

Facebook completed and moved into its Frank Gehry-designed building called "MPK20," while continuing to accrue more land and office space. It purchased the 56-acred Menlo Science and Technology Park, which remains under the management of its former owner, Prologis Inc. and will lease 210,000 square feet of Intuit's office space. Facebook also launched a weekly farmers' market, which takes place at its parking lot on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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