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Menlo Park council picks priorities, talks sidewalk plans

 

The Menlo Park City Council voted Feb. 9 to approve a list of its priority projects for the 2016 calendar year and offered guidance to staff on at least two of those high priority projects: getting more sidewalks installed on Santa Cruz Avenue and completing the general plan update.

Other projects or tasks that ranked in the "extremely important" category were: processing complex development projects, implementing next steps in the city's housing element, creating a "community disaster preparedness partnership," and a number of transportation projects.

On a more concrete level, several council members said this year they wanted to see bike and pedestrian improvements on Chilco Street, bus shelters built in Belle Haven and outdoor street dining spaces opened on Santa Cruz Avenue. See the full ranked list here.

Councilwoman Kirsten Keith said she wanted to see more emphasis on affordable housing and raised the question of a local minimum wage policy if action is not taken at the state level.

Sidewalks

The project to install sidewalks on Santa Cruz Avenue – on the north side from Olive Street to Johnson Street and on the south side from Olive Street to Arbor Road – has been a safety feature many have sought for years, said a number of the people who showed up to Tuesday's meeting to voice their support for the project.

According to Justin Murphy, Menlo Park's public works director, existing sidewalks near St. Raymond's Catholic Church at 1100 Santa Cruz Avenue would be widened as the result of changes to the sidewalk's "curb line."

Sally Cole said she moved to the street partly so her 11-year-old son could walk to Hillview Middle School. "We all know that Santa Cruz Avenue is the gateway to Menlo Park," she said.

Arnold Wilson said his neighbor has been walking on Santa Cruz Avenue since 1961, hoping for sidewalks that whole time. "My gosh, how long is this going to go on?" he asked.

The project was approved last March, but staff since learned that the project posed drainage issues.

In many cases, the height of the sidewalk would be taller than the level of the properties it would abut, creating a space for water to pool without a connection to the city's storm-drain system.

One proposed solution was to hack down the road's "crown" – the middle hump in the road – to reduce pooling, but that would have cost $10 million. Instead, the council encouraged the city to work with individual homeowners (especially the six locations they've identified where the height discrepancy between curb and existing property level is most severe) to figure out how to set up a drainage system. That project is expected to cost $3.5 million to $5 million.

General plan

At a General Plan Advisory Committee meeting on Jan. 28, many community members asked for additional meetings to focus on particular topics, such as green building, community amenities and design standards. City staff proposed two options: Hold all the topical meetings consecutively on a Saturday and keep the project on track, or hold the meetings over a series of weeks, delaying the expected date of completion for the project from Aug. 30 to Oct. 11.

Though the staff and Fergus O'Shea of Facebook favored the former, the City Council voted to hold the additional meetings on separate days, but asked that the staff to try to stick as close as it can to the original completion date.

In other news:

Willow/U.S. 101

After receiving from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority 88 percent of the funds needed for the Willow Road/U.S. 101 improvement project, the council approved a letter to the transportation authority to ask for the rest.

The city had hoped to fill the funding gap – which has now jumped to $10.4 million from $8 million – using the state's transportation improvement funding, but those funds are "oversubscribed" and not available.

Tasers & license plate readers

Councilwoman Keith said she wasn't ready for the police to report annually – instead of quarterly – its statistics on the use of Tasers and automated license plate readers. She offered a motion to change the reporting period to every six months and the council adopted the motion unanimously.

Solid waste collection rates

The council voted 3-2, with dissent from council members Rich Cline and Ray Mueller, to spend no more than $175,000 on a study of solid waste collection rates.

Heather Abrams, the city's environmental programs manager, had requested a budget of $250,000 for the study.

While Councilwoman Keith said that is too high, City Manager Alex McIntyre pushed back mildly, saying that Ms. Abrams had experience with this kind of study and wasn't overestimating the cost. "Her understanding of the business is perhaps better than others," he said.

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