By John Boyle
As I read the guest opinion in the May 4 Almanac criticizing the proposed Greenheart project on El Camino Real, I felt like perhaps I was stuck in a Menlo Park version of the classic movie, "Groundhog Day." Didn't we already have this debate, many times over?
Many of the people who today are saying that the Greenheart project doesn't have enough housing are the same ones responsible for derailing the Derry project at the same location back in 2006. Ironically, back then, they were against that project because they said it had too much housing. Through the scare of a referendum, they forced the developer to negotiate a private deal (without public participation) in which these same people agreed to a deal that reduced the number of housing units and increased the amount of commercial space.
The back-and-forth caused so much delay that the market conditions changed and the project was never built. As a direct result of that fiasco, Menlo Park decided to create a specific plan for our downtown area to create more certainty by defining a community-driven set of zoning and building guidelines.
Over the five-plus years that it took to develop and approve the specific plan, there were nearly 100 public meetings and participation by over 1,000 residents. All of the arguments that we're hearing now were voiced back then and then again in multiple specific plan reviews, and then again in the Measure M debate.
There are, of course, parts of the specific plan that some people don't like. But it was an exhaustive, consensus-building process. It was the result of a process that was overseen by multiple Planning Commissions and City Councils. It was approved unanimously in 2012.
In 2013 and again in 2015, the Planning Commission and the City Council reviewed the specific plan, made a few modest changes and improvements, and re-approved it each time.
These same protesters were still not satisfied, and so they placed Measure M on the ballot in 2014, attempting to get the specific plan changed to meet their personal preferences. By a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, Measure M was soundly defeated by people who voted, as I did, to support the consensus-based specific plan and to enable projects like Greenheart's to move forward.
The critical May 4 guest opinion was focused on the specific Greenheart project, but it was really just another attempt to impose their preferences in place of the specific plan. The column trotted out mostly the same misleading information they've used in the past. For example, they claim that "these additional adverse (traffic) impacts were not anticipated when the downtown specific plan was adopted." This has already been shown to be not true. The specific plan's traffic engineer stated that the Greenheart traffic impacts are substantially less than the traffic impacts for the same 6-plus acres in the specific plan's EIR.
They also claim that this project "is still in its conceptual design phase, when plan modification can be easily made." Again, untrue. The changes proposed in the guest opinion would require a complete redesign of the project and would restart the environmental impact analysis. The current draft EIR was started 22 months ago by the city. A restart could delay this project by years. Worse, the market window might close again, and we could see nothing in the vacant lots for another 10 years.
As a former City Council member, I helped to start and advance the community project that led to the specific plan. I don't have any personal stake in the Greenheart project other than as a resident who, like many others, is tired of the embarrassing empty lots along El Camino Real and the endless rehashing of the same debates. The Greenheart project looks to be 100 percent compliant with the specific plan. It's time to stop repeating "Groundhog Day." Let's move forward toward revitalizing our downtown area.