Menlo Park: How zoning changes could affect traffic, water


Rev up your reading pace. Beef up on your civic jargonese. The clock is ticking on a 45-day countdown started June 1, during which people can give the city of Menlo Park their feedback on the findings of an environmental report that studied how proposed changes to the city's general plan could affect the environment.

Read the environmental impact report here.

In brief, the report says that if the proposed zoning changes are made, the city's M-2 area – located east of U.S. 101 – could get more housing and more traffic, all while edging closer to maxing out the city's water allocation.

The proposed changes to the city's general plan, which governs future development, would lay the framework for transportation planning citywide and construction in the city's M-2 area for the next 24 years, between 2016 and 2040.

It's worth noting that this environmental report doesn't cover any specific construction project – it's all theoretical at this point, though Menlo Park developers have expressed ideas about what they might want to build in the M-2 area.

Instead, the EIR analyzes the maximum of what the city could allow to be built in the city's M-2 area, bounded by Redwood City, the San Francisco Bay to the north, East Palo Alto and the Menlo Park neighborhoods of Belle Haven, Flood Triangle, Suburban Park, and Lorelei Manor.

Menlo Park's general plan has a number of "elements." The two that are being evaluated now address land use and the ease of transportation for cars, bikes and pedestrians. The city is calling the process to update those two elements "ConnectMenlo."

Changes to the land-use element will apply only to the M-2 area. The changes as proposed would add three new categories of zoning that would allow offices, life sciences buildings and residential-mixed use (housing plus office or retail space) to be built in specific areas there. The changes would allow up to 4,500 more housing units to be built in the M-2 area, accommodating up to 11,570 residents. The changes could also add 2.3 million square feet of nonresidential space, 400 hotel rooms, and 5,500 employees beyond what is already allowed.

What's already planned in the M-2 area, based on the development applications the city has received, includes an additional 977,000 square feet of nonresidential space, 450 hotel rooms, 780 residential units, 2,000 residents and 11,250 employees.

Changes to the circulation element would apply across the city. They would redefine the classifications given to different streets across the city. Each street's new classification would dictate how it may be changed in the future. For instance, roads designated for local or lower use may be designed to be more bike-friendly, while emergency routes could be widened and undergo adaptations to ease travel for emergency vehicles.

The analysis in the environmental report brings up four levels of development to be considered: what's there now (as of 2014), what is already planned (projects that have submitted development applications to the city), what could be considered under the current general plan, and what could be allowed under the "ConnectMenlo" changes.

In the M-2 area, Menlo Park currently has 8.7 million square feet of nonresidential space, no hotel rooms, no housing units or residents, and 19,800 employees.

What could be planned under the current general plan is 1.4 million square feet of nonresidential space and 150 housing units to accommodate roughly 3,400 employees and 390 residents

With the changed zoning, there could be an additional 2.3 million square feet of nonresidential space, 400 hotel rooms, 4,500 housing units, 11,570 residents and 5,500 employees.

Traffic impacts

A relatively new metric to measure the impact that development has on traffic, called "Vehicle Miles Traveled," counts the number of miles a car travels each day, per capita. The measure counts the estimated miles that cars would travel because of the development or the area being developed, divided by the population and the number of jobs in the area. The measurement is the result of state laws intended to shape land-use policy to cut the number of miles cars travel and thereby cut greenhouse gas emissions. Generally, the report says, that number is lower when the city has a balanced amount of jobs and housing.

The analysis of vehicle miles traveled shows that if the proposed zoning changes are not made, cars would be expected to travel 19 miles per day per capita by 2040, up from the 2014 average of 15 miles daily per capita in 2014.

If the proposed changes are made, the report says, the number would drop to 14 daily car miles per capita by 2040. This is partly because the proposed zoning would allow more housing in an area with many jobs.

The proposed zoning changes compare less favorably using a different metric for traffic impact, which attempts to answer the more straightforward question: how long will people will have to wait in their cars at certain intersections with new development?

In predictive models showing what traffic might be like in 2040, expected traffic delays at a number of intersections were expected with the proposed zoning changes. Some, however, were only incrementally worse than the delays that would be expected without zoning changes, as development in the M-2 area continues over the next two-plus decades, while others had slightly shorter expected wait times than they might have with no zoning changes.

For instance, at one of the worst-affected intersections, Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, traffic is already considered at unacceptable levels at rush hour. In 2014, people waited at that intersection on average more than 80 seconds in the morning and evening. By 2040, with no zoning changes, projections show they'll wait 142 seconds in the morning; with the proposed zoning changes, that would increase to a 156-second morning wait.

On the other hand, by 2040, the University Avenue and Donohoe Street intersection, also badly impacted by traffic, could have an additional wait time of 31 seconds beyond the 129 seconds people usually wait, with no changes, compared to an additional wait time of 20 seconds with the zoning changes.

Go to Table 4.13-12 to see the full list of intersections and expected delays (page 4.13-68).

Population and housing

The study also looked at the potential housing and residents that the zoning policy could add, if adopted. Under the current general plan, only 150 housing units and an estimated 390 people could be housed. In contrast, the proposed general plan changes would add up to 4,500 housing units to accommodate about 11,570 new residents.

Under the full projected buildout of Menlo Park – including what's being built, what's planned to be built, and what could be built under both the current general plan and the proposed general plan updates – the balance of employees and residents in Menlo Park would be swapped. Now, there are 32,900 residents and 30,900 employees, and by 2040 it's expected there would be 50,350 residents and 53,250 employees.

Menlo Park's housing stock could rise from 13,100 units to 19,880 units and 6 million square feet of nonresidential space would be added.


A separate review was done to see if there is enough water to meet the needs of a future built-out Menlo Park by 2040. According to the report, water use in the M-2 area averaged about 195 million gallons per year from 2010 to 2014.

Assuming the development reaches the maximum allowed in the ConnectMenlo plans, the annual water use in the M-2 area could rise to 343 million gallons a year. The calculations assumed water use to be 127 gallons of water used per housing unit or 49 gallons per capita per day; for employees, 100 gallons used per work day.

By 2040, demands on the Menlo Park Municipal Water District could rise to 1,271 million gallons per year with the current general plan and other planned projects for the city, or 1,614 million gallons of water used per year under the proposed general plan.

The water district gets its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, through which it is allocated a maximum 1,630 million gallons per year, so even with maximum buildout, there would be enough water to meet demand.

That could change in the case of drought, however. In a single dry year, the water allocation could drop to 1,281 million gallons per year, which could create a 21 percent shortfall. If the drought continued into years two and three, the shortfall could reach 31 percent of the demand on the water district.

Work toward installing water recycling systems is underway by the West Bay Sanitary District, which is aiming to use recycled water to irrigate the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club, and eventually provide recycled water to SLAC. Other options for water recycling in the M-2 area are being explored, which could further reduce water demand, the report said.

To respond

People can submit their comments on the report and its findings between now and 5 p.m. on Friday, July 15. Submit via email at with "Menlo Park General Plan Update EIR" as the subject or via mail. Send mailed comments to: Deanna Chow, city of Menlo Park Planning Division, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park 94025.


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6 people like this
Posted by BadMath
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2016 at 7:30 am

OK… Is anyone else tired of pattern "modeling"? Traffic, aircraft noise, whatever… It never exposes the eventual reality. It's just a bunch of algebra that consultants use to justify their (exorbitant) paychecks. X+Y always < than the real impacts to real people's lives.

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

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