News

Today: Two huge reviews on general plan, Facebook for Menlo Park Planning Commission

 

Academic ambition is one thing. It is another thing to be assigned almost 10,000 pages of documents (in the form of two lengthy draft environmental impact reports) as a member of a volunteer civic commission to read through, ask clarifying questions about, and give recommendations for -- all in one sitting.

That's the predicament the members of the Menlo Park Planning Commission will face when the commission meets Monday, June 20, to review draft environmental impact reports on two huge projects: the city's general plan update and Facebook's expansion plans.

To some observers, this is way too much to do in one meeting.

Menlo Park resident and former planning commissioner Patti Fry pointed out that the two documents cover nearly 10,000 pages that the commissioners are being expected to absorb.

"To my knowledge, commissions have never been asked to review two DEIRs (draft environmental impact reports) at once, much less to hold only one meeting about something as important as the General Plan," she said in an email. "This schedule is unfair to the commissioners, unfair to the public, and unfair to the spirit of open discourse of big issues that will affect our city's future."

In addition, commission's chair Katherine Strehl will be out of town, and two commissioners – John Onken and Drew Combs – will recuse themselves from the general plan review. Mr. Onken does consulting work in the M-2 area (located east of U.S. 101 and a key part of the general plan update), and Drew Combs is an employee at Facebook, also part of the general plan update area. Mr. Combs will also recuse himself from the review of the Facebook expansion plans.

That means only four of the seven commissioners will participate in general plan review, and five in the Facebook review. With both the commission chair and vice chair (Mr. Combs) out, commissioner Henry Riggs will lead the meeting. Meetings, as of late, have stuck to a hard finish time of 11 p.m., limiting the time for discussion.

"There are an awful lot of questions to ask," said Henry Riggs. "The commission has reviewed large project EIRs before and reviews don't necessarily go quickly."

"It's really too much," said Commissioner Strehl. "I hope the public has an adequate opportunity to provide public comment."

Menlo Park City Councilman Ray Mueller wrote an email saying he supports splitting the two environmental reviews into two meetings, and postponing the draft environmental impact review of the general plan update until Commissioner Strehl can attend, since she represented the Planning Commission on the General Plan Advisory Committee, a group that met regularly for over a year to guide the general plan update process.

According to Planning Commissioner Henry Riggs, he is not aware of any changes made to the agenda since it was released, but said that items can be removed from the agenda without having to give 72 hours of advance notice. He says he'll be prepared for everything, though.

General plan update

The general plan update would affect future land use in the M-2 area, located east of U.S. 101 and roughly bounded by Redwood City, the Bay and East Palo Alto.

Proposed general plan changes would allow up to 4,500 more housing units, 2.3 million more square feet of nonresidential space, and 400 more hotel rooms in the M-2 area. Those changes could increase the number of employees by 5,500.

Facebook expansion

At the same meeting, the commission plans to hold a public hearing on Facebook's expansion plans. The social networking company wants to knock down several buildings on the TE Connectivity site (bounded roughly by Constitution Drive, Chilco Street and Bayfront Expressway) and build three 75-foot-tall buildings: two offices buildings totaling 962,400 square feet, a 200-room, 174,800-square-foot hotel, and 3,533 parking spaces. (The hotel would be available to the public to book rooms, said Kyle Perata, senior planner for the city.)

Combined, the buildings could accommodate about 6,550 additional employees.

A fiscal analysis shows that the project could yield annual revenues of $1.07 million for the city of Menlo Park, $17,400 for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and $717,100 for the Sequoia Unified School District.

Facebook's plans are "consistent with the current general plan," said Mr. Perata, and would fit with the uses and zoning planned in the updated general plan.

To fit both public hearings into the 45-day window for the environmental review, he said, they had to be held on the same day.

Too much?

Several community members expressed concern that the packed agenda will not give the commission enough time to review the proposals and give good feedback to the council.

"While both of these issues have moved along for the past year," said Menlo Park resident Gabrielle Johnck in an email, "do not now cheat yourselves, the Council and the public by rushing your review on one night."

After the Planning Commission reviews the Facebook document and has a study session on it, other comments will be gathered and the draft EIRs will be presented as part of both projects' packages for overall approval. It is expected that the Facebook project will go before the council for review and adoption in the coming months.

The general plan update is expected to return to the Planning Commission on Aug. 29 before moving to the City Council in September and October for approval.

The Facebook project is expected to return to the Planning Commission on Aug. 22 before moving to the City Council in September.

Links and information

Planning Commission meeting agenda.

Watch the meeting online.

Staff report on Facebook expansion.

Staff report on general plan update.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St.

Comments on the Facebook project environmental report may be delivered during the meeting's public comment session. The deadline to submit written comments is 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 11. They can be emailed to ktperata@menlopark.org or mailed to: City of Menlo Park, Community Development Department, Planning Division, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Comments on the environmental report for the general plan update, if not made at the meeting, may be submitted in writing by 5 p.m. Friday, July 15. They may be emailed to connectmenlo@menlopark.org with "Menlo Park General Plan Update EIR" in the subject line, or mailed to: Deanna Chow, city of Menlo Park Planning Division, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park 94025.

--

Follow the Almanac on Twitter and Facebook for breaking news, local events and community news.

Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Brielle Johnck
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 16, 2016 at 6:44 pm

Two major Menlo Park development plans will be reviewed in one single night Monday June 20 by the MP Planning Commission. This is unprecedented. One is the City's General Plan that guides the City for the next 24 years. How will the city grow? How will population increase? How many office buildings will be allowed? How many housing units will be built and where? What will the number of residents be? How will the schools be impacted? How will people move from one point to another, in their cars, on bikes or by walking? Will there be enough water for the new employees and the new residents? Are we not already under a water restriction plan? Our General Plan was last updated in 1994 and it is way out of date.

The second development plan being reviewed at the same meeting, June 20 is Facebook's 1,100,000 sq ft expansion. This addition of two more office buildings and a hotel will add 6,400 new employees. This phase of Facebook's expansion does not include housing, which leaves employees commuting from other towns. WIll commuters stay on Willow Rd. and University Ave. or will they cut through the Willows?

Changes in Menlo Park have been occurring rapidly since 2012. Population is expected to increase from 32,000 to 52,000 by 2040. How this will affect the schools, traffic and housing needs is being studied by the City now. What is shocking is that both the Facebook expansion and the General Plan are being rushed through in one night. The two documents total more than 9,000 pages of complicated information. To have both these issues on the same night when the Chair of the Planning Commission is apparently on vacation is wrong. They should be given individual attention and time. The issues in the General Plan should be decided before the Facebook expansion is decided. They are not of equal importance. The General Plan leads; Facebook follows.

Our decisions in Menlo Park affect not only our town but East Palo Alto and Redwood City. We are all in this soup together.

Here's the agenda for the meeting.
Web Link

If this interests you and you want to send an email to the Planning Commission, here's how
planning.commission@menlopark.org


2 people like this
Posted by Query
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 16, 2016 at 9:16 pm

What changes have occurred rapidly since 2012?


11 people like this
Posted by Brielle Johnck
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 16, 2016 at 10:08 pm

Facebook moved to MP. MP adopted the Specific Plan. The city was sued because the Housing Element in the General Plan was seriously out of date. Stanford added housing and reduced office in its 400,000 sf development. Greenheart development has asked to go into the bonus level for more office. A boutique hotel is proposed for El Camino Real. A 25,000 office building has been approved across from the train station. A 245,000 sf office development by the Sobrato company was approved. Dave Bohannon's 1 million sf office and hotel is finally moving forward. Stanford Hospital is rebuilding and expanding. Willow Rd. now has 40,000 cars every day. the Google app WAZE is sending drivers into neighborhoods to avoid Willow Rd. The economy has improved. There's more but this is enough to think about for now.


10 people like this
Posted by Query
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 16, 2016 at 10:55 pm

More than half those things happened prior to 2012 or haven't resulted in much change. Facebook moved to Menlo Park in 2011. It officially finished the move in December, but had employees in place prior. Menlo Park did adopt the Specifc Plan in June 2012, but neither the Stanford or Greenheart projects have been approved yet. Not sure much has changed there yet. Although since 2012, in 2014, voters did defeat Measure M which tried to undo the Specifc Plan. That boutique hotel project you mentioned hasn't been built yet either. The Bohannon Project was also approved by voters in 2010. The Stanford hospital expansion was approved by Palo Alto in 2011.

However, the City was sued and settled in May 2012 because the City had not updated the Housing Element in many years and since 2012 Sobrato did build a 245,000 square foot building east of 101. Also a 25,000 square foot building was approved by train tracks.

Not sure that's enormous change since 2012, but everyone has a different tolerance for any change. It scares some more than others.



8 people like this
Posted by Evelyn Wood
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 17, 2016 at 12:20 pm

So what if there are 10,000 pages and a short-handed commission? No need to read anything because all change is good and should be automatically approved, and anyone suggests taking a closer look (and has facts to back up their concerns) is just a fearful wuss.

Really, though, we should just send everyone over the age of 40 to a senior facility, somewhere far away from Menlo Park, and expel everyone else with half a brain because they are impeding progress.

Don't ask questions! Just do it!


7 people like this
Posted by mary
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 17, 2016 at 12:37 pm

i understand that i had no voice in the decision that menlo park made...to continue adding housing....i understand that the parking and traffic problems will increase. i can put up with that. what i cannot and should not be expected to endure is the lack of water. how many more apartments? how many hotel rooms? where is the water supposed to come from. i have been asked to curtail the use of water and i have dutifully obeyed. however, part of that agreement should be that housing and hotel rooms not be added with uncontrolled growth when water is a problem. the latest reports indicate that we may very well be in line for another multi-year drought. please consider this. please ask the menlo park town council and planning commission to consider this. i do not have a voice in what menlo park does. i simply get to enjoy the result.


4 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 17, 2016 at 1:04 pm

So are there any actual ideas/positions/solutions you all have regarding the two EIRs or is this just the same old carping on about the process and the downfall of Menlo Park?


15 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 17, 2016 at 4:20 pm

How about approving growth that happens only when the infrastructure, water supply, road capacity, schools, playing fields etc will be in place to support it? That is not anti- growth, just for sensible growth. The general plan update is THE right time to do it

Instead the revised general plan proposes commercial growth of more than 70% and population and housing growth of more tham 50%. I bet most of the commercial growth happens pretty quickly and the housing growth never does. Well, not unless menlo park gets sued again.
All that growrth without enough housing means tons more commuters using waze to,get thorugh our neighborhoods

What the general plan uldate could do but does not not is propose imorovements to the transportation capacity, to our playing fields, to the watwr supply, to ensure there's enough housing and school capacity. The comsequences of huge growth need to be planned for. Since the eirs dont show those plans, there should be time to create them.

This is just common sense.


7 people like this
Posted by Pam Jones
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 17, 2016 at 4:31 pm

The EIRs for the City of Menlo Park's expansion have been presented in isolation of one another, making it impossible to analysis the full impact. The City of Menlo Park has not provided a comprehensive traffic plan to mitigate the increased residential traffic except to divert Bayfront traffic through Belle Haven. The traffic challenges for East Palo Alto and Belle Haven began long before the current approved and pending projects. It is unfortunate that the southern access route to Dumbarton Bridge was litigated into extinction. There is no reason to allow the EIRs to be approved in July when we can request an extension. It is time for a shared solution.


4 people like this
Posted by company town
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Now that Facebook employs over 20% of the workforce in Menlo Park, the city should avoid appointing or reappointing Facebook employees to the planning commission.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"the city should avoid appointing or reappointing Facebook employees to the planning commission."

Any individual who is employed by or has a financial interest in an applicant before a commission must by law recuse themselves from participating in any way in that applicant's case before the commission on which such a person serves.


Like this comment
Posted by HarryB
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 19, 2016 at 4:21 pm

HarryB is a registered user.

There are two issues here. The first of which is addressed by recusing oneself if there is a conflict. The second issue is the need for a quorum. If any of the remaining commissioners fails to show up tomorrow night, the meeting cannot be convened. Thus, IMHO we should not appoint planning commissioners knowing they will have a conflict when major EIRs come through. We need the value of every commissioner giving their perspective during EIR review.


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

Couples: Philosophy of Love
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,454 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 981 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 496 views