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.
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.
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
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.