Menlo Park's population could grow by 50 percent and its employee count by 70 percent between now and 2040 if the city adopts proposed zoning changes and developers take advantage of the maximum amount of growth allowed.
By then, Menlo Park could have an additional 6 million square feet of nonresidential construction, 920 hotel rooms and 6,780 housing units, resulting in 17,450 more residents and 22,350 more employees. This data is in a draft environmental impact report showing impacts of proposed zoning changes plus projections from projects approved or expected to be approved throughout the city.
That's the scale of what's at stake with the city's general plan update, said Patti Fry, a Menlo Park resident former planning commissioner, at a Planning Commission meeting July 11.
The meeting was set to take public comments on a draft environmental impact report on the city's general plan update, which includes major proposed zoning changes in the M-2 industrial area east of U.S. 101.
Ms. Fry and members of a new local advocacy group called "VERG" (Voters for Equitable and Responsible Growth) said they're worried about how such large-scale development in Menlo Park will affect traffic and housing affordability, among other issues.
"Our communities will lose their diversity, their livability and their character unless an equitable and responsible plan for growth is adopted," said the founding members of "VERG" in a letter submitted to the city.
The letter was signed by Jim Wiley, a Willows resident; Martin Lamarque, a Belle Haven resident; Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North Palo Alto; William Bryan Webster, president of the East Palo Alto Tenants Education Fund; Kathleen Daly, owner of Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park; and Steve Schmidt, former Menlo Park mayor.
According to Mr. Buchanan, the group met recently for the first time. He said he wants to see more evaluation of how the expected population influx will affect local schools. Mr. Wiley said he wants to see clearer plans to reduce cut-through traffic in the Willows neighborhood.
In a public comment, Mr. Lamarque told the Planning Commission that he didn't think enough has been done to counter rent increases and traffic gridlock in his neighborhood of Belle Haven.
"I don't expect Facebook, or my city officers to solve (this problem)," he said. "(I do expect them to) listen and try to find some solution before we make these problems worse."
Displacement of residents due to rising housing costs is not an impact that must be analyzed in an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, said Leigh Prince, assistant city attorney.
Maya Perkins, who also lives in Belle Haven, but is not listed as a member of the VERG group, said the city in updating the general plan should require that a higher percentage of new housing be "below market rate," or affordable to lower-income families. Under the proposed changes to the general plan, 15 percent of the total number of housing units in developments over a certain size would be intended for low-, very low-, and extremely low-income households.