Study the shape of Menlo Park, and you might wonder why there's a chunk cut out of the city's lower-middle section. Study the streets of Menlo Park, and you might wonder why Santa Cruz Avenue abruptly transitions from the smooth, carefully crowned streets of Sharon Heights into wild, bumpy roads of West Menlo Park.
Even though its name includes "Menlo Park," the territory -- and its bumpy roads -- belong to the county. West Menlo Park residents rely on the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement and other county agencies for services that people across the street or down the block get from the city of Menlo Park.
At least 18 residents of the 52 homes bounded by Alameda de las Pulgas, Sharon Road, and the diagonal segment of Santa Cruz Avenue connecting with the two, have decided they want to officially join Menlo Park. They applied for annexation into the city last September.
The request is now being studied by the city, said Chip Taylor, Menlo Park's assistant city manager, but there is no timeline yet for when the process will move forward.
Two residents of Crocus Court, a cul-de-sac off of that diagonal stretch of Santa Cruz Avenue, say that there are good reasons to become part of Menlo Park.
For some, like Crocus Court resident Yvonne Schmidt, it's about not being treated like an outsider in the city she considers her own. Living in unincorporated county territory means that even though she has a Menlo Park address, she can't vote in Menlo Park's local elections.
"(My) vote doesn't matter," she said. "We can't vote for local propositions or City Council members."
She also has to pay non-resident fees to the city of Menlo Park for the classes and activities her young children participate in through the recreation department. "We spend so much more money on swim lessons and gymnastics because it doesn't look like we live in Menlo Park," she said.
For that, she said, she's willing to pay a little more in utility taxes and city fees. Crocus Court resident Lynne McClure said she predicts the added cost would be roughly $500 per year for people with homes valued at $1 million.
Stricter reviews of construction projects, including expanded protection for neighborhood trees, is another reason to join the city, Ms. McClure said. With imminent redevelopment of homes on her street, she said that joining the city would force more scrutiny and higher building standards for those homes than they face under the county.
County definitions for what constitutes a "heritage tree" are not as stringent as those in Menlo Park, she said. If the 80-foot oak that's likely to be headed for the chopping block at a property near her home were in Menlo Park proper, Ms. McClure said, the tree might fare better. The tree is on a property that once belonged to a Sunset editor, but is now slated to be knocked down to build three new homes.
"What I don't (want) is to be like the sprawling communities that surround us. There are no trees," Ms. McClure said. "That's not Menlo Park. We live here because we love the trees."
The prospect of better roads and infrastructure also adds weight to the argument for incorporation, she added. However, the poor condition of the roads could also become a sticking point in negotiations between the county and the city.
Some streets in decades past were not repaired for the specific purpose of deterring traffic, she said. Now, as more young families come to the area, some are frustrated that they have to wait for the county to fix roads that they want in good condition for biking and walking around.
One of the primary considerations a city must make before deciding to add new land is a cost-benefit analysis, said Mr. Taylor, the assistant city manager. In the case of the triangle of land under discussion, the big question is whether the cost of repairs on roads and other infrastructure would be less than the potential property tax revenue the added homes would bring into the city, he said.
The county, for its part, is an agency covering 21 cities; that means it often has bigger, or other, fish to fry.
"San Mateo County doesn't really want us," Ms. McClure said.
Martha Poyatos, who heads the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), said that the commission often encourages annexation if an unincorporated area falls within the "sphere of influence" of a certain city, based on "who's best able to provide the service."
In this case, she said, the sphere of influence is clearly Menlo Park, as it is nearly completely surrounded by incorporated land.
County Supervisor Don Horsley, who is vice president of the Board of Supervisors and oversees unincorporated West Menlo Park, said, "In unincorporated areas, they don't have a city council, so they go to me."
Over the years, he said, many people have liked living in unincorporated county areas because they "tended to have a more rural feeling."
However, he said, "If (an area) incorporates, there's better coordination because you have (just) one agency."
The possibility of incorporating a larger area of West Menlo Park than just the proposed triangle has been considered. But at this point, Mr. Taylor said, they're back to focusing on the original area alone.
The process of getting annexed to the city is no cakewalk. The last time an annexation took place was in 1993, and involved the Seminary Oaks area. More recently, the City Council in May approved the commission of a study looking at annexing 13.8 acres from 2111 to 2121 Sand Hill Road.
The annexation process begins if at least 5 percent of residents in the affected area sign a petition saying they want to be part of a city. Ms. McClure said she and neighbors gathered support from 30 residents of 47 parcels, with two opposed and 15 undecided.
The petition was then submitted to LAFCo, along with an application fee of $3,025, according to Ms. Poyatos.
After the petition and fees are submitted, the county and city must negotiate in a process called prezoning. In this case, the city has to agree to take on the new area, while the county has to agree to relinquish it. Those negotiations and research of key questions are now underway, said Mr. Taylor.
Ultimately, both the county and city get a say in what the boundaries should be, said Ms. Poyatos. After they reach an agreement, the matter goes to a public hearing at a LAFCo meeting. The application can be approved, approved with qualifications, or denied.