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Menlo Park bans drones, remote-controlled aircraft from parks

Roundup of Menlo Park council meeting

The Menlo Park City Council held another marathon meeting Tuesday night, Aug. 23, as it heard public comments on two controversial issues: whether drones and remote-controlled aircraft should be banned from city parks, and what traffic policies the city should adopt when the Upper Laurel elementary school campus opens Oct. 17 at 275 Elliott Drive.

Drones

After hearing passionate arguments on both sides, the council ultimately voted 4-0 (with Councilwoman Kirsten Keith absent) to ban all remote-controlled aircraft and unmanned aerial systems or drones in city parks.

The ban comes with a couple of caveats. First, drone use by emergency response agencies, such as the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, will be exempt from the ban. Second, the ban could be modified as Bedwell Bayfront Park undergoes a master planning process, which is expected to start soon and might last into the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2018, according to Assistant Community Services Director Derek Schweigart.

New school

The council voted 4-0 in favor of actions to mitigate potential traffic impacts on a residential area from the opening a new school, the Upper Laurel elementary school campus for students in third through fifth grades.

Those actions include installation of no stopping zones on Oak Court, French Court, Elliott Drive, O'Connor Street, Byers Drive and Falk Court.

Previously, the council approved using funds the city received from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority to install new sidewalks on Menalto Avenue and O'Connor Street, add disabled-access curb ramps at two intersections, and paint sharrows (street markings indicating a shared bike and car lane) on nine streets.

The city also plans to install signs telling drivers the speed limit will be 15 miles per hour during school drop-off and pickup times, put up school zone signs, and paint yellow crosswalks at some intersections.

Members of the council also requested that the city transportation staff begin work as soon as possible on a study to analyze safe routes to schools in the area. Such a study is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete.

In another issue related to the new elementary school, about 15 residents of Oak Court in Menlo Park spoke out in public comment to express worry that the Menlo Park City School District could turn their road into a vehicle entrance for the new elementary school's parking lot.

According to City Attorney Bill McClure, in the analysis of the project's potential environmental impact, the school has proposed to open the gate only for limited bus use. He said he submitted a memorandum of understanding to solidify the agreement with the school district, but it had not yet been signed as far as he was aware.

Willow Road updates

Assistant City Manager Chip Taylor and Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya announced that the city has received around $8 million to $10 million in funding necessary to move forward with a project to update the Willow Road and U.S. 101 interchange. Construction could begin in late 2016 or early 2017, according to Ms. Nagaya.

The council also hosted a study session on ideas of what to do to make the infamously congested roadway easier to traverse for emergency vehicles. The council recommended looking into getting rid of the street's bulb-outs, or curbs that encroach into the road, and converting median space into a rolling curb, or "apron," that emergency vehicles can cross.

Mayor Rich Cline suggested the city staff look into converting those bulb-out areas into carpool or transit lanes for shuttles.

"Let's create some easy short-term solutions while we dig into the longterm," said Mayor Cline, bringing up the possibility of a rail bridge across the Dumbarton corridor.

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