With the Planning Commission's members down to four (three commissioners recused themselves due to personal connections to the area under discussion), the commission found itself at an 11 p.m. impasse. The commission split 2-2 on whether the city's general plan update is OK as is or should be refined to adopt specific measures to address citywide traffic.
This was the last meeting on the general plan update before the City Council will review the proposed changes to city zoning that could allow construction of 2.3 million additional square feet of nonresidential buildings, 400 hotel rooms and 4,500 residential units in eastern Menlo Park. The update would also reclassify roadway designations citywide.
Commissioners Larry Kahle and Andrew Barnes voted to recommend the changes be approved by the City Council as proposed, with a recommendation to "use all means possible to push regional transportation solutions forward," in the words of Commissioner Kahle.
Mr. Barnes pointed out the regional nature of much of Menlo Park's traffic problems."There are things in Menlo Park we can control, (and) things we cannot, which require regional work on this," he said.
Katherine Strehl, who chairs the Planning Commission, and Commissioner Henry Riggs didn't quite agree that Menlo Park was doing enough to address transportation problems, and were not ready to stamp their approval over the proposed plans just yet.
With regard to traffic and transportation problems, Commissioner Strehl said: "Menlo Park hasn't shown much leadership in this area, quite frankly. ... I think it'll be a Herculean task to get anything done. Menlo Park can push and shove with regional agencies, (but) there are bigger fish that are pushing and shoving. ... (Let's) not be naive."
Mr. Riggs said he thinks the city should spend a few more weeks to develop specific alternative transportation plans and find possible funding sources before approving the changes.
Mr. Riggs said, "I find this to be a good plan except for one element, and it's a key element. ... Where (do) the transportation mitigations come from?"
With the existing state of clogged roadways throughout the city, he said, alternative transportation should be a bigger part of the general plan changes. The city should lay out specific milestones or deadlines to ensure the transportation network gets improved while development happens.
"(It) means more than handing out bus passes," he said, hinting a resurrection of the Dumbarton Rail project should be a priority.
Mr. Riggs pointed to the large amount of growth in the works, with the Menlo Gateway hotel and Facebook's expansion, which the commission discussed recently. "Not a single tenant vehicle has hit the streets yet," he said. "Before any of this turns into buildings, we are going to see significant impacts on our transportation."
The general plan updates will go before the City Council for possible approval at its scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15.