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Menlo Park mayor gives update on 'state of the city'

Major regional changes and development 'are a lot to swallow'

Following a Menlo Park tradition in which each mayor delivers a "State of the City" address at the close of his or her one-year mayoral term, Mayor Rich Cline gave his own "honest, off the chest" take on where things stand in Menlo Park to a crowd gathered Nov. 17 at Facebook's recently renovated Building 23.

He praised the hard work of staff and locals, spoke about the significant, and not all positive, changes the city has undergone in the last decade, cautioned against the conversion of Menlo Park into a "company town" and brought in a panel of experts on housing, education and transportation to talk about what can be done next.

History weighed on Mr. Cline's narrative of Menlo Park's current state of affairs. In the past decade, Menlo Park has approved the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel, spent six years ironing out the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan, seen the Menlo Gateway project win over voters, observed growth and renovations at the Tarlton Properties life sciences business park, braced for major developments by Stanford and Greenheart, and, of course, become Facebook's hometown.

Facebook's rapid growth in Menlo Park (the council recently approved Facebook's plans to build two more large office buildings and a hotel) points to Menlo Park becoming a "company town," he said. The phrase, he said, dredges up comparisons to companies like General Motors, Standard Oil, the Hershey Company, and the Pullman Company. For the home cities of those companies, success rises and falls with the success of the company, he said.

Sandwich those changes between major development happening in Redwood City, Stanford and Palo Alto, and major job growth regionwide, and, Mr. Cline said, "that's a hell of a lot to swallow for a small town."

Those changes, Mr. Cline said, have led to a reversal in dominant attitudes toward housing development. Higher density housing — let alone affordable housing — met with widespread obstinacy seven or eight years ago, he said. "Now we can't build it fast enough."

"I do think the state of the city is very strong," he said, adding that the city is doing as well financially as he has seen it during his 10 years on the council.

The city, he said, is only as strong as its fight to keep diverse communities and equal access to services and education. "Otherwise we'll become another town that ran itself over with progress."

This is his third "State of the City" address. He previously served as mayor in 2010 and 2011.

Expert panel

City staff presented a video that asked people who live or work in Menlo Park what they think the city's biggest problems are. The responses were generally housing affordability, traffic and educational equity.

Go to tinyurl.com/state675 to watch the video.

Three local experts were called in to talk about those problems on a panel with Mr. Cline: Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County; Ted Lempert, a trustee of the county's education board; and Mark Spencer, managing principal of W-Trans, a Santa Rosa-based transportation consulting firm.

On the housing front, Ms. Stivers said that San Mateo County has been adding jobs and housing at a ratio of 26 to 1 over the last three years. "Of course we're going to be freaking about housing. We've created a mess," she said.

On the education front, Mr. Lempert said the community should get more involved in local schools, including their funding.

On the transportation front, Mr. Spencer said that the city will need to work more regionally and innovatively. He suggested applying the tech slogan, "move fast and break things" to the city's problem with a lack of bus shelters in the Belle Haven area. For now, he asked, why not put out some pop-up canopies?

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