News

East Palo Alto suing Menlo Park over general plan updates

Lawyer says East Palo Alto bears burdens, but not benefits, of Menlo Park plan

Just days before time runs out to file a lawsuit challenging Menlo Park's adoption of major changes to its general plan and zoning, East Palo Alto has notified the city that it is challenging the changes because they violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The changes in Menlo Park's M-2 industrial zone that would allow up to 2.3 million square feet of nonresidential uses, up to 4,500 residential units, and up to 400 hotel rooms will go into effect on Jan. 6, and Menlo Park City Attorney Bill McClure said the lawsuit will not delay the changes.

In a short letter emailed to Menlo Park officials on Dec. 28, attorney Ellison Folk of the San Francisco legal firm of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger notified Menlo Park that the "City of East Palo Alto will file suit challenging the City of Menlo Park's approval of an update to the Menlo Park General Plan (MenloConnect) and the adoption of zoning ordinances in connection therewith for failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act."

Ms. Folk said the suit will be filed on Thursday or Friday in San Mateo County Superior Court, before the period allowed to challenge the adoption runs out.

She said the lawsuit will include East Palo Alto's concerns about how the general plan update will affect that city, including displacement of residents, traffic and housing.

"East Palo Alto bears a lot of burdens of this development," but does not receive its benefits, she said.

East Palo Alto has "interest in seeing that the burdens are equitably shared," she said.

Ms. Folk said the lawsuit will not jeopardize the agreements that Facebook recently announced to donate close to $20 million to East Palo Alto community organizations, mostly to help provide affordable housing. However, the terms of the agreement approved by a coalition of community groups and Facebook say that $4.5 million of the donations to community groups are contingent on any challenge to Menlo Park's general plan update being "resolved in a manner that is reasonably acceptable to Facebook."

Mr. McClure said that although the zoning and general plan changes will go into effect on schedule, they could be reversed if Menlo Park loses the lawsuit.

He said Menlo Park will probably work with East Palo Alto "to determine what their concerns and issues are and discuss how those might be addressed/resolved in a mutually satisfactory manner."

The Nov. 29 Menlo Park City Council vote to adopt the general plan update was 4-1, with Councilman Ray Mueller opposed. The plan says it could add as many as 11,570 residents and 5,500 workers between now and the year 2040.

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Comments

42 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 28, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Belle Haven has always been the ugly stepchild of Menlo Park. All the high pollution, high congestion developments get pushed out here while city hall tries to gentrify the downtown area. EPA is right to complain. Belle Haven residents also need to band together and standup against this mess.


40 people like this
Posted by Martin Lamarque
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 28, 2016 at 8:23 pm

Unfortunately, on making those big decisions, the performance of Menlo Park's City Council Members has been mediocre at best.

Such lack of vision is not exclusive to Menlo Park's officials and its Manager, but their staunch support of big developers at the cost of the residents' best interests, is legendary.

EPA's resources are not match for a protracted legal fight, but it is a good start if there is anything that can be salvaged from this enormous blunder.


18 people like this
Posted by Belle Haven
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 28, 2016 at 11:11 pm

Belle Haven is a registered user.


"Facebook say that $4.5 million of the donations to community groups are contingent on any challenge to Menlo Park's general plan update being "resolved in a manner that is reasonably acceptable to Facebook."

What about the other 15.5M, Will that go through if the lawsuit drags on?

and why has the only school in Belle Haven been ignored throughout all proposals and discussions,

Suggest the Almanac send a reporter to the school and do an article, the conditions are 3rd world.


21 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 29, 2016 at 2:48 am

A Lead Agency has the legal obligation and the moral responsibility to identify the impacts of its projects and to ensure that those impacts are properly mitigated.

Unfortunately the City of Menlo Park refuses to meet these obligations.


2 people like this
Posted by Dancing
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 29, 2016 at 7:42 am

Dancing is a registered user.

Just a gentle reminder; East Palo Alto is a separate city and Belle Haven is a portion of the City of Menlo Park.


14 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2016 at 8:46 am

Just wait Willows residents when EPA kicks off their West Side plan- it will make the M2 look like a big fuss about nothing.


8 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Dec 29, 2016 at 11:30 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

@Belle Haven -
Here is a story we did about the inequities between the Ravenswood schools and other local districts a few months ago.
Web Link
It does appear the other funding will go ahead even with this lawsuit, according to the agreement signed by the community agencies.
Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Facebook Bay
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2016 at 4:13 pm

How about making the area all Menlo Park and then cutting down the crime rate of EPA and turning the area into something amazing! Plus when are we going to put beautiful restaurants and shops along the Bay?


18 people like this
Posted by Wasted Tax Dollars
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2016 at 5:18 pm

How many of our tax dollars will now be wasted in defending against this litigation and potentially having to redo the process because of four City Councilmembers who were In such a rush to appease big dollar interests they ignored the complaints of residents and neighboring cities, the planning commission's lack of approval and the opinion of editorial board of newspapers?


3 people like this
Posted by other news
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2016 at 8:44 pm

Watching the council meeting, all but a couple of the speakers in attendance were in support of the general plan update.

The Daily News identified the VERG/VREG connection: Web Link
"In a letter submitted to the city, Ellison Folk, an attorney with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, said East Palo Alto will file a lawsuit ... The law firm, which also represents Voters for Responsible and Equitable Growth, a local grassroots group, has accused Menlo Park of underestimating potential job growth..."


11 people like this
Posted by other news
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2016 at 10:05 pm

"East Palo Alto is a city that doesn’t have a lot of money to blow on lawyers. Nonetheless, its city council hired an expensive law firm to send letters to Menlo Park objecting to this project over the past year... East Palo Alto feels as if this project will make traffic and the housing shortage a lot worse, and that the Menlo Park City Council didn’t drive a very hard bargain with Facebook. And that’s why EPA has been lawyering up." – Daily Post, Dec 5, 2016


12 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 30, 2016 at 9:27 am

@other news "Watching the council meeting, all but a couple of the speakers in attendance were in support of the general plan update."
Sorry but that means little at a council meeting in the middle of the holiday season, for a council that sees no issue for families to sit for hours on end at supper and bedtimes, and for a project that has been masked as something for Belle Haven when its impacts will be felt citywide.
The bigger picture is that the council majority approved a plan that has our city growing immensely but they didn't plan any infrastructure to support that growth or the funding for it. They said "bring it on" to commercial developers while ignoring the traffic gridlock and lack of playing fields that already plague residents, and while ignoring the housing shortage that displaces essential community members and makes Menlo Park one of the most expensive places to live.
The impacts of out of control growth have been hitting East Palo Alto and Belle Haven first, but the rest of of us are finding that we are affected, too. Just wait for the impacts coming citywide.
We should be grateful for East Palo Alto taking such a stand. Is there a way we residents can help them hang tough for all of us?


5 people like this
Posted by other news
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 30, 2016 at 11:11 am

@bigger_picture writes, "...that means little... in the middle of the holiday season..."

There were a lot of people that came to speak, even from Belle Haven, in favor of the general plan update.

@bigger_picture writes, "...the council majority approved a plan..."

Although Mueller voted against it, he praised city staff for their "hard work" on the general plan update. The rest of the council members appointed Mueller to the General Plan update Committee two years ago, and endorsed him for re-election this year. One protest vote does not define a new council majority.


7 people like this
Posted by Good growth
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Dec 30, 2016 at 12:03 pm

The biggest issue for the people of Belle Haven and East Palo Alto is the housing crisis that is driving lower-income people out of California. Menlo Park is doing the right thing - changing its zoning to add more housing than jobs. Trying to stop that is not going to help the people of East Palo Alto.

This is a good plan that adds jobs, housing, retail, and restaurants to a an area that needs all three - and it's our chance to reopen the Dumbarton rail corridor and add much-needed transit to this corridor.

We've been trying to stop growth for the last fifty years (Menlo Park built its last apartment complex in 1974.) It's not working. Traffic is terrible, housing prices are ridiculous. Let's plan for good growth in the right places. That's what this plan is. Let's make it happen.


16 people like this
Posted by steve schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 30, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Good Growth says that Menlo Park is '...changing its zoning to add more housing than jobs." 2.3 Million square feet of office in the Plan will create a demand for at least 10,000 housing units, considerably more than the "up to 4500" allowed in the Plan. Hardly more housing than jobs.


4 people like this
Posted by Good growth
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Dec 30, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Steve, my comment came from the last sentence in the article, which says room for 11570 residents and 5500 workers, which is substantially more residents than jobs.

2.3M sq ft is enough for 9200 jobs at one employee per 250 sq ft, which is usually considered the standard. My understanding is that some of this is biomedical lab space, which is usually less dense... but then maybe some of the tech office space will be more dense, so let's call it a wash. Why does the Plan say 5500? My guess is that some of that office space is already entitled, but I'd like to understand it better.

So the real comparison is how many residents can be in 4500 units? Again, we can't compare exactly because we don't know how big they are. But a good mix of 1 to 3 bedrooms could get to well over 9200 people easily. I know a lot of couples who double up in a one bedroom, and some families who raise one child in one. How does the Plan get to 11570? I'm not sure but it's not implausible.


15 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 31, 2016 at 11:23 am

@Good Growth "Menlo Park is doing the right thing - changing its zoning to add more housing than jobs."

Schmidt is correct that the approved plan does not add more housing than jobs. There is a myth floating around that the update is only about the area near Facebook. The update also reaffirms the rest of the city's zoning. The "project", meaning the Plan update with both the new and reaffirmed zoning, is forecast to add 9.900 new jobs and only 7.734 new housing units. Unfortunately, the update assumed a worker density that could be 1/4 of the current practices of tech companies. That means the shortage could be far greater than the projected amount.

The bigger picture is that projects in the pipeline, including the Bohannon Menlo Gateway, Facebook expansion, Station 1300 and Stanford projects, are adding 12,450 jobs but only 1,280 homes- a difference of 6,780. So this council has had the opportunity to address a huge cumulative housing deficit (total 22,350 new jobs and 6,780 new homes) but chose not to do that. Again, those projections for the number of new jobs were based on outdated worker densities, so the new jobs could be multiples of this. And all that means more commuters, gridlock, neighborhood cut-through traffic, and a worsened housing crisis that will affect the most vulnerable and every resident. This is not good growth. It is irresponsible growth. East Palo Alto is shining a light on a bad plan that Menlo Park needs to address.


13 people like this
Posted by Where's the teeth?
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 1, 2017 at 3:49 pm

A plan that projects growth (housing and commercial development) can throw around all kinds of numbers but the one to be wary about is the plan for housing (4,500 or 5,500). There needs to be a requirement for building housing that office developers must meet. For every (fill in the blank) of office there needs to be (fill in the blank) of housing units. Out of that number should be a percentage of housing for very low income, low income and moderate income residents currently living and/or working on Menlo Park).

All this projection of growth can not rely on the "good will" of companies or the market moving into the direction of accepting that residential development as very profitable. The investors who expect 30% return (Greenheart) need to come back down to earth. You people come into our tiny slice of Silicon Valley, build your office parks that bring in horrific traffic congestion and create displacement of our low income service workers because our city council has allowed you to do so. Your contributions of dog parks and coffee kiosks just don't cut it.

El Camino Real should have been zoned for housing. The Menlo Park Council was schmoozed by an office developer and Stanford. Our council had no vision, no planning wisdom.


Like this comment
Posted by Good growth
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 2, 2017 at 8:24 pm

Bigger picture's argument doesn't make sense to me. If this plan really is an improvement over the status quo in terms of jobs and housing, then blocking this plan just leaves us with the status quo - lots of potential for new offices and no housing. The status quo also doesn't have any mechanism to improve transportation, and we know that problems are just going to get worse unless we make some changes.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that we should have even more housing - if that's what the poster is arguing - but we've spent years on this plan already, and throwing it out and starting over is realistically just going to leave us with the status quo for another ten years. It's easier to make changes to a plan that's working (like Mountain View has been doing) than to get the ball rolling in the first place.

There's one big point here - Menlo Park has been trying to block growth for forty years. It's given us terrible traffic and unaffordable housing. If we want to make things better, we need good, balanced growth like this plan represents. Blocking growth to keep the status quo ends up reinforcing the failed approach that brought today's problems.


8 people like this
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 3, 2017 at 9:33 am

@ good growth - This plan is NOT a balanced plan.
We are not in a an either-or situation of approving growth or stopping it nor a situation of take it or leave it.
The plan should be modified to limit the amount of office and to require more housing as jobs are added so that they are more in balance. The council directed the effort to focus only on changes to zoning near Facebook and ignored entirely the rest of the city's zoning rules. They must address the rules for the rest of the city, otherwise we are stuck with the so-called status quo in most of Menlo Park.

If the Council were to modify zoning so there is better balance, which may be what East Palo Alto seeks, that should not even require a new EIR since a better balance would be better for traffic, air quality, green house gases, housing shortage, etc.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 26, 2017 at 11:59 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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