News

Priorities shift in Menlo Park: Library out, parking structure, Guild in

 

Progressing through a series of votes during a goal-setting meeting on Monday (Jan. 29), the Menlo Park City Council slowly winnowed its goals for 2018 to a list of five do-or-die priorities:

● Complete the citywide transportation master plan

● Focus on safe routes to school initiatives

● Update the city's Downtown Specific Plan

● Work toward building a parking garage downtown

● Support a proposal to renovate the Guild Theatre into a community-focused event venue.

Those priorities are in addition to the one truly "mandatory" task, which the city must do or risk a lawsuit: switch to a district-based election system before the November elections.

This list doesn't mean that the other projects the city has been working on will necessarily fall by the wayside, according to city staff. But there's no guarantee that other projects not on the top-five list – including the top 18 projects on the city's overall work plan – can get done.

During the four-hour-plus goal-setting session, the council opted to refocus its attention on the city's downtown and traffic problems.

Recently, a group of Menlo Park businesses and its customers submitted a petition to the council in favor of building a downtown parking structure. And in the city's recent satisfaction survey, polling indicated that up to three-fourths of respondents favored a parking garage of some kind, although how tall it should be and whether other uses would be permitted are questions still up in the air.

According to Community Development Director Arlinda Heineck, the city's Downtown Specific Plan would have to be revised to allow a mixed-use parking structure. What other uses might be allowed there haven't been established, but the concept of a movie theater or housing mixed in with a parking structure have been mentioned.

Library?

It's as yet unclear what taking the proposed new main library off the priority list means for that project. According to the findings of a satisfaction survey released earlier this month, there does not appear to be sufficient public support for a bond measure that would raise the $30 million for the main library and $20 million for a new Belle Haven library.

The city would need to come up with about $30 million to take advantage of an offer by local developer and philanthropist John Arrillaga, who has said he would cover the remaining construction costs after the first $20 million and an expected $10 million in soft costs.

The council also opted to separate the effort to build a new Belle Haven library from the main library initiative in its work plan and retain the Belle Haven project as a high priority – though not as a "top five" initiative.

Staff shortage

The city is experiencing a widespread staff shortage that, the longer positions remain unfilled, will diminish the city's capacity to complete the tasks the council wants done. As of several weeks ago, the city was down about 35 full-time employees.

Cities and even consulting firms that work in transportation and planning around the region are all short-staffed, making recruiting a challenge, according to City Manager Alex McIntyre.

Menlo Park Human Resources Manager Lenka Diaz said that on average, the city takes about 100 days between starting to look for a new hire and making a final offer.

According to Mr. McIntyre, some Menlo Park staffers get unsolicited calls from other cities asking them to come work there without applying – some offering better pay or shorter commutes.

"It remains a poaching game," he said. "All we're doing is poaching each other's candidates."

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Comments

26 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 30, 2018 at 12:19 pm

I'm glad the city will finally be addressing downtown parking. I hope in the master transportation plan they include the syncing of traffic lights for better traffic flow as well as adding "smart" left turn signals that allows traffic to turn left when no opposing traffic is coming.


8 people like this
Posted by Judy Adams
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 30, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Great to hear about the approval of the garage and the Guild proposals. I'm hoping that ideas to link the garage with a multi-screen theater go ahead, with 2 levels of the garage underground an the theater on ground level. There will be traffic control issues for access to the garage, which I understand to be adjacent to the Santa Cruz shopping/restaurant scene, so that the added visitors will have adequate parking. The proposed movie theater will be a benefit to the community, and visitors will contribute to the success of community businesses.

Also good news that the Guild project has a "go-ahead" for bringing live entertainment to the intimate size of the Guild property, providing that the views of the more than 4000 residents, peninsula movie goers, former residents and supporters of small neighborhood movie theaters throughout the U.S. see a successful effort from the Peninsula Arts Guild to incorporate a regular schedule of the kinds of movies the Guild offers - arts, independent and foreign films, and documentaries, films very different than what we'd expect from a traditional multi-screen theater (mainstream big studio movies). With the "new Guild" adding a lively entertainment venue, support for community arts, and offering a full schedule of arts, indie and international films, AND a priority to continue to screen the kinds of films the Guild has been showing to delight of many, Menlo Park will have an excellent, diverse entertainment environment. When the garage/theater is built, we will also have access to mainstream, big studio films. This is a win-win opportunity.

As the petition organizer to Save the Guild, I hope to work with the Peninsula Arts Guild to keep film arts a strong component of their venue, and will stay in touch with the many "Save the Guild" supporters to preserve the spirit and the core of our old, 1920's Guild movie theater alive in the "new Guild" venue.


24 people like this
Posted by Ol' Homeboy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 30, 2018 at 5:01 pm

"Widespread staff shortage"... WTF? There are currently only seven job openings listed on the City website. -3 full time positions in the police department and 4 part-time positions (one in Public Works maintenance and three in Recreation leadership). I hardly call that a shortage. And why the heck does it take 100 days between posting a job and make the hire? If businesses operated that way, they would be out of business. If you want to compete for good candidates for any job, you need to compensate competitively. My guess is Menlo Park operates on the cheap...except for the promotions and pay raises that currrent city employees seem to get one year prior to retirement, thereby setting exorbitant pensions that break bank.


11 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 30, 2018 at 6:02 pm

Why never address homelessness with intent until something is DONE? How can everyone graced with living in this area not feel a desire to help those who have no meaningful shelter?

Do people not imagine! what it's like to not have "home" (bed, bath, kitchen at the least)?

Why is nothing done, nor scheduled for consideration along these lines in Menlo Park?

Sometimes I hate these years of $$ rather than humanitarianism being all important and glorified. This is false success and most people have fallen for it.


6 people like this
Posted by Jake Hum
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 30, 2018 at 10:17 pm

It would be really nice to see some work be done to the dog park off willow as well as an additional dog park closer to downtown. Instead of dirt and no rocks or place to sit, it would be great to feel like you are in a friendly and relaxing environment.


7 people like this
Posted by Ready to be activated!
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jan 30, 2018 at 10:51 pm

Happy to see a narrowing of priorities which will hopefully bring hyper focus and action. Support the top five but pleased to see Belle Haven library needs separated and supported over improvements to the main library. Let's service all of MP, including East Menlo Park.

Completely agree with 'Ol Homeboy's comments...100 days to hire, down 35 FTEs but only 7 jobs posted? We're a small community of 33,000+. Ask us for help - tap into those of us who have a background in this space, form a short-term 'special commission' (similar to the election map commission) and put us to work. Why wait until it gets worse, take action now.


7 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 31, 2018 at 2:24 am

I also was glad to see the priorities narrowed and that the Belle Haven library remains a Council focus. Longer term, I would like to see Council set a goal to develop a citywide vision and strategic plan based on significant public input. An excellent example is the Tacoma 2025 Strategic Plan. Web Link A citywide strategic pan would give staff a broader (and longer-term) focus for their work and reduce shifting priorities. Agree with "Activated" that the public could be better used as volunteers.

Regarding staffing, the results of the recent City employee satisfaction survey have not been shared with the public. Why not? Those results would provide objective data on the subject, including what needs addressing to make working for the City of MP attractive. (Suspect it's more complicated than just the cost of housing and/or commute woes.) Senior management seems to be paid well when one considers their perks. Please see the City Clerk recruitment brochure at the City's website. Page 4 lists the compensation/perks. Web Link Have we conducted municipal benchmarks for MP pay and job descriptions compared with our neighbors? Do employees see a growth path? Do employees consider their jobs meaningful and with fair pay? Do they feel their opinion is valued? Do they think they are empowered and free to innovate within the scope of broader objectives? Or do they feel part of a top-down structure where their jobs are repetitive and too proscribed? Answers to these types of questions would give residents a fuller picture into the subject.


17 people like this
Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 31, 2018 at 9:58 am

What happened to the grade separation of the railroad tracks?

Is that no longer a priority?

The Guild project sounds nice, but let's be real. That place is a dump. No matter how much remodeling is done, it's still going to be a small, dumpy theater on El Camino Real.

Solving the cross-town traffic issue at the railroad tracks seems a far more pressing issue to improve the quality of life in Menlo Park. Does anyone agree?


7 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:55 am

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

Saving the Guild had a significant amount of public support. As I was unable to attend the meetimg, I am not sure if or what was presented regarding grade crossings. Of course, what to do about the train crossings is important too and I speak as someone who lives near the Glenwood crossing. One benefit of a citywide vision and strategic plan (that I propose in my prior email) is that the residents would proactively weight in on all potential priorities in our city and be able to evaluate them as a group and in relation to each other over a focused period of time. The result should be democracy at work in a fair way. While a strategic plan would need to be adaptable to unforseen developments, it would represent a more systematic and thorough way of establishing citywide priorities and it would cut on reactivity. Please take a look at the Tacoma 2025 example.


15 people like this
Posted by Jorge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 1, 2018 at 1:16 pm

It’s time for council member Kirsten Keith to step down so that she can devote her full attention to running for the State Senate seat Jerry Hill will have to give up in 2 yrs. I think it’s bad form when a politician uses their current elected position as a stepping stone to higher office. Ms Keith certainly shouldn’t run again for council this fall with the idea that she would then focus on the senate. Besides we should have term limits for council — 2 terms (8 years) and they’re gone!


9 people like this
Posted by Park Your Enthusiasm
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 1, 2018 at 7:05 pm

Everyone of these diehard parking garage supporters is going to make themselves scarce once details come out about how much it's going to cost, and who's going to pay for it.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 3, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Does anyone on the Council remember Jasmine Ahluwalia and Jennifer Jahyu?

Why isn't grade separation a priority?


4 people like this
Posted by nexus
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 4, 2018 at 3:27 pm

How could the city be short on staff? There is supposed to be a nexus between costs and fees, so if more staff are needed to process projects, the city should hire them and recoup the costs through fees. So why isn't that happening?


Like this comment
Posted by wrong blonde
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 5, 2018 at 2:26 am

@Jorge, you are mixed up. Kirsten Keith is not running for Jerry Hill's seat... Shelly Masur is.

SHELLY MASUR FOR CA SENATE 2020: Web Link

According the the Daily Post, Dave Pine is also considering a run for Jerry Hill's seat: Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2018 at 11:06 am

Menlo Park does need the ABILITY to add more time-limited parking spaces downtown but thinking a parking structure is the "silver bullet" is a perfect example of the narrow-mindedness our city exhibits when it studies ONE technical solution BEFORE it characterizes and sizes a perceived problem AND considers promising alternatives. This is a practice no successful business would ever condone. There ARE more affordable and possible ways to FLEXIBLY add more short term parking downtown.

Please note that Palo Alto recently estimated the cost per INCREMENTAL space of adding 325 spaces to an existing plaza near California Avenue as $119,000. Then compare this figure to the 2004 estimate of $40,000 to $50,000 the consultant was supplied the City Council in July 2016. Malpractice? See Web Link

In the timeless words of "Clem" (Palo Alto) "The most expensive options are the most popular because the cost isn't yet borne by anyone. Everything is paid for with OPM or Other People's Money.

Please do NOT include me!


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