Menlo Park: Proposed growth along Bay far outpaces expectations

A map of the zoning changes adopted in December 2016 along Menlo Park's Bay-facing territory. (Image courtesy city of Menlo Park.)

In Menlo Park, there's one lesson city officials are learning the hard way for the second time this year: With great development potential comes greater development demand.

Less than two years after the city completed an update to its general plan that permitted new construction on the city's eastern side, developers have already attempted to lay claim to all of that development potential, and then some.

The zoning plan, called ConnectMenlo, was supposed to act as an expansive guide to shape development along the city's Bay-facing side until 2040. But developers have already submitted proposals for five projects that cumulatively represent more than the 1.3-million-square-foot maximum of office space the plan permits.

In fact, just one of those submitted proposals asks for permission to build far more than the maximum allowed new office space.

The largest proposal submitted under the ConnectMenlo plan – and believed to be the biggest development proposal ever in Menlo Park – is Facebook's "Willow Village" project, which aims to redevelop a 56-acre property the company owns along Willow Road into what's expected to function as a new neighborhood.

The proposal lays out plans to raze the current office park there – which houses about a million square feet of office space, city staff estimate – and build 1.75 million square feet of office space, plus 126,500 square feet of retail space, 1,500 housing units, a 200-room hotel and a 40,000-square-foot cultural/visitors' center.

Menlo Park's Bayside development plan counts net new square footage, so it's expected that only the additional square footage of Facebook's proposal would count against the overall development potential.

But the company's proposal, plus other new buildings proposed in the area, signal that the appetite to develop in Menlo Park may be far greater than the community imagined in the recent ConnectMenlo process, which involved upwards of 60 community and stakeholder meetings, many of which emphasized the long-term nature of the plan.

Other proposed developments in the Bayfront area include 260,400 square feet of life sciences research and development space at 1350 Adams Court; 318,614 square feet of office space at 162-164 Jefferson Drive; 104,587 square feet of life sciences research and development space and 685 square feet of retail space at 1105 O'Brien Drive; and 94 housing units at 111 Independence Drive.

Based on the proposals received so far, office space appears to be in highest demand. If only the developments that have already been proposed are built, the city would overshoot the office square footage it zoned for by 768,614 square feet, while falling short of developing an additional 2,098 housing units, 200 hotel rooms, 107,815 square feet of commercial space and 1.73 million square feet of life sciences space that could still be built under the plan.

(This doesn't factor in the square footage of existing buildings to be demolished that would be subtracted as part of a net new square-footage calculation.)

On the housing front, Facebook has proposed 1,500 new units, and Sateez Kadivar has proposed to build 94 units. According to a staff report, the city expects another 1,240 housing units to be "applied for in the near future" on the eastern side of Menlo Park.

Already a problem

Last December, Menlo Park staff announced that the city's El Camino Real/downtown specific plan was already approaching the development limits put in place when the City Council approved new development allowances in 2012.

That plan, when adopted, had seemed expansive and destined to guide growth for decades. But as of December, most of the 474,000 square feet of new nonresidential space and 680 housing units the plan permitted had been claimed by approved and proposed developments, with about 92 percent of the nonhousing space and 72 percent of the total number of housing units claimed.

To raise the cap for residential or commercial development beyond what is in the plan would require environmental review, a process that usually takes at least a year, according to staff.

At an Aug. 6 City Council meeting, Belle Haven resident Pamela Jones urged the council to put the matter on the agenda and asked members to consider a moratorium on new building. "We cannot afford to keep doing what we're doing in the city of Menlo Park," she said.

During the years-long process to develop the ConnectMenlo plan, she said, local developers were active participants in public meetings, and in some cases won the zoning policies they sought as a result. "Oftentimes what residents brought up wasn't considered," she added.

What to do

To address the fact that office development capacity is the first part of the zoning plan to be maxed out, staff has developed four options for the council to consider in the future.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer noted that the City Council may place the subject on a future council agenda, but the discussion hasn't been scheduled yet.

Among the options being considered are to keep the current office cap, amend the general plan to allow more office development, make developers apply to amend the general plan, or transfer some of the life sciences space the plan permits to become office space.

Each option carries potential repercussions. According to staff, if the city keeps its current office cap, new office spaces would be approved based on a first-come, first-served basis.

Deanna Chow, the city's assistant community development director, noted that a big question is which developer would get first dibs on the allowed development. Usually it would be based on whichever project receives entitlement first, but the process can be nuanced, she said. Later proposals would likely have to scale back to comply with the development cap.

If the council takes on amending the general plan to increase the development potential of the area, the city would need to do more public outreach and pay for more consultants. Chow noted it cost the city about $1.6 million in consultant fees to develop the 2016 ConnectMenlo plan.

If developers had to propose general plan amendments, it would be up to the council to decide on a case-by-case basis, which could create more uncertainty in the development process.

If the city changes some of the development potential from life sciences space to office space, it would likely trigger a need for further environmental analysis of how such a transition would impact traffic, because life sciences space generates fewer workers – and by extension, fewer solo drivers – than traditional office space.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that the City Council was scheduled to meet Tuesday, Aug. 7, to discuss this topic. The council met Monday, Aug. 6.


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7 people like this
Posted by Sum Won
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 7, 2018 at 8:31 pm

meanwhile, belle haven is still a food desert.

13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2018 at 8:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

So how exactly was the Fire District supposed to plan for developments that the City itself has not been able to predict?

1 person likes this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 8, 2018 at 11:10 am

While a full service supermarket in the neighborhood would be nice, "Sum Won", I really don't get complaints that Belle Haven is a food desert. Both neighborhood markets have sizeable produce and meat sections. For people who want organic food, there's a truck with organic vegetables - at heavily discounted prices - that comes to the elementary school every Sunday morning at 10:30. Plus - there's a community garden. Plus - most households have cars, and can go to full-size markets across the highway.

20 people like this
Posted by Hindsight is 20/20
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 8, 2018 at 1:14 pm

The Almanac warned us, as did a few of our public servants. But the Council majority didn’t listen to them.

“Editorial: Menlo Park general plan update promising, but not ready for adoption

The Menlo Park City Council is poised to approve zoning changes to the portion of the general plan governing the city's M-2 area, east of U.S. 101, when it meets on Nov. 29. If the update is approved, the action will conclude a two-year process that included dozens of community meetings and deliberation by city advisory committees and commissions, as well as the council.

Has the process gone on long enough? Is it time to approve these changes and put the new zoning policies in place to help ease the city's increasing burdens of transportation congestion, the housing shortage and other growth-related challenges the general plan is designed to address?

Advocates for delaying the City Council's action make a persuasive case for waiting until early next year before approving the updated plan, which is intended to guide growth in the M-2 (light industrial) area for the next 30 years.

The proposed zoning changes to the plan would allow construction of 2.3 million square feet of nonresidential buildings in addition to what is there now and what is allowed under the current zoning. It also allows 4,500 new residential units and 400 new hotel rooms in addition to what is now permitted. Among other goals, the proposed plan is designed to mitigate the impacts of growth on the nearby Belle Haven neighborhood by directing developer fees and efforts toward amenities for that community.

The proposed changes have been crafted during an intensive, painstaking process that city staff, participating community members and the consulting firm Placeworks deserve much credit for. But we agree with City Councilman Ray Mueller, two planning commissioners and a number of residents who have been involved in the process that not all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, and that with a bit more time, the general plan update will be a more solid document.

Although the proposed plan has reasonable allowances and limits on housing and commercial development, what it lacks is specifics regarding how -- and when -- the essential infrastructure will be put in place to support that development. Details on funding infrastructure, including transportation features and systems to allow recycled water to flow as the area absorbs nearly 12,000 new residents and 5,500 new employees, are inadequate in a plan that is to see the community through the next 30 years.

"We want the housing to come in, and we want transportation improvements in the area, but right now ... we don't know what the costs would be" to put necessary supporting infrastructure in place, Councilman Ray Mueller told the Almanac last week. "It's like a fiscal mystery grab bag."

Mr. Mueller said he is pushing for the council to delay its decision, estimating that the extra work needed to sharpen and complete the plan should take no more than one to two months. One provision that can be added to improve the plan, he said, is a phase-in formula for development, which would set milestones for specific areas of growth to ensure that the construction of commercial and residential projects doesn't outpace the building of supporting infrastructure.

This provision would add a wise, reasonable and responsible strategy to the general plan that would go a long way toward protecting residents from the cumulative effects of major growth. In approving a document that will govern how the already rapidly expanding M-2 region of the city will grow in the next three decades, the City Council shouldn't dash over the finish line before putting into place the final needed touches.”

16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The majority of the Council went into this by intentionally approving an EIR which stated that the proposed zoning changes would have NO impact on, among other agencies including their own Police Department, the Fire District.

This was either willful ignorance or intentional lying in order to avoid the legal requirement that such impacts, if they existed, MUST be mitigated.

And now the chickens have come come to roost.

10 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Since the Council seems to roll over and green light all proposed projects, why not remove them from the decision process and implement a self-limiting development tax plan. At regular intervals the City would release a tranche of credits to auction (1 credit = 1 net new square-foot of inventory) at a sustainable rate; say 50,000 sq. feet/year. Developers would bid for credits, and after all the credits are spoken for, swap among themselves, with proceeds flowing to the City fund. If they don't like it, or feel that it is too expensive -- great -- we're glad you got the message. Go somewhere else.

9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" with proceeds flowing to the City fund. "

Please don't forget that those funds must also flow directly to the school districts and the Fire District.

28 people like this
Posted by Next election
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 9, 2018 at 11:27 am

The problem is the city council (except Mueller)..... and the City Manager. Does what he wants. The council spends too much time being yes-men and yes-women.

4 people like this
Posted by Avoiding Car trips
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 9, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Getting the pedestrian/bike path in the Dumbarton corridor is the quickest and cheapest way to get people to all the new offices and the new high school in the area. It's goes right through the middle of the area. The time and large cost to convert lanes to carpool/bus only will take years to handle the influx of commuters and relieve bottlenecks at peak commute times. Belle Haven needs new options to connect to other towns.

14 people like this
Posted by Not a resident
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2018 at 12:49 pm

All Plans should include a scheduled pace of implementation, None seem to do this.
Growth may be ok, but it must be paced for sustainability and livablitiy. Paced with infrastructure growth, paced with reasonable housing / job balance, paced with protections for lower income residents. Good luck.

3 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 9, 2018 at 1:26 pm

I see lawsuits. Enough is enough.

12 people like this
Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm

On Monday night, when the Menlo Park 2017 General Plan development cap came up as an informational item, neither the mayor nor any other Council Member saw fit to comment. Even Ray Mueller, who was the only vote against the plan last year, failed to utter a word. No one expressed any alarm or sense of urgency to place this item on the agenda at the next council meeting where a discussion on a remedy to this big problem could take place. The mayor said having a discussion was an interesting idea. Interesting? I’d say it is imperative that we get to the bottom of how this mess occurred, who dropped the ball and what it will cost the City to have a Connectmenlo do-over. Think of all the different parts of the General Plan that were based on wrong numbers. We now have unreliable traffic and population growth figures.

Our City Council has become much too casual and relaxed about their responsibility for taking care of City business. Instead the business has become accommodating office developers and traveling the world passing themselves off as official big shots from Menlo Park.

Steve Schmidt
Former Council Member

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 9, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District has officially noted the City of Menlo Park that the increasing congestion on established emergency response routes, such as Willow Road, IS already impeding the Fire District's ability to timely respond to fire and medical emergencies.

What is the Council waiting for - a death or the loss of a structure?

And given the Fire District's documented warning what is the city's liability?

10 people like this
Posted by Procedure
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 9, 2018 at 3:49 pm

The item regarding whether to increase the Development Caps in the General Plan on the City Council agenda Monday night was agendized as an Information Item. As such the City Council was not allowed to vote on the issue yet. It's not surprising that none of the Councilmembers spoke.

The issue whether to increase the cap will have to return to the City Council agenda for a vote. It can't be increased without a vote.

5 people like this
Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 9, 2018 at 4:25 pm

One approach for quick EMT response in trafficked areas are motorbikes fitted with emergency kits.

Have a look at this TED MED talk by Eli Beer: "The Fastest Ambulance? A Motorcycle."

Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 9, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Stu - I agree re motormedics but I have never been able to convince the Fire Board or the Fire Chief to pursue such a program.
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
"Please consider the use of a motorcycle or two"

I have raised that exact proposal, based on the Daytona Beach Motor Medic Model, at least six times in my 10 years on the Board. Red trucks are deeply engrained in the fire service's DNA. Just as red is the worst possible color for vehicle visibility at night and trucks are the least usable vehicle in traffic jams changing either requires a big cultural shift. That said I have request that this topic be on our next study session agenda.

6 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 9, 2018 at 6:22 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

Not a resident -- can you write again and include links to examples from other cities of what you refer to? Best practices from other cities would give us insights and sharpen our requests to Council. Clearly, we have a serious problem that needs addressing. I almost think that a resident-based "blue ribbon" advisory committee is needed to work on this problem and to make recommendations to Council. We cannot leave the possible solutions to just staff reports to Council. Instead, residents need to be deeply involved as partners with Council. I also appreciate the thoughtful posts that others made on the subject. Our current problems also illustrate the need for MP to have a long-term strategic or comprehensive plan based on residents'values and top priorities. Having one is considered a municipal best practice. Such a plan reduces reactive decision-making and the influence of special interests.

4 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 9, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

Forgot to include a link to the Tacoma 2025 Strategic plan as an example. Love its tagline: Shared Vision, Shared Future. Web Link Note: my prior terminology "Comprehensive" and "strategic" may not be interchangeable as Comprehensive may refer to just development or capital spending projects.

4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 9, 2018 at 9:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The State of California requires every city to have a General (aka Comprehensive) Plan:

"General Plan Guidelines
OPR is statutorily required by Government Code Section 65040.2 to adopt and periodically revise the State General Plan Guidelines (GPG) for the preparation and content of general plans for all cities and counties in California. A general plan is the local government’s long-term blueprint for the community’s vision of future growth. The GPG serves as the “how to” resource for drafting a general plan. The 2017 version includes legislative changes, new guidance, policy recommendations, external links to resource documents, and additional resources."

Web Link

These General Plans deal ONLY with development/zoning issues and do NOT address financial and infrastructure issues. Therefore these plans are NOT strategic plans.

The City of Menlo Park has consistently ignored the statutory requirements for the timely update of its General Plan - for example, the Connect Menlo exercise was improperly and illegally substituted for a required General Plan update.

5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 10, 2018 at 8:37 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"California Government Code section 65041.1
The state planning priorities, which are intended to promote equity, strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and promote public health and safety in the state, including in urban, suburban, and rural communities, shall be as follows:
(a) To promote infill development and equity by rehabilitating, maintaining, and improving existing infrastructure that supports infill development and appropriate reuse and redevelopment of previously developed, underutilized land that is presently served by transit, streets, water, sewer, and other essential services, particularly in underserved areas, and to preserving cultural and historic resources.
(b) To protect environmental and agricultural resources by protecting, preserving, and enhancing the state’s most valuable natural resources, including working landscapes such as farm, range, and forest lands, natural lands such as wetlands watersheds, wildlife habitats, and other wildlands, recreation lands such as parks, trails, greenbelts, and other open space, and landscapes with locally unique features and areas identified by the state as deserving special protection.
(c) To encourage efficient development patterns by ensuring that any infrastructure associated with development, other than infill development, supports new development that does all of the following:
(1) Uses land efficiently.
(2) Is built adjacent to existing developed areas to the extent consistent with the priorities specified pursuant to
subdivision (b).
(3) Is located in an area appropriately planned for growth.
(4) Is served by adequate transportation and other essential utilities and services.
(5) Minimizes ongoing costs to taxpayers."


Anyone care to grade Menlo Park on its achievement of the above priorities?

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 10, 2018 at 2:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just some of the State Guidelines that Menlo Park has ignored:

"Identification of Zoning for Emergency Shelters
Requirement Description:
Every jurisdiction must identify a zone or zones where emergency shelters are permitted without a conditional use or other discretionary permit (Gov. Code § 65583(a)(4)). The identified zone(s) must include sufficient capacity to accommodate the need for emergency shelter as identified in the housing element, EXCEPT that each jurisdiction must identify a zone(s) to accommodate at least one year-round shelter. Adequate sites can include sites with existing buildings that can be converted to accommodate need. Shelters may only be subject to development and management standards that apply to residential or commercial development in the same zone"

". Policies in a safety element should identify hazards and emergency response priorities,
as well as mitigation through avoidance of hazards by new projects and reduction of risk in developed areas"

" Avoid and minimize flood risks for new development.
• Should new development be located in flood hazard zones? If so, what are appropriate mitigation
• Maintain the integrity of essential public facilities.
• Locate, when feasible, new essential public facilities outside of flood hazard zones, including hospitals and
health care facilities, emergency shelters, fire stations, emergency command centers, and emergency
communications facilities, or identifying mitigation measures.
• Establishing cooperative working relationships among public agencies with responsibility for flood

"‣ Provide an ongoing review of emergency operations plans and provisions to ensure that the City’s program for emergency transportation services is coordinated with other local and regional jurisdictions and incorporates updated procedures and programs as appropriate"

‣ Develop a plan to widen critical rights-of way that do not provide adequate clearance for emergency vehicles. For areas that are not feasibly accessible to emergency vehicles, develop a contingency plan for reaching and evacuating people in need of treatment"

3 people like this
Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 19, 2018 at 5:19 pm

Was the anticipated increase in SF Bay level considered? No. Was the need for fire and police protection considered? No. Was the impact on schools considered? Was the demand for recreational facilities, such as playing fields, which already are in short supply, considered? No. Was the need to reserve space for any public function considered? No. No. Was traffic considered? No. Was any real planning done before the general plan was revised? No. Can the result be reversed or at least revised. One can only hope so.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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