Much has changed in Menlo Park since 2010, when two incumbents who are now running for re-election to the City Council were elected to their first council terms. And though change is inevitable and some of the changes in the last eight years have been positive, too many have adversely affected the quality of life for residents — or threaten to do so in the future. Many of those residents are calling for change, citing transportation and housing crises stemming from the jobs-to-housing imbalance exacerbated by shortsighted approvals of big developments.
Incumbents Kirsten Keith of District 2 and Peter Ohtaki of District 4 are asking voters to return them to the council for third terms. Their challengers point to what they see as the current council's record of accommodating developers at the expense of residents' needs, and to a lack of transparency in how the city governs.
Voters can look at the records of Keith and Ohtaki to determine for themselves whether the changes the incumbents have supported argue for their return to office come December. But it would be difficult to consider changes that have resulted in roadway gridlock, a burgeoning of office space where housing and retail might have been built, and the severe housing-to-jobs imbalance as positive.
Both incumbents can rightfully boast of accomplishments that served the community well. They have also been part of majority votes supporting, for example, the adoption of a general plan update that greatly increased allowable development on the city's Bay side before working out a plan for needed infrastructure to support that growth. They were part of a four-member council majority that ignored Councilman Ray Mueller's request to discuss a proposal aimed at increasing transparency by requiring council members to make their calendars of council-related meetings with others — developers, businesses, residents and others — available to the public. And they tacitly supported the city manager's opaque strategy of working directly with billionaire developer John Arrillaga in pursuing Arrillaga's offer of millions of dollars to rebuild the main library in a process marred by secrecy and a "public" process that amounted to a charade.
The city faces many difficult challenges that have grown in scale over the last eight years and that stem from rapid development, traffic gridlock and a housing crisis. Three non-incumbents can offer fresh thinking and approaches to confronting those challenges.
We endorse Cecilia Taylor for the District 1 seat. Taylor grew up in the Belle Haven neighborhood, and since her unsuccessful run for council in 2016, has founded and led Belle Haven Action, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of those in the lower-income, traditionally unrepresented community. She often attends City Council and other public city meetings, and her understanding of the development, housing and safe streets challenges facing the city would make her a valuable member of the council.
Taylor's challengers have much to offer, but would do better serving Menlo Park and their Belle Haven community in other capacities: George Yang, an impressive "idea man," would be a positive force in efforts working toward transportation and housing solutions; and Mike Dunn, who is concerned about the poor quality of schools in the district that oversees Belle Haven School, would do well to run for a seat on the Ravenswood City School District board, where strong leadership is needed to solve the district's multi-layered problems.
We support Drew Combs for the District 2 council seat. Yes, he's a Facebook employee who would have to recuse himself when matters involving his employer were before the council. But that's not as problematic as it might appear to be at first glance. With a four-member decision-making body, any project approval would still need three votes. One could argue that such a requirement might make green-lighting a project even more difficult.
Combs forcefully argues for a stronger commitment by the city and the council to addressing residents' needs and concerns, giving them just as high a priority as the needs of developers. He also is an advocate for more transparency, which we agree has been lacking in City Hall.
We acknowledge and appreciate Kirsten Keith's commitment to the community, and her investment of time and effort on behalf of the city. But after eight years, we believe change is in order.
We support Betsy Nash in her bid to represent District 4. A member of the Complete Streets Commission, Nash wants to focus on making our streets safer for everyone, but has a specific goal of encouraging people to get out of their cars by making walking, biking and other alternative means of getting around more convenient and safe.
She also has a strong commitment to addressing the jobs-to-housing imbalance, in part by supporting more transit-oriented development.
We're grateful for the service Peter Ohtaki has given the city during the last eight years, and for Ron Shepherd's oversight of city spending as a member of the city's Finance and Audit Committee.
We encourage Menlo Park voters to support Cecilia Taylor, Drew Combs and Betsy Nash for the City Council.