Betsy Nash, Menlo Park's mayor for 2022, identified three key areas where she's hoping to use her role to make an impact: climate action, downtown revitalization and community outreach, she said in a recent interview.
Nash represents Menlo Park's District 4, which includes downtown, Allied Arts and a southern segment of El Camino Real.
"We've got so much on our plate now, and so many different transitions and opportunities. I really want to focus on what is already in front of us," she said.
A significant goal named in the city's 2030 climate action plan is to phase out gas power in buildings citywide, but how to do it is still being debated. "We need to find a way to electrify our buildings in Menlo Park," Nash said. The city is also in the running to receive a $50 million grant to help build levees along the city's Bayfront area to protect it from sea level rise.
In the area of downtown revitalization, community members can expect a number of changes in the coming year some of the projects that have been under construction near the city's downtown area will be finished, according to Nash. Those include the Springline development at 1300 El Camino Real, which has residential units expected to open in the spring, with offices and retail set to open shortly thereafter, according to Nash, and the Guild Theatre, which is expected to open in February.
After the new city manager is selected, he or she will also be able to work toward hiring a new economic development manager – work that is currently being done by a consultant – and community development director, according to Nash. She also favors exploring the idea of adding more housing units downtown, such as above retail on Santa Cruz Avenue or using parking lots, possibly for affordable housing, and finding other ways to accommodate parking demand.
When it comes to community outreach, it's a thing all cities struggle with, she said.
"We need to do a better job reaching residents in Menlo Park who aren't typically plugged into city activities," she said. "Communication is one of the most important things local government can do."
Steps to improve communication might include providing city materials in Spanish and make efforts to "make everyone feel welcome," she added.
Among the projects ahead of the City Council this year besides hiring a new permanent city manager – the Council intends to name Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy as interim city manager at its Jan. 11 meeting – are beginning the environmental review process for the city's new housing plan and developing a plan to improve the city's safety and environmental justice practices, among many other to-do items, Nash said.
With some of the downtown street closures, there have been more people walking and cycling around, which has put pressure on the city's bike and pedestrian infrastructure, she said. Figuring out how to keep streets safe and comfortable for people as traffic increases also presents a challenge, she added.
Other projects expected to move forward in the coming months include:
● Quiet zones. A request for proposals for consultants to conduct a feasibility study is expected to be released shortly, according to Nash. The request is expected to ask contractors to figure out what it would take, how much it would cost, and what could be accomplished by making the rail crossings in Menlo Park "quiet zones" where Caltrain doesn't blare its horn whenever it passes through.
●Middle Plaza bike crossing. Sometime in January, the city is expected to receive an update. There have been some challenges working with Caltrain and its electrification plans, Nash said. "We've not been able to move that ahead as quickly as we would have liked."
● Redistricting. The City Council redistricting process is happening independent of the City Council. Menlo Park's Independent Redistricting Commission has a number of upcoming meetings to redraw district boundaries citywide based on the 2020 U.S. Census data and is expected to select a final map by the April 17 deadline.
● New city manager. The application period for Menlo Park's next city manager is expected to close as soon as the end of the week, after which the council plans to review applicants and conduct interviews, according to Nash. The city announced Friday, Jan. 7, that City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson tendered her resignation in advance of her retirement and plans to work no later than Jan. 28.
"We've got so many opportunities in front of us. We've got a chance to have a really great year," Nash said. "I think Menlo Park is such a special place. We have to keep building on that."