Problems locked in for 30 years with initiative
By John Boyle
There are many reasons that Measure M is a mistake for Menlo Park, but perhaps the most important one is that it misguidedly moves the very complex and expensive process of making and changing land use decisions out of the hands of our elected leaders and into a "ballot box zoning" model. We all support the public's right to vote, but forcing every little change to go to a full public vote will freeze improvements to our downtown and along El Camino Real. It is the wrong tool for the job.
Our country is guided by a representative form of government for good reason: Many decisions (like land use regulations) are complex and need to be revisited and adjusted on a regular basis. For example, our current Downtown Specific Plan and related EIRs include over 3,000 pages of technical, inter-related specifications, codes, and detail. Each piece needs to be interpreted as a part of the whole document. It is dangerous to change one piece without considering the impact across the whole set of guidelines.
As a simple example: Measure M provides its own definition of the word "office." Unfortunately, the way it is defined in Measure M is inconsistent with the way that term is used elsewhere throughout our existing zoning. If M passes, a given business may be considered an "office use" and not an "office use" at the same time by different parts of our code. Confusing? You bet. That's the point. Because land use policies are inherently complex, ballot measures like M include mistakes and cause interpretation issues. Additionally, definitions and common interpretations change over time. For example, consider how the use of "home offices" will evolve the definition of "office use." Our land use policies need to be able to adapt with the market.
This is the real downside to Measure M: It removes some policy making capability from our elected leaders. Today, if there's an error or change requirement in our land use policies, the City Council can readily fix it. If we want to correct this kind of mistake under M, the only way to do so will be to hold another expensive, citywide vote — even if it's just to change a definition!
So why did "Save Menlo" force this Measure M on us? Presumably it's because they didn't like certain provisions of our Downtown Specific Plan and couldn't convince our council to embrace all of their ideas. The proponents of M ("Save Menlo") often complain that they've tried, but that our City Council "doesn't listen." Aside from the fact that they are confusing "listening" with "agreeing," they are failing to acknowledge that if the majority of people in town really agreed with them, then it would be easy to convince the council to change things or to replace those council members in the next election. Instead, they want to do an "end run" and create a 30-year, ballot box zoning process.
Ballot box zoning is a complicated, expensive, time-consuming way to approach land use policy management. It hurts our local economy by raising the uncertainty around development projects, delaying them for years and making them more expensive and more litigious. Jobs are lost. Revenues for our city, schools, police, and firefighters are lost. And in the long run, it's an approach that ironically favors the big, wealthy developers who are the only ones who can afford to take on the risks and funding involved in the inevitable lawsuits and future ballot measure campaigns.
Managing land use policy shouldn't be about election slogans and sound bites. Please vote no on M.
Council didn't do its job, making initiative necessary
By Heyward Robinson
Menlo Park voters face a critical decision about our city's future. Two developers, exploiting loopholes in the 2012 Downtown Specific Plan, are proposing to build over 400,000 square feet of office buildings along Menlo Park's El Camino corridor. These massive office complexes, which exceed the Plan's entire 30-year office projection by more than 60 percent, are incongruous with the balanced, mixed-use build-out envisioned by the community and embodied in the Specific Plan's "Guiding Principles and Goals."
Measure M closes the biggest of the Plan's loopholes: preventing office-dominated development from crowding out other uses (cafes, shops, restaurants, services, hotels) that directly serve Menlo Park residents and families, and stopping developers from counting private balconies and rooftops as "open space."
Measure M is necessary because the City Council has not done its job. Residents, along with the Sierra Club, have repeatedly asked the council to ensure that development reflects all of the Plans' 12 goals, including that development be "sensitive to and compatible with adjacent neighborhoods" and "expand shopping, dining and neighborhood services to ensure a vibrant downtown." When the City Council, ignoring the Plan's "Vision and Goals," chose to support the interests of developers over those of its own citizens, residents gathered over 2,500 signatures to place Measure M on the ballot.
Measure M makes four changes to the downtown Plan:
• Excludes private balconies, terraces and rooftops from counting toward a project's open space requirement.
• Limits office development to 100,000 square feet per project (applies only to four sites in the 130-acre Plan area).
• Limits the total amount of office space within the Plan boundary to 240,820 square feet.
• Limits total nonresidential development within the Plan boundary to 474,000 square feet.
Measure M's development limits are taken directly from the 30-year build-out scenario in the Plan's Environmental Impact Report's (EIR). Measure M adopted the EIR's build-out scenario because its environmental and fiscal impacts were thoroughly vetted and it reflects the balanced, vibrant, mixed-use development envisioned by residents.
All other aspects of the 356-page Plan remain unchanged and under complete control of the City Council, including decisions about housing, building size, big box retail, medical office, parking, open space requirements, and approvals of public safety facilities. Measure M does not take away the council's ability or obligation to manage development within our community.
If and when the council wants to reset the Plan's development caps, state law requires the city to conduct a new environmental review and Plan amendment. To protect residents, Measure M lets voters decide whether the increased development caps are appropriate or not.
Measure M is not ballot-box zoning. Under no circumstances will voters be asked to approve individual projects. Requiring voter approval to alter Measure M's provisions, a standard feature of all initiatives (including Menlo Park's most recent, Measure L), prevents the City Council from simply caving to developer pressure and voting to overturn Measure M.
Measure M cannot and does not address all of the Specific Plan's flaws. Ensuring that development remains true to the Plan's goals requires vigilance from council members who understand and embrace these goals. Council incumbents have demonstrated that they are not up to this task. Please join me in voting yes on M and electing new faces to the City Council to ensure that downtown development serves the needs of residents, not just developers.
This story contains 1244 words.
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