We are a town that is in the midst of critical changes that need rigorous and thorough analysis. Term limits for council members work well in Palo Alto and would be a welcome rule here in Menlo Park. Our city commissions have term limits.
Our current council, which has led the town into a new economic and cultural transformation, is made up of members who have served a total of 36 years, with one council member having been first elected in 2006.
Ten years seems a lifetime if we consider Facebook's arrival in 2010. With the council's approval of our specific plan in 2012 and the updating of our general plan in 2016, there has been over 2 million square feet of office development built, and another 4 million is on the way. The growing daytime population of office workers in Menlo Park and Palo Alto has clogged our streets with commuters eager to reach highways and bridges. Once quiet neighborhoods are experiencing afternoon parades lasting three hours Monday through Friday.
So, is it time for a change in thinking on our City Council? Do we need term limits or is the opportunity to vote a council member out of office enough?
An argument for allowing council members to run for more than two terms is that knowledge of civic history keeps a city manager in check. In Menlo Park, however, we have experienced a council and city manager sharing the same eagerness for office development, which brings thousands of office workers and commute traffic.
Business vitality and municipal prosperity come with a price and both are a template for a city headed for an imbalanced jobs center. Office workers looking for a sandwich and a cocktail at a downtown rooftop restaurant is not the same as neighborhood identity and community spirit. Facebook, with its target of 20,000 employees, exists in a self-contained campus where the needs of employees — whether it be food, laundry or bicycle repair — are met within the company's walls. Most of these employees are invisible to us unless we see them through the windows of their cars and corporate buses.
The question is: Can the same City Council that transformed our suburban Menlo Park to a jobs-center Menlo Park now address the impacts of that growth? Housing displacements, soaring rents, congested roadways, and the threat to our crowded schools are real problems today. We are now on the road to an urbanized Menlo Park, increasing our population from 34,000 to 50,000. There's no turning back.
Half of Menlo Park residents arrived in the last 10 years. These new residents are making sacrifices to live in Menlo Park by paying high rents or hefty property taxes. Fair representation on our council should include new voices. A council member serving more than eight years can be more the problem and less the solution.
The job of a council member is not to become a political fixture. We thank you for your service; now a clean-up crew is what the city needs.
Brielle Johnck served on the Menlo Park Environmental Commission and has lived in Menlo Park since 1971.
This story contains 589 words.
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