Guest opinion: Government/business collaboration has led city into a mess | July 3, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - July 3, 2019

Guest opinion: Government/business collaboration has led city into a mess

by Bill Wood

While reading Kate Bradshaw's article about the Menlo Park City Council's decision to back away from a citywide moratorium, my reaction was one of disillusionment. I'm a single-family homeowner who came to the Peninsula years ago because it was a pleasant, relatively tranquil place to raise my family. It certainly is not that way now.

I share the complaints of many Menlo Park residents outlined by Ms. Bradshaw. There is too much traffic everywhere. It takes forever to get anywhere. There are too many new buildings. Too many people coming and going. And we're going to get more. There is no end in sight. It is a problem that will not be solved by doing things the way we do them now.

The congestion issues we face are a good example of government and business collaborating to pursue their own interests, which, sadly, don't match those of the community. That's the real issue. It's fundamentally about city governance.

Government employees want more people to govern. They want more problems. They want more programs to solve those problems. They want more rules so they can hire more people to administer them. They want complexity in the daily life of the community, even though they say they don't. Only with more of these things can their departments grow and they themselves legitimately aspire to raises and promotions. Growth and its associated problems are very much in the local government's interest.

Business, particularly the real estate industry, always seeks more growth and people too. More development, more building, more economic activity, more revenue, more profit. No surprise there.

So, with business and government wanting the same thing, and with most residents unwilling and/or unable to get involved enough in city governance, it's pretty obvious why we have the problems we have. Some growth is inevitable and fine, but our system is geared to excessive growth that harms the community, regardless of what politicians, staff, advocates, or anyone else may say publicly. It's that way because it suits powerful interests. Things work only when government, business, and the community are on the same page.

Sometimes, an individual with a residentialist community viewpoint becomes a member of the City Council or Planning Commission. Sooner or later, though, he/she inevitably succumbs to the unceasing pressure from city staff, development interests, and housing activists for more growth. They are enticed to rationalize their surrender with terms like "balanced," "sustainable," and "equitable" growth. There's always a reason for more, more, more. The problems we are living with today were caused by growth projects that were marketed in similarly appealing terms when they were launched.

When a new project is proposed, the Menlo Park Planning Commission and the City Council consider that project's impact on traffic. But they look only at the incremental traffic impact from a particular project. That is always rather small and hardly ever "significant" (which would require some sort of "mitigation"). Over time, of course, as the base of traffic increases with each completed project, this incremental traffic review system always concludes that new and larger projects generate either the same or lower traffic impacts, even though, cumulatively, they are producing a lot more.

No one ever looks at what the traffic impact on Menlo Park would be if we and other cities on the Peninsula were built out to the maximum under current codes. If responsible political leaders had done that 20 years ago, and the actual quantitative impact on traffic of all possible new construction under prevailing code had been made public, residents would have been shocked and probably would not have allowed much of recent development to take place. We wouldn't have the mess we have now. For that reason, of course, neither government nor business has any interest in being transparent about the real story.

To summarize, I don't know anything about the legal aspects of a moratorium. All I know is that, if the residential neighborhood community in Menlo Park is unwilling to take forceful action to try to preserve some sense of neighborhood life, we can only look forward to more urbanization, more traffic, more congestion, more crowds, longer commute times, and a less attractive place to live. Pressure for higher-density zoning in all residential neighborhoods isn't that far away. Business and government will be pleased with that, but the community will give up what many of us came here for in the first place.

When people espouse views like these, they are sometimes derided for "nimbyism." That's OK. I am a NIMBY. All of us are, in one way or another. Most just don't want to recognize or admit it. Atherton residents don't want high-density housing in their town, regardless of the enthusiasm some may profess for the ideal. Housing activists don't want a chemical plant across the street from their multi-unit dwellings. Affordable housing advocates don't want their projects next door to a jail or a junkyard.

Being a NIMBY seems a perfectly natural human trait. Unfortunately, the word has gained considerable credibility and acceptance, in spite of being nothing more than an illogical ad hominem attack label in the arsenal of growth advocates.


6 people like this
Posted by Corporate Take-Over
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2019 at 9:21 pm

Facebook just had a lobbyist stand up at a state Assembly committee hearing to confirm that the tech giant favors the most recent bill from state Senator Scott Wiener to force cities to allow higher-density housing in single-family neighborhoods (SB 592). Facebook is about to expand its workforce in Menlo Park. Looks like a DONE DEAL. And some of those new employees will be overlooking YOUR BACKYARD from their luxury condos before long. Adding jobs in cities without housing will lead to more housing - maybe double - in cities such as Menlo Park. The state politicians will sign off on it soon. Congratulations. The hostile corporate takeover of California is well on its way.

2 people like this
Posted by congestion pricing
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 10, 2019 at 2:43 am

There is no action that any city council can take to address your issues, you'll need to lobby the State and CalTrans.

My neighborhood is calm, like yours, 90% of the time. The way to fix the commute-time congestion issues you describe is to 1) paint dedicated red BRT lanes across the bridges, 2) provide free bus service across those bridges between BART and Caltrain, 3) provide free last-mile shuttle service, and 4) raise the bridge tolls until all the traffic goes away.

The increased tolls will pay for it all. Set the price by first setting an acceptable congestion level, and keep raising the tolls until that level is achieved. Only very rich people will be driving in cars by themselves, everyone else will be communing in carpools or by bus for free.

9 people like this
Posted by looking on
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 11, 2019 at 8:51 am

Bill Wood was certainly one of the very best Planning Commission members and his Viewpoint is "Spot On".

The failure to approved the moratorium simply reflects again that this council is "gut-less" and has ignored the results of the last election. I might add that the editorial viewpoint of the Almanac was wrong on this issue. Menlo Park needs a complete re-focus on development and needs it the sooner the better.

I would suggest that a new movement be started in MP in time for the 2020 election of 2 new council members. Obviously Mueller and Carlton should not be re-elected to their 3 terms -- we need candidates who will run with the intention of supporting a moratorium.

Taking the extreme position, perhaps even a recall of Combs, who being employed by Facebook cannot possibly be expected to support a moratorium, might be instituted.

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 11, 2019 at 10:44 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is no reason to recall Combs - he cannot act on a Facebook specific matter and his record is clearly in favor of slowing down the development process.

2 people like this
Posted by disagree
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm

I disagree with Carpenter. Combs might well not be able to vote on a moratorium considering that Facebook really owns the City at this time. Whether he can or cannot vote a Moratorium takes 4 YES votes.

We need a council where all 5 members will support a moratorium.

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Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 14, 2019 at 1:03 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

Really appreciated the editorial. I also recently wrote Council with ideas related to helping the City to get out of the current situation. Web Link

Please attend the July 15 (at 6 p.m.) City Council meeting as the agenda includes an update from the Council subcommittees working on most moratorium ideas related to development, planning, zoning, etc. Web Link

The July 16 Council meeting also includes the Willows Village EIR. In short major developments are moving along and anyone concerned is invited and encouraged to come and make public comments. It will take ample public opinion to help bring about needed change. Web Link

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Posted by congestion pricing
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 15, 2019 at 2:16 am

Peter, while on the planning commission Combs voted for both the Stanford and Greenheart projects on El Camino Real. Combs even voted for Stanford's office development on San Hill Road that Keith voted against. Combs has no record of slowing down growth.

If was sad watching Mueller beat down Taylor and Nash on this moratorium issue. The role of Mayor is to lead the meeting, not to stifle healthy discussion. I hope we will have strong leadership next year under mayor Taylor and Vice Mayor Nash.

5 people like this
Posted by After midnight
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 15, 2019 at 10:26 am

Nothing good happens after midnight including the making transparent side swipe town forum posts.

Mueller, Taylor and Nash all get along very well together. Anyone who watched the meeting on the moratorium saw councilmembers working together well. Drew Combs is a fine councilmember. Creating some propaganda town hall post hit piece, thinking it will mislead residents as to what actually is happening to enact some sort of a political grudge is both sad and transparent.

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