Downtown is unkempt, the infrastructure is old and failing, the sidewalks are broken and filthy, the town is a growing magnet for transients and homeless with their belongings stored on the streets, news boxes are dirty and broken, the plantings are amateurish and trite, "temporary" plastic store signs have become the norm. All in all, it's a mess.
The disinterest in the care of our downtown creates a cycle: As the quality of the area falls, fewer people come to downtown. As fewer people come downtown, more stores fail, and as more stores fail and are replaced by empty storefronts, even fewer people want to make the trip downtown. I'm worried that we are headed for oblivion.
That there are now a frightening and growing number of empty storefronts should therefore not be a surprise. While other downtowns are bustling, ours is failing. Gone are a number of smaller businesses and now larger ones are leaving with huge spaces to fill. Oriental Carpet is "retiring"; Village Stationers is gone; and the Flegel's building is for sale with the "Building to be Delivered Vacant."
Soon there will be tens of thousands of square feet of fresh retail space in all the newly constructed buildings on El Camino that will further diminish the prospect of businesses that want to take on the risk of a deteriorating downtown. As far as parking? While the City Council does its best to reduce parking, there is still more than an ample amount. In 30 years of coming downtown, I have always found a space within five minutes. The best problem we could have is that there is not enough parking.
Our city councils are famous for studying things to death and then making the wrong decision. They need to take a moment out of re-examing El Camino for the hundredth time and from flirting with Facebook and put immediate, action-oriented attention onto fixing downtown. We need a "can-do" person put in charge, unleashed from the paralyzing Menlo Park bureaucracy, who can get the job done in the fastest time possible. Otherwise, it is possible that the abyss will grow too large to ever bridge.
Sloane Citron is a longtime Menlo Park father, homeowner and publisher. He has had an office in downtown for more than 25 years and intimately knows the streets and businesses of the area.
This story contains 522 words.
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