Guest opinion: Time for Menlo to move on redesign | September 28, 2011 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - September 28, 2011

Guest opinion: Time for Menlo to move on redesign

by Mary Gilles

I recently attended a City Council meeting to speak in favor of the Planning Commission's recommendations on the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). While there were several folks who opposed the plan, there was one speaker who stood out from the fray: a vibrant, articulate woman who gave a refreshing presentation on the "Menlo Park Renaissance" that imagines a sophisticated and prosperous downtown. What a concept!

My patience has worn thin with the disgusting decade-long blight on El Camino and high vacancy and turnover rate in the Santa Cruz corridor. Some of the decrepit buildings should be leveled and rebuilt in a style that is village-like in character so that we can maintain our small town feel. Pacific Peninsula Group constructed a beautiful building on Oak Grove that perfectly illustrates what can be done.

Naysayers to the plan are creating fear over potential increased traffic. The proposed DSP will attract quality restaurants, commercial and retail tenants that will likely increase traffic at certain times of the day or night while people come to Menlo Park to spend money. This money translates to sales tax revenues which keep our services alive. Maintaining our services is why we want vibrant commerce in Menlo Park.

The DSP allows a reasonable expansion of density to construct mixed-use buildings that include 1-2 bedroom/1 car residential apartments or condos for singles, downsizing empty nesters and seniors. As a local real estate agent, I see a growing need for this type of housing. These people will walk to buy groceries at Draeger's, Trader Joe's and the Farmers' Market, dine in downtown restaurants, grab dessert at the Sugar Shack or Miyo, and buy essentials at Walgreens and the hardware store.

Another word about the sinister and evil traffic. When I served on the Menlo Park Transportation Commission, I discovered a distinction between what may appear to be too much traffic and traffic flow. Traffic flow in our downtown and especially on El Camino Real is horrific at times. When traffic flow is impaired by bad signal timing, train crossings, merging lanes, stop signs or reduced lane size, the sense we have is that we have too much traffic when it is really an issue of bad flow.

Whatever we design for El Camino and the downtown, it is vital that we structure the roads with ease of flow in mind. We need to design roads that will move cars through our downtown and along El Camino as fast as possible. I believe we can achieve a smooth flow of traffic and create a downtown that also encourages cycling and walking. We should be careful not to sacrifice design for good traffic flow for cycling and walking space.

Finally, I sadly recall the beautiful Derry Project that was shut down a few years ago by a few powerful naysayers who played on fears of density and traffic issues. It is an absolute travesty this project never came to fruition. Are we going to let this happen again? If you truly believe in moving forward with this plan that has gone through four years of public process, please write to the City Council.

Mary Gilles lives on Sharon Park Drive and is a Menlo Park Realtor


Posted by Sramana Mitra, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 2, 2011 at 11:56 am

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your support - both public and private - of the Menlo Park Renaissance ideas. Here is a blog series describing the vision, which is being actively debated on my blog:
Web Link

Look forward to more participation and ideas on the subject. The City Council is monitoring the comments, and it is a good, documented, public mechanism to voice your opinions.

Sincerely, Sramana

Posted by get it right, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I read the renaissance blog, and it's a little unnerving. The photos are beautiful, and I think most of us would love a European-style downtown. The characterization of Menlo Park residents as "aging" (aren't we all aging?) and too conservative to accept change is downright repugnant. Where, exactly, are people over 40 supposed to go? Menlo Park is not going to become another San Francisco, and I for one don't care if the 20-somethings want to live there. When they turn 30, get married, and start having kids, they'll want to move to a town like Menlo Park. (And, personally, I hope that by the time I'm a senior citizen, a lot of the really nasty anti-seniors will have left Menlo Park!)

However, I see the renaissance as separate from the issues we are currently addressing in the downtown/ECR plan. When you start looking at the plan and the EIR, it's pretty clear that there are a lot of holes. Although it's tempting to say "it's been four years -- we need to move ahead" and to apply derogatory labels to anyone who questions the rush to judgment, the fact is that if we are not deliberate and prudent now, we are going to be sorry later.

I don't see anyone wanting to abandon the plan. But the plan deserves more scrutiny, and I am grateful the planning commission and city council are taking their time to get it right.

Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Mary Gilles wrote above:

"Finally, I sadly recall the beautiful Derry Project that was shut down a few years ago by a few powerful naysayers who played on fears of density and traffic issues. It is an absolute travesty this project never came to fruition. Are we going to let this happen again? If you truly believe in moving forward with this plan that has gone through four years of public process, please write to the City Council."

As the leader of the referendum on the Derry project, the record should be set straight.

The Derry project did not conform to many zoning and height issues. We negotiated with the developer, O'Brien Homes, and reached a compromise plan, which not only reduced the density and height, but would have provided $2 million in cash for public benefit.

The compromise plan passed through the Planning Commission and seemed destined to pass through council, when the developer suddenly decided to not go forward. The reason given was change in economic conditions.

There should be no doubt that the Menlo Park community did not favor the original plan, which was advocated by the council majority at the time of DuBoc, Winkler and Jellins. This was reflected in the election where they (Jellins didn't run again), were removed from council and replaced.

Ms. Gillis is of the attitude that the City should just give away density and height. She seems to care less about the consequences of traffic and congestion as well as financial consequences.

The present proposed Specific plan certainly does not reflect the views that were expressed by citizens in the public meetings. Rather it reflects the views of the consultant and the Menlo Park present administration. Basically this is an attempt to transform Menlo Park into a city much more like Sunnyvale.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Mr. Brown is correct about the Derry project. It was halted by the developer and family.

I encourage all participants on this forum to research their claims, so little time is wasted on verification.

Personal opinions are something else, and should not be presented as truth.

Along that line, I think where one lives, primarily within, is most important to one's life. To me, we don't live in a blighted area and the urge to design, redesidn, update, updo, etc. is nice! so long as others, nature and the environment is being taken care of.
A question - has anyone else noticed the absence of squirrels this year? Obviously the spraying of all those at the old dump area comes to mind, tho I haven't looked into this topic at all.

Posted by Dharma, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm

The Derry plan, after over a year of mortgage payments during "negotiation" with Morris Browns friends who held it hostage, ran out the window of opportunity to build the project and yes, they bailed, and relations soured badly. To this day Morris and mouthpiece Andy Cohen refuse to take responsibility for killing a project that will not come back at the same quality level as originally proposed, if ever. That economy has passed.

Developers cannot raise money without demonstrating enough potential profit to offset the risk that the project hits a wall. That has always been true (I've been asked to invest in two projects, read the financials, said No) and now, in Menlo, the bar is raised because no sane person would assume a fair a timely process of approval in this town. Thats not so much criticism of staff or even NIMBY neighbors, its just a financial observation. And if you need to see what happens when no sane person wants to invest downtown, just look around.

Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Dharma --- Your posting here is without validity. I suggest you call City Attorney McClure and talk to him --- After you have that conversation, please return and correct your falsehoods. I suspect the chances of that taking place are NIL.

As for developers not willing to invest, you should check. 1906 El Camino is built and awaiting buyers for the Medical condos. They have been waiting a long time.

1300 El Caminio has an approved project on the old Cadillac site. From what I gather they are not proceeding because of present financial conditions.

The Beltromo family has a project approved 6 years ago and they are not building.

Finally, Dharma, instead of passing around falsehoods, get involved and run for council or a commission or in some other way.