Guest opinion: A mid-year update from Menlo Park mayor | July 3, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - July 3, 2013

Guest opinion: A mid-year update from Menlo Park mayor

by Peter Ohtaki

I'm pleased to update residents at mid-year on important issues in Menlo Park. Here are the high points of where we are today:

Stanford/El Camino Real: A City Council subcommittee is working with neighborhood residents to analyze cut-through traffic from the proposed Stanford/Arrillaga office and residential project that will replace empty car lots on El Camino Real. Earlier this year, the council approved two traffic improvement projects to provide much-needed relief along the El Camino. Once the projects are completed, traffic flow should improve with a dedicated right-turn lane northbound onto Ravenswood Avenue.

Downtown: We've begun a major (half-million-dollar) beautification project to replace the irrigation, landscaping, trash cans and seating on Santa Cruz Avenue. New retail businesses include the restaurant Refuge (the Bay Area's best pastrami), furniture store Home, an expanded ACE Hardware, and an expansion of Cafe Borrone. Finally, a well-known restaurateur is renovating the BBC (British Bankers Club).

Revitalization: The economic recovery in Silicon Valley is encouraging development of underutilized lots around the city, including the much anticipated Frank Gehry-designed Facebook West project, the SRI campus modernization, and mixed-used projects proposed along El Camino Real. Our goal is to balance new jobs and economic vibrancy from these developments while maintaining our village character and residential quality of life.

Belle Haven: The city continues to invest in the safety and well-being of our Belle Haven neighborhood. Partnering with Facebook, the city recently signed a lease for a new Neighborhood Services Center including a police substation at the corner of Willow Road and Hamilton Drive. This summer, the City Council looks forward to hearing the results of the Belle Haven visioning process, designed to engage the neighborhood and prioritize its future needs.

Balanced Budget: The city's financial condition continues to stabilize. For the first time in recent history, the City Council adopted a $76 million budget with an operating surplus, in this case over $200,000. Menlo Park once again received a triple-A credit rating, validating our prudent fiscal management. In 2012, we implemented a two-tier pension system and cost-sharing across all of our employee labor groups. Nevertheless, we are concerned about future rate increases from CalPERS and are considering applying future surpluses toward unfunded liabilities.

The city continues to reduce costs by sharing services with nearby communities, and we approved contracting fleet maintenance and disaster preparedness services with neighboring agencies. Later this summer, we will look at contracting services for landscaping.

Housing: We recently completed updating our housing element to comply with state law. I've asked our state representatives to change state law to provide more flexibility for cities like Menlo Park, and I'd welcome your support with our state representatives.

I welcome your questions, ideas and suggestions via For more city news and updates, please visit the city's website at Thank you for the honor of serving our wonderful community as your mayor.

Peter Ohtaki is mayor of Menlo Park


Posted by Clarification, Please, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm

While the Stanford/Arrillaga development on El Camino Real is listed first in Mr. Ohtaki's report, the brevity of the report is concerning. First, The Sub Committee is made up of 2 council members, Carlton and Keith. SInce the council created the 500 El Camino Real sub committee in April, it has met only 2 times with representatives of savemenlo which is an organization made up of MP residents who believe the Specific Plan needs to be revised. Cut through traffic is only one focus the subcommittee needs to look at. There are numerous other concerns and it would be beneficial for our Mayor to address all the concerns, if for no other reason, to assure the residents that he has listened to the numerous speakers at council meetings and read the numerous letters to the council asking for the Specific Plan to be placed on the council agenda for a closer look now that the city has a proposal from Stanford.

So the council won't reduce the residents's concerns only to traffic, let me remind the Almanac readers of the problems with the Specific Plan and Stanford's proposal: The Specific Plan erred in setting the allowable size of buildings in the Plan. That size needs to be reduced for several reasons, one of which is that size equals people and people equals car on El Camino Real. Secondly, the city's consultant did not warn the city that Stanford could and might use the buildings for academic use for which no property tax will be paid. Third, because the city gave property owners in the Specific Plan an increased floor area ration, the property owners can build right up to this new increased level and not enter into normal horse trading with the city for benefits such as funding for a safe undercrossing of the railroad tracks for pedestrians, able-bodied and those in wheel chairs. Occupants of the office and housing units in Stanford's development will want to access the civic center without risking life and limb on Ravenswood where traffic is heavy and fast. 4th, the plaza at Middle Ave. is designed for cars that need to access the underground garage. There's no real open space as residents wanted in a real plaza. The definition of "open Space" that Stanford got reduced from 40% to 30% needs clarification so that private balconies in the residents is not considered open space. Fifth, the development needs less office and more housing so the city can begin to meet its housing needs.

Mr. Ohtaki, I have thrown you a soft ball. Can you hit it back?

Posted by Norman, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

Our school children and stroller pushers are still walking on Santa Cruz Ave itself unprotected from cars. This is a disaster waiting to happen. While stopped on Santa Cruz Ave myself waiting for children to cross it I've been rear-ended twice which shows that drivers' attention is sometimes diverted there. This is a dangerous strech of road that something needs to be done about, soon.

Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 12:57 am

So what are those two traffic improvement projects your touting? And Peter how often do you drive northbound on ECR - we've had a dedicated right turn onto Ravenswood for years.

Just what we nee, another Santa Cruz Ave beautification, this one for half a million for aesthetics. That money would have gone a long way for many real needs of Belle Haven.

Basically same old, same old.

Posted by Rye, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

"Nevertheless, we are concerned about future rate increases from CalPERS and are considering applying future surpluses toward unfunded liabilities."

Wrong. Staff is always eager to apply any surplus for their retirement. The city should hold any surplus in the general fund and keep it available for contingencies.

Thus play is used by staff every few years and approved by weak councils.

Time to hire a permanent city manager.

Posted by Mike Keenly, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm


Thanks for your detailed comments. I agree with you that cut-through traffic isn't the only concern for residents who live near this development. There's an amazing opportunity for Stanford to show that they want to work with Menlo Park and the community to design something that everyone can be proud of. So far, that hasn't happened.

Posted by MenloFam, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2013 at 7:06 am

Thank you for your thoughts Mayor. The small additions to downtown, like Refuge, are welcomed. There is still something fundamentally wrong with the quality of our downtown choices, particularly for families, which are so key to our future. While it can be nice to have quiet streets, the fact that this is driven by a relatively weak (compared to Palo Alto, Burlingame, Los Altos) store and restaurant choice. We don't need to single out stores since all small biz owners are super hard working. Nevertheless, is there a way the city can encourage, or even incenti, more new choices? This may all be rent and "market" driven, of course, and will take time. Thoughts appreciated.

Note to almanac. Thanks for coverage of downtown issue. In addition to your "best of" poll, which really, and understandably, is for your advertisers more than our residents, what if you polled MPresidents on what they would like and use downtown? I bet some themes emerge and perhaps catch the attention of biz owners outside our town. I think Refuge will be proven to be very smart in coming here.

<B>Editor's note:</B> The Readers' Choice awards are based on the votes that are cast and whether a business advertises or not has no bearing on the results. With regard to polling people about what they would like downtown, you could start a new topic on Town Square saying what you would like downtown and inviting others to comment and add their suggestions: Web Link

Posted by Survey, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2013 at 8:26 am


I took the survey you are talking about this year.

The results can be found here:

Web Link

Posted by MenloFam, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 8, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Thanks Survey. That was helpful and a step in the right direction.

Almanac: fair point. Not all listed businesses are advertisers. But perhaps a better way to look at this is that most of the benefit goes to businesses, as they can promote their winning status. Not sure residents get much benefit since we know the choices already. The issue is that there tends to be wider and often better choices outside of our immediate area -- close enough for residents but outside of your survey zone. Therefore, asking us to only choose within a tight radius does not give residents the best scoop from their neighbors. MP is a great town with some great businesses and there is no harm from celebrating true winners. however, improvement might come faster if there were more ways to identify real demand from residents.