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Issues of concern to all of us

Original post made by Responsible Resident, Menlo Park: Park Forest, on Apr 3, 2007

Town Square may be a great place to promote some serious discussions about issues on the minds of many of us in Menlo Park. There are many questions, more answers and even more disagreements about these issues. Here are some questions to get discussions going:

1. Now that there are negotiations taking place about the Kerry project, what do you think the outcome ought to be? What do you think about transit-oriented, high density housing in downtown Menlo Park?

2. Do you believe that Menlo Park should have a government that is more participatory and involves residents and business owners in committees and task-forces to discuss issues like the annual budget, economic development, the vision of a Grand Boulevard El Camino, and other large, strategic issues? What are your thoughts about this?

3. Do you believe that we can have better government with fundamental structural changes, such as voting for a mayor separately from the other Council member candidates, or increasing the size of the Council to seven members? Should our Council have a dedicated staff member available to each Council member, as we find among state and federal legislators? Do you have any ideas for improving the operation of our municipal government?

4. Do you have any ideas for how El Camino Real can be improved? What would your vision for the entire 8000 feet of El Camino look like?

5. What are your ideas about increasing the revenue stream to help Menlo Park balance its budget while providing excellent municipal services?

6. Traffic is getting worse in our city. It would appear that there are no simple, single solutions. So what can we do about it? How can we make our city more pedestrian and bike friendly?

Comments (4)

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Posted by Responsible Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 3, 2007 at 3:13 pm

My bad. That's Derry, not Kerry. Sorry.

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Posted by Sonia
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 3, 2007 at 5:09 pm

You've really posed some difficult questions here, and important ones. As I've thought about a number of these issues, I've been struck by how addressing one effectively might adversely affect another situation. For example: How does the city create a Grand Boulevard El Camino -- which would presumably attract more people for services and shopping, thereby increasing revenue for the city -- without worsening the already terrible traffic situation on El Camino? Better planning minds than mine are going to have to tackle that one.

I'd like to hear other people's opinions about the pros and cons of increasing the number of council members to seven. I've yet to think of a good reason myself, but I'm sure there are a few. It seems that the idea has been floated as a way to try to avoid the destructive political divide that the last council -- with a Winkler/Duboc/Jellins majority -- devolved into. But how would increasing the council by two people help? Polarization and partisanship occur when individuals form idealogical alliances, and that can happen with seven people as easily, it seems to me, as with five. I think choosing independent thinkers who are more concerned with keeping their minds open and engaging in creative problem-solving than furthering their ideological agendas is a better solution.

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Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 6, 2007 at 8:34 am

I have thought about a seven member council in the past, and can offer these comments. The benefits are that it would make it a bit more difficult -- but not impossible -- for stagnant blocks to form. This would be aided by making the seat rotations in 3-2-2 years instead of 4 and 3 seats alternating three years. The council is supposed to be an essentially volunteer position. There is an enormous workload placed on the 5 council members -- especially when factoring in all the regional committees to which they are appointed. Sharing that load amongst more shoulders would be more reasonable to me. With 7 members there would be less pressure on the council members to attend each and every meeting. With 5 members, an occasional absence at an in-opportune time can eliminate quorums for voting -- which has happened in the past. An absence of one or two members of a seven member panel would not have the effect of blocking city business.

Among the drawbacks to a 7 member council are that I understand that it would require a city charter reorganization to go to 7 members, that requiring a city wide vote. There may be other consequences of doing this. There's a risk that council meetings could run 2-fifths longer, as two more folks want to weigh in and illuminate the public. Another, and this is council-member-ego-related, is that it would make a rotation into the mayor for a year a bit less likely.

By contrast, I think that Palo Alto's 9 member panel is too large -- but I don't see any of them advocating a reduction to 7.

While I like a 7 member option, I think that the 5 member council that we presently have if we do a good job of selecting those five.

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Posted by R.R.
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 6, 2007 at 11:18 am

That’s good thinking, Stu. There should be more public debate about this. What about a separate election for Mayor every two, three or four years? What about providing a full-time, professional staff person for each Council member to reduce their work-load, increase their access to relevant information and make Council meetings a more professional process? Is anyone else out there considering structural changes in our municipal government organization?

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