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Residents and Business Owners Take Heed

Original post made by Clark Kepler, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park, on Jun 12, 2009

The Menlo Park El Camino/Downtown Specific Plan continues to move forward. The eventual outcome will shape our town for the next 30 thirty years. I’m a little alarmed that so few residents are participating in the process!

This could turn into one of those occasions where people wake up only after the fact and wish they had gotten involved sooner. At the last workshop in April there was a good turn out of residents, but by “good” I mean about 100 people. Those 100 expressed a variety of ideas and gave input that the Consultants and City believe represents your views as well. I hope that they are right because if not, the City’s future is going to be heavily influenced by the participation of .3% of the residents.

If you care about Menlo Park’s future as I do, I hope that you attend the Community Workshop this next Thursday, June 18th, 7 PM at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church Social Hall, located behind Ace Hardware, 700 B Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park (enter from rear parking lot).

The City really wants more participation, and needs to hear from more residents. Contact Associate Planner, Thomas Rogers, at or

I invite community members to check out the photos and posters from the last workshop. The posters are displayed in the windows of Kepler's Books at the north end of the building. They present a picture of what the current thinking is.

Clark Kepler

Kepler’s Books and Menlo Park Resident

Comments (15)

Posted by long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 13, 2009 at 8:07 am

Mr. Kepler is absolutely right when he urges our citizens to get out and attend the next meeting, Thursday June 18th, 7:00 PM , back of Ace Hardware on Santa Cruz.

Right now, the consultant is convinced that 4 and 5 story structures are what is needed along El Camino, apparently listening only to developers who have convinced them this is what they need in order to build with a profit.

If you think traffic congestion is bad now, just think about hundreds more workers and residents being crowded into high density structures.
If you think the current jobs to housing ratio is bad now and that the school system needs to accommodate hundreds more youngsters, than you might be at ease with this kind of plan. I sure hope not.

This is apparently what has,up to now, become the outline of what this visioning process will produce. Next Thursday is a key meeting. After this meeting ,the next meeting will be held in September, and the consultant will then be presenting drafts of a specific plan, where you would find, if current opinions are not changed, 4 and 5 story structures, 50 to 60 feet in height along the El Camino corridor. A transformation of Menlo Park into something more akin to San Francisco or New York.

Do you want this? I sure hope not. Please come and attend.

Posted by Been there, done that
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Hey, remember the Center City design study? I went to one of those meetings, listened to consultants natter on, was surveyed on my opinion, blathered about a vision for downtown in a focus group, the whole deal. You remember what came out of that study?


Ditto the "Smart Growth" project.

Why waste time on another one of these pointless studies that will just get shelved for lack of money or political will or citizen support?

Posted by Been There, Done That Too
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 15, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Been There, Done That:
Don't forget the "Your City/Your Decision" - after all that "input", what basically happened - they privitized the pool and added a utility tax, neither of which was even mentioned when soliciting our input.

Also, the citizen-developed "Green Plan" - how many layers of dust does that have on it now?

Now maybe if you're Clark (i.e., have a recognizable name), they might listen - but even then I doubt it. No, this will be decided by whatever current "gang of 5" comprises the council whenever this "vision" is finally issued. And then it will be subsequently subverted whenever development actually does occur via the good old "exemption" route.

Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 15, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Well, one can stay away and ignore the process, but this visioning process is taking place and it is surely better to get your views known, then to sit back and let special interest groups drive the process.

This is a key meeting. The next meeting in September will already be displaying drafts of a "specific plan" for the area.

morris brown

Posted by Cassandra
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 16, 2009 at 10:17 am

Yes, but the question is, what will happen to the Specific Plan?

My guess is that it will occupy a specific place on a shelf somewhere in city hall for the next 20 years until someone throws it out to make room for the next downtown vision.

Posted by bigger concerns
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 16, 2009 at 10:45 am

I am even more worried that a new plan will be used the same way as the current one is. Meaning that Menlo Park is always up for sale to the highest bidder no matter what the rules are and no matter the cost or extent of the plan creation process. Our city can never "just say no" to projects that don't conform to the rules. Even in the few cases where the current plan allows limited flexibility through negotiated agreement, the city changes the rules on the fly.

Posted by as i was saying
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 16, 2009 at 11:03 am

It is quite likely that the plan to emerge from this process will result in rezoning El Camino and possibly Santa Cruz.

Future councils can of course allow spot rezoning, even though it's technically illegal, which means that the city will always be "up for sale to the highest bidder."

Posted by Frank
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Dear "long time resident":

It is not only developers that would like to see 4-5 story buildings along El Camino. Many residents -- including myself -- agree that this is a good idea, and said so at the first meeting. By adding high density in walkable areas with good access to public transportation, we will be able to grow in a way that adds less traffic.

The fact is, the Bay Area is projected to grow a lot in the coming years. The question is not whether we will grow but how we will grow. Personally, I would prefer to not see endless tract housing 30 miles from employment centers, as well as freeways choked with commuters who are obliged to drive an hour to their jobs.

IMHO the consultants are doing a good job of listening to all points of view. I encourage you to show up on Thursday. The more viewpoints offered, the better.


Posted by JayBoy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 16, 2009 at 1:16 pm

I say we put up some wood kiosks with fake stained-glass along the corridor, like the one's that still haunt Santa Cruz Ave. from a 1970 infusion of grant dollars. That will tie-in both commerce areas.
Or how about bringing back the dividers that went in (then out) of west Santa Cruz Ave.
All kidding aside, this town hasn't gotten anything right in the 50 years I've been living here. There are no Menlo Park visionaries when it comes to city planning, other than those developers who want to profit from their own development in the corridor (or anywhere else in this town). In fact, I think developers should be barred from using the suggestion box or attending the meeting.
I suggest we tap the smart, young minds who eventually will reap the true benefits of attractive, efficient, sustainable design of Menlo's El Camino corridor. Send the project out to architectural students in universities and colleges as a design contest — with the winning design/designer getting $100,000. Provide a base plot plan and all the known parameters (and baggage) of the proposed redevelopment and watch how many great ideas are submitted. A cheap investment to discover the non-biased, un-affiliated, think-outside-the-box designer/planner we need for a project of this magnitude. The design would be selected by a city-wide citizen vote - one vote per household. The whole community would then be involved, without having to sit through meetings. Upon selecting a design plan, a Public-Private Partnership should be developed to secure the funding required to complete the project.

Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Because I don't live in MP (tho I've worked in town for 40 years), I usually stay out of dialogs about visioning and development that is purely "Menlo-centric". However....I have to say this--I sincerely hope that all members of your City Council, your City management & staff and the consultants that have been hired read the posts in this blog. The lack of credibility/trust represented in most of the comments so far is truly alarming. It seems no one likes what has been done in the past, nor what is being proposed for the future, nor has any interest in seeing someone who makes their living by investing in profitable development projects, do so in MP. Instead, somehow, the town can be made beautiful, peaceful, quiet and safe if we just let the "smart, young minds" loose, and bring in "sustainable design". Folks, your town needs redevelopment. Your town needs to attract new business to sustain itself. Your town needs to be viewed as BOTH a great place to live and a great place to do business. Please, get involved and do so in a positive way. Otherwise, I would suggest the City leadership scrap the visioning process plan and save the money because no one will build it and no one will come.

Posted by for redevelopment
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Yes, our town needs to be redeveloped. It's too bad we have a lot of property owners who don't agree. And don't tell me that renewal projects "won't pencil." Many have land that has been held for many years so there are no land acquisition costs.
One thing that is important to address - how much growth the community will tolerate and still keep it a great place to live. Many think we're already there! Building a lot more here isn't stopping sprawl elsewhere. The HSR project is growth inducing along its path.

We don't have good transit and it won't be getting better in the directions that we most meed (east-west). Traffic is reaching grid lock despite the recession. How much more can we stand?

Posted by Long Term Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:15 pm

The last thing our City almost got right was the Menlo Center with Cafe Borrone and Keplers. Even that project, due to last minute reductions in floor area, caused the developer to go bankrupt. Immediately following the approval of that project by a pro business council, Gail Slocum, Jack Morris and Steve Schmidt - no growth supporters of our current council majority- rewrote the general plan and the zoniong ordinance to prevent a project of that size from ever being built again. Frank speaks for me and I hope most of the people of Menlo Park. We are tired of our city looking looking like Flint Michigan due to nimbyism masquerading as environmentalism. We need to do our part and build the transportation oriented development (4 to 5 story buildings) every significant environmetal group supports as smart growth.

Posted by progress
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:50 pm

I agree with Frank's points. We need a vibrant, walkable downtown, with access to public transportation. Having the Caltrain station already there is a big plus.

I wasn't involved in any of the previous workshops and wasn't planning to go to the one on Thursday, but after reading this thread I will be there.

Posted by as I was saying
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Oh right, Flint, Michigan. Never been there, but the last time you compared MP to that city, I googled it. Nice looking downtown. Attractive, vibrant. Menlo Park should only look so good.

Let's talk about high density on El Camino for a moment, shall we? There's a myth that traffic will vanish if we move people to our main thoroughfare. Everyone who lives on El Camino will take public transit, or so the developers, er, soothsayers tell us. Given the number of developments that have been recently built on the ECR corridor, it should be easy enough to test that hypothesis. Were the ECR developments in south Redwood City and south Palo Alto built without garages? And do those residents use public transit rather than their cars? When we find out the answers to those questions -- answers that Frank and other developers don't want to hear -- then we'll know how smart it is to build highrises on El Camino.

JayBoy's idea is the best I've heard yet. Instead of bringing in all the tired old hacks to retread the path too often taken, let's enlist the creativity of the generation that will benefit (or not) from the decisions we are making now.

Posted by Gail Slocum
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 16, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I never sat on a Council with Steve Schmidt; he came in after 1994, my last year on the Council. So "Long Term Resident", your assertion that Steve, Jack and I passed the General Plan is unfounded.

Also, as I recall, the General Plan was passed unanimously by a Council that included folks from all persuasions, and after a lot of back and forth that was very collegial.

Finally, I was in fact sternly criticized by some for suggesting that we include a new R-4 designation for 40 units per acre for transit oriented limited areas in the new General Plan's housing element. Hardly "anti-development"!


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