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Today: Workshop on downtown's future

Original post made on Jun 18, 2009

Residents are invited to attend a key community workshop to help plan downtown Menlo Park, and the stretch along El Camino Real, Thursday, June 18, at 7 p.m.
[Web Link ■ ==B COVER STORY: The best-laid plans … ==]
[Web Link ■ ==B How do you gauge community vision? ==]

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 2:48 AM

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Let’s begin with the Grand Boulevard concept, where the key and still absent issue for El Camino and its strip mall retail, is setbacks and wide sidewalks. It has become the opinion of many, including myself, that the Café Borrone/Kepler’s corner is the paragon and template of an improved El Camino. While we have 8,500 ft. of El Camino in Menlo Park, every new project now planned precedes and thus sets precedents for the implementation of the Grand Boulevard vision to which MP is devoting so much time and treasure.
Grand Boulevard indeed! Don’t hold your breath. Europeans have Grand Boulevards. We won’t. Grand Boulevards are very wide; have wide setbacks and wide sidewalks. They often have pedestrian islands running down the middle, with benches, water features, kiosks, etc. They become an amenity as well as a refuge island wherever there is a pedestrian crossing.
Even though there are high-rise buildings, such as apartment houses with retail on the first floor lining both sides of the Grand Boulevard, this is quite acceptable since the street plus sidewalk is so wide that one gets a strong horizontal rather than vertical canyon feeling from it. Can you see El Camino in Menlo Park becoming anything like this? Fat Chance.
Take a look at 1906 El Camino, at Watkins, where a new dental building is going up. Note that the corner of the building is almost on top of the corner of the curb. It’s an anti-set-back. And, with the building fully erected, it will be a challenge for drivers trying to see high-speed oncoming traffic.
I have mentioned the set-back/wide sidewalk concept with various council members in the past. Apparently, that information did not migrate from short-term memory to long-term memory.
That’s the quality of planning we get in Menlo Park. Question: How do you run a city? Answer: Hire consultants to do studies.

Now, the issue of ‘smart growth,’ TOD, high-density high-rise and giving developers what they want generally. Urbanization is the greatest threat to the much discussed and much prized ‘quality of life’ that the residents believe to be the central value of living in Menlo Park. And that includes the much-vaunted village-like suburban character.

The pressure to grow is enormous, because it’s enormously profitable. Many believe that our economic survival depends on population growth. That’s like the old joke about the store that sells each item at a loss, but hopes to make it up in volume.

Should Menlo Park grow from 30,000 to 50,000 or more? If you believe this, then there are several explanations. One is that you don’t know and don’t care. Another is that you will profit personally from this growth and therefore support it.
Yet another explanation is that you have bought the politically correct Kool-Aid of the promoters of such development – you can see their success all around you – and are convinced it’s a good idea, even though many examples that have been around for a while are now seen for the disasters that they are and should have been anticipated.

Does this make me an old fuddy-duddy, anti-growth, head in the sand, NIMBY?
Whatever! What I want to know is, why MUST we build? Why must we increase our density? Why can’t we keep the town the way it is, the way we found it when we moved here? What is wrong with that? Why must we be a market place for the developers? Why can’t we have zoning codes that are enforced rather than violated project after project? Why isn’t “small beautiful?” Why do we have to be bigger to be better? Why can’t we design for elegance, well drafted and crafted projects that are clean, classic and harmonious? Why can’t we go upscale rather than large scale?

We don’t want high-rise concrete canyons on El Camino. We do want a calming, horizontal look and feel. Two stories are just right for such an aesthetic quality.
There is such a thing as good design. Beware the fancy sketches and drawings that look seductive, but turn out to be constructed disasters.

As people have been saying about the high-speed train and the rail corridor development: Let’s do it right.

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