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With Measure M defeated, time to improve the plan

Original post made by Adina Levin, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park, on Nov 5, 2014

Now that voters have rejected Measure M, it is time for the City Council to resume evaluating how well the plan is working, and making improvements where needed.

For example, the City Council has agreed to reevaluate the process to choose public benefits, and the thresholds at which developers will be required to contribute. Some of the main backers of Measure M were supporters of lower thresholds. The way the plan is playing out in practice, those concerns seem correct. Spurred by community concerns, the City Council has needed to go to Stanford and negotiate on a one off basis to urge Stanford to contribute to a bicycle/pedestrian crossing through their property that will connect east and west across the train tracks, which was one of the community's goals for the plan. The process should be more standardized - it shouldn't take this much one-off negotiation to do the obvious thing and require the developer to contribute to this key piece of infrastructure.

Another important topic is housing. The projects that first came forward under the plan are 50/50 housing and office in terms of physical space, but that still means more workers than residents (think about it - an office worker gets maybe 250 square feet of office space, which is smaller than an apartment.) Meanwhile, in 2013, San Mateo County and Santa Clara County added 85,000 new jobs and only 15,000 housing units.

The need for jobs/housing balance at the level of each small city is debatable, but on a regional level, this is insanity. This election, Mountain View has just elected a solid pro-housing majority. Menlo Park Council can examine what other steps we can take to address the growing imbalance - not alone, but in collaboration with other cities in the region.

There are more potential improvements relating to traffic. Due to the results of a traffic study, the Stanford project will need to conduct an environmental impact report and Council has given them direction to reduce traffic, either by better vehicle trip reductions or making the buildings smaller. Other cities in the area, including Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Mateo, and now Redwood City are moving faster than we are in creating policies to support less driving, traffic, and parking demand.

A related topic is El Camino. Now that there are likely to be more residents and workers on El Camino, across the street from downtown and Safeway, how much does the city want to improve the pedestrian environment for people who live and work here, compared to people who choose El Camino as a throughway on the way to Redwood City or Mountain View, instead of the freeway.

The good news is that without Measure M, which would have required new ballot measures to make changes to plan specifics - City Council will continue to be able to make changes in response to new information and citizen input. Hopefully the Council will use this power well to make improvements where they are needed.

Comments (24)

Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Council should do more than urge Stanford and Greenheart to contribute to a bicycle/pedestrian tunnel, they should REQUIRE them to build it or not approve the projects. This key piece of infrastructure will go a long way towards mitigating the traffic that will be added with the proposed projects.

Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Anyone who has walked the section of El Camino Real from the Stanford Park Hotel to downtown Menlo Park knows how unsafe it feels. The sidewalks are poorly designed (too narrow, numerous obstructions, etc.) and automobiles travel too close to the sidewalk at speeds that feel dangerous. Without some improvement to the pedestrian infrastructure, there will be little chance of getting people out of their cars, even for very short trips that would make more sense by walking.

Posted by No More Blight
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm

The City needs to hire a consultant to determine if the Linfield Oaks residents even want this bike tunnel. And if they do, they can fiunc it with a Bond measure. The developers are under no obligation to provide this bike tunnel. And many residents have concerns about the tunnel being widened to accommodate vehicles. It will also be used as a homeless hangout and being crime to the neighborhood. Let the City focus on bringing the development to ECR, getting rid of blight and deal with this idea of a tunnel at a later date. The developers should not be expected to pay millions of dollars on a project like this.

Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

No More Blight, the underpass is a critical element to improving the traffic situation on El Camino Real. Every family that lives west of El Camino and takes their kids to swimming, to gymnastics, to the library, etc., has to go through the intersection of El Camino Real and Ravenswood, easily the worst intersection in town. Every middle schooler that lives east of El Camino has to cross El Camino the other way to go to Hillview. Go look at the underpass at Alma and Homer in Palo Alto. It is not a homeless hangout or a crime magnet. Keep in mind that Menlo Park's police station is just across the park- a few prominently placed CCTV cameras should discourage any bad behavior.

Properly designed, a bicycle and pedestrian underpass will be a huge benefit to the city, giving people a true functional alternative to driving. Making it large enough for cars would defeat the entire purpose.

We're not advocating for a Willow Expressway. We are advocating for something like the Homer underpass. Build bicycle infrastructure, and more people will get out of their cars.

Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2014 at 7:20 pm

The bike tunnel is a ridiculous place to spend resources. Bikes do not have a problem crossing the train tracks. The trains are relatively infrequent, sometimes with many hours between trains. The problem is bikes have a hard time crossing El Camino Real because of the cars. Pedestrians have a hard time crossing El Camino because of the cars. Cars have a hard time crossing El Camino because of the *other* cars. Bikes, pedestrians, and cars ALL have a hard time at the intersection of Ravenswood and Alma. A bike tunnel will not solve any of this. The buses have gone a long way to helping with the school commutes, but there is still room for improvement there. But nothing about massive office complexes built in Menlo Park is going solve our already bad traffic issues - those massive office complexes will make a bad problem completely intolerable to everyone.
Oh, and that Homer underpass always smells of urine.

Posted by No More Blight
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Enough sums up why this bike tunnel is totally unnecessary and unlikely to be built. There's a reason that the Specific Plan doesn't coerce the developers into paying for a so called public benefit. The public will benefit by having no more blight and no more traffic when Stanford and Greenheart are done developing their properties, with some lovely balconies. measure M was a mistake and the citizens need to get on board with the developers plans for menlo park and thank their Council and City Staff for working against the citizens initiative.

Posted by Stats
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Nov 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm

@Enough, NMB,
I'm not sure where you get you thinking, but the proposed underpass is precisely where it should be for the most likely bicycle trips my family would make. It avoids the dangerous mess that is the Ravenswood train/ECR crossing, and is perfect for trips to Hillview that route via Middle instead of a much more dangerous path through downtown. And anybody who has ridden through the Palo Alto/Homer tunnel knows that It does NOT have an indigenous homeless population.

Posted by Just look at Palo Alto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 5, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Look at how Palo Alto dealt with University Avenue and California Avenue.. California avenue only has traffic from one side and from Page Mill; University does have great flow from El Camino by use of a tunnel close to the train station.. I don't understand why Menlo could not do the same over time.. I agree we should wait until construction is done.. no use building something before you know what really will happen. I am sooooooo happy we are now done with Menlo Park Ghetto ( yes it is not blight .. it is just like a ghetto ) corridor.. can we please have a fantastic downtown with lots of startups, businesses, restaurants and combine it with great public transportation and bike paths.. go Ray Mueller, go Cat Carlton, go city council... show us what you are made of

Posted by No More Blight
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2014 at 8:02 am

Yes, our City Council and City
Staff who campaigned against Measure M, and the consultant who worked tirelessly with the staff to sway public opinion deserve high praise for their success in defeating the measure and allowing the developers to proceed unencumbered. Office buildings will improve the traffic along ECR. No need to require any public benefit other than the gorgeous buildings that will now occupy the empty parking lots. Plenty of open space and parks already exist! no need to create anymore in our City. Time to widen ECR and remove those trees that were planted too. That will solve the traffic problems that currently exist. An expensive bike tunnel that only a handful of school kids and residents might use to safety cross the RR tracks is too costly for the developers, so it's a great thing that the Specific Plan doesn't require it be built. The incumbents were reelected and now are free to pursue their agenda along with the Developers.

Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 6, 2014 at 10:57 am

What we need above all else is great architecture. These developers will skimp on that and try to make their buildings look as mundane as possible so as to enhance resale value. Thus they will not take chances. But we'll be looking at those buildings for +50 years and we need something to be proud of.

MP should institute some type of a architectual review board but even with that their results could degenerate to the mundane so we need to be expansive in our thought to overcome group thought.

If you want to see blandness look at the Stanford Campus. The only building of note is Memorial Church built 100 years ago. The rest of the buildings are downers. Or look at University Avenue and Bayshore (I've forgotten its name) monstrosity which look only slightly better than USSR buildings.

We need beauty. Let us work on that.

Posted by OldGuy
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 6, 2014 at 11:05 am

Bike pedestrian underpass is a great idea, along with a traffic light protected cross-walk across El Camino. Forcing bike traffic to Ravenswood has always been uncomfortable and risky.

I'm not sure I agree that this is something where the developer on El Camino should pay full cost, but a portion and the easement seems reasonable.

The idea has been floated before. I believe there was even federal funding available at one time. But the vocal NIMBY crowd shouted it down. I expect the same now because we have a lot of self centered NIMBYs in our city.

Posted by No more blight
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Well the nimby contingent did put the kibosh on rezoning to permit a homeless shelter/low income housing so the irony will be that if there is a bike tunnel the homeless will at least have a roof over their heads here. Not to worry though, according to our City Council there isn't a need. One council woman even went on record stating that she only counted 'ONE' homeless person in town.

Posted by No_More_Blight_Is_Trolling
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm

It's a little obvious. Please stop.

Posted by No More Blight
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2014 at 5:32 pm

You would be wise to concern yourself with the type of trolling proposed by the consultant Mr. Smith and City Staff. Phony letters to the editor and to this forum even. What a devious little plan.
Me? I am just having some fun and using a little sarcasm. Obvious enough!

Posted by Sam Martinsen
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 6, 2014 at 11:44 pm

There was only a 1600 vote difference which made this M measure not pass? And if only 800 of these people changed to yes then Measure M would have won? What a close election!! Worth doing this again next year if things don't go well.

Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 7, 2014 at 6:14 am

pogo is a registered user.

Sam -

Measure M failed by a near 2 to 1 margin. [part removed]

The people heard the arguments and spoke. Live with it and move on.

Elections have consequences.

Posted by No More Blight
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 8, 2014 at 7:20 am

Dirty business in Menlo Park. The City Manager paying consultants with taxpayer money to actively campaign against a Citizen's Initiative?! How despicable. And illegal.

from the Daily Post:

Consultant Malcolm Smith charged Menlo Park more than $6,000 for services that included drafting news releases, talking points, letters to the editor and opinion pieces against Measure M — even though City Manager Alex McIntyre told the Post that Smith's work was limited to just to the city's website.
Smith's invoices to the city, which the Post obtained yesterday, reveal that he charged the city $575 to draft news releases; $200 to draft letters to the editor; and $350 to redraft letters to the editor and talking points among many other services between May and July.
Whether the city used any of the material Smith produced couldn't be determined yesterday.
On Sunday, McIntyre said that to his knowledge Smith only worked on language for the website that detailed Measure M's impacts to the city's Specific Plan.

Posted by a developers council
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Nov 8, 2014 at 7:39 am

It is now becoming more and more evident that this council has been bought and paid for by the development community. City staff is working with all developers to turn our fair city into an over built, high density, traffic ensnared disaster. Council simply "rubber stamps" Staff report and approves all.

Next in line is much higher density in the M2, with more office building to follow.

Posted by Linda C.
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Nov 8, 2014 at 8:17 am

What is the effect of the failure of Measure M on the reconstruction of the Fire Station on Oak Grove?

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 8, 2014 at 8:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire Board will discuss the downtown station replacement project at its 18 Nov meeting.

Posted by Bus Only Lanes Coming
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Nov 8, 2014 at 10:33 am

Get ready for bus-only lanes on El Camino Real. There will be little room for private transportation vehicles to drive on El Camino but emergency vehicles will use the bus lanes. There will be long delays in even crossing El Camino. It is all part of larger regional plans. It does not matter what mere residents might want. And the city council members just re-elected can be expected to simply go along with the program.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 8, 2014 at 9:37 pm

The current path isn't about being friendly to developers - it's about the majority in Menlo Park that would like a downtown that is actually interesting. We don't even have a bar anymore!

I rarely go to downtown to eat other than afternoons at Borrone. I spend all my time and money in downtown Palo Alto. I'd love to have a choice to go to a downtown Menlo Park that is lively and exciting. That means that we need to open up the downtown so that people can work there and live there.

It's no longer possible to pretend that no one wants this except greedy developers - the rest of Menlo Park wants to see a growing, thriving downtown, not a museum.

Posted by John Onken
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 9, 2014 at 9:38 pm


Not museum, but I think you mean a collection of carpet shops.

It's so clear we need to dissect this from the Macro/Overall view of the DSP, and look at the reality. We're talking about two sites! So reagardless of the policy and politics, are we getting what we want? Do you think the Greenheart plan is good or bad and do you think Stanford is going to be OK?

I think Greenheart is looking good and we're still negotiating with Stanford, so regardless of who, said what, policy, ballot measures, secret intentions, etc, I think we're on the right course.

And anyone suggesting that bikes can use the Ravenswood crossing without a problem has obviously never been on a bicycle.

Posted by not_just_about_land_use
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2014 at 9:38 am


If you live in the Willows, downtown PA is a lot closer. I don't see the planned development along ECR compressing space-time.

In all seriousness though, part of the problem in downtown MP is not just the lack of retail, but the kind of establishments: boring cuisine and staid retail. People like you (and me) have been a growing contingent in MP for over a decade and yet the type of downtown establishment has not changed one bit: still boring and staid. Why is that? I don't know the answer ... I'm really asking.

If you live/work at the planned Stanford development, are you going to downtown PA or downtown MP? Downtown PA will be closer. For the Greenheart development it will all depend on what's offered and whether some sort of critical mass is achieved to precipitate some change in downtown MP. I'm not optimistic.

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