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Guest opinion: Our dire downtown Menlo Park

Original post made on Sep 17, 2019

When visitors come to see me in my offices in downtown Menlo Park, they often remark that they're surprised to see how rundown Santa Cruz Avenue has become. I'm not. For a generation, the City Council has occupied itself with everything to do with downtown except the actual downtown itself. It's a pity.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 18, 2019, 12:00 AM

Comments (36)

Posted by long timer
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Well said...I grew up in the "old" charming Menlo Park. It is ruined. We left Menlo Park and California for this exact reason. What a shame.

Posted by Sloane
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 17, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Blame the Landlords Sloane. The City Council can't force them to invest in their buildings or keep the rents low enough for business.

Posted by JC
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 17, 2019 at 3:30 pm

article is spot on. the city passed the DSP in 2012 and so far nothing has been done in respect to improving Santa Cruz Ave and downtown. Landlords aside, there are many things that can be done on public land. Fix the side walks, add a plaza to have a real farmers market and other events, build a parking garage and use some of the extra land for a park or plaza.

I for one would also like to see the citizens of MP actually back a more vibrant downtown rather than fight any and all development. Play hardball with developers and landlords, and get the public amenities from them we deserve.

The city might do well to invest in a development person to attract better business to downtown.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 17, 2019 at 5:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is interesting the the only new building in downtown is the new MPFPD Station 6 - which was built in spite of repeated obstacles placed in the way by the city.

Fortunately the Fire District prevailed and built a fire station that we can all be proud of.

Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 18, 2019 at 11:07 am

No new projects without parking, end of story. Either reduce the parking requirements or build a shared garage, then new project can happen.

Until then, there's no incentive to do anything. In the mean time, the centers of gravity will move away from Santa Cruz to the station, up and down ECR, or off to Redwood City and Palo Alto.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 18, 2019 at 11:18 am

The center of gravity has long since moved to Palo Alto and Redwood City. Both seem to actually have downtowns with something happening other than overpriced furniture.

What does MP need and not have? An actual density of good food and drink. There are a few decent places (Bistro Vida is a nice place to grab a drink) but there isn't a critical mass.

The other retail is mostly "necessary but uninspired" - the Trader Joes is useful, Ace is handy, etc. But the rest is mostly beyond forgettable. Draegers in particular is a sore spot if you actually expect to pay the marked price for things (I gave up on shopping there because of the constant overcharges / need to correct).

Posted by Food and Drink
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2019 at 2:04 pm

MP Resident is 100% right about what is needed, and it is no secret.
Look at the cities all around us North to South with successful downtown areas:

RWC: Lots of food/drink options on and around Broadway, thriving downtown area
PA: Lots of food/drink options on and around Univ. Ave, thriving downtown area
LA: Lots of food/drink options on Main and State streets, thriving downtown area
MV: Lots of food/drink options on and around Castro St, thriving downtown area
SV: Increased food/drink options on and around Murphy St, revitalized downtown area

It's not rocket science. It's not a secret.
Other cities have figured it out. Has MP not figured it out?
They should, lest they go the way of "Downtown Santa Clara"

Posted by home owner
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 18, 2019 at 7:20 pm

home owner is a registered user.

Don't give up, Plenty of commercial in the planning stages. In a few years DT, MP will look more like PA.

Then the complaints for too much big development will flood the news. Ask about the 2020 and the 2025 development plans will make dt, overbuilt.

What a missed opportunity to get public input before it will lill look like downtown Redwood Cit, Grosslly overbuilt

Subway and menlo cafe actually have good food.
You're right about the restaraunts not a good one on Santa Cruz.

Can we at least get the sidewalks power washed, it's disgusting

Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 18, 2019 at 8:39 pm

Many people just want a quiet and convenient downtown for the essentials. There’s already too much traffic. If you want a vibrant night out, PA, RWC, and even SF are not far away.

Posted by JC
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 19, 2019 at 11:18 am

"What a missed opportunity to get public input before it will lill look like downtown Redwood City"

the public had the opportunity to give input in the DSP which was passed in 2012. nothing has been done.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 19, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Downtown like Redwood City would be a huge improvement. There might actually be something to do, and a critical mass of good options for food and drink. Heaven forbid people might find a visit downtown enjoyable instead of just a trip for the essentials! (The essentials as your only draw is not a sustainable business model, if all you want is the essentials Amazon has probably got you covered)

Also hopefully Subway as "good food" was being ironic - it's crap even by fast food standards, but it's not like we could get an In-N-Out - it might get traffic because people actually want to eat there (the horror).

Posted by Sumac
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 19, 2019 at 2:11 pm

How about a vibrant bookstore - Printers Inc brought life to California Avenue, P.A. which now has an interesting clientele.

Posted by West Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Sep 19, 2019 at 3:03 pm

West Menlo Mom is a registered user.

Yep -- it's a dump

Posted by Pot Meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 19, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Please read the Elena Kadvany/Peninsula Foodist blog post on the difficulties facing would be restaurateurs in Silicon Valley. Seems there is an opportunity for Menlo Park to attract these businesses by relaxing the planning and permitting processes.

To those who say there isn't a good restaurant in downtown, I disagree. Left Bank and Amici's are very solid anchors at either end of Santa Cruz. Coffee Bar and Mademoiselle Collette are great. Cafe Borrone, Refuge, Juban, Posh Bagel and Boulanger are pretty good for their niche. While these restaurants may not suit your taste or budget, but they are not "bad". (The restaurants on El Camino are a different story).

The retail landscape, however, is desolate. Unfortunately no one has figured out any easy, or good solutions for local retail.

Posted by Bill Wohler
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 19, 2019 at 8:59 pm

Still waiting for Thai, Ramen, and Korean restaurants.

Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2019 at 9:31 pm

pearl is a registered user.

I was born and raised in Menlo Park; lived there for 50 years before moving to another town 25 years ago. When I lived in Menlo Park, we did all our shopping at businesses on Santa Cruz Avenue, i.e., Preuss Pharmacy, Anderson's Shoe Store, Pink's Pastry, Menlo Camera Shop, Menlo Park Hardware, Sprouse Reitz Dime Store, Ducca & Hanley Meat Market/Grocery Store, and Hirzel Jewelers, as well as Shreves Sport Shop on Oak Grove Avenue, to name a few. And, we enjoyed eating at Ann's Coffee Shop.

Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 19, 2019 at 11:44 pm

If I were a small business owner, looking to locate my restaurant or shop somewhere on the Peninsula, I would steer away from Menlo Park. High cost, poor parking during working hours, and, recently, a noticeable increase in homeless and vagrants on the sidewalks, in the coffee shops, wheeling their carts around, and storing their bags, suitcases and extra shopping carts on or near the sidewalks and near store entrances. Constant panhandling. I used to enjoy my coffee in front of Starbucks but no longer. Three or four homeless guys, a couple of dogs, a bunch of bags are there camped out every day now. No thanks. If I wanted SF, I’d move 35 miles north. I want what used to be the nice, clean ‘burbs. Guess I have to go to Los Altos, Ladera or Sharon Heights for that now. Too bad!

Posted by TammyGee
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 20, 2019 at 8:31 am

Sloane’s assessment of MP is dead on and I agree with so many of the above comments. But as a bare minimum baby step of goodwill on behalf of the city, can we at least get the sidewalks power washed? Sidewalks themselves are rarely noticeable so for many of us to note that the concrete itself is filthy...that says a lot. The sidewalks in front of Starbucks and La Boulangerie are particularly filthy. Implement the 5 second rule there and that could be the end of you.

Posted by anonymouse
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 20, 2019 at 3:41 pm

I've lived near downtown Menlo Park for 13 years now, and have worked there for more than 10 years.

Is it the prettiest downtown on the Peninsula? No, but it's a nice downtown that isn't too busy or too crowded, and our family walks up and down its streets all the time. We like it as it is.

Not opposed to improvements or changes, but I disagree with the bashing of downtown Menlo Park.

Posted by Manlo Punk
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 20, 2019 at 5:29 pm

This is why we prefer to walk into Palo Alto. Nothing happening in downtown MP worth doing.

Too bad because we are not supporting what (reasonable) businesses there are downtown.

Posted by Cmon
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 21, 2019 at 1:29 pm

While we can all work together to improve our downtown, be careful what you wish for. Would you prefer to have everything else the same in MP but have the Palo Alto downtown and all that comes with it? I bet not. Same with Burlingame, the other strong central downtown.

There is room for civic improvements to make our downtown appealing. We must have one or two garages, for sure. Locals feel comfortable parking but visitors don’t. Prospective business owners don’t find the parking situation an asset. All the downtowns people seem to love have better parking than we do.

Next, it’s market forces. Landlords have a right to earn a return, and when a downtown becomes weaker, rents will ultimately need to adjust. Ours have not. There will be a point when a strong business (like Coffee Bar) will be able to locate on Santa Cruz, versus the side streets. In the meantime, there are some good places that are operating off of Santa Cruz.

We will ultimately have a more vibrant downtown, at a scale good for this community. But all the passion in this thread is better served engaging with the city on key issues, like parking, versus just critiquing what we have today, which does nothing to improve the situation.

Posted by Wildcat
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 22, 2019 at 8:28 am

As Yogi Berra would say, “Nobody goes to downtown Menlo Park any more. The parking is too crowded.”

Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2019 at 12:04 pm

I like the Menlo Park downtown. I am there daily, doing just about all of my shopping there.

I enjoy the restaurants (esp. Left Bank, Amici's), Kepler's. the art galleries, and the shops (a mixture of style, traditional + even fun thrift shops). It's a real downtown -- with not too many chain stores.

With massive renovation, all this will change AND the downtown will look just like all the others nearby. All chain stores and no character. And shopping on Santa Cruz Ave. will become much more expensive.

BUT: Yes, more parking please. With an increase in parking, the vicious meter maids will stop ticketing so voraciously.

Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 22, 2019 at 6:21 pm

Dagwood is a registered user.

I don't care for the trash-talking of Downtown. This is a developer asking for more, more, more. IMO an apology is due. There's new building already in Downtown. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of square feet coming -- with cars and parking to match -- of new office and residences across El Camino. There's no rush to change the Specific Plan for Downtown until we absorb the massive changes coming soon. It's also not the City Council's fault that restaurants like LB Steak and Bradley's Fine Dining fail -- they were poorly conceived ventures to begin with.

Posted by Sophie
a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Any new building in Menlo Park will be too expensive to attract business owner to lease the place and open a shop in downtown. average SQFT rate in Menlo Park probably is among the highest in Bay Area, while service workforce probably are not incentivized to get a job in Menlo Park and have to pay the high rental in a nearby house/condo/apartment. Put two together, it’s less attractive for business owners to open store here, unless the owner already owns the property.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 22, 2019 at 8:31 pm

The current merchants deserve the trash talking because they are a large part of why downtown sucks.

Any time anything new or different that might actually build towards a critical mass of retail wants to show up, the existing players try to keep it out. It's been going on for a long time, and Draegers is probably the worst offender.

The Almanac has some history - see Web Link and some of the comments at Web Link

This is typical small minded short sighted behavior where retailers are trying to hold onto their portion of a shrinking pie rather than growing the pie. Once in a while somebody succeeds in breaking through the logjam, but given normal attrition this will never result in a critical mass of useful retail and desirable restaurants.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 22, 2019 at 8:34 pm

One more piece of history - Web Link

Richard Draeger not only pushed hard against an Whole Foods, but played dirty - fake "anonymous" fliers and such.

Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Sep 23, 2019 at 11:08 am

While I agree with many of the observations made by the author, I think there's a middle ground here. In my opinion, downtown Menlo Park is a tail of 2 downtowns:

At night: I exagerate only slightly when I say that after 9pm on any given night, you could roll a bowling ball down a downtown Santa Cruz Ave sidewalk and not come near hitting a single person. In fairness, it's a bit better now than it was 6-8 years ago, but that's likely as much a function of the recovered economy than any improvements in the vibrancy of downtown (small concession: the additional restaurant outdoor seating has helped some, I think. YMMV).

During the day: Downtown MP is *busy*. Yes, not as busy as Redwood City or Palo Alto, but those are both larger cities and their respective county seats. Not an entirely fair comparison.

That said, I must say I'm continually surprised at how busy downtown MP is during the day. Trader Joes, Walgreens, Cheeky Monkey, the occasional pet-store visit, the occasional MP Hardware visit and Coffeebar are staples of our weekly life in my family. And my family has bought items at Harvest (which is quite nice). But I agree generally that compelling retail is lacking. I sometimes scratch my head looking at the general daytime activity downtown and wonder..."what are people doing?"

However, more broadly MP does have its charms still:

* Cafe Barrone: one of the best cafe's in the area (including PA, LA, RWC);
* Flea Street Cafe: despite the 'Cafe' in its name, I look at this as a full restaurant, and one of the better ones in the area;
* Dutch Goose: one of the better bars in the area (including PA, LA, RWC);
* Jeffery's Hamburgers and Naiomi Sushi are quite good (Naiomi used to have Jerry Rice as an occasional customer);
* Fey has been a Michelin bib gourmond recommendation on at least 1 occasion;
* Safeway: many PA (and even some RWC) residents go to this Safeway due to it being the best one in the area;

Note that all 4 examples are technically not in downtown MP, which I suppose is part of the problem. Though even looking downtown, there are a few gems:

* Camper is great. We need a few more places like this.
* Refuge is the closest thing to a bar in downtown MP and it's seemingly always busy (and great beer!).
* Cafe Barrone is a staple of the area.
* A few other restaurants worth occasional visits in my family include Left Bank, Galata and Amici's.

But I agree the above isn't enough, and I agree some criticism of the council is warranted. They can do better.

However, if we want to strive for a better downtown and are looking for examples, I think PA, MTV and RWC are terrible examples; they are substantially bigger than MP. Using Los Altos as a benchmark is probably somewhat fair as long as size is factored in. A better comparison is San Carlos, which has a downtown that's both underrated and relatively vibrant.

Posted by MP homeowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 23, 2019 at 12:26 pm

MP homeowner is a registered user.

I will echo the sentiments of Mr. Citron and believe the continued degradation of downtown MP is sad. It seems there is a lack of leadership in the community to achieve an active, vibrant downtown with restaurants, nicer retail, entertainment and easier ample parking. El Camino should have parking removed with 3 lanes moving in both directions to stop throttling traffic adjacent to downtown.

It would seem there could be assistance from all the development of Facebook and Stanford to providing development funds for efficient infrastructure and beautiful landscapes.

Posted by Longtime Menlo Parker
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Sep 23, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Downtown MP has a decent amount of restaurants (although MORE are always welcome) but what they really need is better RETAIL options. Other than Harvest Furniture, The Pet Place and a couple of thrift/resale stores, I can't think of anyplace I visit on a regular basis. I hear that the Sugar Shack is making a comeback (in the former Yogarok Living space) so that's a start.

Posted by PeninsulaTransplant
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 4, 2019 at 2:25 pm

We moved to MP after living in San Carlos for 15 years. The homeless population, dirty sidewalks and lack of decent restaurants are a shock! The frozen yogurt joint is disgusting and it looks like there is a new Boba place by Stacks but there should be more places to attract kids. As far as attracting adults, we eaten out downtown fewer times than I can count.

I wouldn’t hang out outside of Starbucks or Una Mas if my life depended on it. It smells like urine out there and the covered patios which could be nice are usually occupied by vagrants. Why police don’t move they along like they do in San Carlos is beyond me.

Draegers needs major updating. They hardly carry any organic food and their prepared food selection just feels so dated.

There is no decent sized drugstore in MP either but that is for another post.

Downtown MP needs a series facelift!

Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2019 at 2:43 pm

pearl is a registered user.

To: Peninsula Transplant

So sorry to hear of your move ... San Carlos is so beautiful, or at least it used to be.

I was born and raised in Menlo Park. I lived there for 50 years, until moving 25 years ago. I have never been back to visit since moving, and from what you say, glad I haven't; it would just break my heart to see how it has changed for what sounds like, the worse.


Posted by It's comoing
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 5, 2019 at 6:47 am

I was downtown and was very surprised to see a lot of new eateries. There still seems to be a significant amount construction going on but from the looks of it, it's priming for a boom. It's looking more like a downtown than the ghost town of 25 years ago.

Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2019 at 7:00 am

pearl is a registered user.

To: It's comoing (sp?)

Ghost town? Never! What are you talking about???


Posted by Menlo Boomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 6, 2019 at 8:56 am

Why can't everything be like it was when I was young?!?

Posted by Big imrpovements
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2019 at 5:59 am

I agree that the vibe DT is a simmering pot redy to boil. Growing up in the area we never really thought about going to MP's downtown area, especially after dark, but with all the new eateries starting to pop up it's really blossoming. I say in 2 more years DT MP will be much more of a destination for people. It's bit like the improvements to the downtown Los Altos area.

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