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Referendum is direct democracy at work

Original post made by Peter Hart, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park, on Oct 18, 2006

Last week, for the second time in two years, thousands of Menlo Park voters added their signatures to petitions calling for a vote to overturn actions of the City Council.
These dramatic exercises in direct democracy, unprecedented in living memory, belie the promise made four years ago by the slate of Mickie Winkler, Nicholas Jellins and Lee Duboc to "listen to the voters." On Nov. 7 we have an opportunity to elect a new council that will.

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Posted by Vincent Bressler
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 24, 2006 at 12:45 am

The Derry Lane referendum succeeded because many Menlo Park voters have legitimate concerns that their long term interests have been overlooked by the people who run our city.

The changes to the general plan that were adopted on August 29, 2006, had far-reaching consequences. The changes impacted not only the Derry parcel but also the Cadillac parcel, which was not mentioned in the agenda for the meeting that evening.

I was at the city council meeting on August 29 and had at least an hour to review the project document for Derry. After speaking to the council and listening to their deliberation, it became depressingly clear to me that those who voted in favor of this zoning change had no idea what they were giving away. Housing density was almost tripled from general plan specifications for this project, maximum height went from thirty to fifty feet, retail space was minimal, traffic problems significant, impact on schools assumed to be negligible. There were no significant mitigations to any of this and only a standard recreation fee with no plan for more parks or fields nearby for all these new residents.

A conservative analysis of the costs and revenues per housing unit provided by the developer indicate that the city gave away eighteen million dollars in net value to the developer and land owner with the Derry Lane rezoning. The city did not conduct its own evaluation, and the council majority was apparently unaware of the facts underlying this transaction. I understand that the Derry project went through years of process, but what good is that process if the city's interest is not on the table?

It is impossible for the city to negotiate a fair deal for any project without an analysis of what the city is giving away and what the city should expect in return. Private businesses will negotiate in their own best interests, but someone needs to be looking out for the best interests of Menlo Park. After reviewing Derry and other projects that involve rezoning, I have found that the people who run Menlo Park do not appreciate the value of the zoning entitlements that they are giving out. Derry is simply the latest and most egregious example.

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