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Who's in charge of downtown development?

Original post made by Renee Batti, associate editor of The Almanac, on Apr 6, 2007

The following letter by Henry Riggs was published in the Almanac's April 4 print edition:
What's wrong with this picture?
A city with an extensive review process -- including professional planners, a citizens Planning Commission and a City Council -- holds numerous, well-covered public hearings over a green "transit-oriented" project proposal which gets approved, but can't be built? The project is dynamic and lovely to look at but is a big change from the (shabby) existing use, and change always upsets someone, sparking emotional reactions. That's where the public process comes in. Or at least is supposed to.
Last fall, a few die-hard Menlo Park no-growthers engineered a carefully worded NIMBY petition ("shouldn't the public have a say in this project?") and thus the City Council was called to take a stand to defend the city's process.
Instead, the council has referred the project -- not to its Planning Commission or even to mediators -- but to the petition writers themselves. These self-appointed fixers have been "negotiating" with the Derry family's builder ever since, behind closed doors.
As a citizen, I am outraged at this handing over to an interest group the most promising land parcels in downtown.
There's nothing new about stage nerves in a big moment, but it is disheartening that our City Council won't stand up for transit-oriented dense housing.
Environmental groups all urge an alternative to quarter-acre suburbia, and the train corridor is the right location. We have an unprecedented four major vacant parcels staring at us, right now, right near the train station. Our supposedly green council should not be hoping for a watered down compromise to make the fixers happy. This isn't somebody else's opportunity to squander.
Henry L. Riggs
Callie Lane, Menlo Park
(Henry Riggs is a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.)

Comments (10)

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Posted by referendum supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 6, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Mr. Riggs makes some good points, but fails to acknowledge that the project did not adhere to hardly any existing rules of the city. There is a process, called planning, for establishing a vision and supporting rules. This project defied numerous long-standing city rules, used creative counting methods, and then changed the city's ordinance and General Plan on the fly. Seems to me that the city staff and reviewers conveniently overlooked a lot of broken rules in a flawed process, and obtained a public benefit that was a pittance compared to the value of all the special privileges granted the developer.
Frankly, at this time I have a lot more confidence in a group of citizens to negotiate on behalf of residents and the good of the community than I do with city staff or the failed process that produced the project. Can't wait to see what the results will be.

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Posted by Time to resign, Henry
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 6, 2007 at 3:26 pm

If downtown Menlo Park/the train corridor is the best place to put housing, then where do you propose to put retail? You know, the businesses that generate revenue for our city? I realize that high density housing is attractive to developers and to the politicians they subsidize, but most of us would rather not see it occupying "promising land parcels."

Face it, Henry, the planning commission and your old cronies on the council blew the Derry project. Not only was the proposal not aligned with any current zoning ordinances or the general plan, so many people found it offensive that they signed a petition against it. We realize that you think most residents are not nearly as smart as you, but the fact is that it's our city too.

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Posted by Responsible Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 6, 2007 at 4:55 pm

Henry, Henry, Henry. Let’s just talk about your use of the term NIMBY right now. I’m a NIMBY; I’ve been called a NIMBY. As it happens, I don’t have a back yard. For that matter, I don’t have a front yard either. What I do have is a community and a city I really care about. That’s my NIMBY. The term “NIMBY” is not a pejorative. It defines an obligation of homeowners seeking to protect their homes and quality of life. What they (we) want, we don’t want in your back yard either.

The “few die-hard Menlo Park no-growthers” (“growthers” is not a real word, by the way) that you talk about apparently were sufficient in number to pass a Resolution against this example of high density housing, especially since it violated the zoning ordinances. The last time the Resolution process was successful in our city, it was managed by our present Mayor. Perhaps the term ought to be NIOBY, Not In Our Back Yard!

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Posted by it all about planning ahead
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Update the General Plan, the Housing Element, both long overdue, and maybe the DU zoning goes up in the corridor, then everyone knows where they stand. That's why the state only allows 4 general plan exeptions per year. First things first.

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Posted by referendum supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 7, 2007 at 8:20 am

Mr. Riggs misses another huge point and unfairly labels fellow residents. The people I know are not at all against "change." They are simply against unplanned change, especially when the changes violate city rules right and left.
Instead, the majority in town want planned growth that balances economic and quality of life factors (yes, even housing). We do not want growth driven by developers rather than by what the community really wants and what the city budget needs to provided the services the residents and businesses want. We believe there is a big overlap, but exactly where it is should come out of a deliberate planning process. Not individual project by project.
I would hope all city officials, even those voluntarily serving on commissions such as Mr. Riggs, would be more respectful of fellow residents who have legitimate concerns, and not resort to labels and fingerpointing.

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Posted by DeepBackground
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 7, 2007 at 8:30 am

It's important to debunk some of the many myths in Planning Commissioner Riggs' letter.

The myths are in order:

1.) Derry is “transit-oriented” ergo Derry is green.
2.) The referendum consisted of only a “few” people – NIMBY’s all’, worse, the referendum process itself is undemocratic.
3.) The project was “adequately” reviewed by professional planners, Planning Commissioners, and the former City Council.
4.) The post-referendum process is the product of the current council, (not the former council—remember them?) who “referred the project” to be negotiated between the developer and petitioners.
5.) The “negotiation” between the developer and the petitioners is a real negotiation, one that would bind the city and substitute for due process, including review by the Planning Commission, Housing Commission, and City Council.
6.) Recently vacated auto-dealerships downtown “near” the train station and zoned “commercial” are the right locations for high-density “residential” development.

The main issue of course, is that none of these points are substantively true. Though some points of some of these issues are debatable, most points contain or embed alleged "facts" that are provably false. Since many of these items are somewhat technical in nature, I will respond to each myth in a separate post as the spirit moves me.

The origional post, is a good example of what happens when individuals stop criticizing or advocating policy issues and outcomes and lace their speech with ad hominem attacks on individuals or groups through labels such as NIMBY, green, etc.

My advice. Don't take the the bait. Keep your eye on the prize, in this case a better, more livable Menlo Park.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2007 at 11:10 am

So Henry Riggs is now trying to portray himself as a "greenie" environmentalist in his febile attempt to push forward the Derry project.

This reminds me of the Bush administration’s "Clean Skies" legislation that looked to roll back the Clean Air Act - that is, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Please Henry – green doesn’t become you (unless we’re talking about the green of money!).

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Posted by Marianne Dean
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Why is it that only Henry Riggs has the guts to put his name to his post? Any posting without a real name is simply not worth reading. Can't we have real discussions in this town? It is quit sad.

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Posted by A dog
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 9, 2007 at 8:10 am

Marianne, Henry didn't choose to sign his name. He sent a letter to the Almanac--which does require real names--and that's how this thread got started.

If you don't want to read anonymous posts, then stay away from Town Square. And from 90% of the internet, while you're at it.

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Posted by Henry Riggs
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 31, 2007 at 11:23 am

Dear Anonymous,

To quote the very form you used to shoot from the bushes, "we prefer that you use your real name" to post a comment. It has the marvelous effect of making you stop to think before you hit Submit.

Henry Riggs

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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