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Menlo Park Downtown Specific Plan - The Forgotten Issue

Original post made by Raymond Mueller, Menlo Park: other, on Jun 5, 2011

On Monday, June 6, the Menlo Park Planning Commission will take up and discuss the Menlo Park Downtown Specific Plan Environmental Impact Report.

The document, hundreds of pages long, touches upon many issues, including but not limited to aesthetics, air quality, noise, population and housing, land use, and of particular note, traffic. For months the EIR has been the subject of much debate in the local papers, framing the discussion of whether the Plan should proceed. And while all of the issues covered in the EIR are relevant, and deserving of discussion, there is however one issue noticeably absent from the document:

What effect will the Downtown Specific Plan have on existing single family home property values in Menlo Park?

A word search reveals that the term “property value” appears only once in the EIR , while the term “property values” does not appear at all. This probably should not be surprising as the Downtown Specific Plan’s effect on existing single family home property values is an indirect effect not required to be covered in an EIR under CEQA laws.

Concerned whether the City was going to examine the issue, this week I contacted the City’s staff and inquired whether the issue would be covered in any future analysis of the Downtown Specific Plan. Staff informed me that while the City was also preparing a Fiscal Impact Report, to measure how the development would affect the City’s General Fund, that report would not incorporate an analysis of the Plan’s effect on existing home values.

Frankly, the City should reconsider examining this important issue. Those of us who are interested in City politics can argue amongst ourselves to our heart’s content about 13,000 new cars on the road, the importance of placing housing near transit, the benefits of mixed use zoning, etc. But at the end of the day there is a large majority of people in this City who are just plain busy, working hard to provide for their families, and struggling to hold on to what they have been able to build through this Great Recession. Many have refinanced or restructured mortgages. Others have found themselves forced to downsize their homes. A large number of families fear finding their homes underwater, in a stagnant housing market. That the process does not include an analysis, that considers the Downtown Specific Plan’s effect on existing single family homes property values, is misguided.

There are multiple academic studies that have been conducted with respect to the effect of mixed used zoning and high density housing development on existing single family home property values. As one might expect, different studies have reached different conclusions, depending on the development analyzed. There ought to be some component of our City’s process that includes a report containing a review isolating what factors, identified in academic studies, in high density developments contribute positively or negatively to existing home values. Thereafter an analysis should be conducted to determine how the Downtown Specific Plan measures up to what the latest research tell us. The Public, the Planning Commission, and City Council, can review the report to ensure it’s objectivity. The analysis obviously won’t resolve all politically charged issues like traffic, street configuration, noise, parking, land use, population growth etc. But at the end of the day, the conclusions reached in the analysis might bring us, as a community, a little bit closer to consensus, and decrease the possibility that the end result of the Downtown Specific Plan will negatively affect home values.

But that is just my opinion, what's yours?

Comments (4)

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Posted by Jason
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm

This is a very important issue and I appreciate it being brought up. Does anyone know if this will be a topic at the next city council meeting? I think we should hear from the residents and also look at other cities that have dealt with these issues and see what happened to their home values.

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Posted by plan ahead
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jun 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm

There seem to be two main ways that the plan can affect residential property values (it appears that the plan will have a positive affect on commercial values, but that is a different issue.)

First, if the downtown/ECR development negatively impacts the quality of life to the point that people no longer choose to live here, values could fall. If normal errands start taking much longer, if our kids have to spend twice as long on the bus to get to school, that potential has an adverse effect on values.

More significantly, the current plan calls for a lot of new housing. Although housing developers always insist that their homes will be bought by people who never drive and don't have kids, in reality, people buy these starter homes to get their kids into a good school district. Even though our district has renovated all the K-8 schools, there is a realistic limit to the number of kids who can be educated. If the new housing pushes us over that limit, our schools will decline and property values will follow.

I attended many of the community planning meetings, and the emphasis was always on maintaining the village character: a walkable downtown with a vibrant array of stores and restaurants. Sidewalks. Bike lanes. How we moved from that vision to this plan I do not know, but it's hard to see it as an improvement, and I hate the vacant buildings on El Camino no less than anyone else does.

This is too important a project to try to finesse the numbers, and it's a disservice to the residents to suggest that their home values should be overlooked.

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Posted by Jason
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I agree and I hope the city looks at this seriously. Also, don't they usually run these types pieces as guest opinions? Just a thought.

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Posted by Raymond Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Thank you for the comments. I suppose it's my fault the article didn't run as an opinion piece. I didn't submit it as such. I just posted it in the Town Square Forum. Don't blame the Almanac. Blame me.

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