Town Square

Guest opinion: Not in my Menlo Park

Original post made on Aug 9, 2007

The more I read, the more I see the pejorative term "NIMBY," short for "Not In My Back Yard."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 8, 2007, 12:00 AM


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Posted by Watching
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 9, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Good column. I'm truly weary of the use of the term NIMBY to merely dismiss other people's opinions and activism, while offering no real opposing arguments.

Mr. Engel writes: "The community in which I live is part of my "backyard." Menlo Park is my "backyard." It is my civic duty and constitutional right to protect the quality of life of my neighborhood, community and town. What I oppose is what I believe will be harmful to the community in which I live. What I oppose may not be bad only for me; it may be bad for my neighbors and fellow town residents as well. I therefore oppose it because it's a bad idea, period."

Another way of looking at it is this: We are all so very busy with demanding jobs and family obligations that often we don't pay attention to civic matters UNLESS we are directly affected. This isn't good, but it's reality. Therefore, those "NIMBY"s who are waving the red flag over a proposed development or project that is planned for their "backyards" are often the ONLY ones who are aware of what our local government agencies are planning to do while the rest of us are not paying attention. Sometimes those plans are good, sometimes they're bad.

Frankly, I'm grateful that anyone is willing to call attention to significant planned projects that, without "NIMBY"s, might just fly beneath the radar and be built even though they might be deeply flawed projects.

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Posted by Jordana
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 10, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Good point. I agree that NIMBY is a blanket term that waters down many opinions regarding policy & change.

I would actually rename it NIMII...."Not in my immediate interest." More commonly than not I find that people can waffle on their positions based on where they are in life. The town forums on public pools are a perfect example of this. People want more lap swim hours as adults but then when they have kids, they fight for more lessons, recreational time, etc. The thing I don't like about Town Square is that many people come on here to argue without looking at the big picture. Also, some people are just looking for a good fight.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 10, 2007 at 9:37 pm

The columnist claims that it is his duty to protect the quality of life in his neighborhood, and talks of opposing "bad" projects. If a project is objectively "bad", then everyone should oppose it. The problem is when projects serve the greater good of society at the inconvenience of a small portion. Protecting quality of life by looking only at your immediate self-interest in the short run may ruin the quality of life for everyone in the long run. Nobody wants a toxic waste recycling center in their back yard, but the ultimate cost of not treating it properly is even worse. This is an old philosophical issue, brought back with a vengeance by the global warming debate. We all need to get our noses out of our wallets and look at whether our society is going down a path that is sustainable or not. This may take some pain, sacrifice, inconvenience and economic hardship from those who are accustomed to having things their way.

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Posted by Quality of Life
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Who elected Martin Engel, Morris Brown, Don Brawner, and Chuck Bernstein to anything? This group of self appointed reactionaries have decided that they know what is good for Menlo Park, they know how the city's aging infrastructure should be re-built and what should be done with other people's private property. They are happy with the way things are and damned if they will let anybody change it if it doesn't suit them! In the name of protecting our quality of life, they sally forth, this noisome lot, claiming to defend our town. Selfless they claim to be, but what's this? Don Brawner wrested twenty thousand dollars worth of new windows and doors for his apartment complex out of a developer for dropping his lawsuit. Chuck Bernstein opposed the city childcare center, perhaps because he is also in the childcare business and doesn't need the competition. Morris Brown, heady with power after conquering the hapless O'Brien Group, proceeds to crush a perfectly legal conforming office project at the empty Acorn site. And our ever emollient mayor Fergusson promises her opposition to the project unless they change the architecture. She, like the gentlemen above, is apparently not afflicted with the virus of self doubt. Yes, "Watching", you're right, it is the NIMBYs who pay attention because the rest of us are busy with our families. But if it's these NIMBYs who are protecting our town, then God help us.

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Posted by Desiring Quality Too
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 11, 2007 at 10:07 am

Quality's personal attacks are of the sort that diminish true quality of life in our community. In addition, Quality cites some erroneous information as if these are facts.
I am grateful to those who challenge development on the basis of quality of life. Full consideration of their concerns, including the fact that many of these projects do NOT conform with existing rules, should promote healthy discussion and better decisions. There is a reason city decisions are to be made in public: so the public can comment and so that input is duly considered.
Let's never forget that each of us and our properties are part of a community; our rights to develop must be within the context of the impacts on others. That means we must compromise at times, not expect to do whatever we want regardless of what that does to others. It also means that when there are plans and rules established by the community, we should conform with those or seek to modify them through a community process rather than ad hoc decisions.

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Posted by our town
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 11, 2007 at 12:23 pm

I can't speak for Martin, Morris, Don, Chuck, and the others, but I don't believe any of them wants Menlo Park to stay the same. Almost anyone who's been paying attention would like to see dramatic improvement on El Camino and hopes that the current council will devote adequate resources to growing and maintaining a healthy M2 district. The people who speak up on these issues are my heroes because they aren't afraid to stick their necks out, even if it means being bashed by anonymous posters on a public forum.

Many of us opposed the Taj Mahal childcare center, just as many of us objected to the imminent destruction of the award-winning green office building at 75 Willow. Most people who live in this city aren't aware of the issues and don't have the time or energy to learn about them. They count on the council and staff to make the right decisions, but too often, council and staff have let us down.

Speaking of which, I wonder how many posters on this board (all 5 of you?) know about the current proposed project in our M2 district. If you truly care about the city and aren't posting here just to make snarky comments at the expense of others, you will educate yourself about the future of that area--the economic engine of our city--and send a few emails or show up at a few council meetings.

Most proposed projects go through the channels without a whimper heard from anyone, "NIMBYs" or others. Some projects cry out for modification And still others need to be initiated by the city staff/council because they benefit the public but don't provide enough revenue to interest a developer. And do we want our city's growth dictated by developers? It's not being NIMBY to try to chart the best course for Menlo Park's future growth, one that serves the residents and the city, not just one that increases contractor and developer profits.

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Posted by Quality of Life
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 11, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Criticizing those four "never build in our town" zealots for what they've done is not a personal attack. What they do and what they advocate in the public sphere is subject to purview and should rightly be criticized. If I had said that Martin Engel is disagreeable old troll who deserves a good butting by Big Billy Goat Gruff, then THAT would be an ad hominem personal attack that should be censured. But no, I did not say that. No, Mr. Engel opined in a newspaper that HE KNOWS what's good for our community and has appointed himself a guardian of our quality of life. If his neighbor tries for a 2nd story addition to his house, Mr. Engel is sure to compare it to a glue factory and scream that our town is under attack. No, the interests of these men stop at the border of our town and with their own little patch of dirt. Never mind that every family we push into the Central Valley is more pavement and more fuel consumption, but for these men, what is important is that it will be somewhere else. Rather than sharing our nice community with the new young families that will be future of our community, they advocate building walls to keep them out. They think Menlo Park is a lifeboat and they are doing there best to whack with oars anybody trying to clamber on.

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Posted by enough ticky tacky houses
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 11, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Ah, so now I get it. Quality of Life is all about bringing in "new young families." Well, how about first addressing the quality of life for the young families who live here already? We don't have enough space for our kids to go to school (our schools are already getting second story additions--and then what? third stories?) We don't have enough fields for soccer, lacrosse, football, and all the other kids' sports. The kids in the city's basketball league only get about an hour of playing time during the season, total, because of limited gym space. And if you've read other threads on Town Square, you know how dire the childcare situation is--just not enough affordable care to meet the needs of young parents.

Why would any young family want to give up an affordable 4 bedroom home with swimming pool to come live in a 1000 square foot cube on El Camino? Palo Alto has been learning, to its chagrin, that "inexpensive" substandard housing is not enough to entice its city employees to move into the city.

How many more people should we try to cram into Menlo Park before we acknowledge that we are over capacity?

Quality of Life, you've shown your hand. You don't give a hoot about this city, its residents, or its present or future economic vitality. You're only focused on squeezing in more high density housing. Which means you're either a spec developer or Elizabeth Lasensky. Give it up, and let the people who do care, including Martin, get our city back on track.

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Posted by Exhausted
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 11, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Martin wrote a nice piece, some comments with which I agree and some I don't.

But after reading this string it is obvious the same people in town are poisoning the waters. There is very little real information in here at all.

First, acting as if you are the only group looking out for MP is a joke. You are not. In fact, you don't get it at all. There are a lot of us out here who change the council balance and support or oppose projects without needing a gadfly to advise. And there are more of us than you.

The rest of calling, trash talking, mean-spirited people hiding behind fake names? Attacking Martin with a fake name is just cowardice. Calling out Elizabeth with no facts is baseless and mean. I don't care what side you are on. But I wish you would take your rude commentary and just ALTER it to be more respectful.


Now...take aim...and begin insulting me...

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Posted by also exhausted
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 12, 2007 at 9:06 am

I don't think this is intended to be a fact-filled thread. It's about name-calling, and so by its nature it will be emotional and contentious.

The dig against Elizabeth may be inappropriate, but I am sure I'm not the only person who is tired of people who suggest that every problem in town will be solved if we only add a lot of dense housing. I don't see it solving any problem, because the people who commute to MP will probably continue to commute. (I have worked all over the Bay Area and have stayed in one house. Prop 13 and a 6+% sales commission don't really make it possible for most of us to pick up and move every time we change jobs.) And it will only exacerbate existing problems.

You don't have to be a math genius, or a NIMBY, to understand that replacing sales tax-generating car dealerships with service-demanding hordes is not going to benefit our town in the long run.