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By Martin Lamarque

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About this blog: I have lived in Belle Haven since 1997, and work as an interpreter in the emergency department of a county hospital. My main interest is to help improve society by way of giving families the support and information they need to ra...  (More)

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At the mercy of developers and their allies in City Hall

Uploaded: Jul 20, 2015
Facebook just announced bigger plans for their properties on the edge of Belle Haven that include a hotel and more office buildings. Buildings that could reach heights of 75 feet. This means that, among many other important details, the 35 height limit in the M-2 district would have to be revised, and likely end up discarded.

Unfortunately, in schemes in which big-money-makes-even-more-money, our City Council's approval is nothing but a mere formality developers have grown accustomed to counting on.

To be fair to my local representatives, are not alone. Ever since urban development was deemed the cure for every social ill, just about every elected official up and down the Peninsula has abdicated their responsibility to consider new projects with the impartiality and long-term vision that using up finite resources would require.

That is if, God forbids, these individuals saw their job as an opportunity to work for the common good, and not just as a stepping stone to bigger opportunities for themselves and their deep-pocket friends.

In my previous post, someone argued that I could not assume our that our honorable Council members solely look after the interests of big developers because, although Greenheart and Bohannon contributed generously to their last campaigns, up until now, their approval of everything Facebook asked for had not seen any favors or money change hands (visibly or otherwise). Therefore--the anonymous commenter reasoned--I was being unfair to such dedicated public servants in general--and to one of them in particular.

To be fair, councilmembers could not indulge in such largesse without the groundwork of planning commissioners whose interests--by sheer coincidence, I am sure--invariably happen to lie on the same side as of those with the money to get what they want.

I have never been into gambling, but I am willing to bet Dear Reader, that what we are seeing in Facebook's announcement is nothing but the approval process getting a head start.

According to the Mercury News, the Menlo Park Planning Commission "cheered the notion that, as part of the project, the gravel pile along Chilco would go away."

Do I need to say more? Such lofty goal brings tears to my eyes.

About helping move the Dumbarton rail project forward? That would also get rid of that evil pile of gravel, and in the process help alleviate the traffic nightmare this area has become.

In touting the project to those naïve enough to believe in its good intentions, Facebook's director of campus facilities assures us that "last year alone, we took a million cars off the road."

Oh yeah? It sure wasn't any of the cars paralyzing Belle Haven during rush hours.

Comments

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by really?, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 10:05 am

really? is a registered user.

And what are you suggesting gets built instead? What would you prefer? Lay out your vision for what the M2 should look like or stop taking up airtime with the typical us vs. them rant.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm

You are right to be concerned, and it's no coincidence that certain decisionmakers are benefiting personally (via employment opportunities, including Facebook jobs, that otherwise would not have come their way) in exchange for going along with the program.

The problem with the Dumbarton rail project is that it wouldn't advance the professional or personal goals of the current powers that be. Hence, it's not going to happen.

There are quite a few thoughtful individuals in town who are protesting the current go go GO! attitude so prevalent among city decisionmakers. Check out the city council email log for their cogent and well-reasoned arguments. They are being dismissed as nutcases. Martin, you're probably on that list of wacko NIMBYs too. So be it. In a few years, our city is going to look very different from the way it does today. Many residents are only dimly aware of the changes, and when the changes occur, will mostly be unhappy to see the negative impacts created by these projects. ("Mostly" because some are also financial beneficiaries of this particular gravy train.)

really? the M2 area used to be the economic breadbasket of Menlo Park, providing the majority of revenues to the city's general operating budget. Facebook, law firms, and office buildings do not generate sales taxes or other forms of revenue beyond property taxes. Too, the city only receives a small percentage of property taxes, and it gets that money whether the occupant is the Sun sales office (lots of sales tax) or Facebook (none).

Thanks for trying, Martin, but in reality your only viable strategy is to try to get a piece of the action and make enough money so you can afford to move to a city that still respects resident quality of life, like Woodside or Portola Valley.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by value, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Property values in Menlo Park werr up by over 11% over last year, so we all benefit from living is a well managed and desirable city like Menlo Park.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Alan is a registered user.

Martin (or anyone else) - are there some documents online that describe Facebook's latest plans?

@value: rental rates are rising as well, putting a big squeeze on those who do not own (the case for many in Belle Haven). I'm not at all convinced that making it impossible for working class people to afford to live in the area is a positive for the wealthy. For people who own, the benefit is more theoretical than it is tangible, unless they sell.

That said - except for traffic issues - I'm expecting development to be generally positive for Belle Haven. There should be more retail services available within walking distance. We've already seen improved police support. Expanding the availability of housing should have a moderating effect on cost. High density housing for Facebookers nearby will have less environmental impact than turning them into long-distance commuters, and should moderate traffic woes.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by really?, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

really? is a registered user.


'really? the M2 area used to be the economic breadbasket of Menlo Park, providing the majority of revenues to the city's general operating budget. Facebook, law firms, and office buildings do not generate sales taxes or other forms of revenue beyond property taxes. Too, the city only receives a small percentage of property taxes, and it gets that money whether the occupant is the Sun sales office (lots of sales tax) or Facebook (none).'

So that's the point. We need to have a manufacturing renaissance in Menlo park and invite, chip manufacturers, meat packers, big box retail stores, and other traditional revenue generators. Or we need to change the model of city government to live off of revenues from white collar companies.

Give up on the old way and accept the changing economy, but change tax policy too to be able to make Facebook and others a win.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 6:25 pm

I agree with you, really? If Menlo Park is modeling itself after the big metropolitan areas, then it needs to tax as they do. Manhattan, for example, imposes about a dozen different flavors of taxes on businesses. San Francisco taxes white collar businesses too. Menlo Park has a business tax, but it's anemic and regressive and thus doesn't bring in much revenue.

Anyway, the topic has arisen many times. And you know what the response is? Fear. Our staff and council are certain that Facebook and every resident of Sand Hill Road will just pick up and leave town if Menlo Park imposes a 1% tax. Or really, any tax. To listen to some of these people talk, you'd think we're in the middle of the Rust Belt and need to kowtow to every single business in town lest they abandon us. It's a bizarre and not very productive mindset.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by value, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 7:06 pm

Manhattan has 1.6 million people, while Menlo Park has 33 thousand people. Menlo Park is about as suburban as you can get.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Martin and follow the money:

do you have some documentation to support your claims of favors for city council members and city staff or is this just more unsupported ranting?

By the way Martin, you're blog would do better if proof read before posting.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jul 21, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Proofread is one word.

It would be inappropriate to name names, but you can verify by checking their day jobs on LinkedIn. If I wanted to make bogus claims, I'd just insist they were taking bribes. Nope, this is real. Sorry to burst your conspiracy theorist bubbles.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 22, 2015 at 11:22 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

@Follow the number

That economic breadbasket was a fluke of when Sun Microsystems based it's billing and accounts receivable employees in Bohannon Park (not even in the new buildings [now occupied by facebook] it built, but on Constitution) The city REAPED the sales tax benefit.

Sun cut a deal with MPK to base those people there in exchange for concessions in height and density for their complex. At the end of the 5 year deal they moved those people to Santa Clara in exchange for a similar deal on their Agnews Development.

Without something that is sold IN CALIFORNIA, there is NO tax revenue to Menlo Park for businesses based there.

The real issue is that most new businesses don't manufacture or ship hardware, and even fewer business buy hardware (think Cloud Computing). Today Redwood City reaps the benefit on the sales taxes from the Sun Servers sold by Oracle.

Roy


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm

AMEN! Martin, AMEN!!

Our city Council Always seems to approve every single office-building development that is proposed by wealthy developers. As usual, the rich are being catered to, and the rest of us are ignored. Sigh.....

I do not want Menlo Park Manhattanized.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by pogo, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Jul 22, 2015 at 3:55 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Some cities would give anything to have an expanding business that is employing thousands of people and expanding its tax base. And it's not belching out smoke or pollution.

Yes, managing growth and expansion can be challenging. Detroit and San Bernardino will gladly take that challenge anytime.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jul 22, 2015 at 7:58 pm

The problem, pogo, if you read the thread, is that the expansion in business is not accompanied by an expansion in the tax base thanks to our antiquated manufacturing-based tax system. Employing thousands of 20-somethings who trek in from SF and Marin adds a lot of traffic but not much revenue. Given the level of service provision required, the city may even be losing money, more and more as time passes as prop taxes rise at a much lower rate than COL city expenditure increases.

@Roy, without going into the details of the Sun agreement, note that Sun was only one of the dozens of tax revenue providers in the M2 area, that whole swath of real estate east of 101 roughly bordered by Chilco and Marsh -- Constitution, Independence, Jefferson, and Commonwealth Drive.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by really?, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 22, 2015 at 9:22 pm

really? is a registered user.

@FTM

Totally agreed with the lack of tax-base argument and we need to push MP to look after this. On the other hand, we all need to put to bed the idea that Diagio or InterBev is going to open up a vodka plant in the M2 again.

So lets extinguish the false hope of a profitable manufacturing option, and embrace the new economy as a new tax base, and proactively figure things out.

I'll take Manhatten over Foster City.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 23, 2015 at 6:48 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

follow:

you should be able to "name names" After all, if it is public record as you claim, you're not violating anyone's' privacy. Your claims are suspect due to lack of credible evidence presented by you and, notably, the author of this blog. Otherwise it's just libel by an anonymous poster. "Put your money where your mouth is."


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Edward Syrett, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jul 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Edward Syrett is a registered user.

Martin writes "Ever since urban development was deemed the cure for every social ill, ...". Hmm. I suspect that dates back to Ur of the Chaldees (see Web Link), whence the word "urban" was derived.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by revenue seeker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Jul 26, 2015 at 4:58 pm

"follow the money" is right.
M-2 was the financial breadbasket of Menlo Park, not just because of SUN. Raychem/Tyco, Cisco, several software companies, and distributors used to be there.
White collar offices were restricted in favor of sales/use tax-generators.

Now despite booming economy and presence of major white collar companies such as Facebook, law firms, VC's, Menlo Park's tax base has dwindled significantly. Internet,professional, services organizations do not pay sales/use taxes.

Menlo Park could assess a fraction of 1% to see if that chases any company or firm away, while reaping benefits for all the negative impacts (traffic, housing demand, school crowding) these companies bring along with their impressive names.
Menlo Park could lift the caps on both the UUT and business taxes so these are less
regressive. A lower rate spread over more sources could result in more revenue to the city. Look at our streets, the condition of downtown parking lots, minimal code enforcement. More revenue means better service



 +  Like this comment
Posted by revenue seeker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Jul 27, 2015 at 8:27 am

@Alan - details about the latest Facebook project can be found here www.menlopark.org/995/Facebook-Campus-Expansion-Project


 +   6 people like this
Posted by I didn't know that , a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Nov 30, 2015 at 9:05 pm

blog
bläÉ¡/
noun

1. a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

It's been over 4 months since Martin has posted an update. Maybe this blog should be moved to the "archives" next to Jessica T. and Erin Glanville.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by good point, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 6, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Good point @I_didn't_know_that, and Paul Bendix has moved out of the area, so his blog should be archived as well.

Regardless, Martin Lamarque raises a good point about keeping an eye on development. I hope the planning commission considers Susan Goodhue or Larry Kahle for Vice Chair of the planning commission. Having Facebook Employee Drew Combs as Chair or Vice Chair of the Planning Commission will be problematic with so much Facebook development coming before the group in the next few years. The commission should at least need to have a plan for who will run the meetings while Combs is recused and no allowed to be in the chambers while M2 or Facebook development is being discussed.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Sara, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills,
on Jul 30, 2016 at 11:53 am

Sara is a registered user.

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