News

Tonight: Menlo Park Planning Commission reviews specific plan

Commissioners will also hold hearings on Facebook development agreement, Phillips Brooks expansion

The fourth discussion in the ongoing Planning Commission's review of the Menlo Park downtown/El Camino Real specific plan takes place tonight (Oct. 28).

Commissioners indicated they want to focus on traffic and mobility for pedestrians and bicycles throughout the specific plan area, and may also look at the definition of open space used within the plan.

Residents have raised concerns about the amount of public open space proposed as part of an eight-acre, mixed-use development by Stanford and John Arrillaga along 300 to 500 El Camino Real that includes 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.

Any formal recommendations the Planning Commission decides to make will go to the City Council for review and possible approval. The council expected to begin its specific plan review on Tuesday, Nov. 12, but with several planning commissioners expected to either be absent entirely or recused from portions of tonight's discussion, that may need to be rescheduled, according to the staff report.

Also on tonight's agenda: a review of Facebook's compliance to date with the development agreement for its east and west campuses, and a hearing on a request by Phillips Brooks School, a private preschool through 5th grade facility at 2245 Avy Ave. to increase its enrollment cap from 276 to 320 students, with a corresponding staff increase of eight employees.

Click here to review the entire agenda and associated staff reports. Tonight's meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St., will be shown online.

Prior coverage

Middle Avenue plaza

Public benefit

Height and density

Comments

Posted by Frugal, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm

It's time for the Planning Commission to represent the residents of Menlo Park and not the City staff or developers.


Posted by muzzled, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 28, 2013 at 1:51 pm

This is an important review. The Planning Commission should reschedule when all members can participate.

As it is, the public is muzzled. The discussions have been at the end of agendas with other subjects, minimizing opportunity for public participation.
The ability to comment has been closed off, even to comments about the Commission's most recent discussions.

City staff seem determined to justify and protect what they and the consultants wrote, trying to get the last word in when the public can't.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm

@muzzled I have to agree with part of you stated concerns and disagree with another portion. I do agree that putting this issue at the end of an agenda instead of the beginning is a dis-service to the community with regard to stimulating/enabling public comment. Putting the review of the FB performance toward their development agreement up first is silly. First, its a check the box discussion,and second, due to the love affairand FB $$ no one is going to cry foul if they haven't dotted every eye or crossed every T yet anyway. I do disagree with your comment that public comment has been closed off with regard to comments about the PC's most recent comments. THere are State mandated rules about how public comments are handled on public commissions, and Staff must follow those rules, which they do. This is why we have a representative form of government. I know I always come across on the side of City Staff in this forum; its only because they really are quite competent.


Posted by Frugal, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm

whereRUprople: I always come across on the side of City Staff in this forum; its only because they really are quite competent.

Frugal: Competent or self serving


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Public comment is clearly provided for in every Planning Commission agenda.

The timing of such comments is only inconvenient if you have something better to do than to exercise your right to speak - your choice. The commissioners have to be there all night.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm

@Frugal I reall didn't intend/want to get in to a dialog defending the MP CIty Staff, but rather to point out that the rules call for public comment on any item on the agenda to come at the beginning of the discussion so the commissioners have the benefit of that comment along with the staff report on the subject at hand. Also, the public can comment on any item NOT on the agenda at the beginning of any meeting, but the comission is not allowed to comment on the input. These rules are universal among cities and apply to any public meeting. That being said, to your question, "competent or self-serving?" I said competent, and I know the meaning of that word. I wonder, though if you know what the term "self-serving" means. How could a person in a planning role or a traffic analysis role or public works role, be accused of being "self-serving" because they professionally analyize a project and report the results? Especially given the fact that many of them do not live in MP and therefore their self-intersts are not at all affected by the final result. I would say that those who argue with sound data just because it doesn't yield a conclusion that is what they want to hear are the ones who are self-serving (can ya spell savemenlo).


Posted by muzzled, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 29, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Public comment about this agenda item was indeed cutoff. It was continued from prior meetings, and the public comment during those meetings was deemed sufficient, and so was closed. That assumes the public has nothing to say about things the commissioners and staff brought up during the prior meetings.

If agendas go too far into the evening, the items should be rescheduled. Decisionmakers would make better decisions if they did. Controversial items always seem to go last on the agenda. Seems on purpose.


Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Having attended the first two of these Planning Commission SP review meetings, this is what I can verify: at the second meeting, we were told by the chairman, Mr. Kadvany, that people who spoke at the first meeting (such as myself) were not to speak again; they would only be permitted to do so if they had something substantially different to say.
I suspect many of us felt "muzzled" at that point. Having spoken at the first meeting, I certainly did.
Nevertheless, I filled out a speaker card anyway, and argued as well as I could for the interests of the community over the interests of high-density developers, making an effort to make different points from those I'd made at the prior meeting. But after that, I saw no point in trying to speak to the Planning Commission on this subject again.

I have never encountered such a seemingly closed door policy toward the community on such a vital and controversial issue as the Downtown Specific Plan. Also, it occurs to me that commissioners may be left with stronger impressions from the last speakers they hear. It could turn out that those of us urging substantive changes to the Specific Plan spoke out mostly at the early meetings, and the Planning Commission may hear mostly from developers at their last meeting.
Muzzling? Indeed.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Downtowner - The process you described, if accurate, is of questionable legality and is certainly unwise.

Whatever the Planning Commission recommends to the Council will be tainted if the Planning Commission did not encourage public comments.


Posted by Due process, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm

It is indeed unfortunate that the planning commission could not table the review until all members were back in town. Especially since the missing commissioners had asked for greater scrutiny of the current parameters.

"How could a person in a planning role or a traffic analysis role or public works role, be accused of being "self-serving" because they <sic> professionally analyize <sic> a project and report the results?"

Menlo Park is a small town, a good place for a planner to start a career but not exactly a high-status, high-paying job. If I were a young planner here, I'd be thinking of ways to pump up my resume for my next career move. From a resume perspective, it's much more impressive to say "worked on projects to add ten million square feet of office space!" than "worked on project to add 10,000 square feet of office space." More is always better.

Planners always have their own self-interest in mind, especially those who don't live here so don't have to suffer the consequences.

As for public participation in the process: it is discouraged down the line. I would love to see the Almanac do some investigative journalism on the topic. For simplicity's sake, let's divide the participating public into two groups. Members of the first group are so concerned about a topic that they attend multiple meetings to comment. The commission/council tells them "we've already heard from you" and categorizes them as troublemakers or NIMBYs or people resistant to change. Members of the second group -- often people with family responsibilities who can't attend a lot of meetings -- come to a meeting, speak, and hope they've been heard. The commission/council listens, but then forgets their input by the time the vote comes around.

Either way, the public comments are subordinate to the commissioners/council members' own beliefs and the special interests to whom they're beholden. The process is broken.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2013 at 8:14 am

@Due Process- A thought provoking post with regard to the subject of public participation in the process. I have a follow up question that I would like to hear your view on. In a representative form of government, which ours is, we elect representatives to make decisions on the public's behalf. In this instance those people are the members of the City Council. Further, the Council appoints members of the community to help inform those decisions; these people are the various commissions, including the planning commission. My question, how would you propose to change the process which you describe as "broken"?


Posted by muzzled, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 8:27 am

The standard process of allowing public comment suggests that there is value to hearing from the community.
Let's face it, our council and commissions are essentially volunteers. Few if any have any professional training or skills to evaluate well the issues before them. Many city staff seem to be quite young in age and careers. A few are older and longterm but never worked elsewhere and closed to ideas. Our community is full of highly educated, skilled, and passionate residents and business owners. Their voices should be heard.

The staff seem to have an agenda of their own; they do not offer unbiased information, with alternatives and pros and cons. Instead, they always seem determined to make a recommendation. In some instances, such as with the Plan's open space definition, they keep coming back to their position despite the fact that the definition was modified without direction from the Council and in conflict with the city's General Plan definition that was updated in the spring of this year.
Again, there is a reason for the policy to allow public comment. Topics like the Specific Plan came out of a lot of public comment. The review should also.


Posted by Check the facts, a resident of another community
on Oct 31, 2013 at 11:33 am

I have watched the various meeting online as well as having read the staff reports and letters posted online, and I think Muzzled is missing an very important point. When I have spoken at public hearings, I always felt I was speaking as an individual, and I was never so arrogant to think I knew better than everyone else in the room, or that my viewpoint was the only one that matters. Speaking with a great deal of passion is not the same thing as being correct, accurate or showing respect for others who do not share your point of view. I have a great deal of respect for the Menlo Park city staff for their professionalism and for maintaining their dignity in the midst of all the excrement leveled upon them. City staff did not approve the specific plan, the appointed and elected officials of Menlo Park did.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Oct 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm

@Check the facts: Ditto, Ditto,and Ditto, and thank you for stating your points so well.


Posted by Due process, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 31, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I have served on a commission and am very familiar with the process. I have attended many council meetings. Even though the council casts the final votes, they rarely contravene staff recommendations. Staff, not bound by Brown Act restrictions, are free to discuss all aspects of a given issue and to talk to the players behind the scenes. They are the professionals and the experts, so their recommendations can carry more weight than they should.

The general public simply doesn't have the bandwidth to read the lengthy packets that get posted every week or so or to delve into the backgrounds of the people who serve on council -- I'll bet most residents couldn't name a single member -- and do not know which deep-pocketed developer is supporting which council member, or which council member has aspirations that extend beyond Menlo Park.

Sometimes, I wonder if we'd all be better off if decisions were made by tossing a coin. At least they'd have a better chance of being fair.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

"They (staff) are the professionals and the experts...." Precisely why their recommendations should and do carry a lot of weight. In my opinion more so than someone who, though perhaps super intellegent, is trained in bioscience, business, education, etc. rather than urban planning, traffic engineering, civil engineering, etc. As for the comment about Staff being free to discuss all aspects of an issue with the "players" "behind the scenes". Any APPLICANT, be they resident, business owner, developer or commercial enterprise, is a CUSTOMER with the right to be served by City Staff. Each one pays their fees for this service.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:09 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The general public simply doesn't have the bandwidth to read the lengthy packets ..."

Responsible democracy is hard work and if citizens don't take the time to do their homework on those particular issues which are important to them (no need to read the whole packet) then they deserve whatever outcome occurs.

I find it strange that people can complain at length about the ECR Specific Plan and yet they have never read the plan. And it is also strange that people will attack staff recommendations when they have not even read the staff report that provides the background and rationale for those recommendation.


Posted by muzzled, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm

PC - many of us have read the plan. We have read staff reports. We have attended or watched commission meetings. Out of the staff reports and discussions, some topics warrant comment from the public but we aren't being allowed to make any.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Out of the staff reports and discussions, some topics warrant comment from the public but we aren't being allowed to make any."

The agendas clearly provided the opportunity for public comment = did you use that opportunity?

The draft EIR and draft Specific Plan each provide opportunity for written comments - did you make any? If so, please post them here to help explain your concerns.


Posted by Due process, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 3, 2013 at 12:04 am

I appreciate that some residents do have the bandwidth to read the voluminous city materials, process them, and present their concerns to council. It is truly a travesty that their input is discouraged.

However, many residents do not have that luxury. Ignorant comments like:

"Responsible democracy is hard work and if citizens don't take the time to do their homework...then they deserve whatever outcome occurs."

Reflect an appalling lack of comprehension. Yes, there are people in this community who bought their homes decades ago and are not occupied with full-time jobs and young children, people who have plenty of time to read lengthy documents and attend interminable meetings. But many of us have hefty mortgages, demanding professions, school-aged children, and a long list of obligations. We pay a lot of money to live here, including taxes that support the high salaries of city staff. We have every reason to expect those staff members to work for US, the residents, and to serve our interests. Their focus should not be on catering to deep-pocketed developers who have no interest in our city other than maximizing their profits.

No one has more than 24 hours in a day. Our responsibilities to our families, our employers, our neighbors and friends need to take priority. How dare anyone suggest that we ignore those commitments to babysit the staff, or that we somehow don't deserve a decent quality of life because we put our kids and jobs first?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 3, 2013 at 7:18 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


"Responsible democracy IS hard work and if citizens don't take the time to do their homework...then they deserve whatever outcome occurs." TRUE.

There are billions of people around the world who would gladly accept BOTH your privileges and your responsibilities as a U.S. citizen. If you "don't have the bandwidth"and choose to only focus on those things that very narrowly only impact you such as full time jobs and young children and to then let others worry about such critical things as governance, public safety, education and defense of the country then you may not deserve the privileges that you receive from the efforts on these broader tasks performed by others in your behalf.


Posted by muzzled, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Public comment on the Specific Plan review has not been kept open. As Peter C should know, the open public comment period is only for topics NOT on the agenda. There has been no opportunity to make comments during the past several meetings on this topic.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 3, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"There has been no opportunity to make comments during the past several meetings on this topic."

Wrong - Here is what EVERY Planning Commission agenda states:

"At every Regular Meeting of the Commission, in addition to the Public Comment period where the public shall have the right to address the Commission on any matters of public interest not listed on the agenda, members of the public have the right to directly address the Commission on any item listed on the agenda at a time designated by the Chair, either before or during the Commission's consideration of the item."

The issue regarding public comment on a continuing item be carried over from a previous session is a bit more complicated. Here is the court ruling on one such case:
"The appeal, case A102550, heard in San Francisco Superior Court, dealt with a case involving public comment for items that are continued from one meeting to the next. The appellant, James Chaffee, held that if an agenda item is continued to another meeting, two public comment periods must be provided—one at the meeting at which discussion of the item begins, and a second at the meeting at which discussion of the item continues. His opponent, the San Francisco Library Commission, disagreed, stating that one public comment period per agenda item was sufficient.

Chaffee lost his case, but comments from the court included this one: "When the Brown Act and the Sunshine Ordinance (a law specific to the city of San Francisco) are read in their entirety, we conclude that the lawmaking bodies clearly contemplated circumstances in which continuances and multiple sessions of meetings to consider a published agenda would be required, and thus they mandated that a single general public comment period be provide per agenda, in addition to public comment on each agenda item as it is taken up by the body."

If I were the Planning Commission Chair I would err on the side of caution and encourage public comment when Commission begins its consideration of the continued item on the agenda. And if I were an interested citizen I would not abuse that opportunity by simply repeating what I may have already stated in a previous session.


Posted by muzzled, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Peter - the chair has not allowed such public comment. Maybe you would act differently than the chair, supported by staff, but you aren't the chair.

Those who did have a chance to speak were able to speak for only 3 minutes, and may have had more to say at that time and have more to say after hearing staff and commissioners discuss issues. Not everyone who has wanted to speak had the chance due to prior commitments or travel scheduled long before the meetings were.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Those who did have a chance to speak were able to speak for only 3 minutes,"

Then the requirements of the law were met. From your comment one who was present and wished to speak was denied that opportunity. If you had more to say then an appropriate means would have been a carefully worded email to all of the Planning Commissioners.

The requirement for public comment must be balanced by the Chair with the need to proceed with acting on this matter at hand hence time limits on public comment are both necessary and legally permissible. There is no limit on the length of a written communications to the commissioners except a wise understanding that brevity will usual increase readership.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that the 4 Nov agenda states:
"B. PUBLIC COMMENTS
Under "Public Comments," the public may address the Commission on any subject not listed on the agenda within the jurisdiction of the Commission and items listed under Consent."

Since the Rules for Public Comments are NOT on the Nov 4 agenda a concerned citizen could certainly speak for the allotted 3 minutes on that topic.


Posted by Due process, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm

What you describe, Peter, is not democracy at all. It is a government by gotcha, where manipulative powermongers do their best to ensure that residents don't know what's going on.

We pay for employees who are remiss in their duties. To pretend otherwise is hypocrisy.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Due Process - your name tag is a misnomer. You do not understand due process and instead you simply lash out at what you do not understand or like.

If you want to participate in the process of governance the you need to understand and respect the rules.


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