News

Tonight: Menlo Park council reviews specific plan initiative report

Council to decide whether to adopt proposed changes or put on ballot

Reactions to report:

Save Menlo

Menlo Park Deserves Better

There's plenty for Menlo Park residents to evaluate in the analysis of Save Menlo's downtown/El Camino Real specific plan initiative, which was released July 10 in advance of tonight's council meeting.

The initiative would restrict the amount of office space in any individual development to 100,000 square feet; limit total new office space to 240,820 square feet; and cap overall new, nonresidential development to 474,000 square feet within the specific plan's boundaries.

It would also redefine open space to mean only areas no higher than 4 feet off the ground, thereby preventing balconies from counting as open space.

Voters would have to approve any changes to the ordinance as well as any projects that would exceed the nonresidential development caps.

Lisa Wise Consulting completed the report on a $148,420 contract with the city to independently analyze what impact the initiative's changes would have on the city and future development. The company was selected on the basis that while it had experience with this type of work, it had never worked with the city of Menlo Park or with two major downtown property owners, Stanford University and Greenheart LLC.

One major theme of the report is that the initiative introduces uncertainty into the development process, but does not derail the prospects of new projects arriving in downtown Menlo Park.

A second major point is that the voter approval requirement presents some challenges.

Among key conclusions are:

● The changes could nudge future development away from office space toward other uses such as retail, but that could lead to more traffic. The consultant did not have time to complete a market analysis to forecast what uses would be most likely under the initiative's regulations.

● Restricting office space could give the city more leverage to negotiate public benefits, but also possibly increases the city's risk of litigation and reduces job growth.

● Property owners would still be able to maximize building density on their sites, but the new definition of open space would make that more difficult, even for residential projects.

● Future development could stop once the caps are reached because of the voter approval requirement, which makes investment riskier for developers and the specific plan area less attractive as a project site.

● Since the initiative would not directly reduce the residential buildout possible, the impact to schools and infrastructure remains the same as the specific plan's projections.

Jim Cogan, the city's economic development manager, said he was pleased with the work done by Lisa Wise Consulting and hopes it gives the council and voters "the information they need to feel like they are making an informed decision."

Development

The major change, according to the analysis, is the initiative's requirement for voter approval to either revise the ordinance or for projects that would exceed nonresidential development caps. The report states this would "create an open-ended political process" that makes investment riskier while making the specific plan area less attractive to developers. Also, the costs of paying for an election presents a greater obstacle for smaller landowners and developers.

Given that other nearby areas -- including Mountain View, Redwood City and San Mateo -- don't require voter approval, Menlo Park could see "a dampening or complete stoppage of future nonresidential development in the ECR/D Specific Plan area as developers invest elsewhere."

The initiative would impact two projects already in the development pipeline. Based on the office space limit per project, mixed-use proposals by Stanford University and Greenheart LLC "would likely be rendered infeasible" should the changes be implemented, according to the report.

Stanford, in partnership with developer John Arrillaga, wants to build a complex on the mostly vacant car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real. The 8.4-acre project would involve 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.

The mixed-use complex initially contained medical offices and fewer apartments, but Stanford eliminated the medical offices after a series of discussions with city officials and Save Menlo representatives.

Greenheart's project would put 210,000 square feet of office space, 210,000 square feet of apartments, and 13,000 square feet of retail on the 7-acre site located at 1300 El Camino Real and Oak Grove Avenue.

By capping office space per project to 100,000 square feet, the initiative essentially cuts the amount allowed within those two mixed-use proposals by 50 percent.

One finer point emerged from the analysis: The initiative redefines office space. Whereas the specific plan expressly excludes banks and similar financial institutions from the category of business and professional office, the initiative includes them.

Why does this matter? According to the consultant's analysis, those types of development would count toward overall office space cap of 240,820 square feet.

The restrictions could have some benefit to Menlo Park: The analysis suggests that capping office space could boost the city's power to negotiate for greater public benefit, thanks to increased competition between developers. One caveat, though -- Menlo Park currently has no mechanism to take advantage of that competition.

On the other hand, the restrictions "will likely carry with them a number of unintended consequences," the report concludes, including an increased risk of litigation for the city and a lack of clarity for developers, who may try to argue that their projects should not count as office space under the initiative's definition.

Traffic

Another potential outcome of restricting office space is that some development scenarios that generate more traffic could be favored over some that generate less.

Based on the report, retail could become a preferred type of use over office space, but retail generates more traffic. A hotel would lead to less.

Housing and open space

The analysis concludes that the new definition of open space could potentially lead to less open space, and falls short "of ensuring open space within four feet of ground level is situated in such a way that it would contribute to the pedestrian realm."

This is partly due to other competing requirements, such as the need to provide on-site parking within the same footprint as the required open space. In a domino effect, that could lead to less housing being built in zoning districts that require residential open space, as well as less private open space within the housing developments.

The next domino in the chain of analysis is housing costs: If all of the required on-site parking doesn't fit at ground level, that leaves underground or garages to pick up the remainder and that drives up construction costs. The analysis suggests that then could lead to higher rents and less likelihood that developers will choose to include below-market-rate units.

Infrastructure and fiscal

The analysis concluded that the initiative would not affect infrastructure demands or fiscal impacts to the city, as compared with the specific plan, apart from a potential loss of revenue from reduced development.

Like the specific plan, the initiative would allow the maximum buildout of 680 residential units by 2030, meaning that the projected impact to schools would not change.

What next

The Menlo Park City Council will vote tonight (July 15) on whether to place the initiative on the ballot for the November election or to adopt it, after reviewing the consultant's analysis. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at 701 Laurel St.

Save Menlo has stated that the group wants the council to adopt the initiative, rather than putting it on the ballot. They face opposition from another grassroots group -- Menlo Park Deserves Better -- which has formed to fight the initiative.

More

● Go to the city's website to read the analysis.

● Submit a letter to the editor at letters@almanacnews.com. Please limit your letter to 300 words, include your phone number and home address, and write "letter for publication" in the subject line.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by JulieToo
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:23 pm

JulieToo is a registered user.


Since the subject being discussed is construction and development, a good common sense carpenter quote seems appropriate:

"Measure twice, cut once". In other words, plan and prepare in a careful, thorough manner before taking action.

The opposite example of that caution is what is happening in Redwood City. I live in Redwood City. Alot of people here are very upset. Already our city has changed. Now we have high-rise buildings and alot of them. We have the traffic to go with it.

How many times I have heard people say: "I just avoid downtown Redwood City now. It's just too much of a struggle and it takes too long to get to where you're going"

How does that help commerce?

Some might suggest that we should have attended the Council Meetings. What? And protest in the 3 minutes we are given to make a statement. (It used to be 3 minutes. I don't know what it is now).

I suggest we should not have to attend the Council Meetings. That is the job of the councilmen and councilwomen. They are there to make decisions beneficial to our city. That is precisely why they are on the Council.

So, all in all, I think that Menlo Park is not making a mistake to "measure twice".

Maybe you can "save Menlo" from becoming another Redwood City.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"That is the job of the councilmen and councilwomen. They are there to make decisions beneficial to our city. That is precisely why they are on the Council."

And that is why the Lanza/Fry initiative is such a huge mistake because it would replace the wisdom and experience of the elected City Council with the poorly written, cast in concrete, self interested desires as expressed by two people. No opportunity for debate, discussion or improvement except by costly and time consuming city wide elections.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SandyB
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Although I cannot attend the meeting tonight, I am against the "Save Menlo" initiative. Any initiative that is so rigid that does not allow for flexibility for the town is a huge misjudgement and misappropriation of our town's assets. It ties the hands of both the City Council and the Planning Commission. Yes, that will slow growth. And our so called "village" will crumble because it will be chained to poorly thought-out and ignorant concepts. Better buggy whips anyone?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:32 pm

The charade continues with a council meeting tonight to go over the analysis of the Save Menlo Initiative - which is for sensible growth.

So tired of the boloney!

So tired of asking direct questions and getting more propaganda - but no answers from the two who shall be nameless.

So now we all should consider attending tonight to keep the propaganda in check.

I will be there. Anyone else?

When will we have a new, unbiased review of the Specific Plan, itself. Then we can have a council meeting to discuss that. Hmmmm?

And I thought journalists were supposed to remain neutral...unless they're writing editorials.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Julie Too, Yes.

And Palo Alto. Has anyone checked out El Camino in Palo Alto lately?
Almost all built up, mostly over the last 2-3 years. A friend who is a resident is not happy about it and she says it's a common sentiment.

Where's the middle ground? I'm not necessarily in favor of SM's initiative, but I am in favor of a balanced approach - and one that better represents the residents of the community. And I fully appreciate why SM is unhappy with the SP. If you participated in the process and found the "final" document to be unrecognizable, you might be concerned as well.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"the analysis of the Save Menlo Initiative - which is for sensible growth."

Please read:
1- The Wise report
2 - The Lanza/Fry Initiative
3 - and at least the summary portion of the Specific Plan
Web Link

The initiative is designed to paralyze the city and STOP EVERYTHING. Just the confusion it raises will allow the Save Menlo people to tie the city up in court for years.

Note that the initiative boldly states:
"Consistent with the Planning and Zoning Law and applicable case law, the
City shall not adopt any other new provisions or amendments to the Policy
Planning Documents that would be inconsistent with or FRUSTRATE the
implementation of the voter-adopted development standards and
definitions set forth in Section 3, above, absent voter approval of a
conforming amendment to those voter-adopted provisions."

So all Save Menlo has to do is feel "frustrated" and they can sue and only the courts can decide how to proceed. This initiative should be called the ABOLISH REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:49 pm

PC, Please stop bullying everyone who comes from a different perspective than yours. Thank you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

MP resident - please cite example of your so called bullying charge. The problem is that the opponents cannot and will not post facts from source documents. You might willingly tolerate such sloppiness but I won't.

I do not believe that holding people accountable is bullying - particularly when they are already hiding behind a fake name.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ZG2yF
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm

And for the record, I haven't disclosed my position on SM's initiative.
I'm responding to the huge amount of propaganda and the politicking. Why is it okay for the City to spend our money on a study like this? Why are they allowed to use our money to ignore the SP itself, and shift the focus to squelching any signs of descent? Not right.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Dissent. (Duh.)

I've been following these threads forever...where would I even begin?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gern
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Gern is a registered user.

"MP resident - please cite example of your so called bullying charge."

How about labeling Menlo Park residents "dumb and lazy" for not having foreseen the 800,000 square feet of "redevelopment" bookending our town on El Camino Real. Will that suffice, Peter?

"The problem is that the opponents cannot and will not post facts from source documents. You might willingly tolerate such sloppiness but I won't."

Please cite your source documents for these "facts," Peter:

"The initiative is designed to paralyze the city and STOP EVERYTHING. Just the confusion it raises will allow the Save Menlo people to tie the city up in court for years."

"So all Save Menlo has to do is feel "frustrated" and they can sue and only the courts can decide how to proceed. This initiative should be called the ABOLISH REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE."

Hypocrisy will out, Peter.

Gern


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please cite your source documents for these "facts," Peter:

"The initiative is designed to paralyze the city and STOP EVERYTHING. Just the confusion it raises will allow the Save Menlo people to tie the city up in court for years."

"So all Save Menlo has to do is feel "frustrated" and they can sue and only the courts can decide how to proceed. This initiative should be called the ABOLISH REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE."

Those are my OPINIONS. When I statw facts i do so from source documents and put the citations in quotation marks and I frequently provide a web link the first time I cite that particular portion from a source document.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 15, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

@ZG2yF

The consultants report was required so that the city can determine the consequences of approving the initiative or putting it on the ballot (their only two choices). To help determine it's cost to the city and it's positive and negative implications in the development and operation of MPK's planning and development.

Reading it they highlight both the positive (few) and negative aspects and consequences.

Tonight decision is short, either approve the initiative as is (not likely) or put it on the ballot. The theater will come if anyone from the initiative group and it's opponents (of which I am one) choose to speak as to the points in the study that justify their stance.

There is NEVER a dull day in Politics in this "Quaint Village" of over educated residents used to getting their way......should be fun to watch.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Spanky
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2014 at 6:03 pm

enough all ready !


 +   Like this comment
Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 15, 2014 at 6:32 pm

The reality is that the SF Bay Area is a desirable place and there are good job opportunities here. Cities throughout the region are adapting to a growing population by accommodating growth in various ways. No solution will please everyone as expressed by residents of Palo Alto and Redwood City.

How do we balance sustainable growth while improving the quality of life in Menlo Park? It seems that the Save Menlo plan is more aligned with a very limited to no growth, while the current DSP is too generous to developers. Neither plan addresses the underlying infrastructure or transportation (large component to quality of life). If someone can offer a solution that is a balanced approach to both growth and improving quality of life, they'll get a majority of residents behind time vs picking the two extreme options.

Can the council or anyone offer a third option on November's ballot that is not the extreme of the two?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JulieToo
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm

JulieToo is a registered user.


No Easy Solutions,

Well said. I wholeheartedly agree.

Such a solution would be in the interest of everyone. Not "either-or". Not contentious debate based on dualistic thinking.

A better approach: to see the strong points of both plans and try to combine them, without either side having to lose the essence of the intent of their plans.

How to accomplish that? I have no idea. Maybe start the discussion with goodwill.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Neither plan addresses the underlying infrastructure or transportation (large component to quality of life)"

Creating an equality between the Specific Plan and initiative is factually incorrect.

PLEASE take the time to review the Specific Plan and the EIR which accompanied it - both infrastructure and transportation are addressed in detail.

Web Link

And the Lanza/Fry initiative addresses neither infrastructure or transportation.


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