Viewpoint - April 13, 2011

Editorial: Palo Alto could help Menlo on impact

There is no question that Stanford's $3.5 billion project to upgrade and enlarge its two hospitals on Sand Hill Road will cause a tremendous amount of traffic impact in the surrounding neighborhoods in Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

The recently released final environmental impact report on the project says that Menlo Park will bear 51 percent of the new traffic generated by the project and lays out various plans to reduce the number of Stanford-related trips.

The primary mitigation plan proposed by the university is to provide Caltrain passes for all hospital employees in hopes that up to 35 percent of the workforce will arrive and depart by train, rather than a single-occupancy vehicle. Other proposals suggested by the EIR include upgrading the traffic signals in Menlo Park and helping pay for a shuttle bus system in the city.

The problem, as Menlo Park sees it, is that the Caltrain idea is a goal, but hardly a sure thing. Whether workers use the trains depends on many variables, like how far they live from the station and whether they have errands to run on the way home. Individuals will make that decision, not Stanford.

Comments from the Menlo Park Transportation Commission suggest that Stanford conduct periodic tests to see how many employees actually use the train passes, and set consequences if they fall short. And Commissioner Charlie Bourne said any employee who wants one should be issued a new Clipper pass that can be used on any Bay Area transit system.

The commission's assessment, endorsed by the Menlo Park City Council and sent to the Palo Alto City Council, found other mitigations woefully lacking. For example, the report's estimated increase of only 68 cars per day heading toward Interstate 280 during the peak evening commute "appears optimistic" given that more than 2,000 parking spaces and four parking garages will be added by the project.

And making adaptive signal technology its top primary mitigation measure was criticized by the commission, because such a system is already in place on Sand Hill Road, so it could not contribute to reducing traffic on that important artery.

Another disappointing strategy found in the EIR concerns altering roadways and intersections. Five intersections are cited as needing physical repairs to meet the required traffic counts, but Menlo Park found the cost for one such project to be $450,000, while Stanford would only contribute $14,100. Instead, the city calls on Stanford to pay the full cost of intersection upgrades.

The commissioners said that the biggest shortcoming of all was the comparatively small amount of compensation promised to Menlo Park for mitigating the problems, compared to the much more generous payments proposed for Palo Alto.

For example, in exchange for approval of the project, Palo Alto would receive:

• $6 million for parks, community centers and libraries.

• $2 million in transportation impact fees.

• $616,000 in public school fees.

• $12 million for unspecified climate change programs.

• $1.1 million to reimburse consultant fees.

• $23.2 million for unspecified affordable housing projects in Palo Alto.

Clearly, as the authorizing agency, Palo Alto will receive the lion's share of impact money from Stanford.

But there is precedent for Palo Alto helping Menlo Park to recover its costs for the impact of a Stanford project.

When Stanford sought to widen the Menlo Park portion of Sand Hill Road in 2004-05, Palo Alto required the university to pay for the entire project, which did not cost Menlo Park a dime.

In this similar situation, we hope that Palo Alto will require Stanford to be much more generous in paying for the mitigations necessary to accommodate at least a portion of the huge traffic the expanded hospital will bring to Menlo Park. A fair amount would be miniscule compared to the millions of dollars the university already intends to pay Palo Alto to approve the project.


Posted by Raymond Mueller, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Thank you for the thoughtful editorial, and for keeping such an important issue in the minds of your readers.

Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Perhaps Menlo Park would like to lead by example and share some of the payments that it demanded from Bohannon with the Fire District to help offset the impacts of the Gateway project on the Fire District.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Posted by for stronger geese, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

Palo Alto should negotiate on behalf of Menlo Park's needs to be met directly by Stanford to Menlo Park. It doesn't make sense for Palo Alto to get money to give to our city.
Similarly, Menlo Park should have negotiated money to be provided for the Fire District from the Bohannon project. Let's hope Palo Alto's negotiating team is stronger than Menlo Park's.

In both instances, the cities have the ultimate power in negotiations because they grant approvals. There should be no rush to end negotiations until community needs are met; the projects wouldn't go to another city.

Posted by BB, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 30, 2011 at 5:17 am


It's Mr. Bohannon who needs to compensate the Fire District for added support directly required by his Menlo Gateway project; not Menlo Park, East Palo Alto or Atherton, the districts service area. I understand that these impacts include a new truck that can reach higher floors; a new station in which to park it and extra staffing.

The Fire District shouldn't approve occupancy permits until this is done. Not by Menlo Park, and not through financing imposed bond on residents.

Perhaps you could update us on those efforts, and the status of negotiations with Bohannon to provide for them.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 30, 2011 at 8:51 am

Since this is a Fire Board issue let me make clear that I am speaking here only as an individual and not on behalf of the Fire Board or Fire District.

CEQA gives the exclusive responsibility to negotiate necessary mediation to impacts of a proposed project to the agency which will issue the building permits. Just as the Fire District implored Menlo Park to require mediations for the impact of the Bohannon project on the Fire District so too must Menlo Park implore Palo Alto to act in Menlo Park's behalf - sadly both Menlo Park and Palo Alto have chosen to ignore the impacts of the projects in question on other jurisdictions.

The Fire District must issue an occupancy permit for a new or remodeled building once the Fire District is certain that the building complies with the Fire Code. This permitting process does not even begin until plans for the project has been finalized and submitted. The Fire District has no authority to withhold that occupancy permit based on impacts that a building (which otherwise complies with the Fire Code) may also have on the ability of the Fire District to serve that building without degrading its service to other structures or residents. Some agencies would not hesitate to reach beyond their authority in this respect but the MPFPD is not one of them.

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