Traffic projections for El Camino Real must have surprised some project supporters, who may not have been prepared to see estimates of an additional 13,385 daily car trips, including 899 during the morning commute and 1,319 during the evening ride that came with the label "significant and unavoidable environmental impacts."
Menlo Park Transportation Commissioner Ray Mueller observed, "Our city streets are already quite congested" during commute time.
The trouble with this and other findings in the draft EIR is that the city is under pressure from many residents to "do something" about the blighted area where empty automobile dealerships now stand. The plan envisions mixed use commercial and residential development along El Camino and raising allowable building heights 8 feet. If the entire plan is thrown out, it would set resolution of this problem back years and at least a portion of the $1 million fee paid to the consultants would be wasted.
When it comes to the areas of Santa Cruz Avenue and adjacent streets, projections of more traffic also threaten to stymie any decision-making about how to balance plans for two parking garages and other amenities with the concerns of citizens, merchants and property owners who fear the city's downtown charm will be lost.
The plan envisions redesigned parking plazas and two new parking structures plus wider sidewalks and more trees, which only adds to the fear of some residents and merchants that the old ways will be sacrificed.
Residents have had plenty of opportunities to comment on the plan at numerous public hearings. Adjustments have been made to accommodate many of the hundreds of suggestions offered.
It is clear that not all of the proposed changes will be adopted, and more importantly, few, if any, changes will be made until a developer shows interest in a project that falls within the new guidelines. For example, work on a parking structure could not begin until a design has been approved by the city and a financing plan put in place.
It is our hope that everyone interested in improving the outlook for Menlo Park's downtown will approach this plan in the spirit of compromise. It would be a tremendous setback to see the entire plan scuttled, along with the $1 million invested.
The first Planning Commission hearing will be held June 6 at City Hall, and the public review period of the impact report runs until June 20.
Visit tinyurl.com/plan-42911 to review the draft EIR.