Almanac

Viewpoint - May 11, 2011

Town Square: Environmental report predicts more traffic

Join the conversation on the Almanac's online Town Square forum: almanacnews.com/square. Below are some recent postings on the topic of the proposed Menlo Park downtown plan, and a draft environment impact report that was recently released on the plan.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of the Park Forest neighborhood in Menlo Park:

Several years ago, a large number of Menlo Park residents affiliated by calling themselves "Residentialists." That meant that the primacy of the quality of life of the city's residents should be the highest political priority of our elected officials.

Indeed, we voted for Kelly Fergusson, Andy Cohen and Rich Cline to help sustain those values. It also meant resisting development and the intense financial ambitions of those who sought high-density, high-rise residential increases; the pro-developer advocates. We now see how well that's turned out.

Since then, we have been relentlessly plagued by pro-growth politicians and their profit-seeking supporters in the developer community.

Perhaps it's a function of being an old codger, but "livability" does not have to mean growth. It can also mean leaving things alone and fixing what we already have.

As Ray Mueller (a member of the city's Transportation Commission) puts it so clearly, we are on a path of being inundated with traffic like we've never seen before. We are surrounded by developers and massive development projects.

It would seem to me that the value of Menlo Park lies not in the intention of constant expansion, but of resisting that expansion, of inhibiting traffic rather than facilitating it, of keeping buildings at their current height rather than pursuing ever higher structures and its concomitant citification.

What's so wrong with keeping our city at 30,000 occupants rather than growing to 40,000? Why is that so inherently bad?

We're here, presumably, because this is the kind of city we want to live in. Why must growth be shoved down our throats and against our will?

Posted by 'Here We Go Again,' a resident of the Central Menlo Park neighborhood:

I could leave this earth, return 100 years from now, and I believe I would see the same old argument, again, and again, and again. No, I am not a profit-seeking politician or a profit-seeking supporter. The majority of us are very, very, very tired of looking at the mess your group has left us, years and years of mess.

The Derry Project (still run-down stores and an abandoned car wash) is five years old now? The movie theater (abandoned, and from time to time graffiti-covered) for six-plus years. The Matteson property, empty lot for five-plus years. Downtown Santa Cruz Avenue, 14 or more vacant stores, car lots (abandoned and looking worse every day) five-plus years.

Why does this have to continue? Why, with a town of 30,000 inhabitants, many of whom pay very high taxes, should we continue to put up with this unsightly mess?

No one wants a huge development, with high rises and concrete structures and all the other stuff some have said would happen. We just want an improved commercial district without your ridiculous interferences, period.

Enough is enough. Please use some common sense and stop the roadblocks to improvement.

Posted by 'positive change,' a resident of the Menlo Park, Felton Gables neighborhood.

Unlike downtown Palo Alto, where a small number of local developers own almost all the property, there are many different owners in downtown Menlo Park. That makes it harder to agree on and implement a plan. From the research (local resident) Jennifer Bestor conducted, it seems that a significant percentage of the owners don't live in the area and pay very low property taxes. They have little incentive to renovate. Some of them may be letting their property remain vacant in hopes that they can rent it for more money in six months rather than accept a lower rent now.

No one, not residentialists or anyone else, wants to see a downtown with a lot of vacant storefronts. But I am not sure that any plan will remedy that. We just have to wait for the economy to pick up a little more and make sure we provide a hospitable environment (for example, the Planning Department shouldn't force would-be store owners to jump through too many hoops). Meanwhile, I think we should try to maintain a vision of what we want our downtown to be, rather than affecting an attitude of "we're so desperate for business that we don't care what anyone does as long as it involves a wrecking ball."

Posted by 'gunste,' a resident of the Portola Valley, Ladera neighborhood.

In the 45 years I have lived in the area, I have seen downtown Menlo Park "remodeled" several times. It always cost a lot of money and rarely improved anything, except the consultants and contractors pocket books. Trees were demolished and replanted, parking rejiggered, then there was the disaster of the islands sticking into Santa Cruz, which had to be removed.

Now, Menlo Park frequently lacks adequate parking, though when I go there, I can usually find a spot and walk a block or two, if required. I have not seen the new plans, but someone has already cashed in on their development.

Improvement? A reason to raise the rents and lose some attractive businesses for more "upscale" and unaffordable stores. There is very serious doubt that anything will result except inconvenience, unavailability of parking during construction, and a good reason to go elsewhere.

Go to AlmanacNews.com/square to visit the online Town Square forum.

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