News - May 18, 2011

Menlo Park council OK's traffic mitigation deal on Stanford medical center expansion

by Sandy Brundage

Swapping the right to sue for more money, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0 to accept Stanford's offer of $3.7 million for traffic mitigation and other improvements related to its planned medical center expansion.

The $3.5 billion project would bring about 1.3 million square feet of new development and more than 2,200 new employees to Palo Alto by 2025. But it could also add an estimated 10,000 new daily car trips to the area, with 51 percent of the traffic passing through Menlo Park, raising concerns on the city's Transportation Commission and council.

The new deal includes $2.4 million with the flexibility that it could be used for infrastructure and community improvements instead of just traffic solutions, and $290,000 for adaptive traffic signals at the intersection of Middlefield Road with Willow Road and also Ravenswood Avenue.

Finally, Stanford agreed to three payouts instead of a lump sum — one-third after final project approval, and the remaining amounts estimated to arrive in 2013 and 2018, respectively, as triggered by permit issuances.

City attorney Bill McClure reminded the council at its May 10 meeting that by approving the deal, Menlo Park agreed not to sue over the project's environmental impact report. "If litigated, those monies are off the table," he said.

Councilman Peter Ohtaki thanked the transportation commissioners for the extensive analysis of the document presented to the council last month.

Colleague Kelly Fergusson recused herself from voting on the offer since her husband works at Stanford University.

Beechwood School

The council also unanimously agreed to accept Habitat for Humanity's withdrawal from a plan to build affordable housing on Terminal Avenue, a decision greeted with cheers from those attending the meeting to support Beechwood School's desire to buy the land to expand its program.

"Study your hearts and think with your heads," Rose Bickerstaff urged the council before the vote. A resident of the Belle Haven neighborhood where the private K-8 school is located, she spoke of the positive impact it has on its students.

Before casting his vote, Mayor Rich Cline called the need for better education immediate, and suggested the city should take a look at consolidating the Ravenswood and Menlo Park City School districts.

"We should not have multiple school districts in this city," he said. "There should be one; our kids should be in the same schools."

The Habitat for Humanity plan would have addressed another of Menlo Park's critical needs — affordable housing. But development stalled after nine years of community opposition. In the meantime, Menlo Park spent $998,000 on environmental remediation to prepare the site for housing, while the nonprofit paid $481,590 to buy an adjacent parcel to get access to the building site.

Whether Beechwood will purchase the land remains to be seen, although the council's action clears the path for negotiations. The school will need to offer a price the council considers fair market value for the parcel.


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