News - June 15, 2011

Willows traffic plan hits dead stop in Menlo Park

• Council votes unanimously to halt project.

by Sandy Brundage

The rhetoric was bloodthirsty, for a Menlo Park City Council meeting: One after another public speaker on June 7 urged the council to kill it. Kill it dead. Kill it good and dead and beyond hope of resuscitation — "it" being the latest iteration of the Willows traffic improvement plan.

The council considered whether to embark upon a survey to determine what Willows residents really thought about proceeding with the plan. A storm of emails to the council this week suggested that many residents already knew what they thought, and those thoughts mirrored the public comments during the meeting.

"This is a solution that has meandered in search of a problem that does not exist. If implemented, there will be significant problems," Patrick Daly told the council.

The suggested improvements fell into two categories, according to staff: speed reduction and traffic volume reduction. It was the notion of restricting left-hand turns on Willow Road at O'Keefe Street and also Chester Street, along with creating one-way zones on Woodland Avenue, that drew particular ire from residents speaking at the council meeting.

The five-member council was pared down to three, as Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith and Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson recused themselves by virtue of living in the Willows neighborhood.

When the time came, the remaining members voted 3-0 to stop the plan in its tracks.

"I'm going to vote against this plan. I don't think it has a snowball's chance in hell of passing," Andy Cohen said, and explained that he didn't see the need to waste time teasing out individual provisions as colleague Peter Ohtaki had suggested.

Engineering Services Manager Chip Taylor said the data collected during the $120,000 study would still prove useful for future projects.

Transportation Commissioner Ray Mueller seemed satisfied by the result, if not the process. "While I agree with the outcome of the meeting, Mayor Cline missed an opportunity last night to reprimand staff and apologize to the public and to the Transportation Commission, for the gamesmanship staff played with respect to the Willows Traffic Study, and staff's misrepresenting the vote of the Transportation Commission in the City's budget meeting two weeks ago. It was unfortunate," he wrote in an email to the Almanac.

In April, the Transportation Commission voted 2-3 on a motion to recommend the plan to the council. At the time, Mr. Taylor said the commissioners had voted against recommending the plan.

However, staff appeared to reverse that opinion later — Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens told the council on May 24 that the commission had taken no action. He also said it had considered two plans, when in actuality the commissioners evaluated only one, according to Mr. Mueller.

As Mayor Cline ruminated during the meeting, that was not quite the same as voting against the plan, but the oddly worded motion caused headaches for those trying to track the study's progress and for staff trying to explain what happened.


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