Viewpoint - September 14, 2011

Guest opinion: Draft plan for downtown is 'truly awful'

by Roxie Rorapaugh

A crucial step has been ignored in the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan process.

In September of 2009, fliers were distributed citywide advertising a community workshop to be held on Sept. 17. The flier stated that, "The results of this workshop will set the foundation for the draft version of the Specific Plan."

Please note the word "draft," because as soon as the workshop was over, the meaning of the word draft was changed. In the Sept. 30, 2009, Almanac, a story reporting on the workshop also reported that "aided by input received at the meeting, a consultant will deliver a final plan, part of a $1.2 million project to revamp the area. ..."

It seemed like a mistake by the reporter, to call it a final plan. Trying to get anything about the Draft Specific Plan altered has been impossible. Even before the plan was released at a City Council meeting on Oct. 13, 2009, 12 members of the public spoke about their concerns about building heights and parking. Nine of these specifically asked that the current parking plazas downtown be preserved instead of building multistory and/or mixed-use parking structures.

Then, once the "Draft El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan" was released, the answer to every question raised to Thomas Rogers of the planning department was, "This was all vetted through community workshops." Instead of listening to people, discussing ways to meet the needs of the community and improve the plan, the planning department decided to just stop and call it done. The draft plan is now the final plan in their eyes, as far as I can tell.

Those were community workshops, not a constitutional convention. I myself did not attend in part because I did not like the venue (being in a church meeting center). Since I thought these were just workshops for a draft plan, I did not think it necessary to try to force my feelings about the venue on the rest of the city, but who knows how many other people might have felt the same way.

The draft plan as it stands is truly awful. The plan gives away developmental rights on public parking plazas to build large parking structures that are not needed. The city should listen to the business owners who have been here for decades: Draeger's, Flegel's and all the others who have signed up with the Menlo Park Alliance. I'm not a business owner, just a citizen, but I love our downtown.

This plan will kill businesses and people will lose their jobs. The planning department has been rude to the people who have built the downtown; the consultants even suggested removing the median of beautiful trees on Santa Cruz Avenue. Even Mr. Rodgers admits it took three meetings to get the planners to make space for the heritage oak in the proposed Chestnut Street Paseo. Really, if the consultant did not know from the beginning to preserve one of the most beautiful heritage trees we have downtown, what were we paying them for?

Now is the time for the City Council to vote against continuing with this plan in its current form and begin discussing a process to use the information that has been gathered and the work that has been done to create a plan that benefits the city and all of its citizens.

Roxie Rorapaugh lives on Sherman Avenue in Menlo Park.


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