Almanac

Viewpoint - October 19, 2011

Letter: Downtown plan needs careful council scrutiny

Editor:

Most people think they know what the El Camino/Downtown Vision means — goodbye to weedy El Camino lots, hello to more senior housing and a more lively downtown.

But the plan makes many other changes that weren't discussed in the community workshops. As proposed, the plan creates more jobs than housing, adding commuters and increasing — not reducing — the current jobs/housing imbalance. It shuts out the voice of neighborhoods and local businesses by eliminating the current public review process for projects that might affect them, while allowing significantly larger structures and requiring less parking.

It allows five-story office buildings with 10-foot setbacks. It removes 35 parking spaces behind Trader Joe's, 32 from the Farmers Market lot. It expects less retail, fewer restaurants on El Camino. As proposed, it requires at least one hotel for financial viability. It perpetuates an unpredictable, behind-closed-doors public benefit negotiation process between staff and developers.

The plan's development cap, ostensibly lasting 30 years, could get consumed rapidly by just a few projects. The amount of likely development and resulting significant adverse environmental impacts (increased greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion that cannot be mitigated) may be grossly underestimated. And we'd be back into the game of one-off project approvals.

The council should continue its careful review and modifications to address these issues. That will make the difference between the plan fulfilling the vision of a well-connected, vibrant small town and the possibility of over-developed gridlocked urbanization that benefits private developers at the cost of our residential community.

Patti Fry, Menlo Park

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