News - December 21, 2011

Menlo council OKs $225,000 more for consultants

by Sandy Brundage

The desire to make the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan process as comprehensive as possible boxed the Menlo Park City Council into a corner on Dec. 13.

Community feedback led the council to propose changes to the plan in October, such as adding parking plaza 2 to the sites under consideration for conversion to garages and deploying trial installations of sidewalk expansions, but that then led consultants Perkins and Will to ask for more money to study the changes — to the tune of $225,980.

Some community members, including downtown business owners, responded with outrage over the additional price tag to a plan that's already cost $960,960.

During the Tuesday night meeting, Councilman Andy Cohen warned that he thought "bulling ahead" with the plan would lead to several other expenses in the form of lawsuits and ballot referendums, but cast his vote in favor of approving the additional money.

Pointing to the empty lots along El Camino Real, Vice Mayor Peter Ohtaki said that while he didn't like the dollar amount, he wanted to get the plan finished to see those lots turn into projects. He also suggested creating a development fee to defray some of the cost down the road.

Mayor Kirsten Keith acknowledged that the changes were driven by the city "to make this a plan we can be proud of," but briefly explored dropping some of the new case studies, as she thought developers would likely conduct that research on their own when exploring new restaurant or senior housing sites.

However, the ensuing discussion convinced the council to leave the studies in, and the full expenditure was approved with a unanimous 5-0 vote.


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