We believe the petitioners have a good point — in its latest configuration, the Arrillaga/Stanford plan to build such a huge mass of office space on this busy arterial street is foolhardy and would severely damage the quality of life for many residents. When the city was in discussions with Stanford about its plans for the property, officials say the university indicated it was agreeable to building senior housing on the site. When the first plan showed much more office space than housing, city officials said they were disappointed because they were expecting to see housing, which would help relieve the city's current imbalance.
City officials have been taking heat from some residents for not writing more ironclad restrictions into the recently approved downtown plan, a legitimate criticism, although council members who were involved said Stanford gave strong indications that it would come back with a plan for housing. Medical office space was apparently not discussed.
The petition drive has accumulated only modest numbers of signatures so far, but it has gained some attention, and now we are hearing rumblings that despite the development plan's meeting most of the legal criteria of the new downtown plan, the city could draw out the approval process through legitimate means, such as extended hearings before the Planning Commission, which will consider the development request. It also is possible that the city could begin a preliminary look at placing a moratorium on building any more medical office space on El Camino Real due to its capacity to generate more car trips than most other development.
The petitioners bring up other good points as well, including concern about safety for young cyclists and pedestrians using streets in the Allied Arts neighborhood across El Camino Real from the project site. Many families and their children walk or bike on these quiet streets to Oak Knoll Elementary School or Hillview Middle School. It is not difficult to imagine motorists heading north or south on El Camino Real attempting to speed their commute by cutting through these neighborhoods.
Additionally, we agree with the petitioners that there is no discernible public benefit in the current version of the project. So, rather than seeing a wide array of ground-floor retail shops throughout the complex, with housing for seniors and others on the upper floors, the developers have submitted a design focused almost entirely on medical offices. Another frequently mentioned benefit that did not materialize was a pedestrian-bike tunnel under the railroad tracks that could provide a safe link from El Camino and the Allied Arts neighborhood to the Burgess Civic Center. Such a tunnel in this area has been on the city's wish list for years, and this is an opportunity to finally turn such a project into reality.
In our view, signing this petition is perhaps the only leverage Menlo Park residents can bring to convince Mr. Arrillaga and Stanford to develop a project that will truly benefit the Menlo Park community. It is an opportunity that city residents should not miss, unless gridlock traffic is their idea of progress on El Camino Real.