Those few who attacked our elected officials and other speakers were a disgrace to our town. In addition, it appears that the most bombastic of these speakers do not feel any shame for their irresponsible behavior.
Mayor Peter Ohtaki had specifically asked for civility during the public hearing. His guidance was rejected by the leaders of the critics. Today I am calling publicly for a repudiation of such tactics in the future, and a return to trusting our City Council, Planning Commission and city staff.
Here is some perspective: Recall that it was the City Council that requested a public hearing be held regarding Stanford's proposal. They want to hear citizens' concerns over traffic and other issues related to Stanford's proposal and the specific plan. Our council members are leaders in seeking an improved project proposal.
Also, recall that the specific plan resulted from five years of public outreach, expressing the public will. It had a hugely participatory visioning phase, and was adjusted over its final two years to meet many community concerns. The final plan document expresses our residents' core values, smart-growth goals, and our wonderful small-town positives.
At the meeting, a majority of those who spoke were mainly concerned about rush-hour traffic on El Camino Real, neighborhood cut-through traffic and its impact on family safety, and the size of the proposal (170 apartments on four acres, and three office buildings on the other four acres totaling 200,000 square feet).
I spoke during the meeting about trusting the planning process. (That process worked well a dozen years ago in the Willows neighborhood, to limit cut-through traffic when offices were built adjacent to us.) Perla Ni followed with her critical remarks, with a "Fox News" type slide show. She turned her back on the council members, and spoke mainly to her troops in the audience.
Many speakers who followed were more sincere, making good points about traffic and family safety. Yet, one of Ms. Ni's boosters just yelled her criticisms at the council members. When I left around 10 p.m., a woman outside yelled at me, "Did Stanford pay you to speak tonight?" I explained, "No; I often participate in planning meetings." She jeered at me, "You don't even live in Menlo Park!" I explained that I do, owning a home here for 40 years.
Here are some of my comments to the council on the specific plan: I'm speaking tonight for common sense and moderation, and optimism about our wonderful city's future, even with the Peninsula's inevitable growth.
"I fully understand the fear of the homeowners in the Allied Arts neighborhood. A decade ago my Willows neighbors and I were highly vocal about possible cut-through traffic from the office development at University and Hwy 101. Cut-through traffic from those office buildings (twice as big as Stanford's) would ruin our neighborhood.
"Well, city staff and leaders listened. The planning process moved forward carefully, adjustments were made, and today those feared problems did not materialize. Our Willows neighborhood is still a peaceful, walking, biking, kid-safe place to live.
"I hope my fellow residents will have faith in our city planning and leadership teams. The same good outcome will occur for the Allied Arts neighborhood. Already Stanford is cooperating. The latest plan has 70 percent less medical offices, which reduces car-trips by one-third. There is 35 percent more housing now. The open-space plaza is now 75 percent dedicated to pedestrians and bicycles.
"Modest modifications to the specific plan may indeed make sense. I trust the City Council's judgment. But major modifications, like separating these parcels from the plan, do not make sense. Please listen to the critics tonight. But do not lose faith in your neighbors' extensive support for our specific plan. It is a balanced, optimistic vision for Menlo Park's future."
I am pleased that the council set up a subcommittee to continue evaluation of this proposal and of the specific plan. Their work should get us off to a good start toward a return to civility around planning for our future. I hope that Almanac readers will join this call for a return to respect for our City Council and our city planning process.