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Lost opportunity for BMR housing

Original post made by Renee Batti, news editor of The Almanac, on Mar 27, 2007

The following letter by Elizabeth Lasensky was published in the Almanac's March 28 print edition:
Editor:
The 1300 El Camino (Cadillac) project offered Menlo Park its first major new rental apartments in decades. It was a transit-oriented complex that would have provided 134 rental units, including 22 below market rate (BMR) units, as well as retail and office space.
One of the City Council's complaints about this project was there was not enough retail. Another was that we have enough rental units in the city and, because our city would not get tax revenue from the rentals, the apartments should be condos.
The height, setback and density of the project were assailed but the council gave no hint to the developer about what numbers would be acceptable. The council was not willing to work with the developer to come up with a compromise plan.
So instead of much-needed housing and tax-producing retail, it looks like we will get a grocery store and offices, neither of which will generate much in the way of tax revenue.
While the City Council and community members continue to talk about the need to update the general plan and residential zoning ordinances before agreeing to go forward with projects, nothing has been done to begin the process. As Brielle Johnck noted last week, this process could take quite some time. In essence, a moratorium has been created without public discussion or vote of the council.
An El Camino task force is under consideration. While this is potentially a good way to solicit community input, we already have had charrettes, the county has a "Grand Boulevard" commission composed of elected officials, and who knows how many other groups or agencies are working on the same two miles or so of Menlo Park real estate?
Add to that the Green Ribbon Task Force on Global Warming, which should also be involved with this vital discussion, and we now have a lot of overlapping groups and interests that don't communicate with each other.
Back to our BMR units. We are left to wonder about the commitment of our council members to the BMR program and affordable housing. Council members serve on various housing boards and commissions, but whose interests do they represent? Do they really represent the 500 or so households on our BMR list or other Menlo Park residents who might benefit from expanded and more diverse, potentially affordable, housing options? Or do they represent their own re-election interests?
Elizabeth Lasensky
Fremont Street, Menlo Park

Comments (2)

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Posted by Gern Blanston
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 29, 2007 at 4:44 pm

Elizabeth Lasensky writes: "In essence, a moratorium has been created without public discussion or vote of the council."

The only "moratorium" I am aware of is that placed on the aspirations of developers who worked in concert with the previous council majority (the Three Stooges of Infill Development) to foist their overly-dense projects on our fair city. If the beneficiaries of the Derry and Cadillac projects had been able to rein in their greed and stick to existing general plan and zoning requirements for height and density we wouldn't be having this discussion, in all likelihood -- both projects would probably be advancing with nary a complaint. True, we'd have fewer homes and BMR units as a result, but I, for one, am okay with that outcome, as are the thousands of Derry referendum supporters, it would seem.

I know it's not PC to oppose increasingly dense infill development, especially when BMR units are at stake, and I do not oppose all infill development (the Derry property is a prime candidate for redevelopment), but the benefits to Menlo Park of these projects (as approved by the former council majority) simply do not outweigh the costs. And on a strictly personal level I don't wish for Menlo Park to become any more "urban" (read "crowded") than it already is -- leave those noble aspirations to Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, and other communities.

Ms. Lasensky and many other MP residents may disagree, and I respect that.

Gern


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Homeowner
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Mar 29, 2007 at 6:06 pm

I hope the Council represents all of the residents, not just the interests of the people like Ms Lasensky on the BMR list. By considering everyone, the Council must balance competing interests, which are the wants and needs and concerns of existing residents.
The city has not instituted a moratorium; the Council was quite clear that the city will still process applications for projects, even those that don't comply with city rules like the Derry and Cadillac projects. I actually wish the Council would put such projects to the bottom of the heap so staff can get on with working toward a plan for what the community supports and is willing to tolerate.
Conceptually many are supportive of BMR housing but it's the 90% of the rest of the project units that are not BMR that cause problems that aren't tolerated well. Why support more traffic when we need more revenue to support the residents we already have?


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