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Protests target Arrillaga project in Menlo Park

Original post made on Nov 28, 2012

A small group of residents has a large mission: Save Menlo Park. Their target? The eight-acre, mixed-use complex developer John Arrillaga wants to build on property owned by Stanford University along El Camino Real.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 11:20 AM

Comments (25)

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Posted by No say
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Sandy, you write that "the city gets no say", but this is not a direct quote from a reliable source. We can't tell if this story is intended as a call-to-action, is is simply comedy.


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Posted by Menlo resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm

For years, we''ve heard complaining about the unattractive, empty car lots and requesting that something be done to enhance the appearance and bring some vibrancy to the City. Here we have a plan that conforms to the City's new specific plan and still there are complaints! This is one of the many reasons there are so many vacancies throughout the City. It is difficult for any business, small or large, to become part of a community that not only makes it difficult to move into City but that continually looks to greedily squeeze out more and more from them. This negative attitude about any improvement, particularly when it meets the specifications in the Town's plan, must stop. It's impossible to please everyone 100% of the time (even when the project meets the City's plan) but the leaders need to proceed and not allow this to get bogged down in costly, time consuming delays for all parties. It's time to take action and follow the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan!


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Posted by Pragmatist
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Oh, please. "It is difficult for any business, small or large, to become part of a community that not only makes it difficult to move into City but that continually looks to greedily squeeze out more and more from them."

Stanford isn't moving into this community. It is already here. It isn't about to sell its land or go anywhere. The greed in this situation is all on the Stanford side.

Unfortunately, the city staff/council could have anticipated this outcome -- plenty of people were warning them that Stanford might take advantage of the carte blanche offered in the new plan. But our staff and council naively hoped that Stanford would do the right thing and develop their land in a manner that respects other property owners and the community. Not a chance. See above re "greed."


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Posted by Mr. Neutral
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Maybe Stanford will kick in funds for a grade separation at the tracks on Ravenswood to facilitate traffic flow to the new development.


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Posted by Menlo resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

In my opinion, Stanford is one of the reasons that Menlo Park, Palo Alto and surrounding communities are highly desireable places to live with above average property values. The institution enriches our lives with easy accessiblity to the the best of medical research and facilities. It is one of the central locations for cutting edge discoveries and start-ups along with numerous sporting and arts activities and offerings. My impression, from years of observation, is that they are sensitive and respectful about being good neighbors and have worked with the neighboring oommunities with a spirit of cooperation. They, of course, need be responsible in managing their funds and properties in a way that serves their needs and meets the criteria established by Menlo Park. In this case, they are proposing what is deemed acceptable and fair by the City's El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan. Demonizing Stanford as greedy because of its size, resources is not an acceptable argument in my book. Let's face it, the City has a plan and it is time we play by the rules.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

The reaction to this project is precisely why I opted to use the "handle" I do--who are you people? Menlo Resident stated it perfectly! For years people complained about the empty car lots, for years the City conducted an enormously public process to develop a DSP intended to remedy the problem that those who would otherwise invest their money in developing in MP had, that being that there were too many adverse factions and no clear road map that said, "here are the rules and parameters, please come invest in improving MP". Sure SU owns the land, and no they are not likely to sell it, but they are also not likely to invest money to come up with a development plan that winds up wrapped around every special interest axle in town. Pragmatist says the greed is on SU, sorry that is BS, just because a land owner likely won't sell doesn't make it greedy for the City to pass some rules, and then want to extract payment from someone willing to follow those rules. And Mr. Neutral, your suggestion is a perfect example of my reference to "special interest axles". Grade separations are a lighting rod in this town and good or bad would take years to get approved (and yes folks, time is money). A long way to go and a lot of words to say, ditto to Menlo Resident's previous right on the money post.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm

To No Say--since you don't know me it is perfectly understandable if you do not consider me a "reliable source" either, but to help you understand the context of the reference to the City having "no say" in approving this project. The basis for that is in zoning law. If a land owner wants to do something on their land that is wholly consistent with the zoning for that property, a City's approval authority is limited to architectural control. The theory is that in developing the rules in the zoning ordinance, the City had the opportunity to control other aspects of what gets done with the land. Such is the case here since the DSP is basically zoning. Now, once the architectural aspects of the project are worked out to the satisfaction of the PC & the landowner (PC approves the project), a citizen can appeal that decision by the PC to the City Council, BUT the appeal is limited to why the CC should overturn architectural approval; it doesn't open it up for the CC to reject the project for other reasons since the project conforms to the zoning restrictionsng5hd.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"But our staff and council naively hoped that Stanford would do the right thing and develop their land in a manner that respects other property owners and the community."

No, the staff and council developed a zoning plan that includes the property owned by Stanford and thereby established the rules that must govern any development on that property. If the staff and council wanted any additional constraints on the use of that property then they should have/should have included those in the zoning ordinance.The public had full opportunity to comment on the zoning ordinance when it was being developed and adopted.

Stanford can and should build whatever it wants on their property as long as it conforms with the zoning of that property.

To do a down-zoning now would constitute an illegal taking of Stanford's property rights and would end up being very costly to the city given that Stanford has more and better property lawyers than does the City of Menlo Park.


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Posted by Pragmatist
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Tell the residents of New Haven about how having a world-class university improves their property values and makes their community a great place to live. I know lots of people have consumed more than their share of the Stanford koolaid, but there are communities all over the Bay Area that have above-average prices -- cities in Marin, Hillsborough/Burlingame, Saratoga, etc -- that are not next door to Stanford.

Stanford is a great institution for students, but it is a horrible neighbor with an overblown sense of entitlement. The costs of having the school down the street far outweigh the benefits for most of us.

Yes, the city went through years of "public process," then ignored most of the input it had received in favor of a consultant-developed plan.

Peter, I don't know why you say "no" to my statement, when essentially you are reiterating my points. Our council is, for whatever reason, cowed by Stanford. They didn't have the backbone to do the right thing for our community, and the protest is coming too little, too late. And I agree, our lawyers are pretty pathetic and should be replaced.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

OK Pragmatist let's put the shoe on the other foot. Let's say that you have just decided to sell or remodel your home. Suddenly the city decides that you now have to " develop(your) land in a manner that respects other property owners and the community" and that your property should really be zoned for multifamily residences. Now how do you feel?


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Posted by Pragmatist
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Except that's not how it happened, Peter. Stanford led the city council to believe that it was going to do a different kind of development on that property. Why the city didn't get that in writing, we can only guess. As you say, poor lawyers.

You really cannot compare the average homeowner to Stanford. Most of us are not nearly as conniving, most of us at least pretend to show soe concern for our neighbors, and none of us is as rich.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Stanford led the city council to believe that it was going to do a different kind of development on that property. "

If so then why is that not reflected in the current zoning?


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 28, 2012 at 6:19 pm

""Stanford led the city council to believe that it was going to do a different kind of development on that property. "

If so then why is that not reflected in the current zoning?"

Being the cynic I am, I'd say because someone was naive, incompetent, stupid or bought off. Take your pick.


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Posted by develope the property
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 29, 2012 at 7:33 am

Our El Camino is a mess. The people that are saving Menlo Park are doing the opposite. Dairy lane, Stanford property, Theater to name a few. How bout finally making the grade seperations? How bout finally extending Ravenswood? Parking garge or two? This town is choking.


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Posted by No surprises
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 29, 2012 at 8:04 am

The crucial decisions regarding ECR were made in spring of this year, between April and July. Our mayor was busy running her political campaign for county supervisor. Stanford threw out talk about senior housing but it was a ruse. Piece by piece, the university was careful to lay the groundwork for the medical offices. Does anyone think the Arillaga medical office is an idea that popped up in September? That idea has been on Stanford's books for a long time. The university has a grand plan to push as much traffic generating uses into san mateo county as possible. Santa Clara County has placed restrictions on the university by way of the 2000 general use permit. Medical offices within a half mile of the stanford hospital is genius. The high traffic counts will be Menlo Park's problem. Nice going, Menlo council members.


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Posted by mend the rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 29, 2012 at 9:39 am

Good points. Clearly city officials had the impression Stanford was going to do something different than what is proposed. Somehow they did not expect an office project and did expect help with the train under crossing. That's bad faith on Stanford's part and extreme naivete on the part of the decision makers who should have put into the plan what they wanted and sloppiness on staff's part for not advising them otherwise. Instead, they listened to a consultant who just happens also to consult with Stanford, and made it really easy for other things to be proposed.
It doesn't take a genius to guess that Stanford would be most interested in medical offices to support their new medical center. Offices almost always generate the most income for the landlord so that shouldn't be a surprise either. They are building to the maximum allowed at the level where they don't have to provide a penny of extra public benefit to Menlo Park. It's disappointing, but Stanford is following the rules the city officials put in place.
Needless to say this isn't what most of us residents expected either. We were told there would be public benefit for allowing more development. Some of us would rather have wildflowers filling an empty lot than offices, traffic, and more pressure to build dense housing that will overfill the already crowded schools.
The rules need mended. The sooner the better before more surprises come along.
It is prudent to try to understand which motives were at play for which officials. How could they all have been surprised?


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2012 at 10:03 am

I am a bit baffled in terms of what people who are opposed to the proposed project did expect. Even if they weren't interested enough to pay attention to the zoning that was going in place when they had the opportunity to affect it, just what would you expect a landowner of a piece of income producing land to want to do with it? To not have expected offices and other revenue producing buildings (retail) makes no sense to me. I believe those who developed the baseline requirements and those who approved them were smart enough to realize this reality and did a pretty good job of keeping the scale within reasonable limits that would balance the friction between impacts and the reality of being able to build a project that pencils out AND actually gets built.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2012 at 11:41 am

It follows the codes and guidelines put forth by Menlo Park, so it should be allowed to go on. If MP residents didn't like the guidelines created by MP, they should have complained and fought more vigorously at that point - it's not Stanford's fault they're following the rules on their land. There's no pleasing every tiny special interest and whim of the few. There are tons of near-blight everywhere on El Camino in MP (vacant car lots, space on the north end near the train tracks. You should be fortunate that someone is coming in to clean up the neighborhood.


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Posted by Gern
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm

@WhoRUpeople wrote: "... just what would you expect a landowner of a piece of income producing land to want to do with it? To not have expected offices and other revenue producing buildings (retail) makes no sense to me."

Oh, I don't know, perhaps Stanford might have penciled in a little more senior housing, as indicated in initial discussions about this project? But to hell with good faith -- this is business.

And to all you other Stanford apologists, I haven't seen one of you acknowledge the traffic impact these medical offices will unleash on El Camino Real and surrounding neighborhoods. Are we talking about five or ten thousand additional daily car trips once these offices are occupied? And absolutely no discussion of mitigating this impact because, as we all know, there is no mitigation! Turn a blind eye if you like but I'd take empty car lots to this Arrillaga Traffic Clusterama any day.

Gern


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Posted by Menloshopper
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm

If the city would like more housing, there still may be room for it in the project, though that would not necessarily reduce the amount of medical and office space. If added housing moved the project past 'public benefit' thresholds, then the housing itself might be considered the benefit and so eliminating a protracted benefits negotiation.


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Posted by mend the rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm

The primary concern is traffic. It has gotten worse over the past year, to a ridiculous level and new larger projects aren't built yet.

If the rules aren't producing what is wanted or are producing things we can't tolerate ----- fix the rules. Now.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Gern-I am not apologizing for Stanford. Didn't go there, don't care. Here is my point, pretend for a moment that I own this parcel and do so because it is an income producing investment. It only makes sense that I would want to maximize my ROI would it not? And suppose I told you that senior housing minimizes my ROI; in our society and economic system, should I be required to build senior housing anyway? Before you answer, I am a veteran and a senior, didn't fight for a system that would dictate such a requirement. And to your point about mitigating the traffic impacts, how about finally putting in the proper staged traffic signals to meter traffic thru town or building grade separations like other progressive cities on the peninsula have done?


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Posted by Pragmatist
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Sorry, folks. This ship has left the dock. The time to complain was a few months ago. Our council was seemingly unable to see that there was a middle ground between ugly vacant lots and excessive development. They were afraid to call Stanford's bluff when Stanford said "give us total freedom or we're going to leave those lots vacant."

(Note to the council. Once the leases ran out, Stanford needed either to develop or sell that land. They were not going to leave the property vacant.)

None of this is a knock on Stanford. It is absolutely their right to want to develop their land to yield the maximum revenue possible. But it is the responsibility of the people we elect to represent us to negotiate zoning that is in the best interests of this city. In this situation, they did not. Some of us knew it then. The rest of you are just figuring it out.


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Posted by Gern
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm

@WhoRUpeople, please check the definition of "apologist" -- no one in this thread is apologizing for Stanford, far as I can tell. And, no, I do not agree with the assertion that property owners should be allowed to maximize ROI in all cases. As you, I, and Ayn Rand well know, there are myriad examples where the public good and other concerns trump these rights. In this particular case, Stanford may be planning by the (perhaps flawed) letter of the new city specific plan though not by the spirit of previous public discussions. And this is not the binary situation you describe -- the choices aren't simply to minimize or maximize ROI with senior housing versus medical offices.

Regarding traffic, you have affirmed my central point: there is no reasonable near-term mitigation for the traffic nightmare this project will create. To suggest that changing the timing of the lights through Menlo Park will have any more than the slightest impact is fantasy, and grade separations are at least a decade away, if ever funded, perhaps longer if high speed rail remains a reality on the peninsula.

Traffic concerns are the crux for me: show me a realistic traffic mitigation plan and I will support the project as-is. Else, hell no!

Gern


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2012 at 8:43 am

Gern-thank you, I looked it up. My daughter who was a debate star in school would be ashamed of me for not knowing the meaning of apologist.K4fJX


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