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Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park

By Dana Hendrickson

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About this blog: I hope readers of my blog will join me and other members of the Menlo Park community in a collective effort to transform our downtown into a much more appealing place, one where residents enjoy a lot more positive experiences and ...  (More)

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El Camino Is Rapidly Becoming The Bright New Face of Menlo Park

Uploaded: Mar 14, 2019
It’s been a long time coming, but a welcome transformation of the El Camino business district in Menlo Park is now well underway, especially on the east side of the highway. Within three years, an area that includes locations along El Camino and adjacent to the train station will likely emerge as the most vibrant and attractive commercial section of our city and a big source of civic pride, all due to an enormous influx of private investment. While new development in downtown Santa Cruz will remain limited due to heavily restrictive building regulations and passive existing property owners, no such barriers exist on the east side of El Camino. Hopefully, our city will eventually loosen the tight regulations on properties along the west side as the unattractive nature of these structures WILL become more painfully obvious.

Menlo Park also needs to do its part and make significant investments in the El Camino business district. For example, the Downtown/El Camino Specific Plan proposes a central public plaza at the east end of Santa Cruz next to the train station. And future grade separations at Ravenswood and Oak Grove should enhance rather than harm the area between Alma and Merrill.

Ignoring this important consideration will be widely viewed as regrettable and terribly shortsighted.

All Menlo Park residents should appreciate the important roles and contributions of our city Planning Commission which has rigorously, tirelessly and thoughtfully ensured the new retail space, housing, hotels and offices along El Camino will have a wonderful mix of attractive architectural designs – both traditional and contemporary. The Commission faces a constant stream of big challenges, and it has performed extremely well.

We are now witnessing a wonderful transformation at the core of our city. Big eyesores (abandoned car lots) and drab structures are being replaced with beautiful buildings. A lot of housing is being added within walking distance of the train station. New restaurants and retail shops will soon open. No other city on the Peninsula will have a more appealing commercial stretch on El Camino.

Not too bad for a sleepy bedroom community!

(PDF of above illustration)

(PDF of above illustration)

(Above) The Stanford Park Hotel features 162-guest rooms and a beautiful outdoor plaza. And the Menlo Tavern, a new onsite restaurant, opened this month.

(Above) The boutique Park James Hotel which recently opened near Glenwood has 63-rooms, a beautiful public courtyard and fine restaurant.

(Above) Station 1300 is currently under construction and should open in 2020. It includes retail space and restaurants, two office buildings, and 183 rental apartments for Stanford workers. Alfresco dining is envisioned in the central public plaza, which faces El Camino.

(Above) Stanford expects its multi-purpose Middle Plaza to open in 2022. It will include 215 apartments, non-medical offices, retail spaces and restaurants and a large public plaza facing El Camino and convenient access from Middle Avenue.

(Above) Alma Station at 1020 Alma is three-story office building nearing completion.

(Above) Prince Street Partners is currently constructing three mixed-use buildings on three parcels (506 Santa Cruz Avenue, 556 Santa Cruz Avenue, and 1125 Merrill Street. The development includes offices, apartments plus street-level retail and restaurants

(Above) The Peninsula Arts Guild (PAG) is proposing to renovate the existing Guild Theatre cinema facility into a live entertainment venue.

(Above) Menlo Park has approved plans to build an office building and 27 apartments at 1540 El Camino.

(Above) Fifteen residential units and commercial space are currently being constructed at 1283-1295 El Camino.

(Above) A 70-room Hampton Inn has been proposed for 1704 El Camino.

(Above) Prince Street Partners has proposed a new nine-unit residential apartment building for 1165 El Camino. It would replace a small bookstore and a clinic.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Anita Ochieano, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Mar 14, 2019 at 8:42 pm

This site is very interesting. Please include us in your distributions.
Thank you,
Anita Ochieano
[email protected]

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 14, 2019 at 9:35 pm

Hi Anita: I encourage you to not only sign-up for my blog but also share your perspectives, as well. Simply go to my blog page Web Link

Thanks for your feedback.

Posted by MPBooster, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

Count me in as a big supporter of these projects and others that improve our central business corridor! After years of vacant lots and effectivel city planning we are now finally going to enjoy the great potential of this area without negatively impacting our "charming" Santa Cruz Avenue "village" atmosphere. We are late, but it was well worth the wait. YEA!

Posted by CMbooklover, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Mar 17, 2019 at 9:44 am

The project proposed to demolish Feldman's Books would be an atrocious eyesore to the development of El Camino. I'm so thankful that the Planning Commisson spoke out about the design. Feldman's Books adds irreplaceable value to downtown Menlo Park and I hope that more people will speak out against demolishing the historic building and destroying a long term small local business. Menlo Park needs to examine what kind of businesses we want, because these new developers will hike up rents and local businessss will fold leaving us with only big chain stores with no charm or substance. This is a fight for our city's conscience and charm, progress can be made while preserving what makes Menlo Park special. Let's act before it's too late and we lose what we can never get back.

Posted by MP Millennial, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Mar 17, 2019 at 10:18 am

I'm generally supportive of all this redevelopment, but I'm horrified to learn that they're trying to replace Feldman's. Feldman's is a community treasure -- our family has been going there since the mid-90s, and it'd be terrible to lose such a Menlo icon. Let the housing replace all the vacant lots, but spare the bookstore!

Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 17, 2019 at 2:07 pm

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

CMbooklover: I agree that a "better" building design should be proposed for this location. That said, this property was sold by the prior owner - who knew that existing businesses would be replaced - to a developer who intends to do so. That's how markets work. So this property WILL be developed with a design that is consistent with our city regulations. If it were a true historical site, it be preserved in some way but that is not the case.

One last thought: I do not find the older buildings on El Camino the least bit charming but understand personal tastes vary widely.

Thanks for sharing your concerns.

Posted by Josh, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline,
on Mar 18, 2019 at 10:29 pm

I hope some planning goes into the already dreadful traffic on El Camino in Menlo Park. Hard to imagine what all these new businesses will do to a vital through fare.

Posted by Dagwood, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Mar 19, 2019 at 10:34 am

Dagwood is a registered user.

Along with all this, a key decision is whether we continue planning for a large parking structure within Downtown. With all the parking being built at both 1300 ECR and 500 ECR this seems like a bad idea. The city needs a fresh look at how to keep Downtown pedestrian friendly with attention to the accessibility of retail, the quality of public space and a less autocentric approach than is implicit in the Specific Plan. A car never bought dinner at any restaurant.

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 9:58 am

Dagwood: Please note that a downtown parking structure is no longer a city council strategic priority and no funding is included in the 2019-20to budget. The council focus has shifted to short term parking solutions.

Posted by Samuel Y, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 10:48 am

Dana - very informative post.

I'd like to see something changed with El Camino Real through Menlo Park.
ECR from Palo Alto to Redwood City is mostly 3 lanes each way, but ECR narrows to 2 lanes each way in MP and becomes a bottleneck in traffic. Listening to discussions on why ECR in MP cannot be changed to 3 lanes, it's often mentioned that downtown businesses facing ECR rely on street parking. I can see how that is true for the westside (southbound) of ECR, particularly between Oak Grove and Menlo Ave. However, the eastside (northbound) of ECR has businesses set farther back and have adjacent parking lots and hence do not rely on street parking. Moreover, with all the new construction going on the eastside, perhaps it's time to reevaluate the 2 vs 3 lane issue, just for this side of the street.

Currently, traveling north, starting from Jeffrey's Hamburgers, the 3rd lane (outside, closest to the sidewalk) becomes a right turn only lane. All through traffic must merge into lanes 1-2. The 3rd lane remains right turn only for 7 successive intersections (Ravenswood, Santa Cruz, Oak Grove, Glenwood, Encinal, Buckthorn, and finally Spruce) until you get to Watkins Ave. Why is this? I can see that a right turn only lane is good for cars turning right because they can turn right on red and not have cars that are going straight to impede their lane. However, the tradeoff is having more congestion for the through traffic going north. I would like to see the 3rd lane become a through lane/right turn lane all the way through Menlo Park. I think this will reduce the congestion northbound, particularly around the downtown core. Once the results of this change are viewed, then the southbound lanes can be reevaluated, but let's just do one side first.

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