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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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More Bad News: Downtown Parking Will Get Much Worse

Uploaded: Jul 8, 2019
This is the second post in a series that evaluates how Menlo Park plans new civic projects. Hopefully, constructive discussions will eventually lead to important improvements.

Parking midday in downtown Menlo Park has become a huge headache. Last week I drove to Palo Alto rather than shop at the Ace Hardware on Santa Cruz Avenue. Not shopping in my own community did not feel right but I knew going elsewhere is often more convenient. For example, on two recent occasions I tried unsuccessfully to find a parking space in the plaza near Gray’s Paint and left without stopping. Unfortunately, the downtown-parking problem will get much worse, especially once the Station 1300 and Middle Plaza developments are completed. I expect shoppers will then increasingly take their dollars to Palo Alto and Redwood City. This bleak outlook does not need to become a harsh reality, as there ARE practical ways to solve the downtown-parking problems in Menlo Park - without building a too-expensive parking structure. And fortunately, real progress is possible in 2020.

The city should adopt a flexible parking development strategy that allows spaces to be added quickly and affordably, as needed. There is no single silver bullet. So eliminating the shortage of downtown parking in Menlo Park will require a well-designed mix of short and medium term solutions. In the short run, creating just 50 new three-hour parking spaces downtown would likely make shopping much more convenient. Potential actions include:

• Increasing the cost of long term parking in the plazas - both permits and metered.

• (Gradually) reducing the number of daily parking permits.

• Converting 34 parking spaces on Menlo Avenue that are not currently regulated to 3-hour parking. Converting 35 parking spaces on Oak Grove.

• Leasing approximately 30 to 40 of the underutilized spaces behind the Cornerstone building and dedicating them to permit parking.

• Leasing the land on Oak Grove where the 7-Eleven is located and building a ground level permit parking lot for 30 to 40 spaces.

• Leasing hundreds of weekday parking spaces from nearby churches, e.g., latter Day Saints, First Church of Christ, Scientist and providing a convenient free shuttle service for daily parking permit holders.

• Leasing 25 to 50 spaces from Station 1300 and use for daily parking permit holders.


Despite the numerous opportunities, I am not optimistic about our city government’s ability to solve the problem of inadequate short-term downtown parking.

• Our city government lacks a strong resident-friendly culture, one that welcomes community involvement in project planning and proactively encourages participation. Today there are too few opportunities for our community to affect planning decisions. (Note: I will extensively cover this topic in a future post).

• Menlo Park lacks the systems, processes and resources needed to effectively and efficiently planning complex civic infrastructure projects. Major changes would shorten planning cycles, reduce planning and study costs, produce superior project outcomes and generate much needed broad community support. These could also reduce the frustrations often felt by council members, staff, residents and business owners who are all victims of the ways our city conducts project planning. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that our current city council recognizes these lost opportunities.

• It is not clear who actually “owns” the entire planning process from an operational perspective. Is it the city manager? Or, the public works director? Are the ownership responsibilities well defined and performance evaluated?

• Past city councils have NOT shown a strong sense of urgency about developing a long-term plan for solving downtown parking problems. Instead, they have held on to the unviable idea of building an expensive parking garage in an existing plaza. The current city council has not initiated a planning project for downtown parking, and the current draft of the city Transportation Master Plan does not include an alternative to building parking structures.

My Recommendations

• Hire a seasoned senior project manager who reports directly to the city manager and is responsible for managing the entire planning process for complex city infrastructure projects like parking lots, grade separations, and transportation network enhancements. This person would manage and coordinate communications between city staff, consultants, city commissions, the city council and council subcommittees and would lead efforts to address all the major technical and non-technical concerns and issues that arise during the planning for individual projects. This planner would also propose and oversee the implementation of planning process improvements.

• Hire a community outreach coordinator who would be responsible for collecting and analyzing community input and feedback and keeping the entire Menlo Park community well informed about project plans, schedules, progress, issues, community workshops, and city council and commission reviews. This individual would conduct reliable surveys and polls, publish useful information on the city website, and personally interview residents and business owners, This position would report to the senior project planner

• Create project-specific community advisory committees (“CACs”) that report directly to the city manager and help city staff and city council members understand how the Menlo Park community views the potential impacts of different project strategies and designs. Committee members should be residents and business owners who represent all affected Menlo Park neighborhoods and bring valuable knowledge and skills. The CAC is a collaborative team free of Brown Act restrictions. It performs research, evaluates alternatives, weighs trade-offs, provides advice and makes recommendations. Our community has a lot of great talent that would welcome the opportunity to contribute to our city IF they perceived their work as productive and constructive.

• Perform an audit of the effectiveness and efficiency of the city’s current project planning system and develop a plan for implementing key improvements. The scope should be broad and include a review of staff resources, management responsibilities, volunteer commissions, internal and external communications, and the use of consultant and community resources.

Hiring a senior project manager and a community outreach coordinator are actions that can be initiated now, and the grade separation project is an excellent opportunity to establish a community advisory committee. The CAC would not revisit all past council decisions but rather improve future ones. I do not know how to initiate an audit of the city project planning system. The city council can authorize it and the city manager could oversee it. But who will lead this effort?

There are many additional comments on Nextdoor.

Read other posts in this series of blogs

Do Not Expect A Downtown Parking Garage In Menlo Park In Our Lifetime

Planning For Civic Projects In Menlo Park Needs A Major Reboot. (Part 1)
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jul 10, 2019 at 11:20 am

It looks like our new work product are development generated traffic jams: Willow, El Camino, University. This will kill off downtown business

Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jul 10, 2019 at 12:14 pm

The problem with free parking is that there is unlimited demand.

Charge for parking (Burlingame does a good job here), eliminate re-parking in the same zone (a la Palo Alto), and allow all-day parking permits only for farther away / off-site lots.

Raise the annual parking permit price above the Caltrain price. Right now Menlo Park charges $592/yr and Caltrain charges $82.50/mo (which is $990/yr). The Caltrain lot is under-utilized because it's cheaper to pay the city.

Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jul 10, 2019 at 3:23 pm

And re killing downtown businesses - what downtown businesses? The parking is massive for the few restaurants / bars, a few shops that aren't even open in the evening (Cheeky Monkey is solid except for the hours), some boring "old people furniture" stores, a barber shop, and Kepler's. Oh, and two drug stores.

(I'm not really counting Trader Joe's / Draegers since they effectively have their own parking)

Posted by Brian, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jul 11, 2019 at 8:56 pm

I still like to shop in Menlo but I agree with Stu that the development driven traffic jams are impacting local businesses and it will only get worse. Even worse that the impact to businesses is the impact to residents. Traffic jams just to get home are happening frequently and adding 10's of minutes to short trips.

Posted by former MP resident, a resident of another community,
on Jul 11, 2019 at 10:34 pm

I have lived in/near MP for over a decade and am around downtown MP many times each week. I have not found parking to be that difficult"and I would not think of driving to PA to go to the hardware store there. Depending on traffic, this would take between 5 and 15 minutes each way, so 10-30 minutes round trip. Finding parking in downtown MP would take a few minutes, tops.

By starting out the article with this anecdote, the author lost a lot of credibility right off the bat

Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 12, 2019 at 9:05 am

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

Former MP Resident: Does it make sense to judge others when you have so little actual information? On the day I drove to Palo Alto stores instead of Menlo Park, I was on a number of errands - not making a single stop on a trip from my home. This is typical for me. I had the choice of stopping at a hardware store in Palo Alto or Menlo Park, and chose the latter because I viewed it as more convenient not because of distance but because of parking.

Posted by former MP resident, a resident of another community,
on Jul 12, 2019 at 10:53 am

Dana: When you provide the additional context, it makes your decision seem eminently reasonable.

On the other hand, it undercuts the rhetorical power of your example. Instead of "when I need a hardware store I no longer go to the one in MP," the takeaway is "when I am running a number of errands and am considering two hardware stores, I will factor in parking time and sometimes choose PA over MP."

It would be newsworthy if people were deciding to avoid MP flat-out because the parking is so bad. On the other hand, it is completely unsurprising that people factor in parking as one of several considerations when deciding where to shop.

As for your "don't judge me when you don't have all the facts" complaint, I judged you based on the facts as you portrayed them. I can see why you didn't include the whole story"the anecdote loses its punch when the context is revealed"but of course people are going to judge your article based on the facts you presented there.

Posted by No Parking ???, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 12, 2019 at 12:52 pm

The hardware store in PA has very limited parking - 4 or 5 spots. The Ace in MP has hundreds near by. I really don't buy Dana's anecdote at all. Dana's explanation also doesn't make sense either or there is additional context missing. You made made a number of stops - where? In MP or were you already in PA? Did you actually try to find a spot in MP on that day? Did you look beyond the parking spot you desired? It really not hard to find a spot in either town, except during lunch time. My guess is this that parking was less of an issue, but you made up a story to try and prove your point. PS- renting more parking from churches further up SC would be a waste if taxpayer $.

Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 12, 2019 at 4:39 pm

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

Former MP resident & No Parking"

I provided two examples of the increasingly difficult times I have personally experienced finding parking simply to illustrate them. - not to CONVINCE anyone that parking is always a problem. THERE IS NO NEED TO PROVIDE THE DETAILS OF MY TRAVEL, as current and recent city councils have acknowledged that parking downtown is a problem and stated that solving it is a strategic city priority. I agree with their assessment and think it will get worse. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. And I respect it.

Note: "My guess is this that parking was less of an issue, but you made up a story to try and prove your point." You are wrong and guessing to make your own point is a poor substitute for knowledge and a weak argument.

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 14, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Dana Hendrickson is a registered user.

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 14, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Dana Hendrickson is a registered user.

Posted by No Easy Solutions, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 15, 2019 at 11:08 pm

Dana, thanks for your article. I'm fortunate enough to live close enough to downtown that I can walk or bike. However, from my own experience it is easier and faster to find parking in downtown MP than downtown PA. I would imagine that when Station 1300 and Middle Plaza comes online, a portion of the residents will walk/bike vs drive to DTMP, so impact to parking may not be as severe. Lastly, hate to say it but downtown MP is not a destination place. There are probably many reasons for it, but my hunch is that lack of parking is not in the top 5 reasons.

Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 16, 2019 at 8:51 am

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

No easy solutions:

Thanks for your constructive (and civil) comment. Your points are well-founded.

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