Arrillaga eyes El Camino Real properties in Menlo Park

Developer working on concepts for Stanford lots

Developer John Arrillaga has his eye on El Camino Real -- more specifically, former auto dealership lots now owned by Stanford University.

Stanford University spokeswoman Jean McCown said the developer "is working on some concepts for these sites that are consistent with the (Menlo Park) Specific Plan; however, they are not yet ready for possible application to Menlo Park or for public release until an application is filed."

City sources confirmed the billionaire's interest and suggested the project involved medical office buildings, but details remain scarce. In addition to the Stanford Park Hotel, the university owns five lots -- approximately 8.4 acres, with address numbers from 300 to 550 -- along the segment of El Camino Real that lies within the boundaries of Menlo Park's new specific plan.

Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith said it was too soon to discuss the project. "It is my understanding that this project will continue to be refined. It would be premature for me to comment on it at this time."

Mr. Arrillaga has donated $15 million to Menlo Park during the past four years for construction of a new gymnasium, gymnastics center and renovated recreation center.

More recently, he has applied to build a complex of four office towers and a theater at 27 University Ave., bordered by El Camino Real and the Caltrain station in downtown Palo Alto. The towers, ranging in height from six to 10 stories, would be linked in pairs by bridges. The theater would potentially serve as a new home for TheatreWorks.

The proposed site currently houses the historic MacArthur Park restaurant, which would need to be relocated to accommodate Mr. Arrillaga's plan. The building, designed by architect Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame, first housed visiting military families in Menlo Park during World War I. When the city contemplated razing the building after the war, Palo Alto bought it for $1 and moved it to University Avenue, where it now serves as a restaurant.


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 11:58 am

Medical office buildings = no sales tax revenues and gridlock on El Camino.

Stanford needs a new location for the private practice medical offices it is replacing with it's new super med center and for all the new private practices it will attract. Menlo Park's former auto row will be the new Stanford Med East.

Why doesn't Arrillaga build the office buildings at 27 University in Palo Alto.

Another project with no benefits for Menlo Park.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm

My previous comment should say -
Why doesn't Arrillaga build the MEDICAL office buildings at 27 University in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Well Something Needs to Done
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Well at least it is getting rid of barren wasteland storefronts. And people working there can eat and shop downtown. Perhaps proposal can provide funding for redoing the traffic lanes for bikes and cars where it narrows and causes the gridlock.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

With it's close proximity to caltrain, those lots should be mixed use with housing on the top floors and retail/office space below.

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Posted by The Commish
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Regarding his largesse to Menlo Park the past 3 years -

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

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Posted by Janet
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

The sites should be used for housing per the Housing Element proposal. There IS a medical facility building just along El Camino in Atherton that has been vacant for at least a year and now he wants another.

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Posted by Ron Shepherd
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm

The prior contributor who did not give his/her name stated, "Medical office buildings = no sales tax revenues and gridlock on El Camino......Another project with no benefits for Menlo Park. What a thoughtful analysis. I wonder if this contributor would consider razing all buildings that do not contribute sales tax revenue such as schools, governmental buildings, fire stations, churches etc. and replacing them with tatoo parlors, x rated movie houses, liquor stores and the like to increase the tax revenue?

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Posted by what a joke
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm

"Close proximity to Caltrain." What a joke. First, those lots are between two Caltrain stations, about 1/2 mile from Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Next, Caltrain doesn't run very often except during rush hour. During the hours that medical offices are typically open, the trains haredly run at all. The last time I wanted to take Caltrain to SF for a midday meeting, google maps suggested that it would be more efficient to take the Dumbarton bus to Fremont and catch BART there. It's not exactly convenient, and hard to imagine that anyone is going to take Caltrain to a doctor's appointment.

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Posted by randy albin
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

these people could buy every vacant building in the area. let's spread the wealth around and even enact a kind of trickling down economy. the peninsula and bay area is so different now than it was back then. best of luck to them and maybe there are improvements

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Posted by no more offices
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm

We need retail on El Camino, for both the sales tax revenue and for the convenience of our RESIDENTS who then would not have to go to another city like we do now.

That area also is ideal for some of the housing that we're being forced to absorb by our own city leaders and by the state/region.

We should flat out reject more offices. We don't need more. Who cares if it takes a little longer to fill up the Stanford land. After all these years, what's a little more time? Some of it is being used well by Tesla and the volunteer political center. Just be sure the weeds are whacked.

It is truly unfortunate that the Council approved the El Camino plan allowing Stanford land to get even more development with NO public benefit. So naive.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

A few additional points
1)The proposed project includes 300El Camino the current site of a Tesla Motors showroom, repair and sales facilities which I suspect provides some of the much needed sales tax revenues to the city. If they are replaced by medical office buildings then no more sales tax revenues on cars and parts.
2) Janet brings up a very good point, the med bldg at Watkins and ECR has been unable to attract any tenants and additionally Roxy Rapp(?) purchased 1706 ECR with plans to build a med office bldg during the next year. If I were Roxy I'd put my plans on hold until the autorow plan is determined.
3) To Ron Shepherd I did not advocate the vacant lots remaining empty. I advocate a more beneficial use to Menlo Park. As to to your comment about replacing schools etc with tattoo parlors. Tattoo parlors do not charge sales tax for their services. Though I do believe we should be at least cahrging property taxes to churches, synagogues etc.

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Posted by Interested
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm

First of all, I think all owe Mr. Arrillaga continued thank you's for all his past and I imagine future generosity.

With that said, I do wholeheartedly agree that medical offices along this strip will add considerably to the already excessive traffic on El Camino. Most medical visits don't last more than an hour, which means if these offices are successful, there will a huge number of cars coming and going every hour.

It would be great to see:

- more retail, another grocery store such as Whole Foods, and restaurants that existing Menlo Park and Atherton residents who already utilize this stretch of road would want to frequent.

- Another nice hotel that would most likely only generate traffic twice a day and could provide local Santa Cruz ave. businesses with mores customers.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I kept hoping someone/anyone would take one of large, empty auto-lots and put in a great movie theater, so we would not have to go to Century RC for some major films. I know we have the PA Square, but the two theaters in MP offer poor sight-lines, lumpy seats, and strange acoustics. Spending $10 for a movie ticket should result in a pleasant viewing experience and most of the traffic would be at night, with a lot of spill-over for before and after movie dinners in local restaurants. Just a thought.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Another "thought"
MP still needs to find a site to build senior/lower income housing. Sharon Park was a lousy ides. What about auto row? Perhaps located on the old Buick dealership property, It's close to the train, ECR bus route,downtown, shopping, the library and Little House. Perhaps Arrillaga would be willing to make a tradeoff and build the housing for the city. Stranger deals have happened. Heck Arrillaga could add much needed reasonably priced assisted living and health/rehap facility to the housing - that would make a perfect co-anchor to the med offices.

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Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Oct 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm

A white knight rides to the rescue of Menlo Park's seriously decrepit downtown and as usual we see the NIMBYs back stabbing before there's even a proposal to discuss.
The old auto row on ECR in Menlo Park and some other areas of Menlo Park are beginning to take on a distinct aura of downtown Detroit. Parochial thinking and continual bickering make the infamous Palo Alto process and even the US Congress look streamlined by comparison.
As for the traffic situation - yes it certainly is a mess. How about MP starting with some creative thinking about how to resolve the traffic issue and make it plausible for for retail business to actually use the auto row area. Any business that needed easy access for in out customers would be foolish to locate on that strip.
It shouldn't be any cause for wonder that it's still vacant after many years.

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Posted by no more offices
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Stan - a big reason the auto lots have been vacant for so long is that the property owners have been getting rent! They don't care.
BTW - there's also been a down economy that has put a number of approved, yes approved, El Camino projects on hold.
The comparison to Detroit is way off the mark.

After all this time, let's hang in for what Menlo Park needs, not what a rich developer or Stanford want for themselves.

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Posted by squished
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm

White knight? Arrillaga? He's not going to raise his pinky if it doesn't net him a profit and get his name on the door. His wanting to erect huge and disruptive buildings near the border of PA and MP sounds about as community-minded as an endgame in Monopoly.

Oh yeah, let's put in thousands more houses on El Camino, because all those people are going to take the bus everywhere. Right. Especially when their units have at least one parking space and probably two.

Everyone in MP wants to see those car dealerships gone. I could never understand what they were doing there in the first place. But how about replacing them with something that benefits the CURRENT residents rather than trying to pack in more and more people. A park would be nice but I'm sure the city's refrain will be "we can't afford it." Menlo Park must have one of the lowest per capita amount of usable green space on the peninsula already, and that's before we do the sardine thing. Retail would work too, and would even provide some revenue to the city.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm


you are absolutely correct. Arrillaga doesn't do anything unless it benefits him in some way. Be it financially or having his name on a building.

These car lots haven't been developed becasue they are owned by Stanford and they are still generating rent. Why were the car lots there to begin with? I don't know, but THEY WERE GENERATING A LOT OF SALES TAX REVENUE!!! Hello!! McFly! Our town is struggling to bring in revenue and you think putting medical offices in that generate NO tax revenue is a good idea? Get real. What that does is create the need for MORE income because they will generate MORE traffic that has to be controlled (that costs money). It will be necessary to provide additional police and fire services. I know fire service isn't paid for directly by the city, but it's just another burden.

Mixed use is another lousy idea as the people that live in the housing will own and drive cars thus increasing the traffic on ECR. The real thing we need is retail in that space. That's what was there before and that's what needs to go back in there. Residential is a tax drain. We have enough housing within our borders. We do not need to increase density. All it will do is ruin what this town is all about.

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Posted by Barbara
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 3, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I agree with Bob from Portola Valley. A small 6 theatre Cinemark theatre complex would be great, add a few bmr units and some retail/offices and you might make Menlo Park a place to go. I realize the gridlock on El Camino at that area is a problem ... but certainly some engineers can figure out how to make this work.

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Posted by NIMBYs go home
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2012 at 11:37 am

Wow, you people are incredible. Someone wants to come in and do *anything* to those run-down, nearly-blighted areas, and instantly you start complaining. "it needs to be this or it needs to be that". Guess what, there *is* a shopping plaza on that side of the street, and look where it's getting you. Businesses leaving there in droves. Housing is a terrible idea there, as it's too close to the tracks. I'm not saying let Arrillaga build whatever he wants, but at least he wants to build *something*. You're not going to get your little pet projects like Whole Foods or the like, and no one is going to walk to buildings there (unless they live within 2 blocks), so you need something that works for the driving community. Sheesh!

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Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Stan - Portola Valley.

Menlo Park is suggesting a NIMBY approach because it is in our back yard. The El Camino does not run through your back yard or Arrillaga's.

We have a new Downtown/ECR development plan. It will be interesting to see what the developer defines as a "concept that is consistent with the (Menlo Park) Specific Plan". Within the guidelines or pressing the limits and requiring traffic studies, shadow studies, and extensive design reviews.

Until that happens, we will again, wait and see. Stanford was in no hurry to do anything on this property until Menlo Park completed their Downtown/ECR plan. Since this new plan and zoning extends the development possiblities, it was obviously worth the wait for them. Time will tell.

We promise not to suggest ways to divert traffic through your pasteurs.

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Posted by wahoo!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 4, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Theaters!! Yay!! Ummm... have you looked at the Park lately?? Oddly I agree with you though. We need something to draw people, but we didn't have enough to keep a Chili's, so what's that tell you? If you bring in the business, then USE THEM!! There's a new Mongolian BBQ grill in Menlo Park, have you been there. Help promote the idea that Menlo-Park deserves new business by supporting the ones we have! Don't bring in one that will compete with a business we already have. Trump tried that with one of his places and had to declare bankruptcy. Genius!
(We lost the Park and The Menlo...Palo Alto lost the Fine Arts, The Bijou... Mountain View lost the Mountain View theater. All of those brought in business for restaurants. The Old Mill in Mountain View was part of the cause but that fell to the Century complexes. Give us a Downtown Century like Redwood City got!! Oops... too late!)
Taking out MacArther Park? Dumb!

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Posted by Observed
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm

The city buildings already say it. Time to make it official: City of Arrillaga

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Posted by MP_resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 5, 2012 at 9:27 am

The best use of that land is high-density housing with retail on the ground floor. That would both help us meet our housing allotment under the lawsuit settlement and contribute tax revenue. Although the parcels are narrow and siting enough parking would be challenging, this could be an attraction like Santana Row if a developer with vision took it on. But what happens if high-speed rail needs a wider easement?

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Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

I have already submitted a proposal to Thomas Rogers in planning for a housing project in the plan area. It is an 'informal' proposal because it requests bonus square footage and unit count in exchange for our definition of public benefit. We can not proceed with a 'formal' submittal to planning until we get a response from staff on our interpretation of public benefit.

The question of what defines a public benefit was not resolved as part of the process and should be liberally interpreted to promote the revitalization of Menlo Park.

Anything that John Arillaga proposes is good for Menlo Park. I thank him for his investment in our City. Just wanted to clarify that I was the first (with my client) to submit a project in the new plan area!

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Posted by MJane
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Aha - Someone trying to get a special entitlement beyond the zoning. Sure, you're special.

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Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm

MJane - The bonuses are defined in the new specific plan. They are part of the zoning regulations.

Our proposal is strictly conforming with the specific plan. If it were outside the plan it would require a variance.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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