Tonight: High-speed rail, loan on Menlo Park council agenda

By Barbara Wood, Special to the Almanac

Menlo Park's City Council has a lot on its plate tonight (Jan. 14).

Among the items up for consideration:

● Changing a policy that currently limits the Caltrain corridor in Menlo Park to two tracks.

● Loaning up to $3.5 million of city funds to a developer building low-income housing on the Veterans Affairs campus.

● Confirming a decision to keep the city's current logo despite spending $30,000 to develop a new one.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.

The discussion about rail tracks stems from the city's application for $750,000 in county money to study ways to improve the train crossing at Ravenswood Avenue. County Transportation Authority officials said they can't fund the project unless the city is willing to say it might someday consider a third set of tracks in the city, which could support future development of high-speed rail.

A position statement adopted by the council in October 2012 specifically rules out a set of "passing rails" through the city.

The request for a loan of up to $3.5 million comes from the developers of low-income housing for veterans and Menlo Park residents on the grounds of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In May, the council gave preliminary approval to loaning up to $2.5 million of its BMR (below market rate) funds to the developers, CORE Affordable Housing, in return for giving priority in 11 of the 60 units to people who live or work in Menlo Park. Veterans who live or work in Menlo Park would receive even higher priority. But the project is more expensive than originally estimated and the developers have asked to borrow more money.

Assistant City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson reported that the project seems to have other funding and won't need the entire $3.5 million requested. She recommends the city loan the developers $2.5 million, with up to an extra $360,000 to offset the city's development fees.

The project is a 60-unit, two-story apartment building on VA property on Willow Road. The land will be provided at no cost to the developers.

The discussion of the city's logo is a follow-up of a decision made by the council in December to reject all the logos designed by a contractor charged with updating the city's "brand." The cost of the logo-redesign project was $30,000.

Now the council is being asked to approve slight modifications to the existing logo to allow consultants to continue working on specifications for how the logo will be used.

Click here to see the meeting agenda and staff reports.


Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 14, 2014 at 5:55 pm

You do understand that this issue of seeking $750K of funds for a study about improving the Ravenswood train crossing follows on the heels of a similar study conducted ten years ago by BKF. At that time, the consideration was for grade separating all four Menlo Park crossings, including Ravenswood. This time, it's somewhat more complicated because the city, to its credit, has taken a stand against increasing the number of tracks on the rail corridor from the current two.

In order to be eligible for that 3/4 of a million dollars, the city would have to back down from its constraint of the two-track limit, allowing for more tracks in the future; three, four, whatever.

Now here is the hard truth. It's not about train tracks. It's not about high-speed rail. It's not about anything related to public transit. IT'S ABOUT THE MONEY. Our City Administration has never seen a study opportunity it did not like. It's free money. It justifies, by creating, an additional work-load for the Transportation Department. It will add to staff resumes as one more accomplishment.

To understand the city administration better, it must be understood in terms of an organism; that is, a bureaucracy, which depends upon its budget for its life-blood and must constantly seek additional funding, both internally and externally, to justify it's survival. With ever more studies to keep the occupied, the organization (organism) creates the need for increased staff. That's the inherent nature of organizational -- or call it organismic in our metaphor -- growth. Grow or die. It's not about the trains or rail corridor; it's about the money!

Now, tonight the City Council will have to choose between keeping to the two-track limit, or obtaining the $750K for an unnecessary study. I only hope I'm wrong in my forecast.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 14, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I am concerned that the proposed housing project at the Menlo Park VA facility may not give absolute preference to veterans. The proposal simply states "The primary mission of the project, from inception, is to serve Veterans who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness."

Absent a guarantee that veterans will always have priority for this housing the justification for the VA's gifting of the land for the project might be called into question.

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm

$30,000 to develop a new logo… really? another waste just like the squirrel suit!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 14, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Re: High-speed rail through Menlo Park: Martin Engel is right! It is all about MONEY! It is most emphatically *not* about better transportation, but about taking our hard-earned tax dollars and wasting them on a useless project that will never carry anyone but the 1%. We do *not* need any more studies about HSR through Menlo Park.

to the City Council: Just say *NO* to HSR!

Like this comment
Posted by old timer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2014 at 6:55 am

Of course Martin is correct with the "its all about the money motive".

Why did the City Manager allow this to come to council? Is it because he is an empire builder? We have seen that before.

Then at the end, we see Vice_mayor Carlton complimenting city staff for at the last minute negotiating a retraction by the TA to the demand the City change its 2 track only policy.

What is wrong with her. The City Manger and City Staff should have been "dressed down", for promoting this nonsense. Who is running the City?

Seems here City Manager and City Staff making policy. Unacceptable. The voters should not have to rise up to protest an event like this. It should have never happened.

Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 15, 2014 at 9:33 am

So what the result from the meeting?

Editor's note: Check the home page for updates, including this:
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by stop studying and do
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2014 at 9:40 am

Menlo Park deserves grade separated train crossings. Now.

The Specific Plan included them. These can greatly help traffic congestion in town, although making things worse while under construction.

Just do it. Stop doing expensive studies.

And oh by the way, how about creating actual bike lanes and routes through town at the same time?

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