A painstakingly slow process to get things done. A gap in communication between people in different parts of the city. Old infrastructure and urban planning methods that discourage cities from thinking regionally. Those are among the biggest problems facing Menlo Park, according to, respectively, Catherine Carlton, Cecilia Taylor and Ray Mueller, the three City Council candidates.
Vying for two open seats on the council in the Nov. 8 election, the candidates responded to questions at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of South San Mateo County on Oct. 10 in the council chambers at the Civic Center.
Written questions were submitted by those in the audience and read by Ellen Hope, president of the League of Women Voters' local chapter. Candidates discussed issues such as traffic, small businesses and Caltrain.
Watch the forum online, recorded by Midpen Media Center.
What would the candidates do to reduce cut-through traffic on residential streets?
Ms. Taylor said she would encourage the use of signs and traffic enforcement on residential streets that receive high amounts of cut-through traffic, noting the efforts to protect residential streets near Marsh Road when it was closed earlier this year. There are signs prohibiting certain turns on streets in Belle Haven, but they are routinely disregarded, she said.
Ms. Carlton said that 80 percent of traffic comes from nearby cities, not from within Menlo Park, so regional efforts need to be made to address the problem. "We're not able to fix the problem alone," she said. She also supports bike and pedestrian measures that get drivers out of their cars.
She and Mr. Mueller spoke of the importance of improving conditions along the Dumbarton corridor. Ms. Carlton said she'd like to see public transit developed along the corridor. Mr. Mueller said relevant stakeholders, such as SamTrans representatives and state legislators, should get together and talk about what can be done to expedite action before the city approves the general plan update. He also said that U.S. 101 should be connected directly to Bayfront Expressway, with access to Belle Haven offered via an off-ramp.
The candidates were asked: What support do small businesses need to thrive in the city?
"The first thing you need is customers," said Ms. Carlton, listing efforts the city has made to boost downtown activity. She said the city has recently focused on installing bike racks, allowing and funding outdoor dining areas, hosting outdoor movie nights to draw visitors, extending parking limits, and attracting appealing restaurants and businesses.
Mr. Mueller said that when he was mayor in 2014, he hosted quarterly small business round table talks. Out of those discussions came the idea for the outdoor dining areas, now funded and on their way to being built, he said. He said he also supports provisions in the city's zoning policies to protect retail spaces and said he'd like to see more restaurants and some location for an entertainment venue downtown. "You have to give (people) something to do besides go out to dinner and shop," he said.
Ms. Taylor said downtown Menlo Park should declutter its sidewalks to allow easier passage for the visually impaired and handicapped. She said there should be more attention paid to the needs of longtime businesses and businesses in Belle Haven, rather than newer downtown franchises that sell costly goods. She recommended setting up a subcommittee to hear from businesses about their needs.
An audience member asked what the candidates thought about high-speed rail and Caltrain electrification.
Ms. Carlton told the audience she does not support a third railroad "passing lane" through the city, but generally supports rail transit and favors grade separations, especially since they could facilitate east-west connectivity in Menlo Park.
Mr. Mueller said he does not support the prioritization of spending taxpayer money on high-speed rail. Higher education should be a bigger statewide priority, he said. Considering that funding is committed, though, he said he supports the electrification of Caltrain, and opposes a passing lane being built through the city.
Ms. Taylor said she uses public transportation, doesn't think high-speed rail in Menlo Park is "actually a solution," but supports Caltrain electrification. "Too many people make decisions about public transportation that do not utilize (it)," she said. "We need to engage people who are affected by it."