Residents of Belle Haven are no strangers to noise pollution, but the Menlo Park City Council is taking steps to bring the noise down, starting by denying the Menlo Park Community Campus the ability to exceed nighttime noise regulations of 50 decibels.
The council unanimously upheld the denial of a permit to exceed nighttime noise levels caused by the use of electric heat pumps at its May 23 meeting.
Construction of the pool at the Menlo Park Community Campus (MPCC) in the 100 block of Terminal Avenue was approved in 2021 and the City Council decided that its facilities would be all-electric. But there was a problem: the sound of the electric heat pumps for the pool are expected to exceed nighttime noise limits. On April 24, the Planning Commission denied an application for the MPCC to exceed the nighttime noise limit of 50 decibels, but the City Council had the option to overrule that denial.
Residents came out to the City Council meeting with concerns about the effect of the noise pollution on the surrounding Belle Haven neighborhood, particularly since the area is already impacted by high noise levels from sources such as the U.S. 101 freeway and a PG&E substation.
“We take an issue with how the project has marginalized and dismissed our community,” Belle Haven resident Donald Mendoza said, who spoke from a Zoom account under the name “Belle Haven Library.” "The project has treated the Belle Haven community as kind of an afterthought.”
One proposed solution would be to build a 7-foot high wooden fence with a vinyl inner layer to mitigate the noise levels, bringing the noise down to 49 decibels, just beneath the limit, for the nearest homes. The fence would cost the city about $200,000 and be built along the residential property line, past the PG&E substation.
Combs asked about how the city's regulations limited noise and also banning new gas-powered pool heaters could affect residents, when the city itself is having difficulty doing it.
“I always say the government should … impose a rule on itself, and go through that whole process before it imposes a rule on residents,” Combs said.
Combs said he was looking to the City Council and himself for not seeing the problem earlier, after the money had already been spent on the machinery.
“In theory, we didn't exercise a similar restriction or limitation (on noise levels) for ourselves with our own heating equipment, which is, again, why we're here,” Combs said.
Building another sound wall along Highway 101 from Marsh Road to Willow Road is also under discussion, and the City Council recommended that city staff pursue the project, which would be done in conjunction with Caltrans. Combs requested that the city look into extending the wall project farther so that it protects most of the residences along the highway.
The City Council opted to move forward with both the noise-muffling wooden wall for the pool heater, and uphold the denial of a permit for the pool heaters to exceed the nighttime noise limit, meaning the facility will not be allowed to run the heaters overnight, on a unanimous vote. The council also gave direction to staff that they should pursue the highway sound wall in upcoming budget discussions.
“Even if we're just at 50 decibels or 49 decibels, (residents) are having a lot of impact from noise,” Mayor Jen Wolosin said.