Editorial: Lack of housing in initial Arrillaga plan | November 7, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - November 7, 2012

Editorial: Lack of housing in initial Arrillaga plan

As the Menlo Park City Council and city staff worked on the recently approved downtown specific plan, many assumed that developers would jump at the chance to build housing on the eight-acre swath of Stanford land on the east side of El Camino Real that extends from the Stanford Park Hotel to Middle Avenue.

But when the city revealed a first draft of developer John Arrillaga's plan to build a massive mixed-use complex of medical offices, offices and retail, with only a modest 148 housing units, it was a surprise, especially to Councilman Rich Cline, who announced his disappointment during a recent meeting.

Mr. Cline said that "a sliver of housing" is not what the city expected after negotiating with Stanford during the specific plan process, when the city expressed its preference for housing on the properties. But somehow that vision changed, Mr. Cline said, and if the preliminary design doesn't change, the project will contribute very little to helping the city meet its goal of identifying space for nearly 2,000 units of high-density housing in the next few months.

Mr. Arrillaga's initial plan includes only 148 units of rental housing, dwarfed by 229,500 square feet of office space, including 153,000 square feet of medical offices. A spokesman for the university said the final ratio of medical to office space hasn't been determined, but the rough design shows two four-story office buildings facing El Camino Real between Cambridge and College avenues. Approximately 1,190 parking spaces, most underground, would serve the entire project, according to the initial plan.

Given the size of Stanford's holdings on El Camino Real, it would be a shame if the city could not persuade Mr. Arrillaga to include more housing. To do so would be a huge help in the city's struggle to rezone for higher-density housing in neighborhoods that don't want it. Already, advocates for Sharon Park and Stanford Weekend Acres have convinced the city to withdraw those sites from consideration.

Now Linfield Oaks residents also want off the rezoning list. They stormed the Oct. 30 council meeting to protest three potential sites, one of which would create zoning for a homeless shelter, in their neighborhood. Nothing was decided, but council members indicated that at least one of the three sites would likely be approved. At an earlier meeting the council also suggested increasing the density at the former post office site — 3875 Bohannon Drive — from 30 to 40 units per acre.

The housing issue is critical for the city as it must meet the terms of a lawsuit settlement requiring that it add zones for 1,000 to 1,975 units of high-density housing to comply with state law. A draft update of the new housing plan was sent to the state for review on Oct. 31.

Unfortunately the new specific plan leaves little leverage to convince Mr. Arrillaga to build housing rather than medical offices, which generate many more car trips than housing or even standard office space does. And if there is one thing that Menlo Park does not need, it is more traffic on El Camino Real.