Guest opinion: Scale back Stanford's 'bloated' development plan for El Camino | January 30, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - January 30, 2013

Guest opinion: Scale back Stanford's 'bloated' development plan for El Camino

by Elizabeth Houck

I knew this day would come.

I attended three "community workshops" on the specific plan where residents' voices were drowned out by developers, Stanford, downtown business owners, and over-zealous consultants. I spoke before the Planning Commission and the City Council prior to the specific plan being passed, begging (them) to keep it to three stories at the old car dealerships. The bottom line is that I would not be writing this letter if this were a reasonable project or if this were a hotel and senior housing as promised by Stanford, or decent retail and housing to drive tax revenue, or three stories. This project is too big, too ugly, too out of line with the current retail, restaurants, and neighborhood buildings adjacent to it, not to mention its complete opposition to the general plan.

Plain and simple, it's a square-footage grab of Menlo Park by Stanford, who had the power to build on these properties for years and chose not to until masterfully dictating the terms of the specific plan to their benefit. As they are doing with their 1.5 million square-foot development in Redwood City next to their offices on Broadway.

As designed, it sends the majority of exit traffic onto Middle Avenue. My neighbors from College, Partridge, Cambridge, Harvard to Creek are also concerned with increased and cut-through traffic. Calming efforts on those streets will make life worse for me. We've already seen the difficult Safeway exits onto Middle. What will happen when you add this project to that mess? We've seen on El Camino Real in both Palo Alto and Redwood City that three lanes get gridlocked as easily as two.

There has been a marked increase in traffic in the last six months. There are impacts of more traffic, worse air quality in my house and yard, and the noise from blasting horns and radios. I shudder to think what it will be like when this and the other Stanford projects are fully populated. There will be at least a year of construction noise, dust, and increased gridlock on residential streets.

I have lived in my home for 18 years — I grew up in unincorporated Menlo Park decades before that. I've seen bubbles and bursts, I have seen Stanford grow for better or worse, and if this project goes forward as is I would simply have to move. The financial impacts would be severe to me, but not as severe as this project would be to my quiet enjoyment of my home.

The specific plan environmental impact report is woefully inadequate to address these current impacts and needs to be redone. Not the least of these impacts are combining six parcels into one massive development, allowing more square-footage and removing side setbacks than individual parcels. The "whole is greater than the sum." A 30-year plan is eaten up with one project in one area. In addition, a majority of Allied Arts mitigation efforts would result in a worsening of the situation for me and my neighbors on Middle, which has not been studied.

I urge (the council) to scale back this bloated, car-trip generating, five-story, five-building office complex that does not exist anywhere else on El Camino on the Peninsula. Please use your authority to stop specific plan development until a new EIR and traffic studies can be done. This is not the low-traffic-generating senior housing we were promised. Disallow medical offices in favor of revenue- generating, smart-growth housing and mixed use more in keeping with the general plan, our idea of community, sustainability and long-term growth.

Elizabeth Houck, who lives on Middle Avenue, wrote this piece as a letter to the City Council.


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 31, 2013 at 9:30 am

I hope the City is listening; over 400 people signed a petition against this project, 80 or more attended the Planning Commission Meeting 100% Residential opposition. Let's kick the Specific Plan back to the City Council or repeal it.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2013 at 10:07 am

The proposed project fully conforms with the existing zoning established by the council after the opportunity for full input by the citizens.To deny Stanford the right to build in conformance withe the current zoning would be a very expensive 'Taking'.

All of the alternatives proposed by the opponents involve adding cars to ECR. So obviously the only answer for the opponents is to leave these parcels empty. The only way to do that would be to pay Stanford market rate rents for the property - how much would that cost each MP resident?

Posted by Our city, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 31, 2013 at 10:23 am

We have a right to dictate the kind of city we want to have, and should not be expected to abdicate that responsibility to Stanford. Residents of other cities really have no say in the matter.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2013 at 11:31 am

"We have a right to dictate the kind of city we want to have, "

Absolutely and to that end you elected city council members to represent your interests and you participated, or choose not to participate, in the public meetings that led up to the current adopted zoning.

400 people signing a petition, a very small percentage of MP residents, does not and cannot change either the council membership or the approved zoning ordinance.

Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2013 at 2:09 pm

To Our City, and the others whom have signed the petition. This won't be a popular post, and I have purposely abstained from commenting up til now because I, like Peter C. am not a resident of MP. However, I work(which means I spend a majority of my waking hours) here in MP and I, too, endure the MESS that ECR is during peak hours. I get it! However, at this point I am compelled to state some opinions-solely in the spirit of offering what I think is sound advice. First, both of Peter's posts above are spot on, and those wanting to affect some modification to this project, short of thinking they can deny it, should really take his comments as being constructive advice. To deny approval of this project for reasons beyond VALID architectural control,is inviting litigation that would be expensive to defend and highly likely fruitless. Second, separate the issue of "shoulda, coulda, woulda" in terms of how the zoning got approved; it is now the legal parameters that the property owner has to follow, and this project, like it or not, conforms. Notice I said property owner; so third, forget that its Stanford, or that the developer is a big time player, ALL property owners have legal rights, please remember that-a court would. Fourth, and finally, and echoing Peter's last point, 400 people is roughly 0.0112% of the population of MP-0.0112% of the population does not, in my opinion anyway, "have the right to dictate the kind of city" any community wants to have.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 31, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Peter and WhoR are absolutely correct. It's very unfortunate that the city got nothing in writing from Stanford instead relying on pie in the sky promisses. Yes, it's bait and switch, but our city set it up so it could happen and Stanford is famous for shoving their problems into our city.

We're stuck with this abomination and all its attendent problems. If the city allows a few hundred people to get this project stoped you can forget having any other developers come in and develop the vacant car lots on El Camino. Or anywhere else for that matter. Why would they? So they can spends hundreds of thousands of dollars developing plans and jumping though city hoops just to have the rules get changed on them after the fact? Next life. Developers are not that stupid. You can't change the rules after you've agreed to them.

We can only hope to mitigate this mess not prevent it. Planning should pay close attention to the look of the architecture (it's the only thing they can look at) and make sure it is in keeping with the rest of the city.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Why not, as WhoRUpeople and Menlo Voter suggest, devote energy into making this a great project. Lot's of creative win-win things could be done such as encouraging people who work in the new complex to live there, ensuring the the free Stanford provide Marguerite Web Link shuttle serves the complex, good pedestrian and bike access etc.

Beating Stanford over the head won't accomplish anything - they HAVE the development rights.

Posted by not so fast, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 1, 2013 at 7:10 pm

We are NOT stuck with this project! Stanford has no vested rights at this time. The project has not been approved.
The project has to pass both Architectural Control and an environmental review. The environmental review cannot possibly conclude that the Specific Plan EIR adequately studied and mitigated the negative impacts of this project. Thus, those with discretionary review in Menlo Park (Planning Commission, and Council on appeal) can reject it.

It will take courage for the Council and Commission to do the right thing, but it is quite telling that a number of those in both of those bodies did not expect the Specific Plan to result in a project like this. They should fix the rules so projects will come forward that the community wants and expects. This project isn't it!

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 2, 2013 at 7:13 am

"Stanford has no vested rights at this time"

Wrong. Every property owner has the vested right to develop their property in accordance with the existing zoning of that property. To refuse them this right is called 'down-zoning' and the courts have consistently held that that is an illegal 'taking' of property.

The architectural review can request changes in the external visual appearance of the project but they cannot require that the size of the project be reduced.

An EIR 'requires' nothing; it is simply a statement regarding the impacts of any proposed project. If any of those impacts are deemed as significant then the city and the property owner will negotiate appropriate mitigation - which cannot, by law, require that the scope of the project be reduced below that which is permitted by the zoning ordinance.

Stomping your feet trying to stop this project will only hurt your feet - start focussing on developing win-win improvements and mitigations.