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Why I Voted For The Derry Project AND Support the Referendum

Original post made by Kelly Fergusson, Menlo Park: The Willows, on Oct 27, 2006

Letter from Kelly Fergusson, Vice Mayor, Menlo Park

Dear Menlo Park Resident,

Many of you have asked me if I am supporting the referendum effort OR the Derry Project. My answer is... BOTH! It is a well-designed project, but the City Council completely dropped the ball in negotiating for well-deserved public benefits. Here's how it happened:

On August 22, the city council discussed public benefits recommendations for future high density projects. A council subcommittee (Cohen, Duboc) had looked into identifying potential public benefits that could be required when the city council grants Planned Development ("PD") permits, General Plan amendments, and zoning changes that allow greater density than Menlo Park's current zoning.

The council ultimately tabled the August 22 discussion. The flavor of councilmembers' comments was that the dollar values put forth in the staff report really weren't high enough given the kinds of density exceptions being contemplated, and that every project was so unique and should be evaluated individually. Given these comments, you and I both had every reason to expect a tough but fair negotiating session with the developer at the council meeting the following week.

On August 29, after the close of Public Comment on the Derry Project, the council discussed and collaboratively resolved some important project details. With the details out of the way, and with the final motion being crafted, I again entreated my council colleagues to make the general plan change only applicable to the Derry site, and not to the 1300 El Camino Real site. In addition, I encouraged my colleagues to require a substantial public benefit for the density bonus being granted to the Derry project. When Mayor Jellins proposed a small grant from the developer to study greater densities and parcel consolidation on the west side of El Camino as a "public benefit," I was appalled. This was a paltry proposal completely out-of-step with the previous week's discussion, and fell far short of the public's expectations. These two issues (scope of general plan change and public benefits) were major sticking points for me in approving the project. I pleaded with my fellow council members over these two major issues, but to no avail.

Then why did I vote to approve the project in a 4-1 vote? Partly out of respect for the efforts of the O'Brien Group and the Derry family in bringing along the project to this point. It is not their fault that the city council as a whole failed to negotiate for public benefits commensurate with the density bonus being granted. And, I wanted to demonstrate my appreciation that the council majority and the developer did take into account some of my suggestions regarding project details, which made it an incrementally better project. Finally, my vote is a signal to other potential developers that well designed, high-quality proposals that are fair to the public and to other downtown landowners can and will be approved in the future in Menlo Park under my watch.

On Sept. 12, at the final approval of the Derry project, I introduced a Motion to Reconsider*, again requesting my colleagues:

1) to make the General Plan amendment ONLY applicable to Derry, not to 1300 El Camino Real, and

2) to require significant public benefits of the developer, beyond the mandated minimum fees.

I expressed my concern about fairness to, for example, the Beltramos Family who "played by the rules" and stayed within General Plan densities on their recently-approved project. I also expressed my concern about the inflationary effect this density windfall would have on downtown land values. Unfortunately, I again was rebuffed in my request and this motion failed on a 2-3 vote, with my position being supported by Councilmember Cohen.

The referendum is your time-honored recourse when the city council fails to consider fairness to the residents in its decisions. You may be able to achieve what I was unable to achieve. Referendums are a state constitutionally-guaranteed right the people can exercise when the council neglects to act in the public's interest.

In closing, I am very grateful for the citizen efforts to bring this referendum forward to try to get a fair deal. I hope the referendum will provide the leverage to obtain appropriate public benefits from the developer.

Kelly Fergusson
Vice Mayor, Menlo Park

*Parliamentary rules allowed me to introduce this motion only because I had voted in favor of the project.

Comments (4)

Posted by Gern Blanston
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 27, 2006 at 2:01 pm

With all due respect, Kelly, your position appears untenable. The only way you can support both the Derry project as approved by the City Council *and* the follow-on referendum effort is if you had some revelation after voting in favor of the project, and that does not appear to be the case. All feelings for the work of the O'Brien Group and the Derry family aside, the project was either fair to Menlo Park in terms of negotiated benefit or it was not, and no matter how much you argued for the public good before the vote, your final "Yes" was a definitive nod to the fairness of the project. To me, at least, there is no middle ground.

Now, that said, I do appreciate your efforts to garner the negotiated public benefit before the vote, and I know that you actually care about the concerns of Menlo Park residents, and place those concerns on par with, if not above, the desires of developers (unlike the current council majority, which doesn't give a damn about resident concerns, if the process leading to the approval of the 110 and 175 Linfield project is any indication). I just hope you and Andy Cohen are joined on the council by anyone other than Winkler and Duboc after November 7th.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 30, 2006 at 12:27 am

I must agree with Gern.

I actually took the time to watch the webcast of the final negotiating session that you referred to. I heard you say it was a great project and I heard you ask for two specific mitigations.

1) A request that the developer ammend the landscape design to incorporate your favorite tree, the Red Oak, rather the the trees the planning department had approved. A concession that was granted.

2) A request that the developer somehow take part in reopenning the Park Theater, a property he does not control. A concession that was not supported by a majority of council.

I did not hear you propose any mitigations for traffic, school enrollment, height, density, or any of the other things that petitioners later expressed concerns about.

At a later council meeting, I heard Morris Brown thank you for helping organize the petition drive, provide the names of likely supporters and provide guidance on how to run it. I also heard that you provided the signature gatherers with a letter signed as Vice Mayor encouraging people to sign the petition.

Like the project or not - I do not think that this is any way for an elected official to behave.

Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 30, 2006 at 10:47 pm

This sounds like highly unethical behaviour.

Posted by mptaxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 8, 2006 at 12:07 pm

Just curious, how much is your vote going to cost to get the project through now?

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