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Guest opinion: Let's have housing and parking in central Menlo Park

Original post made on Jan 3, 2022

In an op-ed, Menlo Park Housing Commissioner John Pimentel and Planning Commission member Henry Riggs call on the City Council to solicit proposals from developers to construct housing on some of the downtown city-owned parking lots.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, January 2, 2022, 8:34 AM

Comments (32)

Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 3, 2022 at 3:26 pm

David Roise is a registered user.

I totally agree that we should explore redevelopment of the parking plazas in downtown Menlo Park for higher-value uses with the following limitations:

1. There should be no mandates to include parking in any new development project. As has become abundantly clear in recent years, parking mandates basically subsidize car-dependent development patterns. Construction of parking facilities is incredibly expensive and should be undertaken only if car drivers are required to pay for those costs directly (i.e., no more free parking, and no more parking minimums for housing projects). What other valuable commodity do we give away for free and not expect there to be a shortage?

2. The parking plazas should be subdivided into smaller parcels prior to development, so that local, small-scale developers have a chance to bid on the projects. The limited remaining charm in our downtown results from its historically granular and incremental development pattern. Allowing larger developers to monopolize these projects will give us more of the charmless monster developments we now see on the east side of El Camino Real and fewer of the quirky one-off projects we see in other parts of Menlo Park.

3. Redeveloping the parking plazas should not preclude upzoning the entire city to encourage higher intensities of development everywhere. This should not be an either/or situation but rather a yes/and approach. Count me as a Menlo Park neighbor who is in favor of more neighbors (and not just Facebook executives).


Posted by Jon Castor
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Jan 3, 2022 at 4:55 pm

Jon Castor is a registered user.

A good plan will address traffic too.


Posted by Karen
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2022 at 5:36 pm

Karen is a registered user.

This entire article is a terrible, terrible idea, unless we want to look like downtown Redwood City and Palo Alto.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2022 at 9:35 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

Bad, unwanted idea. They tried to force this idea down everyone's throats in the late 90's. It was supposed to be "affordable" housing on top of parking garages. Problem, then as now, they wouldn't actually be affordable to those folks pushing it wanted to help. And parking was totally inadequate. The apartments would likely end up being occupied my multiple drivers and the plan only called for one space per apartment. There would have ended up being a ton of cars with no place in the garage to park. Not something that would or will help the downtown parking situation. Close SC Ave and build a garage. Housing can go elsewhere. If you want it to be truly affordable you need to think mid to high rise densities. I think very few of us want that, so let's stop talking about "affordable" housing. It is a myth in MP.


Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 3, 2022 at 10:10 pm

new guy is a registered user.

This is truly an interesting "op-ed". while I have not heard Pimentel speak, I have heard Riggs, and he does not speak like this, so, I am not sure who actually wrote this, or what the true purpose is here.

My thoughts:

1. 2022 is just like 2021, but now with more with even more virtue signaling!
2. The imposed "housing element" has no chance of success, and no one knows the implications. I guess once the state comes back at some point, council will point to at least looking into parking lots or something.
3. Not sure who truly wrote this even understands the actual size of the current surface lots, they are not that large, so even if there was some magic architect to design this, there really won't be that many units built, and not sure there is a developer who will build a slim supertall building between old (and poorly taken care of) single story retail buildings, all with no green spaces and insufficient nearby parks.
4. The first comment from Roise is classic "remove the necessity for parking", sure sounds great, how about we specify that residents cannot own a vehicle, good luck with that, and thank goodness MP has rules against overnight street parking.
5. stop talking about downtown being some "transit hub", there is a commuter rail (Caltrain) that I would challenge anyone to tell me they would enjoy living in MP without a car, and only use Caltrain. Pre-covid, trains going north were already full during morning commute, and laughably packed further north. Standing for a 45+ min ride (and paying ~$15 round trip, while people crowd and push on, gets old quickly.
6. lastly please identify where you plan to add playing fields, parks, and schools for all these residents you want to stick in the parking lots first. oh, that's right, there are NO EMPTY LOTS left in ALL of MP, this is why you are looking at parking lots for housing in the first place!!!


Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 4, 2022 at 9:08 am

David Roise is a registered user.

@MenloVoter Am I correct that you are a developer? If so, let me propose a hypothetical project for you. Let's say we GIVE you one of the parking plazas in downtown Menlo Park to develop as a parking garage. For simplicity, let's say the parcel is exactly the same size as the parcel used recently to build a parking garage off California Avenue in Palo Alto. According to the Palo Alto Weekly, that garage cost $37 million to build (not counting the land, which is why we are going to GIVE you the parking plaza), and it has room for 636 parked cars.

For simplicity, let's say you could fill your shiny new garage 24/7/365 with 636 cars paying $1 per hour. That would bring in about $39 million per year! Of course that assumes 100% occupancy 100% of the time at a price most folks in Menlo Park are unlikely to pay. It also ignores operating costs, taxes, and the opportunity cost of other higher-value projects (e.g., housing) that could have been built on the land. Given that we don't currently charge for street parking in Menlo Park, I'm guessing the revenue from your new garage is going to be a lot closer to zero than $39 million.

Two simple questions:
1. Absent subsidies from the city of Menlo Park or elsewhere, would you--or any developer you know--go ahead with this project?
2. If not, why should the city of Menlo Park build it, subsidize anyone else to build it, or require that anyone else build it in exchange for approval of another project?

Let's not pretend that there is such a thing as "free" parking. What if instead of spending money on a parking garage (or forcing a developer to do so), we started charging for street parking? What if we used the revenue generated from street parking to subsidize e-bikes, transit passes, Zip-car subscriptions, and anything else that would decrease the demand for parking in Menlo Park? Wouldn't that make Menlo Park a better place to live? I say we build housing for people, not for cars.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 4, 2022 at 9:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" What if we used the revenue generated from street parking to subsidize e-bikes, transit passes, Zip-car subscriptions, and anything else that would decrease the demand for parking in Menlo Park?"

This is exactly what Stanford University did almost 50 years ago!!

Web Link

A key element in that report was this recommendation:

"With regard to parking and transportation, the University1s first priority in planning, design, regulations, and expenditures is to facilitate pedestrian and bicycle travel; the second priority is to facilitate group transit; and the last priority is to facilitate private motor vehicle travel."

That recommendation was adopted and all of the parking fees at Stanford go to support bike paths, the shuttle, parking garages etc. It has worked well for almost 50 years.

Sometimes the answer is in your own back yard.


Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 4, 2022 at 10:14 am

Long Time Resident is a registered user.

Riggs and Pimental are seasoned planners and their article is spot on. SB 8, 9, and 10 are realities and the idea of adding concentrated density over the downtown parking plazas is far preferable to transforming single family neighborhoods with un wanted multifamily lot splits. The downtown is in desperate need of more life and this proposal may provide that too. Regarding parking- of course we want more people to take transit and bicycle BUT those options are not well developed and are years away. For the housing to be successful adequate parking must be provided.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 4, 2022 at 10:36 am

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

David Roise:

No, I am not a developer. I am a builder, so I am well aware of the costs of construction. I happen to agree with you on charging for parking. I think MP already does this in the Plazas, at least for extended parking. I think we should be charging for parking just like Redwood City does. The garage(s) would be paid for and SC Ave. could be turned into a pedestrian plaza like Pearl St., and the parking taken care of by the garage. MP residents won't pay to park? I suspect they do when they go to Redwood City, I know I do. Let's stop with the unrealistic notion that people aren't going to drive downtown or anywhere else and walk or bike because parking is eliminated. People decidedly WON'T. What they'll do is take their business to where they can drive and park. You can build all the housing in town you want to and it will NOT be "affordable". The costs of construction and land here make that impossible without subsidies from someplace like the State or Federal Governments. I don't see that happening either. What the state is trying to do right now will tell you that. They're trying to force more "affordable" housing down city's throats with ZERO subsidies. That "affordable" housing will not get built and to pretend it will is just more virtue signaling by the limousine liberals in this town.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 4, 2022 at 2:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The costs of construction and land here make that impossible without subsidies from someplace like the State or Federal Governments."

Or developers will be required to build low income units as part of a larger development - and guess who will subsidize those units? The buyers or renters of the now inflated price market rate units.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 4, 2022 at 3:44 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

"Or developers will be required to build low income units as part of a larger development - and guess who will subsidize those units? The buyers or renters of the now inflated price market rate units."

Yes and a perfect example of that was Menlo Commons where the builders were forced to build four "affordable" units. They couldn't sell them. The people they were supposedly for couldn't qualify due to the cost, even though it was "affordable". The builders ended up buying the four units and renting them out at BMR, which still wasn't low enough. Even with subsidies of the standard priced units in a development isn't enough in this area. Again, the land and cost of construction are simply too high.


Posted by Frozen
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 5, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Frozen is a registered user.

Maybe I've missed it, but I've never seen any kind of assessment of market potential for this kind of development. Everyone repeats the "we need affordable housing" mantra but has anyone tried to survey the potential residents of these developments? Are there a lot of prospective buyers/renters who fit the income categories, can afford the probable mortgage/rent, and want to live in a tiny unit without a place to park or play? Downtown Menlo Park may have its charms, but most goods and services that people need are not within walking distance.

I have no doubt that there are many people who want to live in Menlo Park, but I do question their desire to make those tradeoffs.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 5, 2022 at 3:28 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

" Are there a lot of prospective buyers/renters who fit the income categories, can afford the probable mortgage/rent, and want to live in a tiny unit without a place to park or play? "

NO


Posted by mary
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:27 pm

mary is a registered user.

Does this mean that i am supposed to bicycle to menlo park for a nail appointment? We have already lost many downtown businesses and the lack of parking will only make it worse for the business community. They advertise to bring people to downtown and, no matter how lovely it may be, if i cannot find a place to park, i'll go elsewhere.


Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2022 at 1:10 pm

pearl is a registered user.

This is such a BAD idea!!! I'm so glad I moved from Menlo Park years ago!!!


Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2022 at 1:42 pm

Observer is a registered user.

"if I cannot find a place to park, I'll go elsewhere"
Mary, you nailed it!


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 6, 2022 at 1:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

No wonder our democracy is in trouble when people either cannot read or cannot comprehend what is clearly stated:

"Proposals would need to preserve the existing number of parking spaces at ground level, and provide the required new spaces for the new dwellings."


Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:04 pm

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

"Our proposal is that the City Council authorize a process to solicit proposals from developers to construct housing on some of our eight downtown city-owned parking lots."

We need to learn and evaluate what is possible and realistic as well as understand the major trade-offs. I support a preliminary investigation including consideration of actual budgetary proposals but not an expensive, years-long comprehensive study.


Posted by JR
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2022 at 5:02 pm

JR is a registered user.

Better understanding the range of housing options on downtown parking lots makes perfect sense. We should know the range of possible outcomes as part of the broader review being conducted. In my view, a parking garage needs to be built regardless. What we have now is a liability for the town and supporting a more vibrant downtown requires that parking availability be turned into an asset.


Posted by Sunny Storm
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 8, 2022 at 1:32 pm

Sunny Storm is a registered user.

Parking has to go along with housing and retail. The peninsula is a car centric area, that ship has sailed and is not likely to change. Even though people enjoy living were they can walk to most things, they must have cars to get to so many things around here. It's just not viable to have housing with out parking.

Imagine carrying groceries for a family of 4 without a car. I fill a shopping cart every week. Our families doctors and dentist appointments are in places that require a car to get to. Need a car to get to the vet for our pets. The peninsula can't start over. If the area was originally constructed with huge amounts of fast, easy public transit, that's one thing, but you can't force it on a community after the fact.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 8, 2022 at 1:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Proposals would need to preserve the existing number of parking spaces at ground level, and provide the required new spaces for the new dwellings."


Posted by Eric Lamb
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 12, 2022 at 5:34 pm

Eric Lamb is a registered user.

We are in a housing crisis in California and this is even worse on the Peninsula. I think that Pimentel & Riggs are suggesting one approach that could lead to additional housing in our City, which is sorely needed. I am not commenting on the specific approach but rather to voice my support for higher density housing at all the Cities along the Peninsula, where we have many people commuting given the jobs/housing imbalance. It is environmentally irresponsible to continue to resist infill housing in our urban communities and force young people and economically disadvantaged people to commute on freeways from outlying areas. (or leave the State) That is the paradox, the lack of housing near our jobs increases traffic.

I would also agree that the parking balance for retail and residents would also need to be addressed but would hopefully not become a controlling factor. This is especially true given many might prefer a walkable lifestyle and that the future of transit may not include large suburban parking garages as much. How will future autonomous transit affect large parking lots, for example.

This column certainly evoked some emotional and judgmental responses to the notion of having affordable, higher density housing in our urban Peninsula community. It appears somewhat self serving to approach the discourse in that manner, however.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 13, 2022 at 8:29 am

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

Eric:

it evoked the responses regarding "affordable" housing here because it is a myth. It is not possible without government subsidies. The cost of land and construction are simply too high. Do you not understand that? Government subsidized, high density, low income housing leads to "the projects". We know how well those have worked out.


Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 15, 2022 at 11:44 am

Iris is a registered user.

If the city continues to own the parking lot land, and lease it out for housing and parking, isn't the land essential "free" in this equation? The subsidies others have mentioned may not be necessary? The cost of this land is a sunk cost; it has already been paid.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 16, 2022 at 11:48 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Iris:

The problem is that the city will not lease that land for free. Sunk cost to the city or not, it currently generates income for the city, if from nothing else, from parking fees and parking tickets. So you factor in the lease cost and the cost of construction and you are again in unaffordable land.


Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 9:00 am

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

Most of the comments here are laden with opinions and unsupported by reasonable market-tested assumptions. The two commissioners should be encouraged to obtain "budgetary" proposals for one or two design alternatives so residents can evaluate them. Go for it!


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 27, 2022 at 9:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The two commissioners should be encouraged to obtain "budgetary" proposals for one or two design alternatives so residents can evaluate them. Go for it!"

This was suggested 6 YEARS ago!!


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 12, 2016 at 12:33 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
I suggest taking the two existing surface parking lots between Santa Cruz and Menlo and Evelyn and Chestnut and building an underground garage covering that entire area including under Crane. The entire surface area would be repurposed as a pedestrian and bicycle park/plaza including an area for activities like the farmers' market. An automated garage covering that area could easily accommodate 5 times or more cars than the existing lots provide. The park/plaza would encourage existing Santa Cruz businesses to open out to the park/plaza.

An RFP outlining the concept would, I predict, produce some exciting development proposals that would minimize the cost to the city in exchange for a lease to the subterranean rights.


Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 9, 2022 at 9:25 am

Michael is a registered user.

@menlovoter affordable housing only comes when we build more housing. Here is a great video by a City Planning professor at Cal Poly. Web Link


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 9, 2022 at 12:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

You can build all the housing that you want but as long as the land is purchased at market values and the housing is built at actual cost it will never be "affordable housing".


Affordable housing in Menlo Park can only be achieved with significant public or private subsidies.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2022 at 2:48 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

Michael:

I echo what Peter said. "Affordable" housing in MP is a myth. The only way to build truly affordable housing in this area is with government subsidies, large ones. Personally, I don't want my taxes going to pay for other peoples' housing. I pay enough for my own thank you. I think most people in the state feel the same way as rather than a push by state government to force "affordable" housing into cities across the state, they would be coming up with the large subsidies needed to make it happen. Instead, they do what they always do, pretend they're "doing something", when all they're actually doing is nothing. I'm sure someone will get rich off AB9, but affordable housing certainly isn't going to get built anywhere in this area because of it.


Posted by Not-Jeff
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 9, 2022 at 2:50 pm

Not-Jeff is a registered user.

Just my 2 cents, addressing both the substance of the article and some of the downtown-related comments in the Comments:

1: Repurposing the parking areas near SC Ave for housing (+parking) strikes me as over-engineering and not feasible, for reasons mentioned by others in the Comments. IMHO a better way would be to change zoning and/or building permits to encourage making 2nd and/or 3rd story on-SC-ave buildings support more housing. This would help preserve (or improve) the charm of downtown without overbuilding.

2: I see a LOT of housing (and business space) coming online very soon; the old Cadillac land being just 1 example. In fact, I've read that MP (and RWC) are the few communities in the area that have made noteworthy increases in housing of late. Before embarking on modifying CS-Ave parking into parking+housing, it's fair to ask for proof that the upcoming housing is still insufficient. Bueller?

3: SC Ave should be a 1-lane-1-way or closed to motor vehicle traffic entirely, and businesses allowed to use some of the outdoor space permanently. Making SC Ave a smaller 'poor man' version of Santa Monica's 3rd street promenade would be a win for MP, businesses and residents.

4: Public transportation is part of the housing solution, too. Part of the reason living near where you work is so appealing is because (pre-covid) traffic during commute hours was truly horrific. Better public transportation reduces the demands on peninsula roads, parking and housing costs by enabling people to live in cheaper outskirt communities.


Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 15, 2022 at 8:17 am

Iris is a registered user.

I find it hard to imagine that lost parking fees on city parking lots make the cost of the land (otherwise "free") anywhere close to the cost of procuring land on other sites in Menlo Park west of the 101. The city stands to gain considerable revenue from fees and leases for multi-level parking and housing on its parking lots.


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