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By Stuart Soffer

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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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Menlo Saves: Predictability is a Two-Way Street

Uploaded: Apr 7, 2014
I write this paragraph from 77th and Broadway. Looking out the window I see a great urban example: 3 traffic lanes in each direction, green median, 25+ feet of sidewalks with services such as a market. Four tracks of the IRT #1 subway line are hidden under the roadbed. This is not El Camino, nor the Specific Plan.

A council member once remarked that the MP council is composed of five very smart people who collectively make stupid decisions. I think that aptly describes one reason for the frustrations with the city we sometimes encounter.

If I never heard of Save Menlo, what would I think of the downtown/El Camino plan? I want to see improvement along El Camino and Santa Cruz Avenue. I'd like the negative impacts of whatever is built to be minimal – but enhance other aspects in return. For example, I expect projects to provide their own parking and not rely on residential streets on either side of CalTrain tracks.

Infrastructure is also a concern. When the Stanford Park Hotel was built, the sanitary sewer system was already at capacity and the hotel was required to build cisterns for holding sewage during the day, subsequently pumping it out into the sewer system at night while we slept. Can existing infrastructure accommodate the proposed office buildings? Will residents be asked to pay for new sewer lines?

The reactions to the pending signature drive and ballot measure have been predictable . Some commentators consider the plan cast in stone, sacrosanct, everyone had a chance to comment, end of discussion.

Arguing that 5 years of process and public hearings produces an infallible zoning result and that the time to talk is closed is childish. That is not reality. Our society constantly revisits established principles and plans, whether they pertain to patents or urban design. Consumer products is another example: the Tesla Model S has won numerous automotive awards. Yet a friend bought one several months ago and endured numerous problems before being given a replacement. Tesla wisely did not insist that all their cars were perfect; they recognized the flaws and focused on satisfying the customer.

Arguing that the proposed ballot measure is 'untested' doesn't hold water: the ballot measure emerged after the untested downtown/El Camino plan was deployed and its flaws appeared.

The current plan's Alice-In-Wonderland definition of open space is insulting to residents. The definition includes porches and rooftops, not in anyone's vision, especially for those of us accustomed to the ample open spaces of 1010 El Camino (Borrone and Kepler's retail). That definition to me appears to be a gratuitous give-away that immediately translates into more rentable area and less vitality The Planning commission and council should be sensitive to the difference between profit and 'giving and inch and taking a foot.' It's this sort of seemingly minor limitation that raises hackles. What other giveaways remain to be discovered?

I started out on a theme of predictability. Developers want predictability so they know what can be built. Residents too want predictability to maintain their quality of life and the value of their investments in Menlo Park.

The initiative gives the residents a chance to take a deeper look at plan details, and to ask the planning commission and council about the rationale for supporting a plan that, on its surface, appears contrary to the visions proferred. That is why I support the signature drive to place the initiative on the November ballot. If the miniumum signatures are gathered, hopefully the council will step back and review the ordinance before heading to the polls.

Comments

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 11:44 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Soffer makes a very cogent case for revisiting the Specific Plan but fails to note that the Specific Plan itself calls for:
"Ongoing Review of Specific Plan
The Specific Plan constitutes a significant and complex
revision of the existing regulations, and there may be
aspects of the plan that do not function precisely as
intended when applied to actual future development
proposals and public improvement projects. In order
to address such issues comprehensively, as well as to
consider the policy-related implications of various Plan
aspects, the Specific Plan recommends that the City
conduct an initial review of the Specific Plan one year
after adoption. In addition, the Specific Plan recommends
that the City conduct an ongoing review every two years
after the initial review. Such reviews should be conducted
with both the Planning Commission and City Council, and
should incorporate public input. Any modifications that
result from this review should be formally presented for
Planning Commission review and City Council action. Minor
technical modifications would generally be anticipated to
be covered by the current Program EIR analysis, while
substantive changes not covered by the Program EIR
would require additional review"

and that the first such review has already taken place with everyone being given the opportunity to comment at the Council meeting on Nov. 19, 2013 and at which the Council did hear from about 30 people regarding their comments on the plan. The council then took 8 separate actions regarding changes to the Plan.



Soffer also fails to note that the Specific Plan DOES address the sewer issue:
"The Specific Plan recommends:
• Sewer upgrades should occur in conjunction
with the proposed streetscape improvements,
as appropriate, to meet size and separation
requirements with other utilities and to
accommodate each development as they come online.
In addition, deteriorating local lines may need
to be replaced in conjunction with the streetscape
improvements to mitigate likely existing inflow and
infiltration issues."

It is important than people who comment on this issue both actually read the Specific Plan and note what has already happened since it was unanimously adopted by the Council.


Posted by Time to sign, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Great article! Peter, so glad to see that, upon reflection, you appreciate the value of citizen input. Good thing that it isn't too late for MP residents to sign the petition. Too bad you can't join us, Peter!


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I have always appreciated, espoused and fought for citizen input and the Specific Plan and its first post approval review both had lots of citizen input. Some people who slept though the processes simply want to start over.


Posted by Really?, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Those who attended the visioning meetings clearly stated that they wanted Menlo Park to maintain its village character and with that as the foundation of their wish list, there were 12 goals spelled out. Consequently the participants at the meetings were shown renderings and plans that featured a mix of uses that included a balance of retail, hotel, office, plaza, restaurants, and housing. Somewhere between the draft specific plan and the final specific plan there were revisions, deletions and insertions that were not vetted by our council.

The 12 goals of the Specific Plan were clear and reassuring:

1. Maintain a village character unique to Menlo Park.
2. Provide greater east-west, town-wide connectivity.
3. Improve circulation and streetscape conditions on El Camino Real.
4. Ensure that El Camino Real development is sensitive to and compatible with adjacent neighborhoods.
5. Revitalize underutilized parcels and buildings.
6. Activate the train station area.
7. Protect and enhance pedestrian amenities on Santa Cruz Avenue.
8. Expand shopping, dining and neighborhood services to ensure a vibrant downtown.
9. Provide residential opportunities in the Vision Plan Area.
10. Provide plaza and park spaces.
11. Provide an integrated, safe and well-designed pedestrian and bicycle network.
12. Develop parking strategies and facilities that meet the commercial and residential needs of the community.

Stop with the "people were asleep." The staff played cozy with Stanford and slipped features out and revisions in. Of course Soffer knows the plan discusses the sewer system but that doesn't mean that the West Bay Sanitary District can tell us the amount of sewage from the 800,00 sq. ft of development will not require a serious upgrading of our current sewage system from el camino real to Redwood City treatment plant. SARDENIA, WEIGH IN HERE

Quoting from the specific plan appears to be evidence but of what? If the hotel detains sewage and pumps at night, what will these new developments have to do?

This is not a situation where people slept; this is a situation where people were tricked, dismissed and lied to. A council meeting was held and the specific plan was reviewed but the 4 council members who could vote decided to push ahead. Now it's time for the voters to push back. Sign the petition; get it on the ballot. Reshape the specific plan as the creation we, who attended the visioning meetings wanted.

Carpenter, you were not there. Yo have no dog in this fight.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Somewhere between the draft specific plan and the final specific plan there were revisions, deletions and insertions that were not vetted by our council."

There are no facts to support that assertion.

" A council meeting was held and the specific plan was reviewed but the 4 council members who could vote decided to push ahead." Precisely, and they did so after lots of opportunity for public review and lots of public comment and then they did the same thing when the Specific Plan was reviewed. Where exactly was the public kept in the dark? All of these things were published in draft form, then final form and only then voted on.

This entire initiative exercise is already a very costly exercise for Menlo park. Improvements have been delayed and investments discouraged. The lost time cannot be made up and some of the discouraged investments will never return.

Predictability is when the council deliberates at length with lots of opportunity for public review and comment and then commits the city to a long term plan - not when a handful of citizens can throw the whole process into the trash simply for their own narrow self interests.

And Save Menlo members have already made clear that they will repeat the initiative process again even if Stanford were to comply with the terms of the present initiative. "When asked about developments that are BOTH consistent with the Specific Plan AND with the proposed initiative Gern responds "would likely run afoul of citizen-led initiatives and referendums of their own."

There is no end point for these folks. They got everything they asked for in their original petition and then they quickly erased their petition from their web site and started the initiative process - how can anyone call that predictability?


Posted by Time to sign, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Peter, you are simply mistaken. The open space issue, one glaring problem cited in the article, was NEVER discussed in any meetings. It did not appear in the draft of the SP but showed up later.

Save Menlo is not starting over. They are closing loopholes. Trying to respect the goals cited by Really? -- since those reflect what the residents wanted. Not the Stanford-written plan that got pushed through council.

If you think Save Menlo "got everything they asked for," then I question your reading comprehension skills. Save Menlo was supposed to be included in the discussions, but in actuality they were not.


Posted by Time to sign, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Peter, you are simply mistaken. The open space issue, one glaring problem cited in the article, was NEVER discussed in any meetings. It did not appear in the draft of the SP but showed up later.

Save Menlo is not starting over. They are closing loopholes. Trying to respect the goals cited by Really? -- since those reflect what the residents wanted. Not the Stanford-written plan that got pushed through council.

If you think Save Menlo "got everything they asked for," then I question your reading comprehension skills. Save Menlo was supposed to be included in the discussions, but in actuality they were not.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The open space issue was clearly stated in the final Specific Plan that was distributed BEFORE the council met and voted to adopt it - no mystery here except if you were not paying attention.

Every issue raised in Save Menlo' petition was addressed by the city and/or Stanford. Save Menlo's response was to remove the petition from their web site and to then move their goal posts with new "demands" or "suffer the consequences". Save Menlo is not interested in compromise but in simply stopping anything from happening.


Posted by Signed, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Apr 8, 2014 at 8:28 am

Great points about who will pay for sewage upgrades, and other necessary improvements to infrastructure, Stu.
Open Space = Open Space that the public should be able to access.
The City Council needs to listen to residents and stop pandering to the developers. Save Menlo should give them pause, and wake up the voters to the important issues at hand that have been glossed over.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 8, 2014 at 10:28 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Great points about who will pay for sewage upgrades, and other necessary improvements to infrastructure, Stu. "

Yes, and all have been addressed in the Specific Plan. I suggest that those who are interested in these issues start with Addendum G pages G 1- G 33.


Why when a student doesn't do his/her homework do they expect the teacher to simply repeat the class just for them?


Posted by Time to sign, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Apr 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

You're not just beating a dead horse, Peter -- you're flailing at a mirage that only you can see.

A host of former mayors have signed an articulate letter favoring the petition. Maybe time to find another windmill to tilt at and let those of us who live in Menlo Park decide what's best for our city?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 8, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This letter puts the nail in the coffin for any future Menlo Park development. With a history like this, regardless of the initiative outcome, any property owner is put on notice that Menlo Park is not the place to risk their investment.

My advice to Stanford and Greenheart is to lease out each of their 10 or more individual existing parcels and then let whoever gets the lease for each parcel deal with the city - knowing full well that Save Menlo will never allow another MP project to go forward.


Posted by Peter, a resident of another community,
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Peter is simply super chatty, spewing his chat all over this forum. Why is he every other post? I am not attacking Peter, simply pointing out a fact. Another fact - he's often wrong.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Apr 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For the other peter - in order for this forum to "continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion" you and others need to post more, post more thoughtfully and post more facts - rather than having me post less. The vast majority of my posts are providing facts from original sources - something almost no other poster does.

Try it, you might like it and you will find certainly out that fact finding is not always easy.


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