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By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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To 'Save Menlo' Save Caltrain

Uploaded: Aug 7, 2014
Aboard Caltrain's 4:56 evening southbound a fellow passenger approaches to talk about the rail line. We agree it's a great thing. He urges me to write more about it, work with Friends of Caltrain. We are in sync about everything -- except the utility of this discussion. We are preaching to the choir. Caltrain's more than 50,000 daily riders don't need convincing. But hundreds of thousands of voters up and down the Peninsula do...many in Menlo Park.

One of the curious aspects of the Save Menlo effort is its disconnect from regional planning and regional transit. Blocking office construction, its supporters say, benefits the community with a "shift in commuter traffic away from downtown Menlo Park," to quote the current Almanac.

Consider this "benefit." First, how many of these commuters are projected to be driving? There's a reason why offices near train stations are called "transit friendly." Surely Menlo Park can learn from the region. How many workers drive to offices near the Pleasant Hill BART station, for example?

The second question about less offices...is who benefits. The man who talked to me on Caltrain? The twentysomethings and thirtysomethings in downtown apartments who comprise much of Silicon Valley's workforce? It's splendid to "save Menlo" for middle-aged property owners, but what about the young professionals who make that property so valuable?

The third question...well, I have to be patient here. For the next issue seems obvious to me, but clearly not to everyone. This question: when we take traffic away from downtown Menlo Park...where does the traffic go? Doesn't it go somewhere else? More to the point, does it encourage suburban sprawl in places like Tracy? Does driving to and from "somewhere else" raise ozone levels somewhere else, such as the San Joaquin Valley with its epidemic of childhood asthma?

Which brings us back to my rush hour conversation. Making the region livable is a puzzle with moving parts...one of which is Caltrain. To strengthen commuter rail service, we all need to get involved. Friends of Caltrain is a good start. Registering to vote – and many young transient professionals don't – is another.

Comments

Posted by housing advocate, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:59 pm

You have it wrong. Save Menlo isn't objecting to transit oriented development. They are objecting to too much office and not enough housing and shops and restaurants. The Specific Plan we went through called for a balance, and that Plan estimated an improvement in our town's abysmal jobs:housing balance (among the worst in the whole bay area).
The largest sites are ideal for more housing but instead, the projects proposed actually worsen the city's jobs:housing balance.
We need housing, in accordance with the city's 30-year plan. If we get too much office, our town could get slapped with another lawsuit for not getting serious. Our town could also get slapped with an even bigger allocation the next time the regional groups decide what our town's fair share is.


Posted by Paul Bendix, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 4:57 pm

'Save Menlo' does advocate another mix of housing vis--vis retail. But the public face of the movement is all about traffic-choked streets. This message falsely equates offices and traffic. We need a better dialogue regarding development. Offices close to transit benefit the entire region.


Posted by housing advocate, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Save Menlo advocates the same balance of office and housing and stores as the downtown plan. More office means more out of town commuters at rush hour. I think they're right to focus on that.


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