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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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Council election, and then some.

Uploaded: Aug 28, 2014
It's been a while since I've posted. One reason was that I was seriously considering running for City Council. And obviously at this point I decided I had other priorities which trumped how much I intellectually felt I should run.

Over the years I have seen council members essentially place their professional lives on hold and immerse themselves in all aspects of the job. It isn't just the Tuesday evenings and the prep time for the same. This is minimal. It's also the numerous assignments as representative to the regional bodies. Menlo Park's five council members essentially shoulder the same committee workload that is distributed to the 9 council members of Palo Alto. Then there is time responding to the one-on-one needs of residents and businesses.

Let's face it – all this is what I would find so engrossing and love to do. I had numerous calls from predictable and not-predictable personae encouraging me take out candidate papers. It's easy to push someone to run for council. But after taking them out I feared being stranded. For the past 2 months I had two angels on my shoulder, whispering into my ears: do it and don't it.

There is more to this election than just Measure M. The day after the election, regardless of Measure M, Menlo Park will still grapple with a series of past and new issues. I'd keep that in mind when considering of council candidates.

I have two observations regarding Measure M and the circumstances leading to both the Downtown Specific Plan, and Save Menlo's Measure M.

First, City Attorney Bill McClure recused himself from participation in the specific plan. Had this not been the case I feel that the specific plan that emerged after 5 years of discussion, as well as the initial projects proposed under its umbrella, would have been more tolerable. Bill, my good friend and sounding board, is the most powerful person in Menlo Park. There is little that he doesn't influence. His absence in the process was required, but unfortunate for us.

At some point Bill will retire. I fear that day because Bill is the city issue and personalities rudder. I hope I'm on the Council at that time for selection of his successor.

Another observation is that had the Specific Plan process (or charade depending on your neighborhood), never been enacted, Stanford and Greenheart would have been able to come forth with the same projects as development agreements. So in a sense the years of consultants and time, public meetings were wasted.

Comments

Posted by Observing MP from not so far, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Nice post, Stu. Your comments about running for the Council are spot on -- it's a lot of time and responsibility if you really do it well -- a very big job, even though it's not actually considered a "job"! It's a big consideration.

I was struck by your last observation re: the outcome of the 2 big El Camino area development projects on the table with/without the long awaited Specific Plan:

" .... had the Specific Plan process (or charade depending on your neighborhood), never been enacted, Stanford and Greenheart would have been able to come forth with the same projects as development agreements. So in a sense the years of consultants and time, public meetings were wasted."

Wow, hadn't thought of it in that way. Not what I envisioned as outcomes of the Specific Plan based on community input and visions for a vibrant, people-friendly look and feel, in keeping with Menlo Park's smaller-town "vibe". Sobering.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 11:01 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Another observation is that had the Specific Plan process (or charade depending on your neighborhood), never been enacted, Stanford and Greenheart would have been able to come forth with the same projects as development agreements. So in a sense the years of consultants and time, public meetings were wasted."

Wrong - the prior/pre Specific Plan C zoning would have permitted much more development on these parcels than permitted by the Specific Plan. And the revised Stanford and the current Greenheart proposals propose less than the maximum permitted by the Specific Plan.


Posted by Cassandra, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 11:28 pm

That vision of a slice of Paris/Santana Row kind of vanished during the two years that the consultants were working behind the scenes on the plan. It's really too bad. Everyone loved those pictures! And no one wanted the massive development that is being proposed now.

I think Stu is right: those projects would have been approved, with or without the plan. What's happened is that the plan was conceived in a different era, an economic recession, when cities were worried about getting adequate development. Obviously, with real estate prices soaring and everyone eager to cash in, that is no longer the case.

I was at a house in Palo Alto last night, across from Stanford. Apparently during those same years, Palo Alto approved a lot of development on Cal Ave "let's ignore the negatives." Even in my friend's neighborhood, which is not that close to Cal Ave, they're feeling impacts, not able to park on their own street during the day.

Several of the neighborhoods in that area, including hers, have blocked off streets to prevent cut-through traffic. College Terrace is a prime example of that strategy, though they took it a little too far maybe! I wonder if we are going to need the same here?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Sep 1, 2014 at 2:07 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please understand that the old C zoning for the Stanford and greenheart sites would have permitted much larger projects without the Council being able to negotiate any public benefits.

And Measure would encourage larger and more traffic intensive projects that the ones that have been negotiated under the Specific Plan. Think multiple uncoordinated projects including medical offices and big box stores And under Measure M there would be no public benefits.


Posted by interested, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Sep 1, 2014 at 10:19 am

Did someone just say that the Santana Row/Paris vision was lost during the last two years because the plan became too dense? Are you kidding?

Paris is dense -- one of the most dense cities in Europe. Four story buildings are considered quaint. Santana Row? Six stories.

If you go up, you get the parks and open space.

If you push down, you get big, fat and flat buildings with no open space...Town & Country, for example.


Posted by Cassandra, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Sep 2, 2014 at 11:56 pm

I just returned from Paris. The sidewalks are broad, public transit is excellent, and every other street has a pocket park. In Menlo Park, "open space" has been redefined so that it primarily refers to private balconies and rooftops. A travesty, and not what the residents envisioned during those many, many public sessions.

You could permit 20-story office buildings here and no one would set aside any space for more than a scrap of open space. "The land is too valuable for that!" In Menlo Park, greed prevails, and the richest institutions seem to be the greediest.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Sep 3, 2014 at 9:24 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Paris has almost no buildings lower than 6 stories and has the worst traffic on the continent.
And I suspect that there is more per capita square footage of park space in Menlo Park than in Paris.


Posted by that's not right, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Sep 4, 2014 at 10:57 am

There is some very inaccurate information provided in this thread.

The pre-Specific Plan zoning allowed about HALF the development now possible on the stanford and greenheart sites. (0.55 FAR vs 1.25 or 1.1 at base, respectively; with use permit 0.75 vs 1.75 or 1.5). These sites were absolutely not allowed more before the specific plan.

The Stanford project proposes the maximum amount at the base level of 1.25 FAR where the city has no real negotiating power despite giving away development rights through the specific plan. Web Link

The Greenheart project proposes the maximum amount allowed at the bonus level 1.5 FAR
www.menlopark.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/3553

Paris has added bike lanes and wider sidewalks in the middle of town. There are quite a number of parks. It's wonderful


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