Initiative to Slow Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears “congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.

Greenheart Land Company has proposed 210,000 square feet of office space, 13,000 square feet of retail, and up to 220 apartments on this vacant lot, just north of the Menlo Park Caltrain Station. Photo: Google Maps

An independent consultant’s report about the initiative concluded that the office space restrictions would likely shift future development to include more retail and housing. Those shifts would “likely carry with them a number of unintended consequences, including limiting transparency in the development process, expending greater City resources, diminishing clarity in enforcement policies, and exposing the City to escalated disputes and litigation.”

All five city council members expressed serious concerns with the voter initiative, citing it as a barrier to transit-oriented development and objecting to the way the initiative would effectively overrule the five years of work (and over 90 public meetings) that went into the Downtown Specific Plan.

“I oppose this initiative,” council member Peter Ohtaki stated at the meeting. “I’m especially concerned about ballot-box zoning,” he said, referring to the “open-ended political process” of voter approval that could halt all commercial and residential development in downtown Menlo Park by adding uncertainty and delays to future projects.

“We deserve better on El Camino Real,” said council member Kirsten Keith. “The areas where we need to have housing and offices is where we’ve already got public transportation.”

One of two conceptual designs for a ped/bike tunnel at Middle Avenue, as recommended by the city’s Transportation Commission in 2009. Image: City of Menlo Park

One development at stake in the initiative is Stanford University’s proposed mixed-use development, which would construct 200,000 square feet of office space (potentially housing over 1,000 jobs), 10,000 square feet of retail space, and up to 170 residential units on vacant properties on the northeast side of El Camino Real, between Middle Avenue and Cambridge Avenue. The project is expected to include a ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks, connecting Alma Street and El Camino Real across from Middle Avenue, although Stanford hasn’t yet committed funds for it. The tunnel, like the one neighboring Palo Alto constructed at Homer Avenue near its University Avenue Caltrain station in 2004, would fill a critical gap in the city’s walking and bicycling networks by providing a direct, traffic-free route between the neighborhoods located on either side of El Camino Real.

Mayor Ray Mueller asked for a greater commitment from Stanford University towards the tunnel’s construction — which would boost public support for Stanford’s project and potentially quell the initiative — but Stanford officials say they don’t yet have enough information about the tunnel’s cost, and would prefer Menlo Park to pursue public grants for the tunnel.

“The way these projects get funded is that a big piece comes from your ability to get bike and pedestrian grant money,” said Stanford Assistant Vice President and Director of Community Relations Jean McCown. “That, coupled with private money from Stanford… maybe there should be contributions from others who would benefit.”

“I would like to see an undercrossing. I know we can get that paid for… it’s very feasible,” said council member Kirsten Keith, pointing to the Palo Alto bike/ped tunnel.

Just around the corner from downtown Menlo Park and the Caltrain station, Greenheart Land Company has proposed a similar mixed-use project for a vacant former Cadillac dealership at El Camino Real and Oak Grove Avenue. It would extend the currently dead-end Garwood Avenue to the Menlo Park Caltrain station, providing a low-traffic route parallel to El Camino Real.

  • PAltan

    “Transit-oriented development” in Palo Alto has been code for high-density, congestion-causing, ugly, and built right up to the street with no setback.

    Residents in Menlo need to win this, belive me as a Palo Alto resident, this election is not just about a particular project, it’s about the future quality of life and vision of your town. Residents have put forward a reasonable proposal that should be passed. It may mean more work for planners but that’s what you pay them for. Residents, on the other hand, shouldn’t have to constantly babysit developers and Councilmembers to avoid allowing them to sell off the zoning and character of your town. If you don’t limit office space you’ll be required to put in yet more housing by ABAG. The only way for residents to lay down the law is to show City Hall that residents can stop them. There is far more than a single project at stake for Menlo Residents. I’m sure the developers will be out in force to try to smear them.

  • thielges

    Ballot measures like this just enable the interests of a few to hobble the bay area’s sustainable growth plans. Anytime a local group is asked “do you want to attract more residents?” the answer is uniformly “no”. Duh. The folks backing NIMBY measures like this can’t look beyond their own self-interest.

    Major transportation resources like Caltrain and BART stations are regional, not local concerns. But here we might allow local opinion to overrule the needs of the majority. Read Paltan’s response who makes subjective and negative comments on what could be a positive change for downtown MP. Another way to describe the project is that it is an attractive structure bringing in more residents who add to the vibrancy of downtown. There’s no need to be so negative about improving the quality of life and accommodating population growth,

    Adding more residents might make it harder to get a table at Cafe Barrone. But more residents also makes it viable to open more cafes. Look beyond the status quo because it might not be the best that Menlo can be.

  • Nate

    The conservative mentality expressed above is exactly why NIMBY’s in the Bay Area are just Republicans in drag. They want a particular low-density city character etched in stone despite the enormous hardship this puts on low-income people who suffer high housing costs and long commutes just to work in these areas. Not to mention the environmental costs this imposes when people move to Houston because they can’t afford to live in Menlo Park.

    PAltan: pursuing your vision of an ideal neighborhood means you play a key role in sprawl that develops elsewhere. In essence, your entitlement is building the sprawl that occurs elsewhere.

  • Zmapper

    “…code for high-density, congestion-causing, ugly, and built right up to the street with no setback.”
    Other than the word “ugly”, which is an opinion, could you please define in concrete, measurable terms why the other elements are inherently negative?

    “future quality of life”
    Could you please define this phrase in concrete terms?

    “and character of your town”
    Again, could you please define this term in concrete terms?

  • Justin

    You can also add the fact it also improves the tax base of that community as well as that same community getting more revenue due to more taxes collected which i assume to could be put back into the community and basic city services EVERYBODY needs

  • PAltan

    Some people may enjoy a city more like San Jose than Menlo Park or Palo Alto. But that’s why zoning exists, so that people who have chosen a more low-key place like Menlo don’t have to see it turned into mini-San Jose for the benefit of developers short-term profits.

    The best place to get a more concrete idea of the folly of alleged “transit-oriented development” in relationship to Palo Alto is probably Doug Moran’s blog http://www.paloaltoonline.com/blogs/p/2014/07/01/public-transit-follies

  • Justin

    I think it is time and I think past time for the south bay communities and other communities with sparse populations and abundant land to step up to the plate and just take some of the additional population growth. These communities need to quit assuming that city and county of San Francisco can take all the new housing growth given to the fact that our city is faced with the realities of natural growth boundaries that prevents us from exponential growth. These south bay communities home to most of the best tech industries in the world need to provide more housing for the people working in these great industries. As these industries create more jobs, these communities with these industries should and must create more housing for them and one of the best ways to do it is to build dense housing near transit corridors, it makes so much sense. I can understand that homeowners in that area don’t want more people and eye soar developments, but I assume its not being built in those areas. It makes sense again to build dense housing near busy streets like El Camino Real and other major transit corridors and NOT in residential neighborhoods.

  • Guest

    The real “tax base” comes from retail sales tax and hotel TOT which also pays roughly equivalent amounts of property tax as office on a square foot basis. These uses are being replaced or crowded out by office. So here’s the real facts…

    Justin, the Wise Report confirms that

    · More office space yields declining and eventually negative net annual General Fund revenues.

    · The Initiative Prevents excessive Office space from crowding out new revenue-generating businesses like hotels and retail/restaurants

    The Initiative saves· ,or generates, for the General Fund, between $282,000 to $2,253,000 revenue annually because of the Initiative’s cap on Office space.

    · Without the Initiative, approved and pending office projects already consume the hotel space needed to achieve the Specific Plan’s positive revenue projections.

    · Improves the City’s debt capacity, important for
    funding major infrastructure improvements

    · Won’t impact revenues or expenditures of Special Districts

    or School districts

    Will lead to increased public benefits opportunities

    Most of the comments on the blog seem uninformed.

    The Menlo Park Downtown specific plan calls for two separate buckets of independent and non-interchangeble kinds of development, “residential” consisting of 680 dwelling units, and “non-residential” consisting of 474,000 sf of various commercial

    The Initiative sets a limit, basically equivalent to area wide Ground Floor Retail, that limits the office portion to approximately half. The remainder is for retail shops and hotels, which is what the community asked for.

    The Initiative redefines “open space” so that private balconies and garage rooftops can no longer be counted.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why environmenalists would care about whether Menlo Park builds shops or offices in its downtown area.

    The only thing I ask of you now, is rather than running your mind on conditioned auto pilot turning this into bad NIMBY’s trying to stop growth, is that you make no decision, and become informed. Numerous respected individuals in the environmental community including former elected officials helped design this and are supporting it.

  • aslevin

    Actually, one of the goals of the ballot measure is to restrict commercial office use so as to encourage housing. This intent is good.

    Unfortunately, the way the measure is written, it may well not do that. The measure has lots of categories of businesses, some of which are limited more strictly than others. Offices are strictly limited, but professional services businesses like advertising businesses and educational services are not as strictly limited. So the city could wind up with just as much business space downtown.

    Also, the measure has rules that could make it harder to develop housing, particularly on smaller properties, and for affordable projects. The measure says that open space that counts against the open space requirement must be at ground level or no more than 4 feet up. Balconies and common space decks don’t count as open space. If there’s a small property, there’s not enough room for surface parking and the mandatory ground floor open space. So townhouses would need to put parking underground ($$$) and affordable developments might not be feasible.

    Plus, all of these rules would need a vote of the people to change. Want to exempt small properties from the open space rule – a new ballot measure! Want to change the definitions of the businesses in the categories with different limits – a new ballot measure!

  • PJC

    The ballot measure is not written to restrict office to encourage housing, its written to restrict office to encourage retail and hotel uses.

    Its actually housing neutral, since the bucket of 680 housing units is independent of the bucket of 440sf of commercial which the Initiative seeks to sub-partition as approximately half office and half retail/hotel. The Initiative says nothing about housing.

    Here, the post confuses DEFINING “open space” with determining HOW MUCH is allowed in a zoning district. The Initiative defines “open space” as being essentially on the ground, not a balcony or a roof. Voters will control that definition in the Plan Area, but voters do not control how much open space is allowed in a zone in the Plan Area. If current small properties are in zones where the open space definition under current zoning would limit housing, then COUNCIL can change the minimum and maximum amount of (ground level) open space required to zero if it wants, it simply cannot change what is counted as open space.

    We know of two small parcel project being proposed that contain housing.

    We are reaching out now to have knowledgeable people in Menlo Park more fully explain this.

    The Initiative simply asks for an honest use of the English language without zoning trickery. Tricking people doesn’t work. Honest government counts for something. If Menlo Park wants to create zones with no open space then let it say so so openly to see if people support that.

    What is also not covered in this post is the fact that during the Visioning process in Menlo Park, public representations were made, and we can show the pictures and the City brochures, that if people supported taller and denser development they would get more GROUND BASED open space around the building. The consultant slides show green ON THE GROUND next to the taller building masses. Surveys showed that an overwhelming number of people would accept higher density (4 stories) but as an honest trade off for more “open space”. It was quite a shock for them to see zoning districts in which the entire parcel footprint is covered with 5-story, 60′ high residential buildings with no ground based open space, but with podium parking whose roof was counted as open space.

    It was an act of true mendacity and I promise you, you don’t want to be a part of it or support a process that tricks and exploits people who were already willing to make honest trade offs.

    Nevertheless, the Wise Report finds that Maximum residential build out is not impacted by the Initiative and that the full housing build-out WILL occur over the 30 year period, and that neither the projected number of jobs or houses will be impacted in the Plan Area.

    The Initiative really does

    1. substitute retail/hotel for office in the commercial bucket by limiting office to half the commercial bucket,

    2.) limit the size of a single office project to distribute the office bucket fairly,

    3.) defines open space as ground-based,

    and

    4.) puts voter in charge of the size of the buckets in 1,2, and the definition 3.

  • PJC

    Let me also address the mistaken notion that
    all of these rules and definitions would need a vote of the people to change” since many versions of this claim have surfaced and none have been shown to be true.

    The Initiative seeks to limit office in the downtown area and to properly define open space. To limit office to a numerical limit, for accounting purposes it must define, “the downtown area”, and it must define “office.” When it does so, it does so *ONLY* for the purpose of accounting, not for the purpose of superceding existing zoning controls.

    The Wise Report found that the Initiative had “no impact” on the Specific Plan zoning ordinance.

    It turns out that advertising and graphic design are both included in the SP definition “J” for office. And ultimately staff gets to decide when a particular use not explicitly included in “J” (and another section) constitutes a “professional office” use as in the sense of “J” or not, but cities make these kinds of determinations routinely on behalf of council authority.

    The city of Menlo Park is free to change the map of the plan area if it wants, to rezone parcels into and out of the area, and its free to allow or disallow whatever uses it wants in whatever zones it wants, but if cannot change which parcels are counted toward the Initiative cap and it cannot change which uses are counted toward the Initiative cap.

    It’s really that simple. The initiative seeks to limit the amount of allowed non-residential development in the plan area to insure balance between professional office and retail/hotel (and ultimately protect the City’s revenue sources.)

  • Justin

    I kinda don’t see how building dense housing near transit corridors would turn a small town like Menlo Park into San Jose when SJ is a much BIGGER city with more people living in it. Also there are parts of San Jose that resemble a low density residential neighborhood like the ones out in Menlo Park, maybe not exactly though but similar. And of course don’t forget there are also people who might also enjoy living in a city like San Francisco as well, just saying…

  • Steve Schmidt

    It’s difficult to believe this article was written by a cyclist. It’s full of misleading & biased “information.” It ignores that Menlo Park’s Specific Plan is opening the door to adding a third lane to El Camino Real (ECR) and a new exclusive right hand turn lane at a heavily used connector street. There will be few accommodations for cyclists who chose ECR as the town’s most direct north/south route.

    The Specific Plan allows for 680 new housing units and the initiative does not touch that goal. The office construction allowed on 2 developments on ECR, thanks to the Specific Plan will reach 400,000 sf and the Initiative supporters believe that should be reduced to 200,000 sf for these 2 developments.

    There is nothing in the Specific Plan being modified by the Initiative that will boost transit ridership. The City is actually promoting policies and projects that will impede access to the Caltrain Station, make it more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists on and around El Camino and prevent modernization of Caltrain.

    The highly touted Plaza in one of the two big developments (Stanford University) is actually a series of automobile driveways leading to surface and underground parking with little space left for usable public access, pedestrians or bicyclists heading for a possible undercrossing of Caltrain, which would have to be about ten feet below grade. Consequently the cost will be in the neighborhood of $10M and Stanford University should be paying all the costs but the Council never required it.

    The undercrossing design, described by City staff 5 years ago as “a pedestrian undercrossing that will accommodate bicyclists at walking speed”, was rejected by both MP’s Bicycle and Transportation Commissions at that time. This location will be of benefit primarily to the occupants of the Stanford housing units and to City employees on their lunch hours; it is of little help to cyclists due to its distance from bike routes and its proximity to a busy & large intersection, heavy traffic on El Camino and unprotected ingress and egress from Alma street.

    A more convenient and much less expensive location near Cambridge and El Camino was rejected 12 years ago.

    Needless to say, I am surprised and disappointed in Mr. Boone’s apparent alliance with individuals who routinely dismiss transportation and smart-growth alternatives and a City Council with its collective head in the sand.

  • PAltan

    LMAO. Anyone who doesn’t roll over for developers and allow Menlo to be turned into a high-density nightmare is a (whatever demonization you make up)? I got news for you, 300 million people in the US can’t all pack into Menlo Park. At some point, there is a limit. Where is that limit? Packing in more people in a desirable place only makes it high density, it doesn’t make it cost less. If you don’t believe me, try Manhattan. When people buy a home, the zoning is a legal promise of what will be there in the future. It’s not okay for the City to give that away to enrich a developer. Your calling names won’t change that, nor will it make me into whatever name you have to call me.

  • PAltan

    Building high-rise dense housing in a small town like Menlo changes the character of the place, blocks sunlight, strains infrastructure (see Doug Moran’s post) and resources like water, and creates a character more like downtown San Jose. If you like those places, be my guest, you can move there, and even live near transit. You don’t have a right to change Menlo into San Jose to suit your taste in order to enrich a developer at the expense of existing residents.

  • aslevin

    The limit on office space of both types requires a vote of the people to change, and the limit on housing only requires a vote of city council to change. The measure is intended to discourage office more than housing.

    If as you say, the goal is more to encourage retail and hotel than to discourage office, than the messaging on the signs and the posters that the measure is all about traffic reduction is bogus. Retail generates more cars than offices do.

  • Andy Chow

    What the Menlo Council should do is to put a competing a measure with more moderate language and use it to fight this one.

  • aslevin

    True, some of the prominent supporters of this ballot measure have in the past strongly supported environmental initiatives. I can’t see how this measure is helpful to the environment, though.

  • Steve Schmidt

    It’s difficult to believe this article was written by a cyclist. It’s full of misleading & biased “information.” It ignores that Menlo Park’s Specific Plan is opening the door to adding a third lane to El Camino Real (ECR) and a new exclusive right hand turn lane at a heavily used connector street. There will be few accommodations for cyclists who chose ECR as the town’s most direct north/south route.

    The Specific Plan allows for 680 new housing units and the initiative does not touch that goal. The office construction allowed on 2 developments on ECR, thanks to the Specific Plan will reach 400,000 sf and the Initiative supporters believe that should be reduced to 200,000 sf for these 2 developments.

    There is nothing in the Specific Plan being modified by the Initiative that will boost transit ridership. The City is actually promoting policies and projects that will impede access to the Caltrain Station, make it more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists on and around El Camino and prevent modernization of Caltrain.

    The highly touted Plaza in one of the two big developments (Stanford University) is actually a series of automobile driveways leading to surface and underground parking with little space left for usable public access, pedestrians or bicyclists heading for a possible undercrossing of Caltrain, which would have to be about ten feet below grade. Consequently the cost will be in the neighborhood of $10M and Stanford University should be paying all the costs but the Council never required it.

    The undercrossing design, described by City staff 5 years ago as “a pedestrian undercrossing that will accommodate bicyclists at walking speed”, was rejected by both MP’s Bicycle and Transportation Commissions at that time. This location will be of benefit primarily to the occupants of the Stanford housing units and to City employees on their lunch hours; it is of little help to cyclists due to its distance from bike routes and its proximity to a busy & large intersection, heavy traffic on El Camino and unprotected ingress and egress from Alma street.

    A more convenient and much less expensive location near Cambridge and El Camino was rejected 12 years ago.

    Needless to say, I am surprised and disappointed in Mr. Boone’s apparent alliance with individuals who routinely dismiss transportation and smart-growth alternatives and a City Council with its collective head in the sand. The current council majority joined a law suit against California’s High Speed Rail and has opposed an elevated track that would provide safe vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian circulation. Worst though is the City’s lack of support for Caltrain electrification.

  • PAltan

    In case you hadn’t noticed, more high-density new housing commands really high rents, which push up average rents and put pressure on existing housing, forcing out, not helping existing low-income residents. Look at the mobile home park in Palo Alto, those 400 low-income residents are being evicted for an allegedly transit oriented high density development on El Camino, that will use high -density bonuses to create a lot of luxury rentals and a handful of BMR units no one who lived there before could afford.

    Anyone who doesn’t roll over for developers and allow Menlo to be turned into a high-density nightmare is a NIMBY Republican what name are you developer shills calling now? I got news for you, 300 million people in the US can’t all pack into Menlo Park. At some point, there is a limit. Where is that limit? Packing in more people in a desirable place only makes it high density, it doesn’t make it cost less. If you don’t believe me, try Manhattan. When people buy a home, the zoning is a legal promise of what will be there in the future. It’s not okay for the City to give that away to enrich a developer. Your calling names won’t change that, nor will it make me into whatever name you have to call me.

  • aslevin

    There is no direct connection between the use mix on El Camino and going from 4 lanes to 6 (which is a terrible idea). There is a good argument to make that if there are offices, the people working there will want to easily cross the street to go to the supermarket, stores and downtown – having a street that is harder to cross makes the place less appealing to office workers also.

    The Specific Plan does take steps to reduce vehicle use, although not as aggressive as it could. The Plan requires developments to have TDM plans to reduce vehicle trips, and the council gave direction to accelerate the creation of a Transportation Management Association for the city to pool resources for trip reduction programs. It would have been better if they had set a trip goal for downtown/El Camino already. The Plan also enables shared parking and unbundled parking.

    The single biggest factor in the use of transit is having a job close to transit. So limiting office near the train station, and increasing retail, when fewer people get to shopping by transit, is a step in the opposite direction. The city pushing office development out to the freeway instead of in the transit corridor makes it harder to reduce trips.

    As for the undercrossing, Stanford is doing less than it should – it was good to see Mayor Mueller pushing them to specify their contribution to a feature that would greatly increase the value and quality of their development. But cutting down the development would seem to make getting contribution to the undercrossing harder, not easier.

  • aslevin

    The city hasn’t taken a position against Caltrain electrification. Sure hope it doesn’t, that would be dumb and self-destructive.

  • SanFrancisco Professor

    “Ped-bike tunnel” beneath the tracks? Wouldn’t a tunnel quickly become a latrine for the constant camps of transients next to the tracks, that no-body else would venture through? Then a nightly winter camp out of the rain? How can so important a social issue for Menlo and Palo Alto be ignored? On the other hand, a pedestrian bridge like many in RWC would avoid all that.

  • PJC

    The Wise Report confirms that the SP will obtain full (employment) buildout under the Initiative and there will be no impact to jobs/housing in the corridor.

    If the use of transit into the corridor is simply a function of the number of jobs in the corridor, I don’t understand why it matters what kind of jobs they are, office or retail? The same number of retail employees work in retail stores, and they commute.

    The logic seems to confuse customer trips with employee trips. Customer trips represent an ADDITIONAL chance to attract transit ridership above the same raw number of commute trips.

    And why build 680 isolated new housing units and force people to drive somewhere to get retail goods? What is the benefit of un-mixed use housing?

  • PJC

    The short answer is that “trip generation” does not equate directly with “impacts” and the trip profiles between regional office and local retail are very different regarding peak times, routes, origins -destinations, and time.

    There are many scenarios where the Initiative will reduce some impacts, but … not always, and of course, not all impacts. People who don’t want regional commute traffic on local streets and neighborhood arterials are not wrong to want that.

    The longer answer is that “we” are not SaveMenlo, any more than you are “Menlo Park Deserves Better”, many who are, as you know, anti-housing.

    Confusing us with SaveMenlo won’t help Menlo Park learn about some of the other really vital issues.

  • Neil

    Palo Alto zoning laws also had provisions to exclude blacks and jews, so try not to get all nostalgic about it.

  • Zmapper

    You are aware that zoning is based off of police powers, not contract law? Gub’mint owes you no promises about the future.

  • Zmapper

    “changes the character of the place”
    Again, you have still failed to define this terms in concrete terms. What does “character” as it applies to a city mean to you?

    Additionally, you have provided no basis as to why a hypothetical actor “[doesn’t] have the right to change Menlo into San Jose.”

  • aslevin

    the so-called high-rises include buildings with 2, 3, 4, and 5 stories. Even a 5 story building is not a high-rise. Buildings in San Jose can go up to 27 stories. There is a difference between 5 and 27.

  • PAltan

    http://ceres.ca.gov/planning/planning_guide/plan_index.html

    Citizens guide to planning and land use law. Luckily the people who put forward this initiative and the residents of this town are more intelligent than the trolls hired by the developer.

  • PAltan

    I have answered you. If you don’t know how to define the word “character” look in a dictionary. If you want to understand how it applies to land use, read your City’s general plan.

    Maybe it will help you to read about land use law?
    http://ceres.ca.gov/planning/planning_guide/plan_index.html
    Citizens guide to planning and land use law from the state of California.

    The residents of this town do have a right to keep their town from being turned into San Jose.

    “The local general plan can be described as the city’s or county’s “blueprint” for future development. It represents the community’s view of its future; a constitution made up of the goals and policies upon which the city council, board of supervisors, and planning commission will base their land use decisions. To illustrate its importance, all subdivisions, public works projects, and zoning decisions (except in charter cities other than Los Angeles) must be consistent with the general plan. If inconsistent, they must not be approved.” (Residents can also go to court to have inconsistent land uses stopped.)

    And,

    “Development must not only meet the specific requirements of the zoning ordinance, but also the broader policies set forth in the local general plan.”

    So apparently in Menlo Park, which is not a charter city like Palo Alto, the way around having to obey land use law is to make specific plans like this one. Well, luckily, there are some democratic ways residents can fight for their rights.

  • Justin

    I wouldn’t classify that development like the photo above showing the proposed building as a “high rise,” it’s more of a low to mid-rise somewhat of a development. I can understand and do agree that yes like any other developments it will have an impact on the existing infrastructure no doubt about that. Though it might slightly change the character maybe of the El Camino Real Corridor, I still just don’t see how the character of the entire town of Menlo Park changing in a big way. I would assume that most of Menlo Park would remain the way it is with the town still consisting of Single Family housing.

  • Justin

    Oh and speaking of you don’t have the right to change Menlo Park into San Jose suit to “my taste” you got to remember that half a century ago or somewhat Silicon Valley use to be in area with orchards, in other words there use to be farms out there and now it has grown and changed into the most tech savvy area in the world. I understand there are somethings you don’t want to change, but sometimes, times change and anything could happen, sometimes change is inevitable whether you or I likes it or not, and of course in most parts I’m not advocating that or suggesting that I want to see a small town like Menlo Park become another San Jose, it doesn’t have to be either or and sometimes it doesn’t have to be a all or nothing approach.

  • aslevin

    The “Homer Tunnel” in Palo Alto, about a mile up the road, works just fine. It is short, well-lit, clean and well-maintained.

  • PAltan

    Our orchard past is irrelevant to current land use regulations and General Plan. Five years ago, before this recent push by developers for high-density development that has strained our infrastructure, this was a tech savvy area, too. If you allow overdevelopment for the short-term benefit of a few developers, eventually the tech types will find somewhere nicer again, and we will be left holding the high-density bag. We do not benefit from it, and land use regulations are on the side of residents who don’t want their town exploited that way.

    And yes, for a town that is mostly single-story, a 4 and 5 story high density building is a high-density high-rise.

  • SanFrancisco Professor

    Good to hear. I suppose it also could be locked at dusk, to prevent camping, if that became a problem. There’s quite a problem just in the Palo Alto parking garages at present, as I’m sure you’re aware.

  • jonobate

    Wait, you’re saying that Menlo Park has become *less tech savvy* in the last 5 years because developers have *proposed* to build 4 and 5 story buildings? How does that make any sense whatsoever?

    Here’s an alternative theory. The reason your infrastructure is being “strained” (I take that to mean traffic congestion) is because of the growth in tech jobs located in auto oriented offices along 101 during the last 5 years, such as the new Facebook campus. If Menlo Park and the other peninsula cities encouraged employers to locate closer to transit, a much larger share of work trips would be taken on transit, and your roads wouldn’t be so congested.

  • Daniel

    PAltan,

    1. I don’t know whether you consider yourself an environmentalist or not, but if you do to any extent (including recognizing the threat of climate change) you should have an interest in getting Bay Area residents out of their cars. The best way to do this is to house large numbers of people near Caltrain and BART stations. EVERY Caltrain and BART station… because that’s still a small percentage of total developed land. Most of Menlo Park shouldn’t be high-rise; nobody is suggesting high-rises peppered throughout single-family neighborhoods. But I see no environmental justification for not letting the area within, say, a half-mile of the Caltrain station be predominantly high-rise. Think of this from the perspective of a Bay Area resident, not the more narrow one of a Menlo Park resident, and tell me it doesn’t make sense.

    2. The notion that building market-rate or luxury housing causes rents to rise is completely contrary to basic economics and has been debunked over and over. You’re confusing correlation and causation. High-end housing is built in places with rising rents BECAUSE those places are in demand, but adding more housing supply will logically tend to bring rents down, not up.

    3. From a Bay Area-wide perspective, do you agree that the demand for higher-density housing in mixed-use neighborhoods greatly exceeds supply? That lifestyle may not be your cup of tea, but I would suggest its popularity overall is evident in the number of Silicon Valley workers choosing to live in San Francisco. They’re not doing it because they’re masochists and love 40-mile commutes. They’re doing it because the kind of place they want to live doesn’t exist closer to their jobs.

    Given the demand for this type of dense, urban living, do you feel more of it should be built ANYWHERE in the Bay Area? And if yes, why not along El Camino in the immediate vicinity of a Caltrain station? If not there, where the heck do you think IS suitable for higher-density construction? The term “NIMBY” is pejorative and not usually constructive, but aren’t you quite literally arguing, “Not in my backyard”?

  • aslevin

    Also the path leading from the transit center toward ECR/Stanford is unlit, and it serves as a homeless residence and latrine at night.

  • Eric

    If you follow any of these discussions, you’ll learn that the promise or desire that nothing should ever change applies *only* to the built environment. I’ve never heard any complaints about the resulting “change” in home values of 10x to 50x the purchase price (until of course, it comes to paying taxes on these gains, or the demographic changes associated with creating an area only affordable to the super wealthy).

  • PAltan

    No, I didn’t say that at all, the complete mischaracterization you just made is what made no sense. The person before me was trying to justify the high-density transformation of Menlo into something more like San Jose, saying it went from orchards to tech savvy, and I said the area was a tech savvy place five years ago (and 10 years, amd 20 years), without the high-density developer exploitation of the area. One diesn’t have to follow the other, and if you like urban canyons, San Jose and San Francisco have plenty of tech. In fact, you could live in those places and take transit to Menlo if you don’t like living in low-key suburbs with open space, trees, sky, and views of the hills.

    Rather than indulging in theories to prop up your developer-centric views, how about reading the blog link I already provided, which discusses actual experience from large development near transit in nearby Palo Alto?

  • PAltan

    And there is a difference between a 1 or 2 story building and a 5 story building, one looms and cuts out sky, daylight plane, views, is out of character with the rest of Menlo and invites similar overdevelopment, and the other does not.

  • Zmapper

    Attacking the intelligence of anyone, as well as asserting that anyone in this discussion has ties to developers is an ad hominem attack that does little to further discussion. Please refrain from ad hominem attacks.

    Additionally, by attacking developers you are attacking the jobs of the men and women who have built this great nation. While your region has been relatively sheltered from the recent recession, many parts of this nation have yet to recover from high unemployment. Removing jobs-killing governmental regulations such as zoning not directly linked to clear expressions of police powers allows for greater economic mobility. Developers build a stronger America, both by creating short-term construction jobs as well as providing the housing necessary for residents of this nation to relocate to where jobs meet their skill set, such as the Silicon Valley.

    In short, while the jobs and economic mobility advantages a single project offers are negligible, it is a microcosm of how jobs-killing regulations nationwide that inhibit developers from rebuilding in our cities harm the economic future of America.

  • PAltan

    Wow Zmapoer, I didn’t see you come to my defense above when Nate called me a NIMBY Republican in drag for daring suggest the residents of Menlo Park have a right to see the zoning laws respected.

    If you don’t want your intelligence a subject here, don’t insult my intelligence by trying to equate developer exploitation of Menlo Park with some kind of patriotic nationbuilding.

    You think zoning is “jobs-killing government regulation”?

    Why fight an expensive battle here, then, where residents do not want their town turned into San Jose? Why not take the development to all those suffering places that could really use the job creation? We really do not have the need or the capacity to pack every one of 300 million people in this nation here, and in fact it’s not

  • PJC

    I’m a former public official in Menlo Park who correctly predicted in 1998 that office would crowd-out retail and sales tax producers both downtown in and M-2. We initiated moderate zoning then to help protect retail. I have taken prominent consistent public positions since 1998, resistant to large office, protective of retail and sales tax producers. I have no issues with smaller, diffuse local offices downtown, other than too
    many of them.

    The author of the Initiative is a former Planning Commission appointed by our council, whose public policy track record spans the same time frame. Together we have worked on this issue for nearly two decades.

    We are not “SaveMenlo” any more than you are “Menlo Park Deserves Better.”

    It won’t help your case to impugn our motives, or dismiss thousands of people who signed the petition for many different good reasons.

    Save Menlo started in the neighborhood directly facing the proposed Stanford office complex. Their concerns for significant peak hour commute traffic in their neighborhood streets is factually based, and not all “bogus”. Diffuse retail traffic, would not have those impacts. Nor would housing/hotel traffic. Hotel was planned for the site, but got changed
    to large scale office/housing.

    Since 2000 Menlo Park’s sales tax base has been decimated. Now that its largest single sales tax producer in M-2 is now leaving, we once again highlight the financial gravity of this phenomena: high-rent paying offices displacing and crowding out sales tax and TOT tax paying producers and local services.

    The Wise report also finally admits, that the proposed large offices will gobble up so much space under the non-residential cap that, when built out, no matter how, the Plan will create a net annual loss to the Menlo Park General Fund, something the public has never been told honestly before, something I believe they shouldn’t and wont’ tolerate.

    Briefly on traffic. “Trip generation” does not correlate with “impacts”. It is not legally valid CEQA analysis. True “analysis” involves peak hour trip assignment, route determination, origin-destination determination, and then computing LOS delays at route intersections and volumes on local segments.

    Retail profiles do generate more trips, but the pattern is predominantly local, and off peak. It can and does time shift, mode shift, and route shift.

    Office traffic is 92% from out of town, 76% from freeways SR84, US101, I280, through three (3) access points, east west into downtown through neighborhood arterials. The largest single segment comes from the Dumbarton Bridge. It has no transit alternative, other than future Dumbarton rail terminus into M-2 if that is still alive.

  • PJC

    You say, “The single biggest factor … is having a job close to transit. So limiting office near the train station, and increasing retail, when fewer people get to shopping by transit, is a step in the opposite direction.

    But its the same job density in the corridor if the Initiative passes. Office JOBS are replaced by retail/hotel JOBS.

    The Wise Report says that the Plan, under the Initiative will be fully built out, and that the Initiative will have “no impact” on the projected jobs/housing of the Plan.

    Why can’t retail EMPLOYEES commute via transit to their jobs? Only office employees commute using transit?

    You seem to be comparing apples to oranges — retail CUSTOMER trips to office EMPLOYEE trips, rather than retail employee trips to office employee trips. Retail customer trips would be an additional opportunity for transit.

    When did un-mixed use replace mixed-use in the Smart Growth mantra?

  • Zmapper

    Nate, not all Republicans or conservatives oppose development projects, and not all that oppose development projects are Republican or lean conservative. Associating developers with greed (in essence, profit motive) is an argument often made by liberals or Democrats in opposition, not conservatives or Republicans.

  • ladyfleur

    Locked at dusk? Uh, people don’t stop walking and biking at night any more than people stop driving. As Adina says, they can design it to be less of an attraction for misuse.

  • Zmapper

    After a second glance I replied to inaccuracies in Nate’s post. Note that at no point was he writing about you specifically; he was speaking about what he terms “NIMBYS” in general.

    I never insulted your intelligence at any point. I ask you to refrain from putting words in my mouth.

    Yes, in addition to governmental bureaucracy structured against development, zoning is often jobs-killing government regulation. Keep in mind that Steve Jobs using his garage not for the purposes of storing a vehicle but for starting a very successful business like Apple was a violation of zoning code. Zoning imposes high transaction costs on hard working Americans wanting to start their own business, from a person wanting to repurpose their garage into a small hair salon to entrepreneurs wanting to start the next multinational corporation.

    As petty actions taken in one place have a copycat effect nationwide, zoning issues of one city are of national economic concern. Plenty of Americans would want a job rebuilding our cities; it is past time to remove governmental barriers preventing economic activity for the betterment of this country.

  • Justin

    No the purpose of that comment that the Santa Clara Valley going from all orchards to the most tech savvy region, was just to let you know that times change sometimes, towns or places go through changes and that can be inevitable sometimes, i never meant to say that to justify denser development. My point is that you can never assume that your town will stay the same the way it is without changes in the long term that’s all, that’s where my example is going at. There were probably some people who wish the Santa Clara Valley didn’t go through these changes in land use and prefer that area remained undeveloped but of course it was developed anyways

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