It's Time to Say Yes to a More Vibrant Menlo Park

We love Menlo Park as it is today. We can imagine a Menlo Park that is even better.

In the last five years, residents have put forth two compelling visions for different parts of our city. The Downtown Specific Plan envisions a vibrant downtown with housing and offices on the east side of El Camino and apartments above retail on the west side along Santa Cruz Ave. The new General Plan Update looks to transform the office parks along the Bayfront in Belle Haven into a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood where people can live, work, and play in one place.

It's time for Menlo Park to make these visions a reality.

Menlo Park has spent the last twenty years saying no to development. Many residents feared that new developments would leave us with traffic jams and unaffordable housing. Instead of attractive buildings, we ended up with weed-filled vacant lots – and we still have traffic jams and a housing crisis.

We can do better than weeds.

 

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A 3-D model of the Station 1300 development proposed by Greenheart Land Company. See more here, including a video walk-through.

On the east side of El Camino Real, two developers – Stanford and Greenheart - have proposed attractive projects that balance housing, office, and retail and fit within the guidelines of the Downtown Specific Plan. Both are proceeding through the city's process, but slowly. We have hope that this City Council will see these projects through and allow them to break ground on the much-needed revitalization of those vacant lots. 

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An artist's rendering of what Santa Cruz Ave would look like at El Camino Real under the Downtown Specific Plan.

Unfortunately, the Santa Cruz Avenue area has not been so lucky. Although the Specific Plan envisioned apartments above shops along the downtown streets, barriers such as a lack of parking have made it incredibly expensive to build. Few projects have even been proposed and none have been built. We hope that City Council makes progress on addressing these barriers so that we can have new, naturally affordable apartments to bring young people and vibrancy into our downtown. 

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A 3-D model of the Facebook campus expansion in the Bayfront industrial district, centered on the public plaza and bicycle/walking bridge to Bedwell Bayfront Park.

On the other side of town, in the Bayfront industrial district adjacent to Belle Haven, the city has worked with Facebook and other large landowners to design a downtown-style neighborhood with offices and housing, restaurants and shops, tied together by a reactivated Dumbarton rail corridor. The buildings in this neighborhood will set the new gold standard for environmental sustainability in the Bay Area, and many will be designed by internationally recognized architects. Facebook in particular has offered to build 4500 much-needed homes, including 15% that would be dedicated affordable housing for low-income residents – enough to house one quarter of the population of the rapidly gentrifying Belle Haven neighborhood.

This is a strong, positive vision for the future of Menlo Park. The neighborhood it creates is the kind of place our children will want to live in 15 years. The planning process included two years of community meetings and community input, with multiple pauses to allow additional time for comment from residents. Now that the plan has been completed, we hope that the City Council approves this vision and the much-needed benefits it will bring to all residents of Menlo Park.

We believe that Menlo Park should be a vibrant, beautiful city where people of all ages can come together and enjoy shops and open spaces, and where people of all incomes can afford to live near their jobs. Let's make these two great visions for our city a reality.

It's time to say yes to a more vibrant Menlo Park.

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  • commented 2017-01-22 13:29:47 -0800
    I don’t see my comments a while back about my petition (started in mid September 2015i) to Save the Guild Theater, which according to a Jan 11. Menlo Park Almanac, was put up for sale for redevelopment or longterm lease. Please see today’s (Jan 22) San Francisco Chronicle article on my petition efforts – now with 2073 signers total for our online change.org petition (use this tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/hazbel) and print petitions that I collect at most early afternoon and early evening movies at the Guild: http://www.sfchronicle.com/movies/article/Menlo-Park-woman-scrambles-to-shield-cinema-from-10874127.php (for the article and
    http://bit.ly/2iKCtjY (for a short video). I’m interested in your comments: saveguildtheater@yahoo.com. Judy Adams, Menlo Park resident
  • commented 2016-08-08 09:33:46 -0700
    The new developments on El Camino will have wider sidewalks following the downtown plan, and safer crossings are being worked on right now. As for bicycle access, the City Council has slowed down a plan for bike lanes on El Camino. This would make the restaurants and public space more safely accessible for residents to get to without a car.
  • commented 2016-08-08 09:20:43 -0700
    As for the cars, part of the reason is that Menlo Park continues to require parking levels that assume every adult has a car. I would strongly support reducing our parking requirements, which would free up space and money for pedestrian and bicycle investment.
  • commented 2016-08-08 09:18:19 -0700
    Retail won’t come until we have people! We need more people living, and working, near downtown. Only then can we get the vibrancy we want. There’s a reason Mademoiselle Colette is expanding to Palo Alto — that’s where the people are.

    Greenheart provides IMHO an appropriate level of new dining and some retail. Santa Cruz could support a lot more, if there were people around during workday lunch hour or weekend evenings after 8pm. Until we have that, the retailers won’t come, or else they’ll come and die.
  • commented 2016-08-08 08:48:31 -0700
    Michael, how often do you and your family visit downtown Palo Alto versus downtown Menlo Park? For my family, the ratio is about 10 Palo Alto visits to 1 Menlo Park visit. that’s true even though Menlo Park is more convenient for us. The reason we don’t go to Menlo Park downtown very much is that it has far fewer attractive retail businesses. It’s that simple. Why should we get excited about a new huge development on El Camino that has hardly any retail? And, even if there were attractive retail there, how do pedestrians and bicyclists get there? These developments are set up to have a lot of cars driving into and out of them.
  • commented 2016-08-07 19:20:02 -0700
    Mike, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of Greenheart—I think it’s going to bring great benefits to downtown. The main plaza is attractive and will have dining and retail. The side street is envisioned as an indoor/outdoor market, a huge improvement over the current empty street. Most importantly, it will bring people to downtown. To be “self-sufficient”, new retail needs people to support it, during the day and at night. New restaurants and retailers don’t come to Santa Cruz because we don’t have the people downtown to support them. New residential, especially apartments that will attract young workers and their families, is the only way to achieve the vibrant population necessary to attract the kind of amenities we all want. I can’t wait for these projects to get going!
  • commented 2016-08-04 15:30:54 -0700
    I love this vibrant image of Menlo Park. I’d love to have it. The question is, how do we get it? The key to vibrance is self-sufficient mixed use, with infrastructure for walking and biking. That’s what we Menlo Park residents all want, I think.

    The real question is, how do we get there? For instance, do those currently planned projects on El Camino – Stanford and Greenheart – get us there, or do they put us on the path to there? They add lots of attractive, new buildings to replace the weeds. But what about self-sufficient mixed use? What about infrastructure for walking and biking? These developments don’t do any of that. Both promise less than 5% retail in square footage terms, and neither comes with a commitment to an increase in pedestrian and biking infrastructure. (Stanford’s plan might offer a bike underpass under Caltrain, so it might be a step in the right direction, but the dream must become real.)

    What we lack is political leadership. The main reason that so many in Menlo Park have been saying “no” to development is that the actual development proposed doesn’t appear to make Menlo Park better. It’s not difficult to imagine how development can make it better, but someone in leadership must articulate the vision and put a plan in place to make that happen.

    Until that happens, we’ll continue bickering.

    Leadership please?
  • commented 2016-08-03 20:55:57 -0700
    It made me so sad the other day as I walked my children down El Camino to see one vacant lot after another. Our stroller kept getting stuck on the chain link fence keeping us out of the weeds. I really hope we can do something constructive with those lots and provide housing to my friends who are having to move away because there is nothing affordable in Menlo Park anymore. Let’s move Menlo Park forward!

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