Guest opinion: The fiction and fact of ballot Measure M

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By Dan Dippery

By this time you’re already swamped with handouts, mailers, doorknob hangers, yard signs and newspaper ads, all telling you how to vote on Measure M. And unless you’re firmly decided, with all that information comes equal parts confusion. So what follows is clarification: simply telling the truth and telling the truth simply.

First off, Measure M is about letting voters choose what kind of Menlo Park they want in the future: 1) the small, village character that brought us all here in the first place, or 2) a mega-storied office park, with the mega-traffic daily gridlock. That’s the simple truth. Now the Fiction and Fact:

FICTION: “Measure M was drafted in private by a small group of individuals who want to bypass the six years of hard work by city planners, paid planning professionals, the City Council and volunteers.”

FACT: Measure M started with a group of families called SaveMenlo, distressed about the increased traffic — through their neighborhoods — that will come from massive office buildings proposed for the Stanford property on El Camino. But it took nearly 3,000 Menlo Park signatures to turn their efforts into a ballot issue. And the team who developed the initiative includes attorneys, former city planning commissioners, mayors and a growing army of volunteers — many of whom helped develop the original specific plan vision.

FICTION: “Measure M violates the specific plan and would stifle development in Menlo Park.”

FACT: Measure M simply asks that all development meet the original vision of the specific plan — created as a 30-year development guide. Because within months of the plan’s certification, the City Council welcomed proposals for 400,000-plus square feet of offices, rather than the balanced mix of retail, housing and office agreed upon in the specific plan. And these came from just two developers — Stanford/Arrillaga and Greenheart — in just two years, and all on El Camino Real.

Worse yet, a gaping loophole in the plan lets developers count private balconies and rooftops as open space against their requirement to provide publicly accessible open space; in the Stanford project that adds up to 22,000 square feet — enough to be a park or plaza. Measure M requires that “Open Space” be truly open to the public — all of the public.

FICTION: “Measure M locks the city into 30 years of zoning rules that can only be changed at the ballot box.”

FACT: Measure M simply reduces office development to 100,000 square feet — per development — in the plan area. That and closing the open space loophole are the only changes M makes to the current specific plan.

FICTION: “Measure M will increase traffic in Menlo Park.”

FACT: It’s amazing the NO folks even mention the traffic issue. Particularly since a recent traffic analysis — by Stanford ( — shows that just with its project alone, neighborhood streets, Middle Avenue, Cambridge, University and Yale, would all be “clogged with traffic.” That’s because roughly 92 percent of our traffic comes from out of town. So more offices will just bring more out-of-town traffic and gridlock.

BOTTOM LINE: The issue is simply: What do you want Menlo Park to be and look like in years to come? Will it retain its small-town character — as in the specific plan’s original vision — with a balanced growth of offices, shops, housing, offices and services? Or will it become a massive office park, dark at night, but filling our streets with gridlock by day

The choice is yours. But I hope you vote yes on M — for all of us.




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Council blocked commission review

by Charlie Bourne

Traffic impacts are one of the major issues associated with the specific plan, the subject of several consultant studies, the concern of many local residents, and the issue that triggered the resident uprising and activity to bring Measure M to the ballot box.

As a recent six-year member of the city’s Transportation Commission, I bear witness to the city staff’s and the council’s early and continued efforts to block its own Transportation Commission from analyzing the traffic impact of the specific plan.

It started with the city manager and staff presenting the council with their plan for how the specific plan should be analyzed and presented to the public, and eventually approved by council. Their plan included a series of public presentations, and a formal review by the Planning Commission.

Initially, their plan did not include a formal review by the Transportation Commission. When members of that commission requested an opportunity to review and make recommendations to the council, the staff stalled, and our requests were eventually denied, citing the fact that the council had already approved a formal plan that did not call for that commission’s review.

Our direct requests to council members for such an opportunity were also denied. We were told that we could always speak up as individuals at a council meeting (Right! The most recent traffic presentation to the council by staff took 25 minutes without question time. I’m supposed to do it in three minutes?) And if we commissioners met together to discuss it outside of the scheduled commission meetings, we’re liable to be in violation of the Brown Act.

The result was that people in our community who were very experienced with local traffic issues were repeatedly denied the opportunity, as a group, to review and comment on the traffic impact and proposed mitigation measures associated with the specific plan. I view this as a deliberate effort by the city manager, staff, and council, from the beginning, to railroad this project through. Don’t let this happen. Vote yes on M.

This railroading wasn’t the first time. We were also excluded from doing a critical review of the traffic issues associated with the Facebook EIR; we faced the same stalling by staff, and in fact we were told by staff that it was the council’s wish that we not prepare a report. They also suggested that we could make a three-minute report at a council meeting. We see now how the Facebook traffic has turned out!

It would seem that city staff does not want to hear any negative comments that could introduce some resistance to new project developments in the city, and possibly hinder some resulting staff growth and security, and that the council is too weak to resist the staff.

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Was the Menlo Park council asleep at the wheel?

Original post made by Steve Schmidt, Menlo Park: The Willows, on Jun 17, 2014

Menlo Park voters are facing an election this fall that will shape the future of our little city. Who is responsible for proposed excessive office development along El Camino Real?

Back in 2008, when the ECR/ downtown specific plan was being designed, the country was in the early stages of the Great Recession. Companies were holding on to their cash and the future was uncertain. Menlo Park’s economic consultants recommended that generous incentives for office development would be needed to attract big developers in the planning area. The City Council took the consultant’s advice and doubled the office density without requiring negotiation for public benefit.

Meanwhile, Stanford silently sat in on the city’s Outreach and Oversight Committee without mentioning that they were designing a project that would instantly match the maximum amount of office development analyzed in the 30-year specific plan EIR. Now we have Stanford’s proposal as well as another even bigger one from Greenheart, and with the economy improving, rents have reached $6.50 square feet per month, which for Stanford’s allowed 200,000 square feet means $15.6 million a year rent. That’s quite a profit and no under-crossing of the Caltrain tracks was offered. 

Our elected officials relied on consultants (Perkins + Will) who were simultaneously working for Stanford and Menlo Park. Stanford concealed its project’s design until after the specific plan was approved on June 5, 2012. The university’s architect was designing the massive Arrillaga office complex and sending needed revisions to the specific plan long before the June 2012 approval by our council. Someone was asleep at the wheel, and in November all three incumbents have to go.

Steve Schmidt Former Menlo Park councilman

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Measure M

by Dan Dippery

Dear Editor: I was saddened and disappointed to read The Daily News’ coverage of the Sept. 10 Menlo Park City Council meeting on the analysis of ballot Measure M. Whatever happened to balance and neutrality in reporting? 

Particularly the last two paragraphs sounded word-for-word like a reprint of a no on M flyer.

For example, you reported that M would be “… limiting further office development.” But you left off “… which exceeds the original zoning vision agreed upon by neighbors, the City Council and staff.”

And you said yes on M would “…

redefine open spaces …” Quite the opposite. Stanford and John Arrillaga’s development group want to redefine their mega-buildings’ balconies and rooftops as “open space.”

But thank you for reporting that the owner of Lisa Wise Consulting skipped any rebuttal of the 35 errors found in her analysis of the ballot initiative, for which she was paid $165,000. Her findings of “interpretive disagreement” and “outside of scope” don’t sound like we made a good investment.

Vote yes on M.

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Menlo Park giveaway

by Diane Hart

Dear Editor: A wave of negative campaign ads and phone calls funded by deep-pocketed real estate developers have hit voters all across Menlo Park. They send an anti-Measure M message in a desperate effort to hang onto plans to turn El Camino Real into a massive, suburban office park and rush-hour nightmare. Their goal is to scare and confuse voters with misinformation and speculation in an effort to override the community’s desire for balanced growth and a more vibrant, attractive and livable downtown. 

Here are some facts the developers
 and their followers don’t want you to know: In approving the 2012 El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, the City Council more than doubled the amount of allowed development along El Camino Real without requiring any negotiated public benefits, so the council has no leverage to negotiate with Stanford over the fantasized bike/pedestrian tunnel. The council gave landowners a $744 million windfall while residents get stuck with rush-hour gridlock, neighborhood cut-through traffic and no public benefits. 

Moreover, since office uses don’t generate sales taxes, the city will not get positive General Fund cash flow from an unbalanced development in which offices predominate. It’s time to ask ourselves: What was the specific plan — a $744 million giveaway to property owners and developers?

Please join me in protecting our neighborhoods and the city we love. Vote yes on M.

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Follow the election money

by Lynore Banchoff

Dear Editor: Financial disclosure documents this week revealed that Greenheart Land Co., the developer behind the proposed massive office complex at 1300 El Camino Real, has created a PAC with a $200,000 war chest to oppose Mearure M. Voters have already started receiving their slick mailers full of misleading “facts” and propaganda. 

The disclosures also reveal that council incumbent candidates Kirsten Keith, Rich Cline and Peter Ohtaki accepted gifts from Greenheart’s political action committee. These donations, among other things, are paying to put Keith, Cline and Ohtaki’s picture on a series of paid, fake slate mailers that will be cluttering voters’ mailboxes in the coming weeks.

Developers like Greenheart received a huge windfall when the council more than doubled its allowed height and density for building.

By accepting Greenheart’s donations, no matter how large or small, the incumbent candidates have lost the public’s trust that they can and will fairly evaluate Greenheart’s development proposal.

Greenheart’s money can buy a lot of misinformation and maybe some council votes, but we know that they won’t fool the people of Menlo Park who love our community and want to protect it. That’s why I’m voting yes on Measure M and for council candidates Kelly Fergusson, Kristin Duriseti and Drew Combs.

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Downtown giveaway

by Beth Martin

Dear Editor: When the Menlo Park City Council adopted the 2012 El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, it more than doubled the amount of allowed development in downtown Menlo Park. Property owners immediately realized a collective $744 million increase in land value. This increase was granted without requiring any public benefits. Planning Commissioner John Kadvany called this “the biggest mistake the council has made in the last couple of years.” 

In 2012, then-council member Kelly Fergusson tried unsuccessfully to prevent this giveaway but was thwarted by her council colleagues Kirsten Keith, Peter Ohtaki and Rich Cline. Now Keith, Ohtaki and Cline are asking voters to give them another term. If there was any doubt where their loyalties lie, they were dispelled last week when financial disclosures revealed that Keith, Ohtaki and Cline had all accepted campaign donations from Greenheart Land Co. Greenheart, which is proposing a massive office-dominated development on the old Cadillac site at 1300 El Camino Real, is spending at least $200,000 to oppose Measure M, the ballot initiative that would prevent rampant office development from overrunning downtown Menlo Park and require developers to create real open space instead of private balconies
 and rooftops. 

Keith, Ohtaki and Cline had their chance and blew it. It’s time to send them packing by electing council members who will put residents first, not developers. That’s why
 I’m voting for Kelly Fergusson, Kristin Duriseti and Drew Combs on Nov. 4.

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Transparency dictates Measure M

by Dan Dippery

Dear Editor: Glen Rojas’ Sept. 13 letter damning Save Menlo’s yes on M initiative neglects to mention that he and the Menlo Park City Council gave away the store to developers. 

He says “ … the Specific Plan was based on a solid foundation of input and scrutiny by the citizens of this city.” All true. But he neglects to mention that the yes on M initiative only asks that future development stay within the original, agreed-upon vision for zoning downtown Menlo Park, of which he was part.

He also neglects to mention the secret, unvetted subcommittee agreement between the city and Stanford, which specifically cut out participation by neighborhood residents appointed to negotiate and participate.

Transparency is the issue, and you have to wonder how many other issues and projects got clouded over and neglected during Mr. Rojas’ “30-plus years of local government” experience.

Vote yes on M.

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Election-year ‘outrage’

by Mark McBirney

“I’m shocked, shocked to hear there’s a traffic problem here in Menlo Park!” Mayor Ray Muller reminded me of Claude Rains’ famous line in “Casablanca” when he led the City Council in their “outrage” over the latest traffic study that was released last week. The study indicates that Stanford’s proposed project at 500 El Camino Real would overload Allied Arts streets with traffic.

I wonder if the upcoming City Council elections on Nov. 4 have anything to do with this outrage. I also wonder if they will still be outraged on Nov. 5.

I doubt it. Friends of mine and I have been trying to get our city government to pay attention to our traffic problems, and take action to correct them, for years.

The city’s recently approved 30-year plan to allow developers to build much larger buildings on El Camino is proof that they haven’t listened to us at all. In approving that plan, the City Council totally ignored another traffic study that said 15 intersections, including four on Willow Road, where I live, would be badly impacted by development allowed in the plan.

Now, two developers, Stanford and Greenheart, are proposing to build huge complexes on El Camino that would have 60 percent more office space than the 30-year plan said was the maximum, and the City Council is supporting them.

I don’t trust the City Council to protect us from traffic. That’s why I encourage everyone to vote yes on Measure M on Nov. 4.

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Send incumbents packing, vote yes on M

by Cherie Zaslawsky

In the downtown visioning meetings and community surveys, residents’ top concern was preserving the “village character” of Menlo Park, and they cited Cafe Borrone as an example of the kind of community-friendly development they’d like to see more of.

Fast-forward: The City Council, cozying up to Stanford behind the scenes, threw out the community’s vision, and gave Stanford what amounts to Redwood City or San Jose-style zoning. No surprise that Stanford came back with an unprecedentedly gargantuan office park/housing project nearly a third of a mile long, four- and five-stories high, and over 440,000 square feet — half of it offices. This is a far cry from Cafe Borrone-style retail, or from the hotel and senior housing Stanford led the city to believe it intended to build on El Camino.

Measure M, though much too modest to fix the entire specific plan, at least downsizes the proposed 200,000 square feet of offices sought by both Stanford and Greenheart, to a more reasonable 100,000 square feet per project.

The rest of the specific plan remains in force, and the council can, and should, amend it further to preserve our suburban character while attracting more retail that benefits residents.

The incumbents have bent over backwards to benefit big developers at the expense of residents. Time to send them packing, and to vote yes on M.

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