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Council vs. Planning Commission Authority

From: domainremoved <gabrielle>
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 2015 12:32:58 -0800

To The Menlo Park City Council:

Last week I participated in an email exchange with two current and one former Planning Commissioners and one current and two former Council members, regarding the public benefit package approved by the Planning Commission for the 1020 Alma project. There were differing opinions as to the value of the benefits on this project for both the plaza/coffee kiosk and the cash payment. Some of us felt that because the Specific Plan calls for a pedestrian tunnel at the train station (not to be confused with the grade separations at Ravenswood and Oak Grove), this might have been an opportunity to bring developers in the Specific Plan area together to fund a real bricks and mortar piece of infrastructure.

The conversation went back and forth and ended on an interpretation by Senior Planner Arlinda Heineck on the authority bestowed on the Planning Commission by the Specific Plan. Some of us were surprised to learn that the City Council is no longer the authority to make decisions regarding cash payments paid to the City as a public benefit. There was amongst the participants in this email exchange different interpretations of the Planning Commission’s authority as written in the Specific Plan.

The paragraph that cites this authority can be found in the Specific Plan at E-17. The two sentences italicized in red, below, call out for a review by the Council, specifically with the 1020 Alma St. Project cash payment in mind but also in light of the pending developments facing the city.

“The Planning Commission shall, concurrent with overall project review, be the decision-making body on projects proposing public benefits that are incorporated within the project (such as senior housing) and/or which can be memorialized in typical conditions of approval pursuant to the City’s normal zoning and planning authority. The Planning Commission action (along with the other project actions) can be appealed to the City Council, per standard procedures. For projects proposing public benefits that cannot be imposed through the City’s planning and zoning authority (such as payments that are not related to the impact of a project), the public benefit proposal must be included in a proposed Development Agreement submitted by the developer. In that case, Planning Commission shall be the recommending body and the City Council the decision-making body, and the Development Agreement must be adopted by ordinance as provided in the City’s Development Agreement ordinance.” (Emphasis added)

Historically the Council has been the body to negotiate and approve Development Agreements, including those that involve cash payments. The Planning Commission has historically been the recommending body to the Council. With Greenheart Public Benefit negotiations on the horizon, it seems only reasonable that those elected to office, the Council, would be the ones to approve any non-cash Public Benefits as well as cash agreements from this development to the City’s Public Benefit Fund.

The global issue of Public Benefit is a topic that needs the Council’s immediate attention due to the number of developments being currently processed and projected both in the Specific Plan area and the Belle Haven area. Now is the time to list what the City expects in exchange for the lasting impacts of office development. The Planning Commission could benefit from Council’s guidance as they process the project applications. Unfortunately, there appears to be little hope for any negotiations with Stanford considering that the project’s allowed generous F.A.R. won’t go over the Base level.

I would appreciate your addressing this section of the Specific Plan in your meeting. It seems odd that the Council would give up authority it has always held.

Brielle Johnck
Received on Mon Nov 16 2015 - 12:34:56 PST

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