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Specific Plan review recommendations

From: domainremoved <John>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 2015 12:15:24 -0800

Dear City Council –
 Following are some key areas I would like addressed in your Specific Plan
1. Parking. While the PC (including me) voted against a Staff recommendation
for parking requirements, I am in favor of doing just that. The initial staff
proposal seemed broad, but the goal of reducing some city parking demands is
valid and important. Development dollars which might be going to the city
through public benefit may now have to spent on very expensive double-level
below-ground parking. If a project needs the parking spaces, a parking garage
development fund can pro-rate a fee for additional spaces through an in lieu
payment toward a garage or other shared parking. If possible, enacting some
short-term changes and longer-term strategy would help given the current pace
of Plan area development. Other Peninsula cities provide models for what can
be done, including parking standards very close to the Caltrain station.
2. Building modulation. The Plan requirement to strictly enforce the
‘modulation’ of building forms is intended to avoid large and unattractive
flat surfaces. The goal is valid but from initial projects the rule appears
to be overly strict. Architects and staff are spending too much time working
strictly in accord with the rule instead of meeting the architectural goal
given the site/building context. I recommend e.g. to make building
modulation perhaps a ‘default’ standard which can be replaced by design
meeting PC/staff approval when an alternative meets the intended design goal
of visual interest and perceived reduction of building massing. Please task
staff to continue this modification.
3. Specific Plan amenity fund. PC has recommended, and I understand staff
also is now recommending, a dedicated fund to direct public benefit cash flows
to the Specific Plan area. Please create such an entity asap. Consider also a
separate budget process for this fund, say three times a year, to facilitate
more nimble budgeting for Plan area projects or planning needs. Also
institute a standard step by which all new city councils vote on whether to
direct those Plan funds to projects in the Plan area; according to the city
attorney this action is legally required for individually negotiated revenue.

4. Public benefit review.
a) More structure and transparency is needed to communicate public benefit
choices to the CC and the public. For example, the recent approval of a café
pavilion at 1020 Alma could have better recognized the risk that the café may
have to be supported for a year or more, by the developer, as a customer base
slowly grows. The city imo should not be try to direct retail, but this is a
special case. Such context should be noted, along with the risks, both when
the PC assesses the benefit package and when the benefit package is accepted.
Generally, the PC should: consider a range of options, including ‘all cash’
when possible; be explicit about uncertainties and risks, especially over
time; and be more explicit about outcomes (e.g. viability of café, use of
public plaza, cash transfer). These can be summarized simply in a matrix,
along with key data such as the benefit dollar estimate assumed in the
negotiation, e.g. $1 million value of additional floor area. The latter may
also include simple sensitivity runs, as have been usefully provided already
by BAE as our econonomics consultant. Critical baseline comparison
assumptions (e.g. ‘hotel project not viable at baseline’) in these estimates
also need to be highlighted in a summary used to frame the decision and report
it back.
b) Council interaction. The PC is already involved with cash negotiations for
public benefit involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, and amenties
costing hundreds of thousands. Since PC can in principle always recommend an
‘all cash’ negotiation, this means that the PC is, in effect, making capital
budgeting decisions for the city already for more than one-half million
dollars. For larger projects such as 1300 ECR/Greenheart the benefit
valuation may be in the millions. There needs to be greater and quicker
interaction between PC and CC for these decisions. One option is a special CC
review or appeal procedure to quickly and efficiently track all public benefit
decisions, perhaps presented as agenda consent items. At a minimum, CC needs
to fully understand public benefit choices in real time, and respond either
positively or negatively to evolving and signficant policy judgments.
5. Plan area infrastructure. I recommend the following for immediate
recognition as Plan area infrastructure projects:
* Middle Avenue tunnel
* improved Downtown parking management, possibly involving a parking
garage and its financing
* bike lane and pedestrian / bike intersection safety and convenience
A CC subcommittee may be needed to get this proposal started with staff, along
with rapid implementation of other suggestions made here.
6. Energy and sustainability policy. Energy consumption by new larger
buildings should be reduced beyond current California State standards, which
are becoming stricter in only several years. While imo buildings do not need
to be ‘net zero’, the city should develop practical stronger standards,
getting as close as possible to that goal, for larger projects now quickly
coming to the PC for review. Structures which will last for a half-century or
more should be designed to reasonably minimize energy consumption beyond what
is currently required, even if that adds measureably to overall building
costs, e.g. 1%-5% . Water consumption and recycling should also be addressed.

7. Public benefit threshold. Stanford’s 500 ECR project is a large project
and the city is de facto involved with negotiations with Stanford over the
project itself and the Middle Avenue tunnel. Yet nothing in Specific Plan
sanctions that city-developer relationship. As another example, if the PC
recommends that the Greenheart project be reduced to a baseline scale (e.g.
depending on EIR results), Greenheart could build a six acre baseline project
at 1300 ECR with zero retail and be in conformance with the Plan. That may be
unlikely, but as long as the Plan does not give the city a stronger
negotiation platform, the city is necessarily hobbled in achieving Plan goals.
A problem with the current public benefit policy is that it doesn’t have a
‘setting’ giving the city more control over design for large projects without
having to also invoke a benefit negotiation. One option is to make all
baseline projects over, say, 2 acres subject to PC approval with respect to
the mix of uses (retail, residential, office) planned for the project. For
Stanford’s project, maybe some unique statement of intent by CC which binds
tunnel and 500 ECR development and financing is appropriate.
Thanks very much.
John Kadvany / Menlo Park Planning Commissioner

Received on Tue Nov 17 2015 - 12:17:23 PST

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