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Urge Halting Willows Village Proposal in Current Form & Related Topics

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Sat, 4 May 2019 18:26:34 -0700

Dear Council,

I urge you to halt the Willows Village proposal in its current form, along
with all major development in District 1 that can be legally halted. That
will give you time to evaluate and respond to the serious concerns with
this project and related matters.

If you don’t want to halt the project outright, you could consider asking
Cecilia Taylor/Betsy Nash to evolve their plans for a Belle Haven Library
Advisory Committee into a District-1 resident-led working group tasked with
developing a master plan for Belle Haven. The Belle Haven residents have
called for a community-led area plan. The Working Group could start by
determining what makes sense for the 59-acre section of land, in a flood
zone, with such pretty views of the Bay. More office buildings would extend
the current wall of offices that block the views of the Bay and tower over
all else, like guard towers in a prison.

More importantly, more office buildings will only exacerbate MP’s serious
jobs/housing imbalance and traffic gridlock. Trying to address our
housing/jobs imbalance seems the most realistic approach to staving off the
worse impact of SB50. So, I suggest NO OFFICE but instead a Willows Village
focused around housing with a mix of residents’ most requested amenities
such as a grocery store, pharmacy, ATM and resident-requested types of
shops and restaurants.

You could also ask District 1 voters to decide on the project.

*Serious Problem #1: Connect Menlo Not a Legal Update to MP’s General Plan *

The Willows Village project stemmed from the Connect Menlo process that
increased the already higher zoning density in Belle Haven. (If the already
existing higher density was fair, is another question.) The Connect Menlo
documents called it an update to MP’s general Plan. However, this seems at
best misleading and at worst illegal. I’ve been self-studying CaliforniaGeneral
Plan requirements <http://www.opr.ca.gov/planning/general-plan/> (2017
update) and Chapter 2 spells out the requirements. These don’t seem to have
fundamentally changed since Connect Menlo was approved by Council. In other
words, these requirements applied during the Connect Menlo planning
process.

As I understand Chapter 2, when a City updates its General Plan, there must
be “consistency between elements.” In other words, if the zoning changed in
Belle Haven it should have also changed in Sharon Heights, etc. The Connect
Menlo update also failed to provide feasible remedies for the predicted
traffic congestion that has followed. (We continue to not address them in
the Willows Village proposal). The City did not address: issue
comprehensiveness, internal consistency, equal status among elements,
consistency between elements, and consistency within elements. In many
areas, Connect Menlo cannot be considered an update to MP’s General Plan.

If MP had conducted an authentic general plan update, an Area Plan could
have been developed for the Belle Haven/M2 area. However, any Area Plans
for the Bayfront Area (Belle Haven/M2) would also need to be consistent
with the broader General Plan update.

I urge Council to review Chapter 2 of the Calif. General Plan Guidelines
and to also get outside legal advice on this matter. I think we need a
second opinion as our current City Attorney (and others from his law firm)
were involved in the prior Connect Menlo legal opinions. Based on the
answer from outside Counsel, Council will likely identify further next
steps.

*Serious Problem #2 Council Needs Time to Consider Impact of SB1000 *

Belle Haven is a disadvantaged community for the purposes of SB1000, the
Planning for Healthy Communities Act
<https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1000>.
Former Governor Jerry Brown signed this law into effect on Sep 24, 2016 --
so it became Calif. Law shortly before the prior Council approved Connect
Menlo. I stress the timing because I’m very puzzled as to why I have yet to
see references to SB1000 in recent Connect Menlo-related documents such as
the March 28, 2019 Staff Report (19-053-CC) titled, “Initiate Connect Menlo
General Plan Two Year Review. I suggest at least a quick skim of the SB1000
toolkit
<https://caleja.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/SB1000_Toolkit_Final_rev_2018July_web.pdf?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email>
along with reviewing the law.

The Willows Village Study session topics also omit SB1000. I believe that a
staff focused on serving residents should be aware of applicable laws that
apply to major groups of residents in our town, such as the community of
Belle Haven. Anyone spending much time in Belle Haven soon sees the
disparity between that area and the rest of MP. I learned about SB1000 from
my own research. Surely we need a better training plan, and a way of
keeping current with new laws. I point out that other cities have already
had training on SB1000. Why not MP? When I recently brought SB1000 to their
attention, three council members told me that they hadn’t heard of SB1000.
Staff and our legal counsel should be up on all applicable laws that MP
needs to follow and then show leadership in having these laws followed.
SB1000 has clearly been designed to protect the public good. Our part-time
Council and residents are putting our trust into the expertise of our
professional organization. Is this trust warranted?

SB1000 requires that cities (and counties) adopt an environmental justice
(EJ) element or integrate EJ goals, objectives and policies into other
elements of their General Plans. SB1000 was developed with the intent to
create healthier cities (and counties) by protecting sensitive land uses
and prioritizing the needs of disadvantaged communities. SB1000 adds to the
required elements of the general plan an environmental justice element, or
related goals, policies and objectives integrated into other elements.
There are other requirements.

As I understand SB1000, when MP updates its Housing Element or two or more
elements of its General Plan, we are required to address the provisions of
SB1000. MP needs to better understand the legal ramifications of SB1000
before we further erode the quality of life in Belle Haven through another
massive, mostly office, development in Willows Village.

A related law, SB 535 Calif. Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006
<https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120SB535>:
Greenhouse Gasa Reduction Fund, also applies to disadvantaged communities
such as Belle Haven. There is also state grant money available to help
these communities who are disproportionally burdened by multiple sources of
pollution and with population characteristics that make them more sensitive
to pollution. I believe that MP also needs to better understand SB535 and
what this means for Belle Haven and MP.

*Problem #3 Connect Menlo Process alone was seriously flawed *

The overall Connect Menlo process, just evaluated on its own, was seriously
flawed. The General Plan Advisory Committee included David Bohannon, a
developer who stood to profit from decisions to increase zoning in Belle
Haven/M2. Residents from the Belle Haven, the affected area, had no Council
or Planning Commission representation. The Guiding Principles were clearly
not met and there were no benchmarks, metrics and general accountability
for meeting these guidelines. Instead, they stand like empty promises to
the people of Belle Haven. The Willows Village project, toward the tail end
of the development in Belle Haven, is also the first time that we are
starting to hear some talk about the community amenities that residents
thought they would get years ago in the form of a grocery store, ATM, etc.
There are other reasons why this project was flawed.

The Connect Menlo project illustrates a fundamental problem in Menlo Park's
local governance.

I urge Council to consider the general dysfunctional in our local
government that led to today. We have two parallel organizations with the
City Manager and staff not directly accountable to residents. Council is
supposed to represent our interests, but Council’s part-time role makes
this difficult. So Council relies on staff reports and policy
recommendations when Council doesn’t have the time to obtain deep knowledge
of an issue. While some staff reports are clearly written, objective,
balanced and thorough, I've seen some with a pronounced bias towards
getting Council to agree with what Staff wants done. In parallel, large
developers and companies have a clear, outsized influence in Menlo Park.
Adding to all this, the general lack of transparency, accountability and
oversight in MP makes corruption a very real possibility. (I'm not saying
it's already occuring, but we have created the conditions where it could
relatively easily occur.) Residents and Council also need assurance that
all California laws, designed to protect the public's interests, will be
followed. Unfortunately, I know of several that we are not currently
following - despite my bringing these laws to the attention of our City
Attorney. The law is also the floor, not the ceiling. It's time to take our
governance and general City culture to a higher level with more safeguards
for the public's interests. Our lack of diversity in the professional
organization also contributes to the problems. One doesn’t have to attend
too many meetings to realize that our senior staff consists mostly of white
men. We need a management-level staff that reflects the diversity in MP. so
this staff can better understand and relate to all types of people living
in Menlo Park. We also need better safeguards to protect against possible
corruption via improved transparency, public engagement and a strong
information structure.

As Menlo Park continues to grow, I think it’s time for Council to consider
making the Council roles full-time jobs with competitive salaries. That
would give our Council more time to research issues to lessen their current
dependence on the Staff. There are other reforms that I would suggest, but
they are outside the scope of this email.
Lynne Bramlett
Received on Sat May 04 2019 - 18:22:03 PDT

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