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Commercial Development In A Residential Neighborhood - 1704 ECR

From: domainremoved <Scott>
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 04:53:14 +0000


I am a resident tax payer and homeowner in Menlo Park. I would like to bring to your attention several considerations regarding the development of and the most recent Staff Report on the 1704 ECR hotel property (The Red Cottage Inn – Hampton Inn) that has just been released. It is problematic, in my view, from at least four fronts:

1. The Staff contends and infers in the report that the Developer has been the one to hold and organize all the outreach meetings, has made all the “concessions” and that the homeowners surrounding the hotel are lucky that he has made them. Moreover, the tone and manor of the report implies the homeowners surrounding the hotel are like “nuisances” and don't really have legitimate concerns. But this is not the case. There were community and small group meetings, to which the Developer was invited and attended. But these meetings were mostly organized by the neighborhood and at the behest of the neighborhood. While the Developer’s attendance and the resulting Q&A’s were appreciated by the neighborhood, for the Staff report to suggest this was all driven by the Developer is not correct and valid. Why even infer this in the report, if this was not the case?

The residents have negotiated in good faith and have tried hard to collaborate with the Developer and the City to mitigate concerns in an effort to protect property values and quality of residential living in their neighborhood that, not inconsequently, has been zoned residential. That the Staff’s take on the final report discounts and downplays the neighborhood residents’ issues and concerns is very troubling and should be troubling to all Menlo Park resident taxpayers.

2. Unlike a number of the Planning Commission members who have toured the Park Forest area and talked to residents, City Staff has not conducted a “360 degree” neighborhood visit and has not interviewed a reasonable spectrum of the neighborhood’s residents to get their views and understand their perspectives. Maybe that is not official protocol, but it should be. It’s just plain common sense. Zoning relief and project approval recommendations like these should not be made in a vacuum or purely as a paper exercise. They should not inordinately place the onus on the public to push back or defend itself or its neighborhood, particularly for commercial development that is being considered in a neighborhood that is and has been zoned residential. Not surprisingly, the views and concerns that the Park Forest residents have expressed in writing to the Planning Commission, the City Council and Staff are included towards the end of the Staff report, and are, for the most part, buried and under emphasized.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for Staff to side with a developer, if a project meets minimum basic conditions. And if one is cynical, there are real upsides for the Staff for siding with the developer too. Extra tax revenues support a burgeoning City bureaucracy and facilitate higher employee compensation and better pensions and benefits. One would think that this type of perception, by the resident electorate, would be something that the City would like to avoid. The system needs to be structured so that the potential for this perception is mitigated. Likewise, there are very few downsides for Staff not to approve a project, so long as basic minimal compliance is met. What risks or issues are there to not green light a project when Staff doesn’t live in the neighborhood being affected and the City’s management, including Commissioners and Council Members, are encouraging development. Regretfully, there seems to be very little practical consideration for the people in a residential neighborhood that are impacted by commercial development. Why? It seems like a “bass awkward” policy mentality for a City and its elected officials to take favoring the commercial developer over its residents... especially, in a neighborhood that is zoned residential.

3. It is also problematic that while the upcoming project hearing meeting was noticed somewhat in advance, the Staff report of 215 pages was not released until this Thursday, two business days and four total days before the hearing on Monday. The Staff and Developer have had months to work on and modify the project and weeks to create the report. But the City gives the public just four days to review the document, which is not exactly “bedside reading” for lay people. Shouldn’t more than four days be given to the public to reflect and digest a large and complex report?

4. Most contentiously, the Staff's analysis supports the granting of the Public Benefit Bonus (PBB) purely on the grounds that the project throws off more hotel occupancy taxes. The PBB in the statues is not exactly 100% clear on how and when it should be applied. It is vague and loosely constructed. Hotel occupancy tax payments are mandated by law. One can certainly argue that mandatory tax payments that the developer is obligated to pay should not be the basis upon which a bonus be granted. The PBB grant, in turn, allows the developer material zoning/setback relief. This is even more problematic when this relief is given for a commercial development project in a low-density zoned neighborhood. And, it’s even more egregious where there is no tangible public benefit for the neighborhood itself. The extra occupancy tax that is the forecasted to be collected in this project is not going back directly into the Park Forest neighborhood in any tangible prescribed way. No thought has been given to the “public benefit” for the neighborhood that is being impacted, let alone the costs and impact on the residents. Why and on what basis should the PPB be granted at all? Perhaps a PBB should have a material and direct benefit for the neighborhood that is being affected and not be automatically routed to the general City coffers...

Development is not inherently bad and is often good for a community, if it is well planned and thought through. But there are unintended consequences in well-meaning analyses, reports and recommendations, especially if the City doesn’t fully understand or fully appreciate all the potential impacts involved and really evaluates the situation from all involved perspectives.

As such, the City of Menlo Park needs to rethink the use of the Public Benefit Bonus for commercial development in residential areas and the development mindset and approach it takes to reviewing commercial development proposals in these neighborhoods. The burden should be on the developer to fully justify to the City and to the neighborhood where the project is to take place that the project is good for all concerned and there is a real public benefit – not just for the City and its balance sheet. Having a better-defined and clarified PPB statute and guidelines for its application should be the minimum action item here. And the City should hold off granting any PBB’s until the statute and its applications are rewritten and better specified.

Please consider really deliberating on and addressing the issues raised by this project. They are not inconsequential.

Scott Barnum
137 Stone Pine Lane
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(650-224-5671 (m)

Received on Fri Jun 21 2019 - 21:47:21 PDT

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