FAQ

Why is Yes on M needed?

A:

The current city council has failed to close several loopholes in the 2012 El Camino Real Downtown Specific Plan, the document that guides development downtown over the next 30 years. Measure M is the only remaining means for Menlo Park citizens to ensure that impending development conforms with our community’s Vision for our downtown.

Two developers, exploiting loopholes in the Downtown Plan are proposing to build more than 400,000 SF of office buildings along Menlo Park’s El Camino corridor.  These massive office complexes, which exceed the Plan’s entire 30-year office projection by more than 50%, are incongruous with the balanced, mixed-use build-out envisioned by our community and embodied in the Specific Plan’s Guiding Principles and Goals.  The Specific Plan was the first in Menlo Park’s history, so it is not surprising that loopholes became evident as the initial project proposals were submitted.  It is standard for changes to be made annually by cities when loopholes become evident.  What is surprising is that the current council continues to side with developers and refuses to close these loopholes. 

 

How does Yes on M reduce rush-hour traffic?

A:

Two large office projects are about to be approved. They would build 8 football fields of offices, leading to miles of additional of cars in the heart of our town.  Yes on M protects our neighborhoods from increased rush-hour and cut through traffic by enforcing a maximum cap for office.  

City Council’s 2012 Specific Plan doubled the allowed amount of office space along El Camino Real. Offices generate the greatest peak hour traffic. We already experience neighborhood cut-through traffic because 90% of all workers at downtown offices commute from outside Menlo Park and get here via 101 or 280 or El Camino.  When El Camino, Santa Cruz, Willow, Marsh, Middlefield, Sand Hill, Encinal, Middle, University get congested during rush hour, commuters cut through our neighborhoods. The City forecast that at least 15 major intersections throughout Menlo Park would get worse. 

Now, additional loopholes in the Specific Plan allow two pending developments to build 66% more office space than projected for the next 30 years from downtown development. Result? Even worse traffic throughout town, - at those same 15 intersections, and more!

Yes on M enforces the maximum build-out cap for office buildings, as identified by the city's own Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  This reduces the potential office build-out - all office uses, including medical office - of the proposed Stanford and Greenheart projects by nearly 50%, thereby reducing the impacts of their rush hour traffic. 

Without that enforcement, there is virtually no limit to how much huge office could be built - and how much commuter office traffic will come - in the heart of our town.  

 

 

How does Yes on M protect our neighborhoods and small town character?

A:

Yes on M encourages developers to better match their projects to Menlo Park’s small town character. The two current developments, about to be approved by the City, will build 8 football fields of offices in the heart of our town.  They will increase rush-hour traffic and neighborhood cut-through traffic.

Here are the facts:

The city's own Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of 2012 projected a maximum development square feet for office build-out for 30 years.  The EIR studied traffic, noise and air pollution impacts.   Yes on M enforces that maximum development amount, so that developments do not exceed those traffic, noise and air pollution impacts. 

Without Measure M, developers will count balconies and rooftops as “Open Space”; massive office complexes will be approved by the City Council, changing our town for our lifetimes. And rush hour traffic will get significantly worse than forecast, because offices draw out-of-town commuters.

By enforcing the office development maximum of the city's own Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Yes on M protects our neighborhoods by reducing the build-out of mega-offices in the heart of our town and the rush hour traffic they cause.  

 

Which loopholes does Measure M address?

A:

Measure M closes the biggest of the Plan’s loopholes:

  1. Office – Measure M prevents office-dominated development from crowding out other uses (cafes, shops, restaurants, services, hotels) that directly serve Menlo Park residents and families

  2. Open space – Measure M stops developers from counting private balconies and rooftops as “open space”. 

How much power will City Council still have?

A:

The voter approval is limited only to exceeding maximum limits for offices or changing open space requirements.

The City Council retains complete control of all other aspects of the 356-page Specific Plan, including decisions about housing, big box retail, medical office, parking, open space requirements, and approvals of public safety facilities.  We fully support Council's efforts to do more and reduce high-traffic uses.  

Initiatives only enact what they expressly state. If it is not stated, it is not enacted. - Thomas Jordan, retired Palo Alto land use lawyer.

Opponents claim that “all city decisions will have to go through a city-wide vote.” Those words are not in Measure M.  Again, initiatives only enact what they expressly state. In this case, limiting maximum office build-out. Opponents are flagrantly misstating the truth if they claim that “all city decisions” will have to get voter approval

1. From the Ballot Title (Bold added for emphasis) Shall the Ordinance entitled “An Initiative Measure Proposing Amendments to the City of Menlo Park General Plan and Menlo Park 2012 El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Limiting Office Development, Modifying Open Space Requirements, and Requiring Voter Approval for New Non-residential Projects that Exceed Specified Development Limits” be adopted?

2. From the Impartial Summary: “…voter approval is required to exceed the office space and non-residential square footage limits.”

3. From the city’s own commissioned report: City of Menlo Park Ballot Measure Impact Analysis" dated July 10, 2014 by The Lisa Wise Consulting Group, Inc., Section 2.3 page 2-7 Voters retain authority over four (4) self-contained parameters (office and open space definitions, office and non-residential buildout caps). City Council retains control of other zoning standards related to the Plan and Initiative including rules and guidelines (e.g., height, setbacks, open space minimums, FAR), processes (e.g., monitoring caps, capturing public benefits, resolving uncertainties , rezoning parcels, planning ahead), and virtually all Specific Plan language.

What changes does Measure M make to the Specific Plan?

A:

Measure M makes four (4) changes to the Specific Plan:

  • Excludes private balconies, terraces and rooftops from counting toward a project’s open space requirement
  • Limits office development to 100,000 SF per project (only applies to 4 sites in the 130 acre Downtown Plan area)
  • Limits the total amount of office space within the Plan boundary to 240,820 SF
  • Limits total non-residential development within the Plan boundary to 474,000 SF

Measure M’s development limits on development are taken directly from the 30-year build-out scenario in the Plan’s Environmental Impact Report’s (EIR)*.

Measure M adopted the EIR’s build-out scenario because its environmental and fiscal impacts were thoroughly vetted and it reflects the balanced, vibrant, mixed-use development envisioned by residents. 

The City Council remains in control of all the rest of the 356-page Plan’s zoning rules 

 

 

* The EIR (page 3-11) and 30-year projections were:

  • 680 units of housing
  • 380 hotel rooms
  • 91,800 SF of retail
  • 240,820 SF of commercial office

Total non-residential equals 474,000 SF

Will Measure M fix all of the Specific Plan’s flaws?

A:

Yes on M focuses on the mega-office developments that are imminent and about to be approved unless we take action.

Like any complex plan, Menlo Park’s Specific Plan contains flaws and loopholes.  Many of these flaws came into focus when developers submitted proposals that were completely out of step with the Plan’s underlying Vision and Goals.  Yes on M fixes some, but not all, of the flaws. 

The City Council has full ability to fix other potential flaws as they arise.  For instance, currently no developers have proposed big-box retail. Most big-box retail are located by freeways where rent is considerably cheaper, not in downtown.  But if developers in the future should propose to build big-box retail in the heart of Menlo Park -  City Council could modify the Plan to limit or prohibit that possibility (as many other city councils have done around the country).  Similarly, if housing developments threaten to hurt our schools, the Council can modify the Plan. For example, to be able to negotiate senior housing when granting more density.

Keeping the Specific Plan true to the residents' vision requires a City Council that respects the small town character of Menlo Park. The upcoming election offers a chance to install new Council members who will ensure that downtown development serves the needs of residents, not just developers.  

 

Who are the Developers opposing Measure M?

A:

Stanford University (8.4 acres at 500 El Camino Real) and Greenheart Land Company (6.4 acres at 1300 El Camino Real).

They have submitted plans to build nearly amounts to 8 football fields of offices, plus a similar amount of mixed use housing/retail. These projects will get built unless Yes on M passes.

The opposition are trying to distract people from that imminent risk by throwing out scare tactics.  These are scare tactics of the developers.  They threaten that if we don't give them a sweetheart deal, they will build something even more appalling for the lives of residents.  That's what they always say to get their way.

For instance, they want to scare us about big-box retail. First of all, no developer is currently proposing big box retail in downtown Menlo Park. Almost all big box retail are by the freeways, not in downtown, for mass consumer access. Secondly, if a proposal did come forward, the City Council can modify the Downtown Plan to restrict the kind of retail allowed - as many other city councils around the country have done. We certainly expect, in the unlikely event of a proposal for big box retail downtown, that the City Council will do that. Measure M does not take away Council's ability to protect our residential community.

Another scare, about medical offices, is also completely unfounded. Yes on M limits offices - and "offices" includes medical offices. 

Residents along with former mayors, planning commissioners, and lawyers identified what few things should be addressed in Measure M. They carefully based its development caps on the exact same amounts of projected development for office space and total non-residential space that were thoroughly vetted through the Specific Plan's environmental and financial analysis reports. In contrast, the projects coming forward in the first 2 years of the 30-year Plan propose to exceed the amount of office by more than 50% while crowding out more than 50,000 SF of retail space. Because the City Council is supporting projects that do not match the community vision, Measure M is the best  - and only - remaining way to deal with the imminent risks of the proposed mega-office developments for Menlo Park. The Sierra Club agrees and has endorsed Measure M.

How do Stanford and Greenheart’s proposals compare with the Specific Plan’s Goals

How do Stanford and Greenheart’s proposals compare with the Specific Plan’s Goals?

A:
  • Maintain a village character unique to Menlo Park: No
  • Provide greater east-west, town-wide connectivity: No
  • Improve circulation and streetscape conditions on El Camino: No
  • Ensure that El Camino Real development is sensitive to and compatible with adjacent neighborhoods: No
  • Revitalize underutilized parcels and buildings: Yes
  • Activate the train station area: N/A
  • Protect and enhance pedestrian amenities on Santa Cruz Avenue: N/A
  • Expand shopping, dining and neighborhood services to ensure a vibrant downtown: No
  • Provide residential opportunities: Yes
  • Open Space: Provide plaza and park spaces: Insufficient - Stanford project’s public plaza at Middle Avenue has 3-lane driveway through it.
  • Provide an integrated, safe … pedestrian and bicycle network: No
  • Develop parking strategies and facilities that meet the commercial and residential needs of the community:  Unknown

How much did the Specific Plan increase the amount of permitted development on Stanford and Greenheart’s sites?

A:

The City Council more than doubled the allowed density on each site. These zoning changes dramatically increased the development options available and opened up many new opportunities for successful projects that adhere to our community vision.  

Wasn’t Stanford going to build senior housing and a hotel on their site?

A:

Yes.  During the Specific Plan’s public Visioning phase, the consensus was that the Stanford parcels would be an ideal location for senior housing and a hotel.  Stanford cited the need to support senior housing* development in requesting reductions in open space and other requirements. Building senior housing on this site would help the City meet its court-mandated housing goals without increasing school enrollment. Stanford has never publicly stated why they replaced senior housing and a hotel with a massive office development.

 

* August 29, 2011; June 4, 201

 

Will Measure M affect our public schools?

A:

No.  The City’s own consultant* found that Measure M will have no effect on school revenue, expenditures or enrollment.  In the intermediate to long term, Measure M may even reduce pressure on school enrollment by encouraging balanced development that lowers the City’s jobs to housing balance.

 

* “Approval of the Ballot Measure should not lead to increased expenditures or a loss of revenue as compared to the ECR/D Specific Plan for the school districts.” Menlo Park Ballot Impact Analysis, page 5-9, Lisa Wise Consulting.  

Will Stanford and Greenheart’s projects make traffic worse?

A:

Yes. The numerous new office workers commuting to Menlo Park will severely exacerbate rush hour gridlock on El Camino Real, leading to significantly more neighborhood cut-through traffic and additional congestion throughout Menlo Park on routes to freeways. Measure M, by encouraging true mixed-use development, promotes a much more balanced traffic pattern that spreads traffic more throughout the day rather than  concentrated at rush hours.  And because development will serve the needs of the community, more of the trips will originate locally rather than from out of town.

Isn’t it the responsibility of the City Council to fix the Specific Plan?

A:

Yes. But since the City Council has not acted despite numerous pleas by residents and by the Sierra Club, residents were left with no choice but to submit an initiative (Yes on M) to the voters. It’s evident that current Council members do not embrace all of the Specific Plan’s twelve Goals.  We need Council members who do and who will hold City staff accountable for making sure that development meets those Goals.

Have residents asked City Council to fix the Specific Plan?

A:

Yes. Since the Plan was adopted, on numerous occasions, community members and the Sierra Club (25 March 2013 and 18 November 2013) have urged the City Council to modify the Specific Plan to ensure that the balance envisioned by the community would actually be realized. Residents met with each member of city council, residents reached out to the city manager and city attorney, held neighborhood meetings in 2012 and 2013 and a city-wide open town hall meeting at Little House, residents circulated an on-line petition in 2013, and a large number of residents spoke at city council meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. 

What will happen to the car lots on El Camino if Measure M passes?

A:

They will be redeveloped. Commercial real estate in Menlo Park is extremely valuable (Pension fund buys Menlo Park offices for $1,193 a square foot”, Silicon Valley Business Journal, July 17, 2014). Retail vacancy rates have plummeted to less than 1.5 %. The 2012 Specific Plan made downtown real estate even more valuable by increasing the allowed density and height limits – doubling the amount of development permitted on most sites.  Measure M allows developers to build projects that are both highly profitable and consistent with the Specific Plan’s Vision and Goals. 

Does Measure M allow Transit Oriented Development (TOD)?

A:

Yes.  Measure M does not change the Specific Plan’s amount of development near transit. It has no effect on the Specific Plan’s housing allocation.  The thirty year Specific Plan, with or without Measure M, will produce considerable employment and housing in proximity to Menlo Park’s Caltrain station.

How much can City Council do? vs. What voters have to approve?

A:

Yes on M Fact Sheet:  Voter Approval

·         Voter Approval Requirement is Limited Only to Exceeding Maximum Limits for Office Build-Out. City Council Has Power over Nearly Everything Still.

·         Initiatives only enact what they expressly state. If it is not stated, it is not enacted.   - Thomas Jordan, retired Palo Alto land use lawyer 

·         Opponents claim that “all city decisions will have to go through a city-wide vote.”

Those words are not in Measure M.  

Again, initiatives only enact what they expressly state.  In this case, limiting maximum office build-out.  Opponents are flagrantly misstating the truth if they claim that “all city decisions” will have to get voter approval. 

1.   From the Ballot Title (Bold added for emphasis)

Shall the Ordinance entitled “An Initiative Measure Proposing Amendments to the City of Menlo Park General Plan and Menlo Park 2012 El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Limiting Office Development, Modifying Open Space Requirements, and Requiring Voter Approval for New Non-residential Projects that Exceed Specified Development Limits be adopted?

2.  From the Impartial Summary:      

“…voter approval is required to exceed the office space and non-residential square footage limits.”

3.  From the city’s own commissioned report:

City of Menlo Park Ballot Measure Impact Analysis" dated July 10, 2014 by The Lisa Wise Consulting Group, Inc., Section 2.3 page 2-7

 Voters retain authority over four (4) self-contained parameters (office and open space definitions, office and non-residential build out caps). City Council retains control of other zoning standards related to the Plan and Initiative including rules and guidelines (e.g., height, setbacks, open space minimums, FAR), processes (e.g., monitoring caps, capturing public benefits, resolving uncertainties, rezoning parcels, planning ahead), and virtually all Specific Plan language.


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