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Menlo Park Renaissance (Part 4)

Posted on Monday, Sep 12th 2011

If we can bring together the Silicon Valley–style entrepreneurship, with taste, style, culture, food, wine, and art in a well-thought-through city center, Menlo Park can indeed become that eclectic creative cauldron so rare and elusive. Housing this creativity should be a series of great public spaces, terraces, patios, plazas and boulevards.

Perhaps Middle Avenue would become the place to go see cherry blossoms in the spring. Olive Street could be a jacaranda-lined burst of purple during the summer. Oak Avenue already is a beautiful concentration of maples, giving Menlo Park access to fall colors not easily seen in California.

Santa Cruz Avenue, as it becomes pedestrian only, can have restaurants and cafes spilling over into the street with musicians playing outdoors, people dancing to their tunes – reminiscent of Paris or perhaps Buenos Aires.

Reminiscent, perhaps, but Menlo Park is not going to become Paris or Buenos Aires. Nor, for that matter, will it become a mini San Francisco. It will remain a small town, a charming, understated town. However, if we do this right, it can become a stylish, eclectic, hip, and beautiful town that can serve as a host for Silicon Valley’s next renaissance.

And that, my friends, is a worthwhile vision to work toward.

Note: Here are the slides from my last presentation at the city council. Also, on Tuesday, September 13, at 7pm, there will be the next city council meeting at the City Hall on 701 Laurel Street. If you share this vision, please come to the meeting and share your perspectives. You can also use this series to comment on the blog, and I will make sure your thoughts are communicated to the council.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Menlo Park Renaissance
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Sramana, these are some great ideas. There is no doubt that Menlo Park has a positioning problem. It is neither here nor there. But it is the at the epicenter of Silicon Valley and the world should know that. Agree that Facebook moving is a good opportunity to re-position.

Vivek Wadhwa Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 4:04 PM PT

Dear Sramana,__I live in Menlo Park and have been listening to the downtown businesses that are against the current Specific Plan. These folks may seem a little outdated to you, but keep in mind that they have run successful businesses and employed many people for decades. I think the biggest difference between them and bigger entrepreneurs may not be so much a lack of imagination but a difference in values — they are not consumed by the idea of creating huge companies or amassing incredible fortunes. They want to do well by the people around them, live a comfortable life if possible and do some good in the world before they leave it._ These are the people who planted the trees down Santa Cruz Avenue.

The real lack of imagination is in the City's plan. There is no architecture involved — look at it, you will see nothing imaginative. The city planners did not even discuss using modern techniques like robotic parking garages. I sent a web clip showing an automated public garage that is being built in West Hollywood California to the Downtown Alliance (the Menlo Park business owners that are against the plan) and they loved it. THEY are the only people who are interested in innovation.

rrorapaugh Monday, September 19, 2011 at 11:02 PM PT

The downtown does not need to be destroyed to be updated. I personally believe the parking garage pressure is coming from the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, which is very large and has several members that work for the city. That church has wanted to put a parking garage downtown for a long time; they do not understand why everyone does not agree.

I think your renaissance project should separate from the Downtown Specific Plan, and I would love to give you more reasons when you have time. Keep in mind that the plan allows development of office and residential space, but there are no controls over what the mix will be. In fact, if the plan were passed in its current state, Menlo Park could wind up with a lot of dull office buildings, two ugly concrete multistory parking garages and no new housing or retail space.

Roxie Rorapaugh
rrorapaugh@att.net

rrorapaugh Monday, September 19, 2011 at 11:03 PM PT

I don't think the city council is trying to destroy downtown. And I also think that you guys are much too hung up on the parking lot issue, which they understand is a sticking point. They're just trying to get the rezoning passed, and then they need to start working with developers to get down to the specifics. The current plan, as they state quite clearly, is not a detailed plan. At best, it is an attempt to put together a zoning map such that developers can be invited to a discussion.

I think, you misunderstand their intent, and making a much bigger deal out of it than necessary.

I would let the zoning plan pass, and then, fight the issues when the detailed projects come into focus. Right now, you are blocking any progress at all, which, in my opinion, is not a smart move.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 6:02 PM PT

Once the zoning passes, the projects will not be debated, that is the law. If the zoning allows the building, then it can begin happening–we do not get detailed oversight after that. If the parking is not a such a big deal, why is the City so hung up on it?

Have you read the plan and the draft EIR for the Plan? It was only after watching several hours of Planning commission meetings that I began to understand the plan. If it were only zoning changes, and the parking plazas were taken out of the equation, then I could see where you would be correct that it is just an attempt to create a zoning map. However, given all the time I have spent looking at this situation, I think you have been misled about the intended results of this plan.

I love new architecture, restaurants and clubs such as you portray in your presentation. However, the plan the city is proposing will not create a better environment for music, walking or any of what we would like to see. Let me know if you can think of a better way for us to have a discussion on this, I feel like I'm taking up a lot of post space.
Sincerely,
Roxie Rorapaugh
Menlo Park, California
rrorapaugh@att.net

rrorapaugh Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 9:25 PM PT

Sramana,

Thanks for taking the time to dig into these issues and for providing a forum for dialogue. We’re at an important stage now in the review of the Draft Specific Plan, and have already gotten a lot of thoughtful recommendations from the Planning Commission and tentative direction from the City Council. Changes have ranged from the relatively minor (such as text edits) to the substantive- examples of the latter include banning the use of downtown parking plazas for mixed-use developments (to address concerns from some downtown business/property owners) and limiting the facade height of buildings in the Station Area and ECR SE districts (to address concerns about village character and building massing).

We were hoping to wrap things up with the Council last night (9/20), but ran out of time. As a result, the Council is tentatively scheduled to meet on 10/4 to review the El Camino Real (other than ECR SE) geographic zones, and conduct a review of their overall direction. Following this meeting, staff and the consultant will revise the Plan accordingly, and will present the Final Specific Plan and EIR this winter for Planning Commission and City Council consideration/action.

Assuming the Specific Plan is approved, individual projects (including public buildings, like parking garages) will need to go through public architectural review, and will need to adhere to detailed design guidelines and standards. Chapter E of the Draft Specific Plan provides a lot of specifics for public consideration. I would also note that office uses are uniquely limited by the draft plan to no more than 1/2 of the maximum floor area for any property (1/3 if it’s medical office), which creates a strong incentive for mixed-use projects with retail/residential/hotel components.

The project page is available at: http://www.menlopark.org/specificplan

Thanks,
Thomas Rogers, Associate Planner

Thomas Rogers Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 3:19 PM PT

So nice to hear from you Mr. Rogers. I do believe we should elaborate a bit regarding paragraph near the end of your comment:_A public Achitectural review is not the same as an environmental review or even a permit review, it will only allow the planning commission to ask for certain aesthetic changes, such as exterior color or facade materials. It will not give the public a way to stop projects that are permissable under the zoning laws.__Also note, office uses almost always have a lower FAR than retail and residential in any zoning system. This is because offices are usually packed with more people per square foot than a home or a retail space (remember, customers and merchandise may seem to densely pack a store, but the customers are not in the store for an entire workday as they are in an office).

rrorapaugh Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 10:32 PM PT

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for sharing the details of the process. I have a few suggestions based on what you have said here.

(1) It would be good if you share the architectural review guidelines once you put it together, so everyone feels comfortable about it.

(2) In that, I would personally like to see that we capture the vision of Menlo Park, encompassing (a) Entrepreneurship (b) Sustainability – live-work space (c) Unique and interesting retail addressing our needs for food, wine, style and culture, (d) Aesthetic standards (e) Underground parking. Development proposals – especially the larger ones that would define the future character of the city – should adhere to deliver on all those points, and not just create ‘real estate’ but endeavor to create ‘architecture’ and ‘user experience’. Across a set of development proposals, we would like to see public markets, art galleries, designer boutiques, incubators, live-work spaces, rental housing, and great restaurants. You can even provide, in the RFP, a list of concepts we’re trying to capture in the city’s re-designing, so that the developers make that a part of their project vision.

Below is a list of concepts and merchants from the area (and some from elsewhere) that we would love to have here in Menlo Park:

(1) Delarosa: http://delarosasf.com/
(2) Mayfield Bakery: http://www.mayfieldbakery.com/
(3) Cowgirl Creamery Cheese Store: http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/cowgirl_c
(4) Yoshi’s Jazz Club: http://www.yoshis.com/
(5) Pena Pacha Mama: http://pachamamacenter.org/
(6) Alonzo King’s Community Dance Center: http://www.linesballet.org/sfdc/
(7) Rasela’s Jazz Club: http://www.rasselasjazzclub.com/
(8) S.P.Q.R: http://www.spqrsf.com/
(9) Pakwan: http://www.pakwanrestaurant.com/
(10) Bushi Tei: http://www.bushi-tei.com/cuisine.html
(11) San Francisco Design Center: http://www.sfdesigncenter.com/
(12) Japonesque Gallery: http://www.yelp.com/biz/japonesque-gallery-san-fr
(13) Propeller Gallery: http://www.propellermodern.com/
(14) Swan Oyster Depot: http://swanoysterdepotsf.com/
(15) Cafe Trieste: http://www.caffetrieste.com/
(16) Delfina: http://delfinasf.com/
(17) The Grove Cafe: http://sf.eater.com/tags/the-grove
(18) La Boulange: http://laboulangebakery.com/
(19) Destino: http://www.destinosf.com/
(20) Eiji: http://www.yelp.com/biz/eiji-san-francisco
(21) Kappo Nami Nami: http://www.yelp.com/biz/kappo-nami-nami-mountain-
(22) Yasuko: http://www.yelp.com/biz/yasuko-healdsburg
(23) Dry Creek Kitchen: http://www.charliepalmer.com/Properties/DryCreekK
(24) Fatted Calf: http://fattedcalf.com/
(25) Bistro Jeanty: http://www.bistrojeanty.com/
(26) Thep Phanom: http://www.thepphanom.com/Thepphanom/Home.html
(27) Sarah Pacini: http://www.sarahpacini.com/our-stores/
(28) Adolfo Dominguez: http://www.adolfodominguez.com/
(29) Akris: http://www.akris.ch/html/english/
(30) Thomas Pink: http://www.us.thomaspink.com/
(31) Alamo Square: http://alamosquareseafoodgrill.com/
(32) Le Pain Quotidien: http://www.lepainquotidien.us/
(33) Natuzzi: http://www.divaniedivani.it/
(34) Shanghai Tang: http://www.shanghaitang.com/
(35) Blac de Chine: http://www.blancdechine.com/blanc/en/concept.html
(36) Velvet Da Vinci: http://www.velvetdavinci.com/index.php
(37) Wlliam Siegal: http://www.williamsiegal.com/
(38) Site Santa Fe: http://www.sitesantafe.org/
(39) Lyric Stage: http://www.lyricstage.com/
(40) Torquato Tasso: http://www.torquatotasso.com.ar/
(41) 606 Club: http://www.606club.co.uk/
(42) Club Gricel: http://www.clubgriceltango.com.ar/
(43) Friday Night Blues: http://beyondblues.com/fnb/
(44) El Valenciano: http://www.yelp.com/biz/el-valenciano-restaurant-and-bar-san-francisco
(45) Verve Gallery: http://www.vervegallery.com/
(46) Miki’s Paper: http://www.jargol.com/stores/mikis-paper/
(47) O chame: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2010/10/o-chame-in-berkeleys-fourth-street.html
(48) Cafe Rouge: http://www.caferouge.net/meat_market.html
(49) Dittmer’s: http://www.dittmers.com/
(50) Milk Pail: http://www.milkpail.com/
(51) DeMartini Orchard: http://www.demartiniorchard.com/about.html
(52) Dammann Freres Tea: http://www.parisiensalon.com/2009/07/eye-on-paris-dammann-freres-tea/
(53) Samovar: http://samovarlife.com/lounges/mission-castro/
(54) Basil Canteen: http://www.basilthai.com/canteen/
(55) Lele de Troya: http://www.leledetroya.com/

We can certainly come up with more … but this would give developers an idea of the direction we’re looking to go in.

Also, in my opinion, you would need to do a few of these projects with developers first, and that would generate the revenue to do some of the structural reforms on Santa Cruz and El Camino that needs to be financed by the city itself. Also, once the vibrancy – people, destinations, food, culture – is in place, attracting a couple of excellent hoteliers would be very viable, but not before. In terms of hotels, our recommendation would be to go for some boutique hotels, as opposed to large scale business hotels, which we already have in Rosewood and Four Seasons. Joie de vivre (http://www.jdvhotels.com/), Tablet (http://www.tablethotels.com/) and Kimpton (http://www.kimptonhotels.com/) all have presence locally, and ought to be approached once the vision has been adequately fleshed out.

Bernardo may have additional comments on the architectural and user experience design guidelines, I will ask him to comment.

Regards, Sramana

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 9:37 AM PT

Hi Roxy,

I think, we do want more people – more life – in Menlo Park. If you look at Palo Alto downtown, it is full of people – young and old – during the day and in the evening. In comparison, Menlo Park is dead.

As long as parking garages are all under ground, but provided amply in the design guidelines, and we carefully design the live-work user experiences such that people do not have to get in the car all the time, the sustainability concerns can be handled.

Also, trees are something the city is proud of, so I am sure they will make every effort to keep, although at times, move, some of them.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 10:13 AM PT

I do share your enthusiasm and vision. Menlo Park is geared to evolution, not revolution, and the guiding realities must be anchored in what is commercially viable. Santa Cruz Ave., Alameda de las Pulgas, El Camino Real and other areas have seen their ups and downs, sometimes dramatic. Well managed modern medium to upscale quality businesses like Cafe Borrone and Carpaccio will point the way, whereas undercapitalized small ventures such as the hole in the wall jazz joint that failed will not. The officials who give permits, parking rules, etc need to be alert to changing tastes and appropriate business plans. We are talking about a change of generations with sensitivity to the old and alertness to the new.
William Carter

William Carter Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 11:33 AM PT

Fully agreed on the business aspects. Amateurish, under capitalized experiments just won’t work.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 11:43 AM PT

In reply to all the recent comments…. I have lived in Menlo Park for 23 years from newly married life through raising young children to full time working mom of teenagers. Through this evolution, I have seen naysayer after naysayer stop progressive development and redevelopment in this town year after year. There has always been one common theme: fear of density and traffic. Development has been portrayed as evil in this town by the vocal change resisters who generally win their position because residents fear density and traffic as presented by these naysayers.

This is why we have a dead town and a disgusting El Camino corridor. Those who want to get picky about disputing parking garages while every other town on the Peninsula has successfully built and utilized are searching for details upon which they can stop development. Plain and simple. Traffic and density are byproducts of a vibrant town and I, for one, am willing to take it on and address it intelligently. We have to be careful not to shut down major streets.

I applaud Sramana! She represents a vibrant, energetic and creative perspective that should be given top billing! She represents hope for Menlo Park. Those who are tired of watching our town lie dormant for another 20 years should follow her lead!

Mary Gilles Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 11:59 AM PT

Hi Sramana,
If you could get the City to codify in the plan that parking garages for offices and residential development downtown be must be built underground then that would go a long way towards solving this problem. With robotic parking garages and new technologies, I believe designing such buildings is possible, but the current plan specifically says two multistory parking garages must be built. Your idea would obviate the need for these huge garages and the plazas could be left for the retail merchants. Perhaps you can get somewhere with the city and write those huge parking garages out of the picture.
Also, I think you’re being a little unfair in calling Menlo Park dead. During the day the town is very lively with shoppers. At night, I agree the sidewalks roll up. There are not many businesses open, although this could change over time. I do know that downtown merchants have often asked for better street lighting on Santa Cruz, this would go a long way to increasing foot traffic. Perhaps if the lighting is installed there could be an occasional nightly festival, similar to what happens during the summer, to get people downtown.
-Roxie

rrorapaugh Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 12:22 PM PT

Yes, I agree with you that the multi-storied parking plazas don’t work with the village character of the city, and they would be eye-sores. I think the city council has got that, and they will design around those concepts in the next rev of the plan.

The merchants, with all due respect, are a bit too dated, and no, I don’t think I am being unfair. They city is dead, more or less, even during the day. Go check out Palo Alto and Mountain View to get a feel for a city that is alive. I think, having new merchants and new concepts would require everyone to compete and raise the bar, which is sorely needed.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 12:27 PM PT

What I like about Sramana's vision is that it focuses on placing people in the center. Rather than destroying the human scale of Menlo Park, it enhances its human scale. I agree that traffic and parking are not stoppers. They are problems that can be mitigated intelligently. Menlo Park can benefit from both beautification and increased vitality. A more diverse assortment of retailers and restaurants will be a boon for all. It also is a proven fact that the greater concentration of retailers brings a greater number of customers, improving sales for all.

Carl Jacobson Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 1:16 PM PT

Yes, and, retailers come when there is enough density of customers, foot-traffic, visitors, etc. They are, after all, businesses that need to survive and thrive. Increasing the density of people is essential for a vibrant downtown, and to be able to attract quality merchants. At the same time, creating the vision for great quality of life is essential for attracting more people – interesting people – to come live here.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 1:29 PM PT

Another good example of a smart city planning exercise is Ramona Street in Palo Alto. The city picked a Spanish adobe theme for a full section of the street and it is one of the most sought after areas of Palo Alto. It gives the city a tone. It is unfortunate that they have not maintained that theme across the whole city but it is a good example of how Menlo Park and its nice trees can evolve its character into a village with personality and life. This is not a question of $$$. It is a question of aesthetics and will. It is time to do something about it. I do support the City in its planning process and offer to participate where I can add value. http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/santaclara/ram.htm

Dominique Trempont Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 2:35 PM PT

Thank you Sramana for hosting a vibrant conversation.

Roxie is not the only resident who fears more in the Specific Plan than is there, or expects more than it can do. Once again, its a FRAMEWORK, a MASTER PLAN, and does not amount to one single building project. It does locate where certain uses may be, and how much of them, if anyone again decides to invest in our faded commercial core.

As for challenging architecture, we can not only hope for it but, if desired, the Planning Commission can press for it. But we cannot otherwise block projects that are within the zoning code – nor should we. The idea that every project should be subject to veto by anyone is not helpful. By now it should be evident that the rules should be clear, then followed by builder and neighbors alike. The specific plan rules are far more extensive than anything Menlo Park has attempted. And – if its not watered down – the plan may yet bring back investment . I hope so; we still have weeks, maybe months to go before Council takes the formal vote and that process can even begin.

Henry Riggs Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 3:18 PM PT

Yes, indeed, the planning commission can press for eclectic architecture, unique culture, food, style … that’s why I suggested the ‘RFP process with definite points’ as a catalyst to drive this change.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 3:38 PM PT

Sramana,
Here are some comments:
Positioning – Entrepreneurship Capital of Silicon Valley – far too parochial, alternative: Global Venture Capital City
Food and Wine Capital of Silicon Valley – not sure if this is credible (Palo Alto seems to have better restaurants) and I don't like anything that promotes gluttony (we have an overweight population, think like Michelle Obama) or alcohol in such a conservative town
I believe Menlo Park is a great family town – but this needs differentiating from say Pittsburgh, PA that also bills itself as a great family community city – it has a huge high school, so you could say: California's Family Friendliest City
I believe Stanford has better Culture than Menlo Park, so I don't think it's the Culture and Style Capital – you might say The Peninsula's Spiritual Center – given there are spiritual places, like Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, the Vatican Radio, Fuller Theological Seminary Extension and the LDS (Mormon) library and various other places of faith and classes for meditation.
America's Ideal Lifestyle City – put at number 2. This can be substantiated with the variety of terrain – from hills to baylands, from golf course to tennis courts, from public pool to gym, etc. So you go from World-America-CA-Peninsula.

I believe that Silicon Valley is the wrong geography for Menlo Park, that it will become dated and that it actually is off-putting to many of the Country Clubbers and others in Menlo Park.

Theoretically a City has a Cathedral, so you could replace the word City with Town, but if you want the place to be noticed on the map, then its better to call is a City.

I totally agree with you about closing Santa Cruz Avenue. If the town won't go for it then put bollards that come up during the day and go down at night as in central Manchester so people can drive through at night.

There needs to be a 25-year plan on bike lanes – real bike paths too – so people can be completely isolated from traffic. Also bike boulevards (e.g. Lemon Street).

I do believe you can make Menlo Park a hip city, with minimalist design, Apple-like. However, I do believe the values are conservative and should be promoted, as a benefit.

Angela Hey Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 7:04 PM PT

Maybe we should just make it simple and turn it into the Menlo Park – America's Most Walkable City – just as Portland is known for biking, Menlo Park can be known for walking. Today as part of moving-planet.org I had a bike round Redwood City, which has put money into bike lanes and bike parking (see El Camino just north of the Joke shop for example, where it is narrowed and bike racks have been put there). The leader of our walk, environmental activist Gladwyn d’Souza, told us how the Peninsula Cities built in the days of the train used to be walkable, then in the 1920s speed took over and people wanted to make traffic move fast through their towns.

Angela Hey Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 7:09 PM PT

Angela,

I don’t like AT ALL the positioning of the Venture Capital city. I am in favor of entrepreneurs, not VCs. I believe in a world where entrepreneurship is about customers, revenues, and profits. Financing is optional. Hence, making the city in which I live champion venture capital and not entrepreneurship would be entirely counter to my value system. I think, there are some wonderful things happening in the world of entrepreneurship – the lean, capital efficient startup movement in particular – that is gradually freeing entrepreneurship – Silicon Valley entrepreneurship – from the clutches of VCs. That is an absolutely welcome trend, and your ideas flow in the opposite direction to that trend, and I don’t agree with them ONE BIT.

Also, you are stuck at what the present is, while the exercise we’re going through here is about the future. Stanford today has better culture. By the time we’re done with this exercise, why do you assume that Menlo Park would stand still and make no progress? That renders this whole visioning exercise irrelevant and pointless. The whole effort is about making this a superior destination in terms of food, style, culture, and entrepreneurship by thinking of a different, futuristic vision.

The values are conservative because of a certain population that lives here today. A large part of that population is aging, and if we design a city of the future to the taste of its geriatric residents, then the city would be dead in a decade.

That, I am afraid, is not the intent of those of us who will, likely, live here a bit longer.

Finally, while we want a walkable and bikable city, I don’t think we want a city closed to people from other towns. That means, parking provisions are needed.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 7:24 PM PT

This is simply not exciting or interesting to me as a vision and I don’t think it has the power to capture the imagination of a population.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 7:31 PM PT

With an aging population you may be surprised at who is interested in a more conservative vision – we will see!

Angela Hey Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 9:09 PM PT

The aging population IS interested in a conservative vision, no doubt. In fact, left up to them, NO change is the best path forward. The question is whether a city should build its future in tune with an aging population, or plan for a future such that it can attract younger people, revenues to provide services, etc. The introduction of Facebook into the picture dramatically changes the tax potential, and if the city misses this opportunity, it has a bleak future ahead.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 10:22 PM PT

There are many successful models within the Bay Area alone that are effectively reviving and bringing new meaning and strength to cultures once in decline. I'd really recommend looking at some of the murmurlait and first Friday of the month parties that happen regularly all over San Francisco and the East Bay. These events are a proven model to bring young artists, artisans, musicians, chefs, and community members together to share and build culture.

Bernardo Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 11:43 AM PT

Yes, and as a matter of fact, Stanford's resources can be leveraged to curate culture – whether it is Jazz or Theater or Photography, Stanford has a strong Liberal Arts program, with experts who can help curate some events.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 12:01 PM PT

Hi Sramana, Why do you think Facebook changes the tax revenue potential? Maybe there is some point I am missing, Since Facebook does not sell merchandise, the city will not be getting sales taxes from this business. What we can hope for is overall economic help for the city, jobs for residents, if Facebook employees go off their campus they might generate revenue for the nearby businesses. Of course if there is a housing boom in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven for the Facebook employees that could be good. The Facebook campus is not as close to downtown Menlo Park as it is to areas east of 101, so perhaps if Facebook revitalizes this part of the city, which I think has potential, the region overall will benefit. Menlo Park has several business areas, we have just been focusing on the downtown recently because of the Specific plan.

rrorapaugh Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 5:35 PM PT

Hi Angela,

I think this is a great vision, I often see Menlo Park as a garden like city and it is very walkable already. The trees really help this, and if you notice the cool dogs being walked around, it is fun.
I wouldn't want to see Santa Cruz blocked off right away, the car traffic has to be worked out first. People will always drive cars. Also, sometimes reality checks need to be made. I read a report once where a consultant claimed that the multiple parking plazas in Menlo Park discourage walking because people drive from plaza to plaza. This just isn't true, we walk from plaza to plaza, through the plazas, stand in the middle of one plaza and wave to friends in the other plaza. Only when we need to (say someone is really frail or when buying groceries) do people repark from one plaza to another.
I really would like the plazas to be have more greenery, like paving stones that allow grass or succulents to grow between them, so that they are even more fun to walk through. There are already beautifu trees in the plazas.

rrorapaugh Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 5:47 PM PT

There are many facets of the Facebook effect, let me try to explain them separately:

(1) Property Taxes that Facebook itself will be paying

(2) Enhanced employment would lead to enhanced income, and hence enhanced consumption, but that would require we retain the consumption locally, and don't let it fly away to San Francisco.

(3) Some of the Facebook families will be buying houses and settling in Menlo Park, again, only if we make the city attractive for young professionals and families to want to live here. That would mean further property taxes and additional consumption, locally.

(4) Facebook's impending IPO will generate numerous angel investors and new entrepreneurs. If Menlo Park downtown can become a hub for incubators and live-work spaces with a specifically 'attractive for entrepreneurs' ambience and energy, then the commercial property taxes, investment, income, everything will snowball into enhanced revenues for the city and the community.

(5) The downtown merchants, if there is dramatically enhanced foot traffic in the city, would benefit from the associated consumption, and there will be sales tax increases because of that.

Facebook, by 2015, plans to hire 9000 people. That creates a very strong potential for the city, in my opinion, to build a thriving, living, breathing 'capital' here.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 5:55 PM PT

I think making the plazas and public spaces more green and more beautiful is very doable, and should be part of the plan. And I agree, people do not drive from plaza to plaza. They walk.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 5:58 PM PT

Sramana,
I can see where you are heading, but I believe that there are so many older and conservative people in Menlo Park that it could well be positioned as the Retirement Center for Silicon Valley.

I know this is totally contrary to your vision, which I hope you can pull it off because there is some good culture already emerging – for example Music@Menlo.

A vision has to be not only embraced by the community, but it has to be credible and feasible. Given the vibrance of Mountain View and Palo Alto, I really see Menlo Park as very different culturally, even with Facebook moving to East Menlo. After all, at one time Sun Microsysems, was a young company in East Menlo and that did not change Menlo Park's family-oriented culture. What might make a difference this time is the latest East Menlo, menlogateway.com, Bohannon expansion – but I remember when Bohannon built at Marsh Road and 101 and Informix moved in, and that was supposed to be a great office complex for the town.

Even though there are many people like yourself in Menlo Park with terrific vision, which I myself like, knowing the family-oriented culture of Menlo Park and competition from surrounding towns like Palo Alto and San Francisco, I just don't think the vision will fly as it is, even though neighborhoods change significantly over time. So a big 25-year vision is vital, a positioning that puts the town as a unique leader is great, but it has to accommodate 21st century challenges such as: how do we make a town pedestrian and bike-friendly when oil prices are higher? how do we leverage and integrate new forms of transportation from faster trains to flying skateboards? how do we gain full employment by attracting and supporting entrepreneurship? what kinds of culture does the city need to focus on, given Stanford is building a new arts complex,and the former Park Theater is wasted space? do the planning laws allow multigenerational dwellings – like guest houses on small plots for grandma or returning children? what kind of food-related places are innovative for families – downtown picnic areas, open-air activity areas, affordable healthy food (note Fresh Choice didn't survive in Menlo Park)? what activities do youth like that build a healthy community? how do the poorer families in the town get richer?

I know people who have retired from Atherton to Menlo Park and I see it as more of a retirement community for years to come. I know one retirement home was pulled down on Sand Hill, but there are still some like on Glenwood. The Little House and Rosener House for Adult Day Services, as well as the Veterans Affairs facility, are all part of Menlo Park's culture. You cannot ignore the trend of an aging population.

I wish you really well in your plans as I hope they get embraced, but I like visions that are credible and feasible and I am interested in a project plan that can be implemented by stakeholders – builders, entrepreneurs, artists, faith-based organizations etc. There needs to be a clear vision, then clear goals and execution. The city can facilitate, but ultimately, the city's role is to do what the private sector cannot accomplish by itself. As in the case of Santana Row, the biggest change will come when private developers with community participation are attracted to Menlo Park because it is a fair and easy city to deal with.

Angela Hey Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 5:06 PM PT

Maybe a positioning that plays on the word PARK in Menlo Park would help crystallize the vision.

Angela Hey Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 5:23 PM PT

Angela,

There is a clear tension right now between the city’s current aging residents, the direction they want to go in, versus the younger people who live here, as well as the Facebook population that is going to move in. There is also a very big difference between the Sun employee-base of a decade back, and today’s Internet company crowd. The latter is far more sophisticated with very different expectations about the lifestyle and amenities. The old Silicon Valley was far more geeky. The new Silicon Valley cares about restaurants, ambience and culture much more. Hence the need for change.

You are absolutely right, the final direction will depend on where investors and developers would like to take it. And the City can and should work with those developers, setting the tone in the RFPs of what kind of a future we want here. I can assure you, developers would not be interested in supporting the retirement community positioning.

So, if the city wants investment, it would need to go in the direction of attracting youth, entrepreneurship, creating rental housing, incubator space, and density in downtown.

I believe, the city council understands this. However, they have not succeeded so far in getting the minimum zoning change passed due to the friction with the older community of residents.

This is the first time, there is any significant voice of the younger population in favor of change.

So far, the older population has obstructed change in a very systematic way.

As far as visions being credible or not – we have the luxury of living in Silicon Valley, where seemingly incredible visions get realized everyday. With your help, we will get the Menlo Park Renaissance vision realized as well.

Sramana Mitra Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 7:47 AM PT

See Boulder, CO on Google Earth which has a closed main street. If you made Menlo Park like Boulder you would
(a) Make Santa Cruz from University to El Camino a pedestrian precinct
(b) Make Oak Grove 1-way from El Camino to University and put bike/stroller path on it
(c) Make Menlo Avenue 1-way from University to El Camino and put bike/stroller path on it

It may seem awkward to get around and maybe you'd need to open up a little of Santa Cruz because the cross-streets are offset, but that's one way to attract pedestrians.

amhey Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 1:51 PM PT

I am a Menlo Park resident and I am really sad when I see Santa Cruz all closed down and empty after 9pm. I also noticed several retail spaces looking for tenants. One could blame the morose economic activity but neighboring Palo Alto no longer shows vacancy.

Downtown Menlo Park has so much potential to welcome a new generation of entrepreneurs as facebook is moving in. These are not the ones making noise after hours, these are the creators of innovation. Menlo Park could be the place where they meet, brainstorm, form teams and build their businesses. They need spaces to work, eat and live to do so, Menlo Park I am sure can provide this.

Bruno Posokhow Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 4:11 PM PT

Perfectly put, Bruno. There is no recession in Silicon Valley right now. Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Francisco are all booming with entrepreneurial activity and great energy. Menlo Park is lagging behind not because of a recession, but because of lack of leadership and imagination. There is no doubt that this can be changed.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 9:14 AM PT
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