When was the last time you said – or heard someone else say:
“I love to spend time in downtown Menlo Park?”
I will admit at the start to not being a fan of Menlo Park’s two central business districts. The Santa Cruz shopping district has changed very little during my 29-year residency save for the frequent turnover of small businesses and improved landscaping, and other than a few good restaurants, two excellent grocery stores, several convenience stores and the post office there isn’t much that regularly attracts my family. Like most of my neighbors and Menlo Park friends we spend our recreational time and money elsewhere. Our stretch of El Camino also lacks appeal and has been aesthetically marred by nine vacant parcels for over five years. Meanwhile, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and the Stanford Shopping Center have all evolved into vibrant centers of economic and social activity, and the once tired Redwood City downtown is enjoying a dramatic resurgence fed by both private and public investments. Until this year I had resigned myself to the idea that Menlo Park would likely remain a bedroom community with a great location, a healthy regional economy, beautiful residential neighborhoods, top-notch schools, and first-rate city services and facilities but a mediocre “downtown”. Although our community had produced a fresh vision and regulations for new commercial development “downtown” and on El Camino, a small group of dissident residents immediately launched an attack on two planned large multi-use developments and attempted to impose severe limits through a ballot initiative. This delayed further city progress for almost a year. The failure of Measure M is significant. Menlo Park voters have strongly expressed their support for the Specific Plan, hundreds of residents are energized and advocating the city move forward, and both Stanford and Greenheart are now preparing compliant proposals for development projects that could help transform both Downtown and El Camino into beautiful and vibrant hubs for shopping, dining, socializing, walking, and biking. Stanford and Greenheart will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in attractive buildings, public plazas and grounds during the next three years, and their developments will attract hundreds of young professionals as residents and thousands more as office workers and visitors. These consumers could dramatically boost the vitality of Menlo Park but only if we make our central business districts relatively inviting compared to nearby alternatives. If it remains dull and lifeless they will go elsewhere. We now have a unique opportunity, one Menlo Park cannot afford to squander. I have heard many good and practical ideas for making Menlo Park a better place to live. Some address existing problems like traffic and parking; others involve civic improvements like attractive outdoor areas for strolling, conversing and dining. However, two things must happen if we wish to re-imagine Menlo Park and make it real. First, our current city council must fully commit to leading this effort, and second, our residents must support them with their time and talent. I am personally committed to this mission and will dedicate this blog to soliciting and sharing ideas; keeping residents informed of opportunities to get involved; evaluating issues and concerns; and supporting praiseworthy private and public investments. Let’s get going now.