What Is The Menlo Park Specific Plan?

There remains a great deal of confusion

about what the Menlo Park Specific Plan is, and is not.


I was reminded of this when some residents responded negatively to my recent post “Should Menlo Park Make Santa Cruz Avenue A Pedestrian Street”. They believe I am advocating a change to the Specific Plan and said they felt this would cause big delays in its implementation. They did NOT offer any facts to support their opinions but nevertheless felt strongly about them, one even suggested I needed to read it. I agree that IS the best way to understand the Specific Plan; however, during the past nine months, I have found few people who have. I recommend that every resident who has a strong interest in the future public and private development of downtown and El Camino Real invest the time to read it. At more than a hundred pages the Specific Plan looks a bit intimidating at first but it is well-written. Just read it a section or two at a time. You can view it at the City website. I will provide a few relevant points in this post.

The Official Statement of Purpose in The Specific Plan

“The El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan establishes a framework for private and public improvements on El Camino Real, in the Caltrain station area and in downtown Menlo Park for the next several decades. The plan’s focus is on the character and extent of enhanced public spaces, the character and intensity of private infill development and circulation and connectivity improvements. It includes a strategy for implementation of public space improvements, such as wider sidewalks and plazas, and other infrastructure improvements. The overall intent of the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan is to preserve and enhance community life, character and vitality through public space improvements, mixed use infill projects sensitive to the small-town character of Menlo Park and improved connectivity. As discussed later in more detail, the Specific Plan reflects the outcome of an extensive community outreach and engagement process.

  • Encourages infill development of vacant and under-utilized lots along El Camino Real through increased intensities, coupled with strict building modulation and ground-floor setback and building profile requirements that both attenuate the mass and scale of larger buildings and create wider public sidewalks;
  • Retains the existing “village” character downtown by keeping buildings low and requiring varied building massing, including through building profile and façade modulation requirements;
  • Increases downtown activity, foot traffic and transit use through enhanced public spaces, mixed-use infill projects (including residential uses) and higher intensities of development near the commuter rail station;
  • Enhances community life through an integrated network of widened sidewalks, promenades, pocket parks and public gathering spaces; and
  • Enhances east-west connectivity across El Camino Real through crosswalk and sidewalk improvements, while accommodating north-south vehicular through-traffic, and across the railroad tracks through grade-separated pedestrian and bicycle connections.

The illustrative plan, as shown in Figure A1, depicts how the plan area could potentially build out over the next several decades in conformance with the overall planning principles and within the land use and development regulations and design guidelines contained in subsequent chapters. It is important to emphasize that the illustrative plan indicates only one potential development concept and that the actual build-out will likely vary from the initial projection.

The Brief Definition Of The Specific Plan On The City Website

“A specific plan is a comprehensive, action-oriented set of rules for a specific geographic area. For Menlo Park, the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan sets the direction for the heart of the city over the coming decades. It builds on the successful 2007-2008 Vision Plan process, which established twelve key goals. The Specific Plan defines what our community desires for its future by regulating land use and defining other aspects of possible future public and private development.

What The Specific Plan Does Not Provide

While the Specific Plan analyzes possible opportunities like more downtown parking and possible options that would conform to the comprehensive zoning regulations in the Specific Plan, it did NOT decide which public projects would be implemented.

  • So there is no public development roadmap or timetable.
  • There is no prioritization of public infrastructure improvements.
  • There is no capital or expense budget that estimates costs and potential sources of funding.
  • There is no published timetable for creating the above items. All were assumed would be addressed after the Specific Plan was finally approved (end of 2013).

Some Implications

  • The city still needs to decide which specific big ideas, e.g., parking structures merit additional evaluations so residents can buy-into them, or not.
  • Any public improvement idea that conforms to the Specific Plan can be considered worthy of evaluation by our City Council, it will decide which ones and when.
  • Our City Council welcomes resident input and has invited residents to submit their ideas by January 26 so the City Council can consider them when it set its 2015 priorities.
  • There remains a lot of hard work ahead and I hope you will support our City Council as they lead the way.

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