Letters to the Council: Strengthening the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan

March 11, 2019

Re: El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Review

Honorable Council Members,

Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and Peninsula residents who envision a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable.

We are glad to see the review of the downtown plan come forward, since the downtown area can help further these goals for Menlo Park:

  • Adding more housing at a variety of income levels to address the housing crisis
  • Improving jobs/housing balance and fit for Menlo Park
  • Reducing solo driving while making downtown easier to access
  • Eliminating carbon emissions from new buildings
  • Making zero displacement a priority in new development

Following are recommendations for the Downtown Plan review to achieve these goals:

More housing. Allow and encourage more housing in the downtown plan area, by identifying and reducing barriers including height limits, parking requirements, density and other zoning parameters.

Affordable housing.  Prioritize public land to be used for affordable housing – including current parking plazas.  Consider examples in San Mateo and Burlingame where parking lots have been redeveloped with affordable housing and public parking.

Improve jobs/housing balance and fit.  Publish data on the jobs housing ratio (in total and net new development) in the Downtown Plan area and Citywide, considering availability of housing for workers at all income levels, and use the information to make decisions about developments and policies to improve and not worsen the imbalance.

Parking and access. Improve management of current parking, advance transportation demand management including for low-income workers, and improve safety and comfort for people walking and bicycling downtown.   Set a goal to reduce solo driving rate to 50%.

Shared parking. Reduce parking requirements for new buildings, and make use of shared parking to facilitate development of smaller parcels that don’t have enough room for full onsite parking. Council has already decided to pursue ways to improve access and make parking more efficient; that assessment should help determine whether new garage space would be needed.

Reduce carbon emissions.  Adopt ConnectMenlo building standards and require all-electric buildings.

Eliminating displacement.  In prior Downtown Plan reviews, some Council Members suggested enabling more housing by adding blocks with existing housing into the plan area and increasing allowable zoning. Implement policies that would prevent displacement of residents.

Community character.  Support diversity in age, income, ethnicity.  Work collaboratively with school district to address school system needs.

Menlo Together is eager to retain and improve a vibrant downtown where people continue to live, work, and play, with a comfortable environment for people to walk, socialize and shop.

Since the Downtown Specific Plan was approved in 2012 based on community input from 2007 and earlier,  and since ConnectMenlo was approved in 2016, the housing affordability crisis around the region has worsened, displacement has increased, commute traffic has increased and Menlo Park has contributed to the crisis by adding more jobs than homes.

Since the Downtown Plan was finalized we believe that more residents are concerned about housing affordability, maintaining the diversity of the community and protecting our neighbors from displacement, and will be willing to make changes to achieve those goals.

During the ConnectMenlo process, the city recognized the value of housing near jobs and enabled taller housing/mixed-use buildings in the Bayfront area near Belle Haven. There is also great value for housing near existing regional transit and services, so the height and density in the Downtown Plan and ConnectMenlo areas should be applied with equity.

Thank you very much for your consideration,

Adina Levin
Angela Evans
Diane Bailey
Jen Wolosin
Karen Grove
Pamela Jones
Rachel Horst

Menlo Together https://menlotogether.org

Setting the Tone for 2019: City Council Goal Setting update and next steps

Thanks to everyone who sent comments regarding the City Council goal-setting. Menlo Together Core Team members attended, commented, and reported. Here are updates on the outcomes of the February 2 meeting and the next steps to address the issues that matter to you, including housing, transportation, and sustainability. Priority-setting is coming back to Council on February 26 for final review.

The Council prioritized the consideration of a Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance in response to rampant displacement of Menlo Park residents. For more updates on next steps, click here. Unfortunately, the Council did not advance Just Cause Eviction as a priority.

Though not a priority at this time, the Council directed the Housing Commission to proactively identify public and surplus land and funding resources for transit-oriented, affordable housing.

The Council did not advance a proposal for a quarterly report on jobs/housing balance available to the public via the city website. The ConnectMenlo General Plan is coming back to Council for review in March, and that is a good time to demand reporting on this information.

The Council requested that the Complete Streets Advisory Committee make recommendations for a robust bicycle and pedestrian network. They also recommended that the city explore participation in a regional transportation management association that would recommend and implement traffic mitigation strategies.

The Council requested that the Environmental Quality Commission make recommendations for an ordinance to adopt the CalGreen Reach Codes for 2019. This would include cost effective energy efficiency and carbon-free energy standards (encouraging pollution free, all electric new construction) that surpass those mandated by law. Council also recommended to extend the Bayfront neighborhood green building (zoning) codes to the El Camino Real corridor and downtown specific plan subject areas.

However, the Council did not give a deadline and the item is time-sensitive. Council would need to make a decision this year for Menlo Park to be one of 32 cities piloting this climate-friendly policy.  

Menlo Park Council seeks 3-street solution for Caltrain grade separation

Thanks to the numerous residents who submitted public comments in favor of 3-street solution on January 15. The Menlo Park City Council, with three newly elected members, reversed its previous preference regarding how to grade-separate the Caltrain tracks from local streets. That is, to allow pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists to pass under the railroad tracks safely while reducing traffic and associated vehicle emissions.

The previous council favored an option separating only one street, Ravenswood, with an underpass. On January 15, in a study session, the four council members present preferred to separate three streets (Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood) with a hybrid/berm, similar to the design in Belmont and San Carlos.

For more detail and next steps, read the original post by Friends of Caltrain on the Green Caltrain blog.

Menlo Together 2019 Priorities

Menlo Together Policy Priority Areas 2019

Every year, the Menlo Park City Council discusses and sets its priorities for the coming year. Below are the priorities that we will recommend to the Council.


Protect vulnerable Menlo Park residents from displacement and keep our communities intact.

  • Adopt the Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance, as proposed by the Housing Commission.
  • Dedicate resources specifically to supporting landlords and tenants in proportion to the 42% of Menlo Park residents who rent.
  • Direct the Housing Commission to study a Just Cause Eviction ordinance.

Reduce the jobs/housing imbalance.

  • Direct staff to proactively approach affordable housing development, including identifying sites and funding, near transit and services. Include available public and surplus land in this effort.
  • Increase height limits and ease parking requirements as appropriate for new housing developments located near transit.
  • Direct staff to report quarterly on the jobs/housing balance; include developments that have been approved, entitled, and occupied. Make these reports publicly available on the city’s website.


Accelerate Carbon Reductions.

  • Adopt a policy requiring all new buildings be Zero Carbon and Fossil Free. Build on recommendations of Environmental Quality Commission (EQC), e.g. adoption of CalGreen reach codes in 2019 building code update and expansion of Bayfront green building standards to other zones (El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan).
  • Adopt a new Climate Action Plan (CAP), as recommended by EQC. Include a more comprehensive assessment of carbon pollution from transportation (e.g. including in-commuting and upstream emissions) and mitigation and resilience measures.


Establish a city-wide bike and pedestrian network that is safe for 8-80 year olds.

  • Direct staff and Complete Streets Commission to recommend the top two priority projects and build them. Examples may include: connecting Belle Haven to Burgess, and/or Burgess to Hillview.
  • Direct the Complete Streets Commission to study and formulate citywide road standards to improve safety and calm traffic.
  • Create a full-time staff position for bike and pedestrian safety.

Improve access to downtown and reduce solo driving mode share to 50%.

  • Direct staff to study/adopt policies on parking management, and to consider other access improvements such as improved shuttle or innovative mobility options.
  • Implement a city-wide Transportation Management Association (TMA) with geographic operating areas by end of 2019.