Menlo Park's Future


Residential Building Guidelines in Menlo Park: For Whom?

Fellow Residents,

The following article in the July 16 Palo Alto Daily News alarms me, so I digress from “pure” budget issues to talk about it.

{Menlo Park Councilmember}Cohen has expressed an interest in making the planning and approval process easier for homeowners. He wants to complete a 50-70 page design manual to help guide applicants of remodeling or new construction projects. Such a guide can save customers money and time and reduce the amount of designing the city council and planning commission do from the dais, he said.

I don’t believe the reporter had much knowledge of our residential zoning process or the last sentence of this report would not have gone unchallenged.

Why?  Because right now without any tinkering, 50% of the property owners in Menlo Park do not have to go the Planning Commission—or to the City Council-- for their construction projects, if they stay within the zoning rules already in place. And most accept those rules. Remodeling or rebuilding is straight forward for them, as it should be.

I’m concerned because,

·        Knowing the history of our City’s “residential zoning wars”, my bet is that Mayor Cohen will be significantly changing residential remodeling rules by increasing—not decreasing—the review process and the cost and hassle to homeowners on these lots.  

·        There is a budget component to this -- more rules and regulations for more potential home projects will necessitate the hiring of more planning staff.  More staff equals more short and long term employee costs.

So what should our City leadership be spending time and our tax money on?

·        What is desperately needed are realistic rules that would allow, indeed encourage, homeowners to build and remodel on the other 50% of our city’s residential lots, the so-called “substandard lots” (which are realistically-speaking less than 7,000 square feet and many other lots as well).

·        Residents living on these smaller lots currently have to get Planning Commission approval for whatever they want to build; it costs them a huge amount of time and dollars for approval; and it discourages them from upgrading their homes, many of which are old and not up to current electric or fire code. (The substandard lots are mostly found east of Middlefield Ave.)

·        If Mayor Cohen focuses exclusively on helping these homeowners realistically avoid Planning Commission review, I’ll be delighted. But I won’t count on it.

So, I will be watching for the 50-to-70 page promised “design-guideline” document that will benefit “customers” and “families” who want to improve their properties. And see if, indeed, the Mayor follows through with his promise of saving residents’ time and money (and I hope could possibly lead to less planning staff) when they attempt to remodel their homes.

In closing, I apologize that this email is only based on some reliable “scuttlebutt”.  But, because the Mayor’s committee charged with writing up these new rules is doing so in secret, out of the public eye, I have not been able to ascertain more concrete information.  I don’t even know, for sure, who the Mayor has unilaterally appointed to this group.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting,

Lee Duboc

 P.S.   Just an FYI, there is a City Council election this fall.  Two council seats will be determined.  Right now, only the incumbents have filed. If there are no other filers by August 8th, there will be no council election and the incumbents will simply be, in essence, “reappointed”.