Menlo Park's Future

 

A Common Sense Approach to Business Development

Fellow Residents,

You have probably seen a few campaign flyers touting the business development “credentials” of incumbents and challenger alike. What do these accomplishments really mean to us?  While we may all appreciate GC’s Tasting Café and Studio Cake (small retailers that have recently come to town), they will not shore up our revenues. In spite of the hype, even before Telsa Motors announced retrenchment plans, the chances it would become a major revenue source for Menlo Park were slim. (This is explained below.)

Let’s understand the problem.

·         Menlo Park’s revenues are derived historically from commercial and residential property taxes and from sales tax generated by businesses.  Most of the business taxes do not come from our retail stores, i.e. on Santa Cruz Ave, but from business-to-business transactions in our business districts close to or east of 101.

·         Menlo Park has a business unfriendly reputation because we are business unfriendly.

·         Businesses cannot deal with uncertainty, or worse, “game changers” at the end of the process.  Of ALL cities in California, Menlo Park has the most complex, confusing, and arcane business permitting rules. One businessman in the business-to-business district told City Council, “You have to be brain dead to locate here!”

·         The almost completed process of reforming the codifying of the permitting rules and eliminating arduous hoops and hurdles has been thwarted by the current City Council.

·         Among the 82 items on the current Council’s priority list, none would make the City more business friendly, and ultimately increase our revenues.

·         Yet, our City’s budget shows a six (6) percent increase in spending and a one-and-one-half (1 1/2) percent increase in revenues.

Below are my suggestions, going forward, for addressing the budget imbalance by increasing revenues from our business sector. It’s not hard, especially remembering Menlo Park has an extremely desirable location.

To increase revenues:

·         Create clear rules and certain process for business people, so as to reduce the current 3 to 6 month wait down to 1 week, as other cities do.   This should be a no brainer.

·         Tax office space for non-revenue producing businesses, so we can get revenue from all businesses locating here, whether or not they produce retail sales.  By doing this, the City will get revenue from venture capital funds on Sandhill Road, and will stop discouraging the creation of offices—which bring many other benefits.

·         Diversify.  As most of us would never put all our savings into one type of investment, so should our City leadership look to attract ALL types of businesses.  Relying on our City to be the “capitol of Green industry” is risky. 

o        Telsa Motors is in a precarious downturn.  It has a temporary lease. It had a backlog of 100 cars—all of which had been sold outside of our tax-producing  area—so the likelihood that we will receive any revenue is slim. 

o        Most new green companies are unstable, and do not produce revenues for years.

o        Attracting more mature, “mainstream” businesses must be pursued.

·         Be sensitive to business interests.

o          A glaring example of business insensitivity occurred when  this Council majority allowed the creation of a child-care center in the middle of a business district, designated as “light industrial”. The Fire Chief had grave concerns about this.  And, State environmental codes may hinder the kind of legitimate businesses that are now allowed to operate in this area.

o        Increasing garbage fees, and especially increasing them disproportionately, have great impacts on certain, low-margin businesses such as restaurants.

·         Get off the out-moded idea that in addition to all the studies we require of new businesses, and the recreation fees and other disproportionately huge fees we charge, all must pay a “public benefit” for locating in Menlo Park.”

o        In one of the our country’s greenest States, Oregon, higher-density, transit-oriented, downtown developments, such as proposed along the Menlo Park’s railroad tracks and at the old Cadillac site on El Camino, are considered  public benefits  by themselves.

If you have ideas about how to increase revenues and or reduce budgets, let me hear from you at menlofuture@gmail.com.

Lee Duboc

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