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Transportation Commission Approves Of Downtown Plan

Commissioners vote in favor of the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, but share a letter detailing their concerns with City Council.

The Menlo Park Transportation Commission voted 3-1 Thursday night to recommend that the and Planning Commission approve the proposed .

Commissioners Robert Cronin, Maurice Shiu and Katherine Strehl voted in favor of the plan, while Vice Chair Charlie Bourne dissented.

Chairwoman Penelope Huang and Commissioner Raymond Mueller recused themselves from voting due to conflict of interest; Commissioner Martin Engel was absent.

Although they approved the recommendation, commissioners also worked together to draft a letter addressing their concerns regarding transportation that will be forwarded to the Planning Commission and City Council.

Commissioners agreed that the plan must provide adequate amounts of housing and parking, and that consideration should be given to whether El Camino Real could be expanded to six lanes through Menlo Park, as well as a variety of other transportation related issues that need to be addressed before the plan is finalized.

Commissioner Bourne, the sole dissenting vote, was ardently opposed to the plan.

"I do not think this project should go forward," Bourne said.

He expressed a variety of concerns about the proposed amendments to downtown, primarily surrounding the issue of . He said he feared that the plan would impede on the parking provided by local businesses in the downtown area, where availability is .

He noted that the plan proposes to build parking structures in an effort to compensate for the amount of spaces lost due to reworking downtown. Bourne said that the new lots should be built before the existing spaces are removed, in order to ensure that a consistent level of parking is provided downtown throughout the construction process.

Bourne also expressed concerns regarding whether it would be possible to collect the more than $20 million needed in up front money to build the parking structures before any redevelopment of downtown began.

He said the plan does not account for the influx of traffic that Menlo Park will likely incur as its headquarters into city limits, and the expands in neighboring Palo Alto.

Commissioner Shiu also noted that considering the possibility of expanding the segment of El Camino Real through Menlo Park from four lanes across to six lanes may also ease some of the traffic flow.

He said that though only four lanes of traffic on El Camino Real may help add to the small town appeal of Menlo Park, he questioned the logic of it.

Shiu noted that both Atherton and Palo Alto allow six lanes of traffic on El Camino Real, and the four lanes in between in Menlo Park may cause an unnecessary for drivers.

Shiu suggested that the city may be able to acquire the space necessary to expand from four to six lanes by trading developers the right to build higher density housing, in exchange for turning the title to land along El Camino Real over to the city.

Both commissioners Strehl and Shiu agreed that should the plan ultimately be approved for implementation, it should consider what Menlo Park will look like 25 years from now.

Shiu said the decision makers must try to imagine what the children entering grade school now will want in two decades when they are ready to consider living in Menlo Park as adults. And Strehl said the plan should include accommodations for the adults who will be seniors by the time the redevelopment of downtown is complete.

"With the specific plan we can have a vision of whatever we want," said Shiu.

The is slated to discuss the downtown specific plan Monday, and City Council will likely address it August 30.

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