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No Office Caps: No Plan

From: domainremoved <Brielle>
Date: Sat, 9 Nov 2019 12:52:38 -0800

CAUTION: This email originated from outside of the organization. Unless you recognize the sender's email address and know the content is safe, DO NOT click links, open attachments or reply.

Hello Deanna
Your thoughtful response is appreciated. After reviewing the only page in ConnectMenlo Plan where you tell me the word “cap” is used, I must finally accept that there is no real cap on office in the updated General Plan nor in the 1994 General Plan. Likewise the Specific Plan has no cap on office.

Residents have been lulled into a false sense of confidence that there are limits as to how our city will grow. While most people who read the City’s planning documents, and Staff Reports have interpreted the word “cap” as a line in the sand, or a limit, or a restriction or curb, you are now clarifying what these documents actually say.

The comforting words in our planning documents such as targets, projections, triggers, thresholds, allowable and potential growth are misleading. There are no limits on growth other than available land. When the allowable non-residential growth is reached, another EIR can be conducted and under the cover of overriding considerations the Council may approve more office. This is not a plan.

I realize these permissions are beyond your authority and must be addressed to the Council Members we have voted into office. The June 2019 attempt to adopt a moratorium on office may not have met the legal requirements, but a revision of the city’s zoning rules is certainly within the Council’s authority. At minimum, discontinuing the accounting practice Staff uses to bank the sf of demolished office when new housing is built should be a start.

Thank you for your clarification. I only wish that your department, our City Manager and City Attorney would place the interests of Menlo Park residents over the business interests of developers.

Brielle Johnck

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Chow, Deanna M" <DMChow_at_(domainremoved)
Subject: RE: Is Office Capped in Connectmenlo?
Date: November 7, 2019 at 3:35:56 PM PST
To: gabrielle johnck <gabriellejohnck_at_(domainremoved)
Cc: _CCIN <city.council_at_(domainremoved)

Hi Brielle,

The answer to the question of whether there is a cap for office is nuanced. The general plan land use element broadly identifies a “cap” on nonresidential square footage in the Bayfront Area. Language regarding a “cap” appears on only one page in the land use element, page LU-11. This section regarding land use designations identifies the development potential from the 1994 general plan that is being carried forward (1.8 million nonresidential square feet citywide) plus new additional development potential “capped” at 2.3 million nonresidential square feet, all of which is in the Bayfront Area. Nonresidential square footage is inclusive of office, life science and commercial uses. There is no specific cap identified in the general plan for office, life science or commercial – only the broad category of an additional 2.3 million square feet of nonresidential development in the Bayfront Area. Therefore, the general plan land use element does not cap office development. However, to allow nonresidential development, which is inclusive of office, life science and commercial uses, to exceed an additional 2.3 million square feet over existing conditions in the Bayfront Area would require a general plan amendment, and as noted in the land use element, would require further environmental review.

The environmental impact report (EIR) for the general plan update was certified in November 2016. The EIR did not set a “cap” on development potential. The EIR identified the project as including specific amounts of office, life science and commercial square footage that make up the 2.3 million additional square feet of development potential in the Bayfront Area (see page 3-27 and Table 3-2 on page 3-29). The EIR studied the potential impacts of theses specific amounts of additional development on existing conditions. If the amounts as identified and studied in the certified EIR are exceeded, a project would be required to undergo additional environmental review (even if a general plan amendment relative to the total nonresidential square footage was not required). The EIR did not establish a cap, but a threshold to identify when more environmental review is required. It should be noted that many projects in the Bayfront Area are being required to undergo additional environmental review, even if they are within the project as defined in the certified EIR and do not require a general plan amendment, as a result of the settlement agreement with the City of East Palo Alto.

To determine whether a project’s impacts are significant, an EIR compares the impact of the project to the existing conditions, which are referred to as the baseline. The baseline normally consists of the physical conditions that exist in the area at the time the EIR process begins. For example, if you have an existing 100,000 square foot office building, that building and all the activity (such as employees driving to and from work) are part of the existing conditions. If an applicant then proposes to demolish the existing building and develop a 200,000 square foot office building, the EIR will compare the impact of a 200,000 square foot office to the existing condition that includes the 100,000 office building. In other words, it will look at the impact of the net new or additional 100,000 square feet. In the case of the certified EIR for the general plan update, it looked at 2.3 million additional nonresidential square feet beyond existing conditions. This is why when existing office square footage is demolished as part of the project, it is “credited” back because the amount of development studied in the certified EIR for the general plan was in addition to the existing square footage.

The potential impacts of the additional 2.3 million in nonresidential development on top of existing conditions (all existing square footage) is what was studied and mitigated for in the certified EIR. This crediting process is accurate even if nonresidential square footage is demolished and residential square footage is built. If the City Council desires to modify the policy direction approved with the 2016 general plan update, they may do so through legislative action by amending the general plan and/or zoning ordinance while complying with applicable State laws such as the Housing Accountability Act, SB 330, etc. However, until such time, the approach discussed above is what was anticipated by in the general plan and the certified EIR.

I hope this addresses your questions.


From: gabrielle johnck [mailto:gabriellejohnck_at_(domainremoved)
Sent: Monday, November 4, 2019 7:29 PM
To: Chow, Deanna M <DMChow_at_(domainremoved)
Cc: _CCIN <city.council_at_(domainremoved)
Subject: Re: Is Office Capped in Connectmenlo?

CAUTION: This email originated from outside of the organization. Unless you recognize the sender's email address and know the content is safe, DO NOT click links, open attachments or reply.

Thank you Deanna for your interpretation of caps in ConnectMenlo.

My Question: Is there a cap for office?

What I discovered: Staff takes the square footage of office demolished for new housing and hotel projects and places that number into the unused square footage to be distributed to the next office development application.

What’s wrong with this approach: This kind of internal accounting negates the City’s professed concern for the jobs/housing imbalance. It is a Council and community understanding that the housing deficit is not good and needs to be corrected. However, when the City’s good fortune is that an application for housing project has been filed, it makes little sense to transfer the removed office sf into a credit bank for more office. This approach is worse than treading water. Instead of the City minimizing impacts to community, we are instead adding impacts

A possible solution: Council needs to create a policy whereby housing is valued more than office and when office is demolished for housing, the amount of that sf is discarded, not added to the office allowed under the cap.

While your response did not clearly explain Staff’s accounting methods, this sentence was a hint. “The data is more refined than what was presented in 2018, which did not evaluate the existing square footage that would be credited towards the maximum development potential.”

An attachment to the March 26, 2019 Staff report shows three projects that involved the demolition of office for 2 housing projects and 1 hotel for a total of 137,211 sq. of office.

  * 111 Independence -15,100 sf
  * Menlo Uptown -108,411 sf
  * Hotel Moxy - 13,700 sf

Am I to understand that this amount extends the office cap by 137,211 sq ft. This accounting method is not mentioned in the March 26, 2019 Staff Report. Is it explained in Connectmenlo and if so, can you please give me the page number?

Brielle Johnck

On Nov 1, 2019, at 4:09 PM, Chow, Deanna M <DMChow_at_(domainremoved)

Hi Brielle,

Thank you for your patience. Hopefully, I can provide some clarity. The August 6, 2018 staff report was an information item, and as such, it did not require and the City Council did not take action or provide direction. As indicated in the staff report, the information was preliminary and staff anticipated bringing back a more detailed comprehensive discussion for Council feedback in the future. On March 26, 2019, the City Council initiated the General Plan two-year review and conducted a study session. For reference, the staff report is available at the following link: https://www.menlopark.org/DocumentCenter/View/21086/SS1-20190326-ConnectMenlo-review-CC?bidId= This report includes more detailed and updated information regarding the maximum allowable development potential. The data is more refined than what was presented in 2018, which did not evaluate the existing square footage that would be credited towards the maximum development potential. Table 2 in the March 26, 2019 staff report summarizes the proposed non-residential development square footage (at that time), and shows that it falls within the approximately 3.66 million square feet identified in the General Plan (inclusive of the reaffirmed development potential and the additional 2.3 million square feet of net new development in the Bayfront Area). The table also shows that the proposed non-residential development complies with the more refined land use square footages studied in the program EIR for the General Plan. An updated chart from August 2019 is provided in the following link: https://www.menlopark.org/DocumentCenter/View/23346/ConnectMenlo-Project-Summary-Table City staff continues to carefully monitor development applications to determine whether additional environmental review or a general plan amendment would be necessary to process any of the applications. My apologies for the delay in response. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to reach out again.



  Deanna M. Chow
  Interim Community Development Director
  City Hall - 1st Floor
  701 Laurel St.
  tel 650-330-6733
Received on Tue Nov 12 2019 - 12:53:05 PST

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