Your editorial June 8 on stubborn Harold Hohbach and his project is accurate. The letter from Hohbach's handyman Marcus Wood is full of errors. My lawsuit wasn't baseless, the court agreed to void the project and required Palo Alto to demonstrate by August 2008 that any future project complies with CEQA. Never happened. The monstrosity currently before the Council, which the Planning Commission rejected, is almost identical to the 2006 proposal that was approved 5-4 by a very different City Council.
The need for identified substantial changes has been stated by the public, ARB, Planning Commissioners and councilmembers. Hohbach was unresponsive and uncooperative to these requests, insisting on minimal changes and evasive responses.
Delays in resolving problems with the project are entirely due to Hohbach's repeated refusals to comply with requests for project clarifications and modifications. He proposed converting the rentals to condos, claiming that was always his preference, but the letter supporting his claim that supposedly was sent to the ARB actually wasn't sent until years later, as verified by Commissioner Wasserman. When councilmembers who voted for the project because all housing was rentals expressed dismay at the switch to condos, the request was withdrawn. The latest delays were due to Hohbach himself asking the City Council three times to postpone hearings on the project.
Council requested four specific modifications to the project. If all of them aren't provided the Council must vote to deny approval or their authority and valid development requirements will be successfully flaunted.
Courage for HSR
I think it is sad that Larry Klein accuses legislators of a lack of courage in not opposing HSR (Weekly, June 8). I see the exact opposite. Those unwilling to embrace a better vision for the future of California are the ones lacking in courage.
Changing the status quo sometimes takes courage. Should we just continue the status quo with the auto and airplane? We desperately need alternatives to the auto and airplane. Route 101 is now up to 10 lanes. I used to think the Bay Area had a better vision for the future than car-clogged Los Angeles. Carbon dioxide is now up to 393 parts per million in our atmosphere. This is leading to atmospheric catastrophe unless we change the trajectory.
With 10 million people in the north and 20 million in the south, California needs a good north-south rail connection. All you legislators who believe in this vision please hang tough and maintain courage, for our grandchildren.
I should state my bias first: I work in venture capital and make my living by saying "Why not?" Many people have jobs making new products that benefit other people because of those two words.
I was recently an adviser for a dermatology office project on Oak Grove Avenue that was submitted to the Menlo Park Planning Commission. I have no financial connection with any of the principals. The transaction would have yielded almost a million dollars to the building owner and brought 950 new patients to downtown Menlo Park. Although both parties wanted to close, the commission rejected the project because of a 2006 agreement that the space would be used for "Personal Service." It has been empty for years because it is below grade, has no street visibility, and an uninviting entrance for retail. These conditions were demonstrated to the commission. Although the owner wants to alter his prior position, the commission refused the plan because of the paper restriction.
This inflexible decision is part of a larger problem. The Planning Commission controls land and building use in Menlo Park. The results of its work can be seen from Valparaiso Avenue to the Stanford Mall on El Camino, and from the Caltrain tracks to University Drive on Santa Cruz Avenue. No airy future plans can offset its inability to deal with the present. Based on incontrovertible evidence, the current Planning Commission is incompetent, inflexible and dilatory. The members should be thanked for their efforts, dismissed with their equally inflexible staff, and replaced with an open-minded group that can adapt Menlo Park to the economic and social realities of the present.
No Downtown Plan
Last Tuesday night, in spite of hearing many residents and merchants speak out against the Downtown Plan in person, in spite of the many emails and anguished letters to the City Council and local newspapers, in spite of the fact that these residents and merchants have raised dozens of serious issues with the city's aggressive Downtown Plan, the Menlo Park City Council rode roughshod over its constituency and passed the problem-ridden Downtown Plan. This Council will be known as the City Council that destroyed Menlo Park.
Just as the sham facilitator-led "visioning" meetings in Menlo Park came up with the same template we're seeing all over the Bay Area — Plan Bay Area/ABAG-style high-density infill building, "pedestrian-and-bicycle-friendly" hostility toward drivers (which all of us are when we're in our cars, magically transforming into pedestrians if and when we can find a parking space) — the Council meeting seemed also to have had its outcome fixed well in advance. This plan was going to move through regardless of its fiscal irresponsibility, its harm to merchants, its inconvenience to residents, its alarming traffic-congestion implications, its overburdening of our already strained schools and infrastructure, and the swell of public indignation over its multifarious indignities to our community. A plan this flawed and this contentious should at least be put before the voters as a ballot measure rather than forced down our throats by the majority of the Council, dutifully marching to city staff's drumbeat, and catering to a few developers waiting hungrily in the wings.