Menlo College wants to buy, preserve Sunset campus

College needs room for more students

Menlo College is exploring buying the Sunset Magazine property in Menlo Park and using the existing buildings as an additional campus for the school, according to college President Rich Moran.

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller, who met with Moran on Wednesday, Nov. 19, said the plan could be a win for the city and the college, which is located in Atherton off El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue right next door to Menlo Park. "I think it's a promising idea," he said.

President Moran said the college, which this year reached an enrollment cap set by the town of Atherton, is interested in expanding. When he read that Time Inc. wanted to sell the Sunset magazine Willow Road property, "I thought it might be an opportunity for the college to expand on that beautiful campus," he said.

The property is attractive to the college not only because it is only 2 miles away from the existing campus. The Sunset buildings are also architecturally similar to Menlo College's buildings, Moran noted. Not only would Menlo College want to use the existing buildings on the 7-acre property, "we would be interested in keeping the actual Sunset magazine in there," he said. The college is also interested in preserving the annual Sunset festival, he added.

"It's a compelling idea right now and a way to preserve iconic architecture, and to let a small college that's bursting, expand," Moran said.

Mayor Mueller said that a number of details remain to be worked out. "If this works, I couldn't be more happy," he said. "I think Sunset magazine is one of those legacy businesses in town that our residents identify with."

Among the details to be worked out is a rather large one -- as of late Wednesday, Nov. 19, Moran said the college hadn't yet been able to talk to Time Inc. "We're trying to reach them now," he said.

Moran said he realizes the property will be expensive. "It would require creative financing or giving in order to make this happen," he said. However, he added, "it's an idea with enough merit that if smart people get in the room together, it might happen."

Mueller acknowledged that Menlo Park might be able to get more revenue from some other use of the property. "Our job as public servants is not to maximize tax revenues," he said. "I think it's a trade-off that people are willing to take."

The existing Sunset magazine campus is, Mayor Mueller said, "a vital part of our spirit and ecosystem."

However, the mayor acknowledged, there are other possible acceptable uses for the property. "I want this to work out with Menlo College, but if it doesn't that isn't the end of the line," he said.

Jim Irizarry of the San Mateo County assessor's office said nonprofit educational institutions can apply for an exemption from property taxes and that Menlo College current has such an exemption for its Atherton property.

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15 people like this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 21, 2014 at 10:35 am

What a good innovative idea. SO much better than another faceless office building where the tenants change every few years.

8 people like this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Please remember Sunset's roots. This was the railroad 'brochure' left for the Southern Pacific patrons who en-trained the Sunset Limited in SF and de-trained the same train in New Orleans, with stops all along the way including Los Angeles. The first year that this train became fully air conditioned and totally vestibuled was
1898. If I remember correctly.

Those Lane brothers are to be commended for their great love of their mid-Peninsula home!

8 people like this
Posted by Thanks for saving the Beauty
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 7:31 pm

What? No ugly underparked characterless blocky giant high-density out-of-character monstrosities?

Oh, right, it's not in Palo Alto.

3 people like this
Posted by Look-At-The-Big-Picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:44 pm

According to the San Mateo Assessor’s Office, the current assessed value of the Sunset/Time campus is about $142M. If the property is sold to a party other than Menlo College—then the property assessment could be as much as $200M. Over the next twenty years, the property taxes on this land could be as much as $50M, or more. Over the next forty years, the taxes generated could be as much as $100M.

If Menlo College were to buy this property, in addition to their not contributing to the tax base—they would doubtless require some City/County services, which others would have to pay in their stead.

It’s not clear that Menlo College would be the best owner of this property, from a total picture point-of-view.

1 person likes this
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm

The traffic now on Willow Rd is gridlocked. Downtown PA continues to build and Willow Road and neighboring Menlo Park streets are paying the price. Now lets add a school in the mix at the corner of Middlefield and Willow. I live in Menlo Park a ten minute walk to downtown PA and it took me 15 minutes to DRIVE home the other day from a meeting downtown. Does anyone care about the traffic? Everyone seems more worried about the parking.

2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm


Sounds to me like you could have saved yourself 5 minutes had you chosen to walk instead. I'm not saying anyone should be forced to walk or anything like that, but its pretty foolish to think that anything a city council or government entity can do will make traffic any better. The best idea is to find solutions that work for you, after all, you're 100% in charge of yourself.

3 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2014 at 9:39 pm

@Look-At-The-Big-Picture - the bigger picture is that maximizing tax revenue isn't the most important goal.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2014 at 9:44 pm

@Robert - Even if government can't improve traffic (I totally disagree), it is indisputable that government can make traffic worse with ill advised development. So let's at least do no harm here.

1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Okay? I think you missed my point, regardless of what the government can or will do, or the outcome of any of these traffic or development debates, the poster above will still be able to get downtown by a 10 minute walk.

Like this comment
Posted by Look-At-The-Big-Bucks-Picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2014 at 1:04 pm

The name says it all.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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