Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents living near San Francisquito Creek say a proposed bar at an exclusive club for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs should not be allowed because it is too close to their homes.
BootUp Ventures, the master tenant at the office building at 68 Willow Road in Menlo Park, and its sub-tenant, the Cuckoo's Nest club, are asking the City of Menlo Park to grant a use permit to sell wine, beer and spirits and to allow recreational and social events.
But residents say the buildings, zoned as office space, are not meant for a bar and clubhouse. They are concerned about traffic, noise and parking -- and the precedent that would be set by granting the permit.
The Cuckoo's Nest name pays homage to the Ken Kesey novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," (Kesey was part of a CIA-funded study on LSD at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital), according to its website. The company bills itself as a private membership club that brings together startups and a select group of international and local CEOs and investors who want to enjoy each other's company and collaborate.
Marco ten Vaanholt, co-founder and managing partner of BootUp and Cuckoo, said the club has been in the building for two years and has already hosted more than 100 events, using temporary alcohol-service permits, with no complaints.
When BootUp took over the former Willow Garage space in 2014, the company inherited the original use-occupancy permit, which contained both an office and food-service facility. They turned the food-service operation into a private club to expand socializing between investors, CEOs and startups and with the hope of adding alcohol on a permanent basis.
The private, selective membership helps offset operating costs, ten Vaanholt said.
The club has an inside dining and bar area with seating for 60 and an outside deck and garden with a capacity for 68 persons, according to the use application. Membership is limited to 900 persons, of which 30 percent are international and visit during various times of the year; another 30 percent are from the greater Bay Area, and the remaining 40 percent are from Peninsula counties. Members are restricted to qualified CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs, sponsors and BootUp tenants and their guests.
The club currently serves breakfast, lunch, small-plate snacks and dinner. Its programs include startup-product presentations, private investor presentations and educational seminars. Cocktail receptions are usually from 6-9 p.m.; evening events and dinners last until 10 p.m., according to the application.
There's parking for 66 vehicles, and additional parking for 70 is located at the adjacent SRI building. Tenants are generally not on site during the evenings, and many who attend events use Uber and Lyft, the application states.
Ten Vaanholt said that the club streams modern lounge music inside the venue but not outside. On occasion, solo or chamber music performances may take place in the early evening, but most occur inside the building.
But residents living near the club said that their experience has been quite different since the club opened in late 2014. A Palo Alto resident whose home is situated across the creek said his family frequently hears noise from the club's patio.
"The sound carries very well and clearly to our area, and we can hear the murmur of the conversations and even the clicking of glasses or plates. The Cuckoo's Nest club also uses amplification during the events, something that is forbidden in many cities across the Bay Area," he said. "This makes their events unbearable and truly disruptive, especially in such a quiet residential area. One of their last events featured a comedian that resorted to vulgar and crude humor that we certainly did not appreciate."
He said he is completely opposed to granting the club an alcohol permit. What's more, he and his family wish the club would move to a more suitable area.
"A quiet residential neighborhood is no place for a party club," he said.
Anne Meyer, another Palo Alto resident, agreed. But she wants the City of Menlo Park and Cuckoo's Nest to establish a plan for how noise will be controlled and a clear procedure for residents to contact officials and the club if there are disturbances.
She has heard loud music coming from the 68 Willow building before, although she doesn't know if the Nest was there at the time. What irked her was that she was ignored when she asked people at the building to turn their amplified music down. Calls to the Menlo Park police did nothing, she said.
She questioned the Cuckoo's Nest statement in a letter to city officials that it plans to have a "quiet, convenient environment," she said.
But Meyer admitted she has not been subjected to repeated disturbances thus far.
"I may be beating my feathers for nothing," she said during a recent stroll along the creek.
Menlo Park residents said they are also concerned about the noise, traffic and parking. Allowing Cuckoo's Nest to sell alcohol and have evening events would set a bad precedent, JoAnne Goldberg said.
One reason the office and residential mix of buildings works in her neighborhood is because they are complementary uses. Employees leave at 5 or 6 p.m.
"Evening should be quiet time. (Businesses) shouldn't be having drinking and amplified music," she said.
Another Menlo Park resident who lives nearby said that about two weeks ago, the streets were lined with vehicles during a Cuckoo event. She expressed concerned about traffic, since many families have young children.
Ten Vaanholt said that excessive alcohol consumption is uncommon in private clubs, where decorum is valued, particularly among the CEOs and entrepreneurs who have reputations to protect. Staff are also trained to stem members' over-consumption, he said.
A year ago, there were problems with trespassers who noisily partied on the property on a Saturday afternoon, he added. The tenant's managing partners called the police to remove those people, he said.
Cuckoo's Nest reached out to residents and businesses within 500 feet of the facility, but city staff told the company it was not necessary to contact Palo Alto residents, ten Vaanholt said. But after Palo Altans wrote letters of concern, the company has scheduled a barbecue on Sunday, April 24, 3-7 p.m. for nearby Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents who would like to see the operation first-hand and to ask any questions, he said.
For noise and other complaints, staff is on site until closing and can address any issues, he said. The co-founders and managing partners are also Menlo Park and Palo Alto residents who are reachable by phone, he said.
"We welcome feedback from our neighbors as they are important, and we are trying to build an ecosystem that can help drive innovation as well as business, but jointly with them," he said.
Menlo Park Senior Planner Kyle Perata said that an initial public-comment period about the application will take place through April 29, after which staff will put together a report. There will be public hearings and a hearing before the Planning Commission prior to any decision on the application.