Menlo Park City Council

Five candidates (shown below) are competing for two seats on the Menlo Park City Council in the November 6, 2012 election. The top-two vote receivers will serve a four-year term on the City Council, beginning December 2012.

Menlo Park City Council Candidate Portraits

The following ten questions were sent to each of the candidates, and were posted on this webpage in the order they were received.

1. Should Menlo Park encourage more housing development? Why or why not? If so, what type of housing and where should new housing be constructed?

Dave Bragg: Menlo Park should encourage new housing near the Facebook campus and near the new Gateway Project. We are going to have many new jobs in our city and will need create some medium density housing. If we can build close enough to where the jobs are then these folks could walk or bike to work and add no additional cross-town commute traffic.

Kelly Fergusson: The major considerations for locating new housing in Menlo Park are:
* Proximity to transit
* Proximity to employment centers
* Impact on schools
* Senior housing / small condos needed near downtown and services

It is ideal if people can live near transit and/or where they work. We do need to be cognizant of the potential detrimental impacts of new housing. There is a particular need for “empty nester” housing choices. People that have raised their families in Menlo Park should be able to sell their single family homes to young families and move to a condo downtown. Today, Menlo Park has very limited housing choices of this nature. I am strongly opposed to zoning for housing in Open Space areas.

Ray Mueller: With the number of housing units being added to the city as a result of the new Housing Element Settlement Agreement, there is not an immediate need to add any more new housing for the foreseeable future. Thereafter, if it becomes necessary to add housing, I prefer adding transit-oriented housing to reduce the carbon footprint of development, and adding to existing density, so as not to change the character of single-family home neighborhoods in Menlo Park. I believe the city and region must lobby the legislature to change the law that imposes housing requirements on our city to make it more collaborative with local jurisdictions.

Carolyn Clarke: The city is required as part of a recent settlement on its outdated General Plan to zone for 1,900 new housing units. The Housing Commission is currently conducting public outreach to identify sites for this housing. I believe that most of the required number should be located near the Caltrain Station, the El Camino Corridor, and part of mixed-use development in the downtown area. Senior and compact units should be a significant part of the zoning package. Any under-utilized or vacant site should first be considered for a candidate for residential zoning.

Catherine Carlton: Menlo Park’s housing development is now being addressed in the Housing Element. New housing should be located in transit-oriented housing areas and near businesses. This will help minimize commuting, reducing the impact on traffic, air pollution, and Menlo Park’s carbon footprint. As new houses are developed, I would love to see more green building. We have the CalGreen Building Code and the energy efficiency ordinance, requiring that new building must be 15% more efficient than state code requirements. High costs are still one of the main restraints on people and businesses, but we do have programs like Actera, and financial incentives offered by the state and federal government to help in this area. The city planning office provides information and samples in a kiosk to tell homeowners, contractors, and builders about green building materials and possibilities. I would like to encourage more education about green building, and encourage homeowners and contractors to build at or above current green standards. For example, the Passive House Institute could hold classes to educate the public and certify builders.

2. How can traffic congestion in Menlo Park be addressed in the upcoming revision of the city’s General Plan?

Dave Bragg: Traffic congestion can be addressed by endorsing and promoting alternate forms of travel. Commuter buses (like the Google Buses), Make walkable live-work areas, and continue the quest for safe bike routes all over the city.

Kelly Fergusson: The upcoming General Plan re-write is a fantastic opportunity to modernize our city’s transportation policies. There are many transportation topics that need work; one in particular is the City’s EIR process, which is way too car-centric. Allowable mitigations generally focus on enlarging intersections. Menlo Park needs to look to leading-edge cities for best progressive practices. I am a fan of the textbook Sustainable Transportation Planning, Tools for Creating Vibrant, Healthy, and Resilient Communities, by Jeffrey Tumlin. Every one of Menlo Park’s planners and Public Works engineers needs to read this book.

Ray Mueller: By supporting alternative modes of travel and mass transit, and planning to accommodate it. The city can also adopt in the plan that some contribution to both alternative modes of travel and mass transit can be offset against a portion of the traffic mitigation measures necessary to accommodate future development.

Carolyn Clarke: I understand that many Menlo Park residents must use their cars for getting around town. For those who have other options we should make every effort to provide alternatives to maintain or improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and users of public transit. Concentrating new development in places close to transit and complete neighborhood services should be the foundation of the new General Plan.

Catherine Carlton: Encouraging and developing infrastructure that will support walking and bicycling can help address traffic congestion in Menlo Park. This may include providing safe lanes, more places to lock up bicycles, extended curbs, etc. Shuttle/Rapid Transit buses in strategic places for target audiences can also help. Beyond transit-oriented housing, another significant aid to traffic congestion would be zoning for the development of necessary businesses in all areas of town, so that people don’t have to travel longer distances for such things as supermarkets, banks, shops, and restaurants.

3. What are the best ways to address current and future vehicle parking needs downtown?

Dave Bragg: In the new developments, allow for sub-terrain parking and encourage the infrastructure for foot and bike traffic.

Kelly Fergusson: I am a proponent of bikes first – we need superb priority bike parking at every downtown Menlo Park business. Every business owner should have the option to convert the closest city-owned parking space to 6 bicycle parking spaces.

Ray Mueller: Collaboratively with downtown business and property owners. Given the number of vacancies downtown, it’s not surprising that presently there is adequate parking downtown. In the immediate future the city will be examining whether the parking meter system that was put in place last year is efficient, and I look forward to reviewing that data. With respect to the parking structures contained in the Downtown Specific Plan, the funding still does not exist to construct the structures and is not scheduled in the immediate future.

Carolyn Clarke: Create areas for employee parking that are least likely to be needed by shoppers. A parking structure may satisfy this need. Offer incentives for employees who do not drive.

Catherine Carlton: As the downtown storefronts fill up and the area becomes more vibrant, we must consider all the alternatives available to address current and future parking needs. Encouraging bicycling and mass transit will help with the parking situation. The development of housing in the area and along El Camino will also enable people to more easily bicycle and walk to downtown. It is important for many residents to have parking that is close to the shops. In the future, however, if the parking problem begins to have a severe negative effect on the ability of people to conveniently come to the downtown area to eat, shop, and use the services available there, we may have to consider a low-level parking structure. I would only support one that is set back away from the Santa Cruz shops, though. We might offer incentives for those who work in Menlo Park to park in the structure. This option may result in more parking spaces available closer to the shops and restaurants.

4. Do you prefer expanding El Camino Real from 4 to 6 vehicle lanes in downtown Menlo Park, or retaining 4 vehicle lanes while adding sidewalk curb extensions and bike lanes?

Dave Bragg: There are a few areas that are extremely dangerous to bike on El Camino Real in Menlo Park and we need to find a way to make it safer. This is a tough call with Menlo Park having gridlock auto traffic most days at commute times. I would like to have more discussion, research, and maybe some alternative options before making a final decision on this one.

Kelly Fergusson: I prefer the latter approach.

Ray Mueller: This issue is really one that requires public safety and traffic engineering expertise, and a city council member I would try to make a decision such as this absent personal preference, but rather relying on the data and information provided by experts in their respective fields. That being said, as the co-host of 7 Healthy Community Forums put on by Sustainable San Mateo and the Sierra Club throughout the region, and as one of two candidate endorsed by the Sierra Club in this city council race, I can’t deny that I am in favor of accommodating walking and biking as much as prudent decision making allows.

Carolyn Clarke: Let’s keep the four vehicle lanes and improve the pedestrian environment on El Camino. The city should work with Palo Alto and Caltrans to make a direct connection to Alma from Sand Hill at El Camino. The city should also work with Stanford to add pedestrian undercrossings of the Caltrain tracks to its redevelopment of property at Middle/El Camino and at Cambridge/El Camino.

Catherine Carlton: Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and nobody wants to make traffic along El Camino any worse than it already can be at peak times. It’s also important to remember that it’s not only the adult commuters on the roads, but also children who commute to and from school. While there are various options about how the lanes could evolve to provide safety to commuters and improve congestion, I would like to see how the developers of the El Camino Real “blight areas” propose to address the issue. As the city guides the development along El Camino, we should review adequate sidewalks, correctly installed curb extensions, underground parking entrances/exits, and street under-crossings to facilitate people easily walking and riding through that area. These will benefit the community at many levels. As this is a state highway, and we have to work with the state, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves on what is possible for El Camino’s lanes without including them in the discussion.

5. How can Menlo Park make its Safe Routes to School programs more effective? What would you do to increase the number of children walking or bicycling to school?

Dave Bragg: Menlo Park already has a ton of kids who bike to school. My family is making a conscious effort to bike more often than drive to school. With a 2nd and 4th grader it has been fun and our house is a 10-15 minute ride for them. I am already working on a bike to school group in my neighborhood and have several families interested and most have already joined.

Kelly Fergusson: I have worked extremely hard and successfully to create and implement safe-routes-to-schools projects at Hillview, Laurel, Oak Knoll, and Belle Haven public schools, as well as the private school in Atherton along Valpariso, in addition to other bike/pedestrian safety projects city-wide during my tenure on city council. These projects can take a long time. Laurel School is an excellent example of a long-term project with fantastic benefits that are being realized today. Hillview School is an example of an excellent School District – City of Menlo Park Partnership. I began riding my own kids to Laurel School in 2004, when I first ran for city council. It was a dangerous route along Coleman and approaching the school at the Ringwood and Coleman intersection. I worked with city council, staff, and other local elected officials to make this a Capital Improvement Project (CIP) priority, and Menlo Park created a compete comprehensive design with extensive community outreach. Menlo Park applied for and was awarded (with the support of Atherton, San Mateo County, Sequoia Union High School District, and Menlo Park City School District) a safe-routes-to-school award of $440,000 which built a majority of the project. But still there was more to do. At the public input sessions, certain Menlo Oaks neighbors raised objections to the Coleman bike path, which is in the County’s jurisdiction. With then Supervisor Rich Gordon taking the lead, board members from the five jurisdictions including myself began periodic meetings over the course of two years to resolve the matter. Ultimately, it was put to a vote of the neighborhood which resoundingly voted for the plan, which was then built by Public Works. Today, eight years later, the route to Laurel School is much safer for kids biking and walking. I am happy and proud of this accomplishment and the others, but there is more to be done. The City needs to amplify its efforts in working with the schools. Menlo Park City School District recently hired a bike/pedestrian coordinator, Kathy Schrenk, who is a marvelous asset to the community. She has organized numerous events in the coming weeks to raise awareness of alternative transportation options and increase participation. There are opportunities to work with Ravenswood City School District, Las Lomitas School District, and Sequoia Union High School District as well. Palo Alto is doing a great job in this area. As a city, we can look to our neighbor’s example for some best practices.

Ray Mueller: There are presently Safe Routes to School plans being implemented in Menlo Park through the Transportation Department. The City can continue to make the Safe Routes to School projects more effective by continuing to make the routes safer. The safer the route to the school, the more likely that kids and parents will use it.

Carolyn Clarke: Making safer and more direct the crossing of the Caltrain tracks. A safer crossing of El Camino and the tracks will encourage 1/3 of all the Hillview students who live on the east side of El Camino to walk or bike to school and 1/2 all of the Menlo Park kids who attend Menlo-Atherton who live on the west side of El Camino to do the same. Increasing the effective cycling education for all school-age kids and their parents should also be a priority. The city’s current Safe Route to School assumes children will use lower Middle Avenue, which has a dangerous entrance/exit of Safeway and at the gas station across the street.

Catherine Carlton: Increasing the number of children walking or bicycling to school involves improving safety through both infrastructure and education. For example, a significant portion of Hillview students must get across El Camino. Things like well-marked bike lanes, correctly installed curb extensions, and an under-crossings for El Camino should facilitate this. I would also encourage the city to work with non-profits and schools to provide bicycle safety and road rules classes for children, to ensure fewer accidents and to give parents more confidence in their safety. Some of this is done in programs like Bike Safety Week, Walk and Roll Week, and through classes that are appropriate for their educational development. It’s also important to include bike and walking safety classes for the parents, so that they can give the correct safety guidance. Parents might also be inspired to encourage their family to walk/bike through communication of “success case studies”. For example, I was told that one group of families has been walking together from the Flood Park neighborhood for more than 10 years. The walk is about ½ mile, so each year the walkers cover about 90 miles over a school year. This not only results in a healthier family, but they also save money on gas and car maintenance, and lower their carbon footprint for the community. The group has 9 families, for an annual total carbon savings of about 800 pounds of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent electricity of a family home for about two weeks.

6. What specific improvements would be the most effective to enable more residents to walk and bicycle for more trips?

Dave Bragg: This will take a dedicated individual to create a safe routes bike map and possibly even a smart phone application and then promote it.

Kelly Fergusson: Sharrows are a great innovation, and Menlo Park implemented a pilot on Menlo Avenue. Closing the Bay Trail Gap is certainly a priority. I have been meeting informally on a monthy or bi-monthly basis with the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District and East Palo Alto to move this project forward. The city is seeking funding for design and construction from Santa Clara County’s General Use Permit set-aside from Stanford in the coming days. Willow Road improvements are another critical area. More generally, Menlo Park needs a bike/pedestrian master plan incorporating best practices in modern transportation planning. This would make us eligible for more planning and construction grants to implement bike and pedestrian-friendly improvements.

Ray Mueller: I personally have advocated for small signs placed at different points in Menlo Park telling people how long it takes to walk and bike to different points of interest in town, like they have in towns in Europe. If you know you can complete a trip in a given amount of time, you are more likely to take it. Also, obviously safe bike lanes and safe walking paths contribute to people choosing to walk and bike. I am interested in the implementation of green bike paths as a way of delineating the bike path from the street.

Carolyn Clarke: In addition to those listed above, the steps recently taken by the city to add sharrows and bike lanes to streets where they fit are great. Work on improving problem spots like the Willow/101 interchange, Willow between O’Keefe and Bay, Santa Cruz/Alameda and Alma/Ravenswood.

Catherine Carlton: Menlo Park should improve our infrastructure and our education programs to enable and encourage more residents to walk and bicycle more trips. In terms of infrastructure, providing safe and well-marked bike lanes, under-road crossings, safe walking areas, etc. will help encourage more people to walk and ride bicycles. I am a big fan of bicycle safety/road rules classes and events for both children and adults, to enable people to ride more confidently and to ensure fewer accidents. There is a plan to put sidewalks on some streets, but the issue is funding and neighborhood support for such programs. There is an opportunity to install sidewalks when putting electric cables underground, but the cost is passed on to consumers via higher utility bills, and I don’t see where that increase in rates will lower again after the sidewalks are paid for. This is something that may be further investigated.

7. What should be the city’s goals for future zoning updates in the M2 industrial area? Do you support mixed-use (commercial and residential) development in this area?

Dave Bragg: We need to figure out what is most in demand for our City and zone for that. I am not against re-zoning if it makes sense for our city and the citizens.

Kelly Fergusson: Definitely support mixed-use in the train station area and city-owned parcels. Need to keep majority of M2 as science, technology, and manufacturing-fueled job-engine.

Ray Mueller: I don’t support re-zoning our industrial areas for mixed-use commercial residential development. There is a finite amount of industrial land in Menlo Park, and historically our industrial areas have provided the most revenue to our city, and have been prosperity centers as a source of jobs and innovation. I understand that other candidates in this race see mixed-use residential as a way to provide services and accommodate the housing needs of residents who live near the industrial areas. It makes far more sense to re-zone current residential density, such as apartment buildings in the area, for mixed-use, so grocery stores can be put underneath them, than to destroy the finite amount of industrial land that presently exists and is available to provide jobs and prosperity to the very same residents. Rather than re-zoning the industrial areas, because they under-performing, we should streamline regulations that make our industrial areas uncompetitive when compared to neighboring jurisdictions.

Carolyn Clarke: I would support streamlining the permit process that makes changes to buildings in the M-2. Mixed-use could be considered where there is a lack of basic commercial activities in specific neighborhoods such as banking, groceries, and drug store.

Catherine Carlton: The city’s goals for future zoning updates in the M2 industrial area should be around supporting the growth of existing businesses and enticing new businesses to come to Menlo Park, so that revenues can be generated that will allow our city to continue to fund parks and the great services that residents enjoy. I support mixed-use development in the industrial areas where there is a lack of services, such as pharmacies and banks. The Housing Element Committee is currently reviewing zoning for a limited amount of housing in that area, which may be used by employees who want to live closer to work, cutting down on traffic, carbon footprints, and improving the quality of life for those people in terms of the commute.

8. Do you support Caltrain electrification? Why or why not? What results from the project would you like to see for Menlo Park?

Dave Bragg: The electrification will provide some benefit to Menlo Park, by creating a quieter train. I would like to see the train moved subterranean in residential areas.

Kelly Fergusson: Yes, I support electrification.  I have fought hard to change the High Speed Rail project from a 4-track elevated train freeway proposal to today’s electrification and modernization project.  What is critical to Menlo Park is improved levels of service (more stops, especially during rush hour) at the Menlo Park train station.

Ray Mueller: Though concerns about ridership figures and High Speed Rail’s business plan were appropriate, the Legislature has already approved the project. Pragmatically, the electrification of Caltrain provides many great safety improvements and environmental benefits to Menlo Park. That being said, the Menlo Park City Council must pay close attention to the implementation of the blended system to make sure the Memorandum Of Understanding, limiting the tracks to the current two rail system, is complied with.

Carolyn Clarke: Yes. There will be less pollution and noise, plus an improvement in scheduling and safety. If the Caltrain lines are grade-separated as part of High-Speed Rail, we will finally lose a barrier between east and west.

Catherine Carlton: Electrification will allow the Caltrain trains to be quieter, faster, and possibly run more frequently than the rail system that we have now. Running on a two-track system, the quieter electric trains would improve the lives of the people who live near the train tracks, and the higher frequency could result in more people riding the train.

9. Do you support the Dumbarton Rail project? Why or why not?

Dave Bragg: I like the idea behind the rail crossing the bay, but I do not support this project. I believe that cost will be greater than the benefit.

Kelly Fergusson: Yes, I serve as Menlo Park’s representative on the Dumbarton Rail Committee alongside representatives from Alameda County, Fremont, Union City, Newark, East Palo Alto and Redwood City. This is a critical transportation corridor that links our industrial district.

Ray Mueller: There are too many unknowns about the project to indicate support or non-support yet. Recently, I have spoken with many residents who live near the rail line, and their concerns are compelling. It would be great if a project could come forward that satisfied those concerns. This is an instance where community involvement and collaboration is vital to effective decision making, as a Dumbarton Rail Line, if it was supported by the community, could be an effective way to alleviate traffic congestion.

Carolyn Clarke: I do support it. Right now the project is stalled because of a shortage of funds. Adding more buses could be a cheaper alternative but they would need to run in a dedicated commute lane on the bridge. Trains are better as a long-term solution because trains could serve both San Jose and San Francisco without riders having to get off and transfer. Trains are not affected by highway congestion. We need to develop alternatives to driving personal vehicles whenever possible.

Catherine Carlton: Any commuter project is a noble cause, but financing can be challenging, as it is for every other project in the state right now. Because of financing, the Dumbarton Rail project could be phased in its implementation. Other solutions such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) offer a flexible solution to commuting and congestion in the near time frame.

10. How often do you use public transit, bicycling, or walking for transportation? If you have school-age children, do they take transit, bicycling, or walking to school? Why or why not?

Dave Bragg: I bike to work at least once per week. My kids bike 2-3 times per week. Why: Exercise (30-45 minutes round trip), cost savings (bus $250 each direction per kid) and we get to bond with our kids during the ride.

Kelly Fergusson: I love to bike and walk, and have instilled a love of these in my children.  Grace and Elliot take the SamTrans bus to school every day, and home too on non-sports days.  Both are avid cyclists.  Grace in particular rides all over town as well as destinations in Palo Alto and Atherton on her bike.

Ray Mueller: When I worked in San Francisco I took either Caltrain or BART everyday.  These days I mostly telecommute, so there is no reason to take Caltrain or BART.  Respectfully, I would rather not discuss the day-to-day details of my children’s lives in a document being published in public. What I will say is that my family owns bikes, and we enjoy using them.

Carolyn Clarke: My children are grown and my employment as a financial advisor requires my meeting clients every day in different parts of the Bay area. Unfortunately, I am dependant on my auto to meet my large number of clients. Belle Haven residents would like services in their neighborhood so that we wouldn’t have to drive across the freeway for basic needs.

Catherine Carlton: My daughter and I ride bikes or walk to school almost every day. I am delighted with my new electric bike, as it enables me to ride longer distances than I might do otherwise, and to take my bike to meetings and other events where I would like to arrive looking “fresh” (though I can peddle my way home afterwards). It is a great alternative to taking my car to moderate-distance meetings, shopping, and events. Our family also loves taking the Caltrain as a “day holiday” trip to have lunch, play, and shop. Our children love riding trains!