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Menlo Park, Atherton councils meet over emergency responses and traffic

Menlo Park and Atherton may share a border, but it wasn't until last evening (Sept. 24) that the two city councils governing these jurisdictions shared a meeting, at least as far as most can remember.
Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy said that in his 23 years of work with the city of Menlo Park, the joint meeting with Atherton was the first that he's seen.
Their one-hour study session touched on a number of the two communities' shared interests. With both sides demonstrating openness to collaboration, they discussed how they could work together to support emergency responders and make law enforcement efforts more efficient, what to do about El Camino Real, and what some of the impacts of the policymaking by the individual towns are on each other's communities.
Law enforcement and emergency response
On the law enforcement front, the chiefs of police of both jurisdictions, Atherton Police Chief Steven McCulley and Menlo Park Police Chief Dave Bertini, said they get along well and collaborate often, particularly when it comes to working with schools attended by children from both communities.
Atherton also has a robust emergency preparedness program, ADAPT, short for "Atherton Disaster and Preparedness Team." Members of both communities participate in CERT, a community emergency response team, led in these communities and East Palo Alto by the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. Bertini said the city is studying Atherton's program and evaluating whether it's feasible to do something similar in Menlo Park.
Menlo Park Councilwoman Catherine Carlton suggested the possibility of starting a CERT group set up only for the city's businesses, a concept the city was looking at a few years ago.
An important element of emergency preparedness is having an emergency operations center, the police chiefs noted.
According to Bertini, Menlo Park's center is a small room he doesn't consider to be adequate. Atherton, on the other hand, has plans for a new emergency operations center at its new civic center complex.
Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller asked Atherton council members if they would consider the possibility of consolidating resources in the short term, and potentially for the long term, to share the emergency operations center.
"It'll be a while before we get an EOC up and operating," he said. "We'd love to use yours in the interim."
Atherton council members indicated they were open to the idea, but noted that their center is still about two years out from completion.
While Atherton Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis expressed concern that the space might be too small and a collaboration may benefit Menlo Park more than Atherton, Councilman Rick DeGolia said, "If we can help, let's talk about it. We're certainly interested in talking."
Atherton council members also mentioned that the town is exploring the possibility of installing license plate readers. Mueller said Menlo Park has developed a policy with such devices with regulations to protect privacy that limit how long to keep records before they're destroyed, and offered to share the wording of the policy with Atherton.
Menlo Park alerted Atherton that city staff, led by the police department, is hoping to get council feedback on a potential drone program sometime in November.
Traffic and El Camino Real
Atherton council member Michael Lempres said he's interested in talking to Menlo Park further about figuring out which of the two communities' shared roadways should be more focused on traffic flow, and which should be identified for traffic calming.
"We'd love to have that (conversation) with you," Mueller responded.
When it comes to El Camino Real, the two communities have different problems, Lewis noted. Traffic speeds through Atherton, but hits a bottleneck because Menlo Park uses its third lane of the "Royal Road" for street parking. Both councils seemed interested in revisiting the concept of the "Grand Boulevard Initiative," a plan Menlo Park tabled more than three years ago to consider adding bike lanes on El Camino Real.
Menlo Park Complete Streets Commissioner Lydia Lee stated in a public comment that for households like hers, trying to figure out how to travel by bike between, for example, Spruce Avenue near the Atherton border and Trader Joe's in Menlo Park, El Camino Real really is the most direct route. She said that if there were a safe way to use the road by bike, more people would certainly use it. Plus, she added, people are already using it under current, dangerous conditions.
Mueller said he's a lot more interested in exploring the idea if other communities are on board. While Atherton didn't seem interested in getting rid of its third El Camino lane, Lewis said she believes the lane striping could be narrowed to potentially make room for bike lanes.
DeGolia said he feels that many Atherton residents don't want to eliminate the third lane because, unlike in Menlo Park, where many residents are close enough to access services by bike or on foot, Atherton has no businesses and many seniors, so people more often have to travel by car to get what they need.
Shared impacts
Atherton Mayor Bill Widmer said that there have been instances where he's felt Atherton is owed more in funding contributions from developers in Menlo Park than the city demands of the developer.
Menlo Park's interim Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya responded that Menlo Park staff has worked closely with Atherton staff on projects like the Station 1300 development on Oak Grove Avenue to make sure projects factor in potential transportation projects across the city's border in Atherton when coming up with traffic mitigation strategies.
Mueller said that the city can, in the future, ask for a section on staff reports about big development projects that answers the question "What do our neighbors think?" to make sure other jurisdictions' concerns are included in council considerations.

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