El Camino Real and Downtown Specific Plan

The City Council approval of the Specific Plan and related actions took place in June 2012 and became effective one month later. Several modest modifications were approved in 2014. The City Council reviewed the Specific Plan on March 12, 2019.


What is a specific plan?

A specific plan is a comprehensive, action-oriented set of rules for a specific geographic area. For Menlo Park, the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan sets the direction for the heart of the city over the coming decades. It builds on the successful 2007-2008 Vision Plan process, which established twelve key goals. The Specific Plan defines what our community desires for its future by regulating land use and defining other aspects of possible future public and private development.

Why do we need a specific plan?

By having a specific plan, we as a community can control our future based on positive changes the community would like to see. Many of the previous zoning rules were several decades old, and didn't necessarily reflect community values or modern opportunities and challenges. The plan addresses long-standing concerns people have with the El Camino corridor - parking, blight, pedestrian access, traffic, and vacancies. It also addresses concerns people have with downtown - parking, pedestrian access, inviting community spaces, and increased vibrancy. At the same time, the plan maintains and enhances what we value most about these areas.

We want our future choices to include information about impacts (both positive and negative) so we can make informed decisions about the area as a whole, not as individual projects are proposed and we want to ensure public investment successfully leverages private investment and results in improved prosperity for the community overall. A specific plan helps achieve these important goals.

How has the community been involved in the process?

The plan included extensive opportunities for input in various formats including:

  • An email list of over 1,000 people who get regular updates
  • Booths at all the Downtown Block Parties
  • Eight citywide mail-outs to all residents and businesses in Menlo Park
  • Extensive sets of Planning Commission and City Council meetings
  • One-on-one interviews with downtown business owners and other important stakeholders
  • Regular Chamber of Commerce outreach
  • Seven workshops
  • Two community-wide surveys responded to by over 2,000 people
  • Two walking tours
  • And more!

The process has used detailed information to help people weigh alternatives and engage in dialogue with one another around the various choices.

How will development occur now that the Specific Plan has been approved?

The Specific Plan establishes regulations and guidelines for development in the overall area, but does not include detailed development plans. Individual property owners will still need to propose specific development, which is subject to appropriate review processes, in particular detailed Architectural Control review, which includes additional environmental review (such as traffic studies) as needed.

How does the Plan support the Farmer's Market and other important community activities?

One important goal from the Vision step was to increase vibrancy - the number of people enjoying the downtown shops and eateries. The plan includes new public spaces for festivals and gatherings, including an enhanced, park-like space for the Farmers Market. These elements are based on extensive community input about the importance of preserving Menlo Park's special public attractions.

Contact us

Thomas Rogers
Principal Planner