In 2022, Menlo Together made progress on our goals to advance a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. Some of this progress was on issues we had planned to take on; and some of the progress was driven by events that came up in areas that touched our values. And some of the progress was in building a stronger network within Menlo Park and with allies in nearby areas, growing the community of people who are informed about issues, share values, and are willing to take action.
Housing Affordability – strong pro-housing turnout for major policies and sites
The top Menlo Together priority for the year was community education and mobilization about opportunities to support housing affordability, renter protections, and fair housing through the Housing Element – the process required of Menlo Park and all California cities by the state to plan for housing for people of all income levels.
In 2022, we drew on the base we had built over time with community education to organize turnout resulting in a majority of public comments favoring affordable housing at key public meetings. At a study session about a major development at the SRI campus, 20 of 23 speakers spoke in support of affordable housing. At a meeting about affordable housing at the former Flood School site, a majority spoke in support.
Menlo Together team members did robust analysis and comment on the City’s Housing Element, strengthening the policies included in the submission to the state.
Environmental Justice / Climate Justice
Another priority at the start of the year was equity in climate action. To pursue environmental justice and inform the Environmental Justice Element of the City’s General Plan that was being developed in 2022, we participated actively in the Belle Haven Climate Change Community Team led by Climate Resilient Communities.
As readers may know, an Environmental Justice Element is a required component of a city’s General Plan serving to address a variety of past harms related to environmental inequities. By state mandate, localities must seek input from disadvantaged and marginalized communities to inform the Environmental Justice Element. State law (SB 1000) requires cities to identify and prioritize the needs of communities affected by historic systems of discrimination that disproportionately impose pollution and other health burdens onto low-income residents and people of color.
Over the year, the CCCT provided education and focus groups drawing over 120 attendees, and surveyed over 400 residents on how climate change affects them. Menlo Together community organizer Marlene Santoyo contributed over 20 hours per month to this outreach. This outreach informed input into the city’s drafts. We expect the City Council to review and approve the Environmental Justice Element in 2023.
There were strong overlaps between the Environmental Justice Element recommendations and the Housing Element. Safe and secure housing was identified by community members as vital to address and repair environmental injustices. This feedback about the importance of safe and secure housing resulted in strengthened provisions for renter protections approved by City Council in 2022.
Measure V – Defeating an anti-housing ballot measure
An unexpected need for organizing and action arose in 2022, when we organized in opposition to Measure V, a ballot measure designed to block affordable housing for teachers at the site of the former Flood School. A peaceful army of canvassers, with a core derived from our team and outreach, knocked on over 9000 doors. The resounding success changed conventional wisdom about Menlo Park’s attitudes toward housing. The measure was soundly defeated, 62-38.
After the campaign was over, we reached out to campaign volunteers and brought newly active people into our ongoing housing advocacy and organizing.
Belle Haven Empowered
Belle Haven Empowered is our civic education and engagement program, by and for Belle Haven residents. Through a series of virtual meetings we present civic education on a variety of topics and provide a safe space to discuss community members’ needs and share tools to influence city decisions. We have held 16 workshops, engaging 25 residents who have become more active in the City processes, commission and committee meetings.
Constituency building across the City
Menlo Together grew our overall list from about 800 people at the beginning of 2022 to over 1000 by the end of 2022. We built up a strong housing team with 10-15 people that regularly organizes on policies and developments. We held three General Meetings, bringing in and engaging new participants, and co-led a bike tour of Housing Element sites.
Over the year, we expanded our coalition with groups holding expertise in key equity issues and respected leadership.
El Comité de Vecinos del Lado Oeste, East Palo Alto is a grassroots organization made up of committee neighbors of the Western Side of East Palo Alto that are dedicated to tenants’ rights, anti-displacement work and affordable housing. Menlo Together began collaborating as of June 2022 to conduct on the ground bilingual outreach to Belle Haven residents about the Housing Element and opportunities to be part of the public decision making process. We plan to work more closely to extend outreach to Spanish speaking residents.
Climate Resilient Communities. Since 2016, Climate Resilient Communities (CRC) has been on the ground learning the specific needs of residents in diverse, under-resourced communities in East Palo Alto, Belle Haven (Menlo Park), North Fair Oaks and Redwood City. CRC’s outreach cultivates environmental awareness while giving local residents a voice in proactive resilience planning and adaptation. By building stronger alliances between residents, schools, local government programs and community-based organizations, this work creates resilience against climate-related stresses such as sea-level rise and economic instability.
During Measure V, we engaged in outreach to the local faith community. Since then, we brought on Penny Nixon to work with us and HLC on faith community outreach, and are partnering with Faith in Action to deepen engagement and to support organizing for tenant protections, building on their long standing work and our existing community connections.
Thanks and opportunities to get involved
Thanks so much to everyone who participated in 2022. If you haven’t yet gotten involved and are interested, click here to learn more and sign up for our newsletters.