Menlo Park City Council approves zoning for more homes downtown and across the city; state approves housing plan

On December 20, the Menlo Park’s Housing Element – ​​a state-required plan to allow 3,000 homes at different levels of affordability and affirmatively further fair housing across the community – was conditionally approved by the State pending some minor edits.

The state approval follows closely after the recent major milestone when City Council approved zoning to legalize more housing, especially affordable housing on city-owned parking lots downtown, as well as more housing in mixed-income developments across the city. Importantly, the housing sites in the new plan are outside of District 1 (the Bayfront area that includes the Belle Haven neighborhood), which has accommodated a disproportionate share of development in recent years.

This “upzoning” is a major step forward, advancing the vision that Menlo Together started with in 2018: To support “a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. We envision an accessible and inviting downtown Menlo Park, with housing at all affordability levels, much less solo driving, and with pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces.”

The City Council made the decision after receiving petitions from over 150 residents, including personal stories from people young and old. A few examples of the comments that City Council heard:

A young man who was visibly distraught about the personal impact of the affordable housing crisis: “As rents have soared over the last 10 years, I’ve seen more and more of my friends being priced out of the area.” 

An older gentleman–a 5th generation Bay Area native–said that his apartment has some serious problems, but he puts up with it because he can’t afford to move. Once he retires, he won’t be able to afford to stay in the area, and he doesn’t know what he will do.

An immigrant woman who moved to Menlo Park from New York City is stressed about having to find a new home near her job because of a landlord renovation/move-in. She’s having a harder time finding housing in Menlo Park than the entirety of her time spent in New York City. 

More homes, including deeply affordable homes in centrally located areas near transit will provide more people with opportunities to live with easy access to jobs, schools, and services. 

Of course, people live in homes, not in zoning documents.   It will require the collective encouragement of community members to ensure that homes including deeply affordable homes–get built.  And it will take more encouragement to ensure that the city updates its Below Market Rate (BMR) Housing policy so  that homes are affordable to more people, and that tenant protections are strengthened so the city protects more residents from being displaced. 

Thanks to everyone who spoke up at community and City Council meetings to help achieve this milestone. Your ongoing participation is vital to ensuring that Menlo Together’s vision becomes reality.

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