Menlo Park Budget 2021/2- 6/22 Budget Updates

Based on the June 8th City Council Meeting and staff report, we have made some progress with the city’s budget, but there is still some clarification and further work needed later in the year. 

Be sure to send a note to city.council@menlopark.org if you have any thoughts or also join the City Council Meeting today, June 22nd to provide public comment.

Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/99880734930

The city’s finance staff has updated its overall budget picture, concluding that the General Fund, which is the largest fund where the City Council has discretionary spending, is balanced at a level of $61.49 million in revenues and $61.49 million in expenditures. In addition, there is about $5.39 million remaining in American Rescue Plan federal relief funds that can also help the city restore services that must be fully spent by December 31, 2024. 

At the budget meeting on 6/8, it appeared as though there was progress on Menlo Together’s budget asks. Based on the staff report, there are still some open questions about how the city council will fund these asks.

  1. Covid Relief

Menlo Together had requested that some of American Rescue Plan funding be used to support those most heavily impacted. The budget contains several items to do this, including funding for rental and mortgage assistance outreach, connecting residents to existing programs; small business relief, and assistance to people facing eviction.

  1. Climate and transportation: 

Menlo Together wanted to see robust staffing to implement the city’s climate action plan, and relatedly, to fund the projects and programs that improve safety for people walking and bicycling, and provide compelling alternatives to driving. In both cases, it sounded like there was majority council support for these goals, but the city was not yet ready to fully staff up, and was going to come forward in the middle of the year with plans that could be funded. 

We invite you to thanking the city council for refraining from hiring the additional staff until the city goes through a process of assessing how to fund public safety.

  1. Policing: 

Menlo Together wanted the city to hold off on hiring new police staff until the city went through a process to reexamine public safety and decide how to invest the funds. We did support hiring data staff to provide the data to analyze police activity and hold police accountable. The budget reflects these asks. 

Also, the staff report for June 8 had said that the project to reimagine public safety was not funded, and the police chief said that the community-oriented civilian personnel could work on this project.

Join us in our ask that the City Council consider adopting an emergency eviction moratorium for Menlo Park that will take effect in the event that SB 91 is allowed to expire.

Menlo Park Budget 2021/2 – Budget Comments

Budget comments from Menlo Together, 2021/22 – Agenda M1

Honorable City Council Members,

Thank you for considering plans with this year’s budget to help the city restore services and recover from the impact of the pandemic.  Following are updated comments from Menlo Together regarding the city budget based on the city’s community meeting and additional research.

Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and area residents who envision a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. We advocate for an accessible and inviting downtown Menlo Park with housing at all affordability levels, and with pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces, developed to be carbon free.

We are glad to see more optimistic projections taking into account high vaccination rates, declining Covid prevalence, and increasing economic activity. 

With this, we urge City Council to consider budget decisions that advance
* progress on transportation and climateprogress on transportation and climate
* reimagining public safety
* recovery for vulnerable community members

Progress on transportation and climate

The Public Works section of the budget notes that Covid recession cuts impacted a wide range of services including park maintenance, the heritage tree program, fleet maintenance, street maintenance, review of new development proposals, customer service, neighborhood traffic management, planned transportation projects, transportation demand management, and the holiday tree.

The staff recommends restoring 5 FTEs for the heritage tree program and maintenance, restoring staffing for neighborhood traffic management, and adding 1 FTE to advance the Climate Action Plan.   The Climate Action Plan implementation is a top priority for City Council, and the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is transportation.

The city has recently approved a Transportation Master Plan that identifies numerous projects and programs that provide safe, convenient, and climate-friendly alternatives to driving.  For the coming year, the Capital Improvement Plan budget includes work on several projects that improve safety on high injury corridors and reduce driving, notably El Camino Real crossings, and Middlefield repaving, which has the potential to be bundled with bike safety improvements and several pedestrian crossings. This is in addition to the Caltrain undercrossing and Middle Avenue improvements that are already called out as a top Council priority. 

At the Community Budget Workshop, we learned that important TMP projects that enhance safety and provide alternatives to driving may be at risk with the proposed staffing levels.  

We urge City Council to fund Public Works staffing at a level that can reliably achieve the CIP projects that improve safety on high-injury corridors and enable reduced VMT.

With regard to the Climate Action Plan, we understand that there is analysis under way that is likely to recommend specific actions and staffing requirements to implement high priority CAP items this fall. In addition, we see that there are uncertainties in the budget with regard to the speed of recovery of tax revenues, and the budget includes conservative assumptions.  Given high vaccination rates and low Covid rates in our area and the State, we are hopeful of positive economic news.  

Therefore, we would recommend that the Council do a mid-year budget check. If there is revenue available, we would recommend using funding to implement specific CAP recommendations including staffing where needed.

Lastly, in contrast to the TMP, which plans to proactively improve safety in high-injury areas based on citywide outreach, data about safety issues, and needs across the city, the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program is designed to be reactive. It places a heavy burden on both residents (to gain the support of a supermajority of their neighbors) and staff (to support this process), and does not address the greatest safety risks of death and serious injury.  

As the city moves forward with initiatives to pursue racial equity, we urge the Council to consider that residents neighborhoods with greater wealth and security are more likely to have the discretionary time to file NTMP requests and pursue the laborious effort to marshall a supermajority of neighbors to support traffic calming.

Also, during the pandemic, many places in the Bay Area and the world shifted to a “quick build” model where slow streets and safety improvements were made with a rapid and iterative approach with community feedback based on flexible implementation.  We urge Menlo Park to pursue newer, faster approaches to safety improvements.

Reimagining public safety

The City Council has identified reimagining public safety as a top priority for the city.

Meanwhile, the budget recommendation is to rehire 5 FTEs to the police force before the process to assess and reimagine policing and public safety.

A recent analysis shows substantial activities currently handled by Menlo Park Police for which other public strategies may be appropriate.  

We urge the City Council to hold off on substantial increases to staff levels while the city considers the most effective ways to use the budget to advance public health and safety.

In addition, we are hearing from our friends and neighbors that members of MPPD are seen in neighboring communities behaving harshly.  If this is the case, we do not support this taking place in the name of our city and with our city’s funding. 

Currently we do not receive data on police interactions that do not require further action such as detentions and citations. We would like to see data showing the location of stops, and race/ethnicity of the people stopped by MPPD in Menlo Park and in neighboring communities including East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks. We support full staffing of the data functions that allow these reports and other information that will enable residents and the Council to assess how best to use funds and resources to improve public safety.

Data source: MPPD. Analysis source: SVDSA

Recovery for vulnerable community members

Menlo Park is receiving $6.53 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.  

The draft budget recommends using this funding to increase city services before the city has full certainty about the pace of post-pandemic recovery of tax revenue. 

By comparison, we have observed that the City of Mountain View plans to use its ARPA funds for measures addressing the impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable residents and businesses, including rent relief, displacement prevention, homelessness services and downtown revitalization.

We would encourage the city to take an approach similar to Mountain View with the ARPA funds. 

In addition, the staffing cuts to city services disproportionately impacted low-income and part-time staff who are community residents.  We urge the city to prioritize rehiring if these community members are available. This may be an opportunity to rehire for full-time jobs and elevate long-time workers.

Lastly, budget analysis reveals that community services workers earn less than 40% of police department workers.  While Menlo Park alone cannot solve the undervaluing of community services workers in American society, we would urge the city’s internal equity assessment to consider wage scales across departments, considering lenses of race and gender.

To address the uncertainty about the pace of revenue recovery, we urge the city to do a mid-year check and identify spending to resume at that time if revenue recovery continues in a positive direction.

In summary, we are grateful that this year’s budget will enable the city to start to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. We urge that recovery not just to return to the previous conditions, but to focus on forward-looking priorities of climate, safety, health and equity.

The Menlo Together Team

info@menlotogether.org

Save Caltrain with Measure RR

So many of the goals of Menlo Together – sustainable transportation, environment, housing affordability, equity – depend on having Caltrain service continue and improve over time.  

Measure RR on the November ballot will save Caltrain from being shut down, fund affordability and equity programs, reduce congestion, keep pollution out of the air, and enable Menlo Park and other cities to add housing near public transit where residents need to drive less. 

In addition to voting yourself, you can help with phone banking and text banking to reach voters.

There are online events to phone bank this weekend, including:
* Sunday, October 18, at 3pm with Silicon Valley Sunrise – click here to RSVP
* Sunday October 18 at 5pm with Mark Cordes, new CEO of San Francisco Transit Riders – click here to RSVP

Have more questions? Read on… 

Caltrain’s budget is in terrible shape because of the pandemic. Pre-Covid, Caltrain got most of its revenue from riders, but with most offices legally required to be closed, ridership has been steeply down. Caltrain’s public funding comes from its 3 county transit agency partners whose budgets are down because of the pandemic.  Without Measure RR, Caltrain faces a shutdown of 2.5 years or more!

Measure RR will prevent Caltrain from being shut down, and in the future will provide more frequent service at more times of the day, to relieve congestion and to make more kinds of trips convenient – you could go to San Mateo for dinner without having to look for parking.

Before Covid, Caltrain kept 4 lanes of cars off the highway and local roads. Congestion will be terrible if pandemic restrictions ease and Caltrain is still down.  

Our Climate Action Plans in Menlo Park and other cities depend on Caltrain to provide effective alternatives to driving. Pre-Covid, Caltrain removed 400 million driving miles per year from the roads. This would grow by about 240 million with improvements funded by Measure RR, removing 110 additional metric tons of carbon emissions each day.

Measure RR will fund implementation of new equity policies, including a 50% discount for low-income people, and better connections to local transit which more low-income people depend on to get to the train.

During the pandemic, Caltrain is supporting essential workers – about 50% of riders are travelling for jobs in health care, life sciences and government.  

Riders who have been required to stay home due to Covid plan to return – 70% of people who were regular riders before Covid plan to use Caltrain as much or more than before, according to Caltrain’s poll. 

Voters are voting early in record numbers, but about 80-90% haven’t voted yet. Many haven’t heard yet about Measure RR and how it will save Caltrain from shutdown, improve affordability and service, and save our region from congestion and pollution.  

So if you have an hour or two this weekend, click here to sign up to phone bank this weekend, or sign the pledge card to get connected with more ways to help.  

Voting is different this year so please make a plan to vote early by mail or at a dropoff site near you – check out smcvote.org for more info and to track your ballot.

Menlo Together D3 Candidate Forum – Video and Questions

Thanks to everyone who registered and attended the Menlo Together D3 City Council Candidates Forum.  Here a link to the video of the event. The list of questions is below.

Menlo Together’s goal was to enable voters to hear the perspectives and opinions of candidates on the interrelated issues of housing affordability, transportation, sustainability and racial justice.  Menlo Together provided questions to all candidates and the public in advance, on the day of the event.

On Saturday, candidates Fennell and Nguyen made short statements in lieu of participating in the forum. Nguyen made her statement at the beginning of the event. An event organizer read Fennell’s statement at the end.

All three candidates participated in the League of Women Voters forum on Wednesday, September 30, which can be viewed here.

Menlo Together Candidate Forum Questions

Question 1: 

California law requires cities to affirmatively further fair housing through zoning plans and policies that counteract and undo racially discriminatory laws and policies.

Examples of enduring discriminatory practices include concentrating affordable housing in under resourced neighborhoods and excluding affordable homes from other neighborhoods using single family zoning. 

What strategies to affirmatively further fair housing do you support, and which will you prioritize during your term?

Please be as specific as possible. 

Question 2:

During the Covid crisis, many tenants and some homeowners face financial challenges like never before and the challenges will persist for long after the pandemic ends.

What are the most important things you will do in your role on city council to prevent evictions and displacement of our most vulnerable residents?

(Note to Moderator – if they mention County and State solutions, ask how they will contribute to the desired outcome)?

Question 3

There is robust data showing a strong correlation between driving speed and the safety of streets for everyone – people driving, walking, and bicycling. The speed that drivers drive depends more on street design than on the posted speed limit.

Unfortunately, there is a state law that doesn’t allow the city to enforce a lower speed limit if most drivers are moving faster.  There are three parts to this question:
* Would you support setting speed limits to a max of 25mph citywide?
* Would you support setting design standards to gradually redesign streets to support 25mph speeds?
* Would you support the city joining other cities in advocating for changes to the state law?

Question 4

Meeting the Climate Action Plan goal depends on council direction and staff execution. Currently only 3 of 60+ steps to advance the Climate Action Plan are on the agenda for this year.  This is a two part question.
* What measures will you prioritize and how would they move the needle? 
* Given the unique and significant vulnerability to climate impact in Belle Haven, what measures would you advance to improve resilience?

Question 5:

We believe that racial equity is achieved when outcomes – in terms of housing, education, health and wealth – can no longer be predicted based on race and are improved for everyone.  What are two strategies you will prioritize to achieve racial equity in Menlo Park; and given the moment we are in, one of your strategies should be related to policing.  

Audience Question #1:
What does increasing housing affordability in Menlo Park look like to you?

Audience Question #2:

We received several questions about policing and public safety, so we will batch them into our first audience question:
* Do you support reallocation of police funding to alternative, community-based emergency responders? If yes, how will you achieve this change?
* Regarding city funding received by Facebook and allocated to the Facebook Community Response Team, (or Beat 4 of MPPD), do you support this allocation of funds?  If not, how will you achieve this change?

Audience Question #3
When the Housing Element is updated again, what will be the candidate’s preferred make up of the advisory committee steering the effort?

Audience Question #4
We have a lot of housing and retail projects going on right now, on El Camino. How many of those units are “affordable-15% less” and is it true that after a set time period, those rents at the “affordable range”, will be go back to fair market housing and those occupants will be forced out.  How will you work to control this.


Lightning Round short answer questions

– Do you support Measure RR, which provides dedicated funding to Caltrain, would prevent a shutdown because of Covid, improve affordability and improve service in the future? (C, J, M)

– Do you support Schools and Community First Prop 15, which will assess commercial property at market value and reclaim $11-12B in revenue for local government and public schools? (J, M, C)

– Do you support ending Menlo Park Police Department’s participation in the federal 1122 program which provides surplus military equipment to cities? (M, C, J)

– Would you support assigning resources to Caltrain grade separations – this was postponed to cut costs in the last budget cycle (C, J, M)

– When we redraw city council districts, will you support an independent redistricting commission? (J, M, C)

New addition from audience member – make it a simple Y/N/don’t know – Do you support Prop 16, 17, or 18?


Menlo Together and elections

One of Menlo Together’s goals is to help community members across the city get more engaged in the issues we care about and to learn about how to participate in city decisions, for example the recent Civics 101 event led by Belle Haven residents primarily for a Belle Haven audience.

We’re thrilled when Menlo Together participants take leadership roles in community groups, join commissions, and move on to run for office, though it is not appropriate for them to be members as candidates.

Jen Wolosin was one of the founding members of Menlo Together. She stepped down from Menlo Together when she launched her campaign for city council. She is listed on our site as a former member.

Menlo Together does not endorse candidates for office.