On a recent warm Spring afternoon, dozens of residents from Menlo Park and surrounding communities came together in Menlo Park to hear tenants share their lived experiences. Retaliatory evictions, landlord neglect of necessary repairs, hidden fees, and extreme rent increases are some of the experiences that inspired panelists to join the movement for housing justice and fight for solutions such as robust Just Cause for Eviction, Rent Control, and programs to support Tenants to know their rights and enforce them. This bilingual Spanish-English event also provided the opportunity to learn about local organizations that support tenants’ rights as well as various initiatives promoting housing justice for tenants.
To read more about the event click here (Spanish) and here (English). See below for ways to learn, engage, and take action to shape a community where it is clear that Tenants Belong!
SB 567 – The CA Homelessness Prevention Act – Help get this bill through the legislature and onto the Governor’s desk! Contact Jess Hudson email@example.com to be informed of next steps.
Join the FIGHT:
Sign the YUCA petition in support of the “Opportunity to Purchase Act” (OPA) here.
Sign Faith in Action Bay Area’s Redwood City Housing Platform Petition here.
Sign the Menlo Together Petition to support City Action on Tenants Rights, here.
Sign the Housing Leadership Council petition to support Tenant Rights and Affordable Homes in unincorporated San Mateo County here.
Connect and Learn
The Tenants Belong event was a collaborative effort by Youth United for Community Action (YUCA), Faith in Action, Housing Leadership Council, and Menlo Together. We hope you will follow the work of Menlo Together and our partners, continue learning, and take actions to build a community where tenants can thrive.
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.
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.
Our members and housing work generated major press coverage and compelling stories in the Chronicle and KQED.
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.
Menlo Park has been considering a proposal for housing, offices and amenities at SRI by Parkline since last Spring. After meetings on January 23 and February 6, the City of Menlo Park Planning Commission made improvements to the proposal that increased the number of total homes at the site to 550, and dedicated an acre of land for 100 deeply affordable homes.
The City has listened to community feedback, and on March 14 the City Council made another big step towards bringing this proposal closer to reality. The Council voted to approve the Environmental Impact Review scope, which includes studying the impact of up to 800 total homes on the site. This opens the door to improving the proposal’s housing to jobs ratio, and potentially increasing the number of deeply affordable homes.
As the City continues to move this proposal closer to reality, we will keep you updated on opportunities to shape it. Stay tuned!
On March 18, Menlo Park City Council held its first priority-setting session since before the Covid pandemic.
The top priorities, according to dots allocated by Councilmembers, were Housing (with 4 dots), and in no special order, Emergency Preparedness, Climate Action, Activating Downtown and Economic Development, and Safe Streets with three dots each (apologies for a photo that cut off the 4th Housing dot.)
The City Council’s priorities affirm several of the top priorities recommended by Menlo Together, in a letter that highlighted the importance of implementing the city’s plans for Housing; Environmental Justice and Equitable Electrification; and Sustainable Transportation. These are all areas where the City has completed, or is finishing major plans, and it is good to see the council focusing on implementation.
While the topics of Advancing Equity and Community Engagement got two dots each (lower than the threshold to become a top priority), we hope that these practices can be woven into the way that the city goes about its business, so that when issues are brought to City Council for review, that city staff will highlight the steps toward equity and the community engagement as a matter of course. The topics of Housing, Climate Action and
Environmental Justice, and Street Safety had received input from many hundreds of residents over the last year and in recent years. The City Council reviewed input from residents solicited specifically for the priority setting session. Items that received the most feedback include advancing a Quiet Zone to reduce train horn noise, a project which is currently in progress with a community outreach meeting coming up on March 23, and residents wanting space for pickle ball and tennis, a topic which is being addressed in an ongoing update to the city’s Parks Master Plan.
The draft priorities will be brought back for City Council review and approval, along with a Work Plan and Budget to implement the priorities.
Thanks to everyone whose voice over time has contributed to the prioritization of Housing, Climate and Safe Streets. It will take ongoing attention to encourage the Council and the City to infuse equity in the way it does work.
On Monday, January 23, Menlo Park’s Planning Commission will study an update to the Parkline project at the SRI site in a central location in the city, walking distance from downtown shops and services, parks and transit.
We offer these talking points, but you are the expert in your own life and experience, and your personal story is your power.
Housing at all income levels keeps our community resilient, inclusive, and thriving.
Here’s a cool recent batch of data from Arlington VA who saw a net decrease in traffic despite adding more units to the city, because of how the units are smartly clustered around transit
We will not meet our Climate Action Plan goals without reducing the number of miles people commute to work in or near Menlo Park, simply because they cannot afford to live here.
I support local businesses and want them to have a robust, local workforce who are able to thrive and contribute to the community in which they work.
I value equity and welcome people who have been discriminated against into all neighborhoods, parks and our schools.
Dedicating land in this prime location to a non-profit affordable housing developer is a great way to meet hard-to-meet housing needs: seniors, large families, single-women headed households, people with developmental and physical disabilities.
This site will be a strong applicant for federal, state, and county funds because of its proximity to transit and services.
The developer has shown that they are willing and open to building more housing for people of all incomes and abilities. We should take advantage of this opportunity and work with them.
This project offers an opportunity to help Menlo Park achieve our legal requirement to affirmatively further fair housing and to help shape the city we all deserve.
On Thursday, January 12, at 7pm, Menlo Park’s Planning and Housing Commissions will meet together to review the draft Housing Element before sending their recommendations to City Council.
Menlo Park’s Housing Element is in its final stages–it will likely be adopted by City Council before the end of January. But there are two critical and related pieces of the Housing Element update that deserve attention and consideration. These three elements of the city’s General Plan are bound together by their goals for a more just and equitable community, and to achieve those goals, they need to be considered collectively.
A home is the first line of defense from environmental hazards
The Environmental Justice Element in particular is centered on addressing environmental injustices in the General Plan; as such, it plays an equally vital role as the Housing Element in determining the quality of life where people live.
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.
The Environmental Justice Element is a tool to address a variety of past harms related to environmental inequities. One of the seven goals is to promote safe, stable, and affordable housing in high resource areas. The Environmental Justice Element references Housing Element programs to achieve these goals, so it’s imperative that we have a strong and equitable Housing Element.
Historic patterns of housing discrimination form a throughline between the HE and the EJE.
Redlining and discriminatory mortgage lending practices were used to isolate low-income and non-white populations to the least desirable locations.
Here in Menlo Park, the Belle Haven and Bayfront neighborhoods are overrepresented by lower incomes and people of color. They are also the most polluted, flood prone, and industrialized areas of the city. By their location as well as their history of being under-resourced, they find themselves particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They’re also the most cost-burdened when it comes to housing.
Housing Burden Indicator Results: In Belle Haven, 28% of residents contribute greater than 50% of their income to housing cost and over 70% of households are low income (EnviroScreen 4.0, 2013-2017).
Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood sits in the FEMA flood plain (2022 map)
Zoning and permitting decisions have restricted the location and type of housing developments in Menlo Park, which has led to a severe local jobs/housing imbalance and a lack of affordable housing options. As land values continue to rise, home prices and rents have become increasingly out of reach and contributed to gentrification. Housing insecurity and displacement loom, exacerbating stress on residents’ everyday finances–and their health.
As part of the Environmental Justice and Safety Element planning process, Menlo Park did extensive outreach to the Belle Haven community about environmental harms, health challenges, and financial stressors. Chief among the community’s priorities was the need for safe, stable, and healthy housing.
Safe & Sanitary Housing State Requirement: Location, Quality, Affordability, Stability
Housing site selection can exacerbate or mitigate inequities. To reverse our past patterns of segregation, we must equitably plan for a diversity of housing across the city, especially in high resource areas.
To address housing insecurity and reduce cost burdens we need robust policies and programs to preserve and protect existing housing as well as enact strong measures to prevent displacement.
The EJ element depends on the Housing Element to achieve safe and sanitary housing outcomes. To achieve the Environmental Justice goals, the Housing Element needs to be robust and equitable.
Timely Call to Action – January 12th
Support Environmental Justice Goals through Housing Element Advocacy
A Housing Element that supports Environmental Justice will establish programs and policies to:
Reverse the trend by which marginalized communities have been overburdened with disproportionate housing and commercial development and the resulting traffic and emissions impacts
Create a robust, accelerated plan to produce 100% affordable housing on city-owned parking lots downtown
Offer protection from displacement for both renters and homeowners
Provide resources to help preserve and revitalize communities
Thursday, January 12th at 7pm, the Planning Commission and Housing Commission will discuss the Housing Element.
Every eight years, the state requires each city to update its plan for new housing at all income levels (this is called a “Housing Element”). Your personal story and input is a powerful way to influence the process to ensure Menlo Park’s housing plan is robust and fair.
It’s time to act together to shape a future for Menlo Park with homes for all. Please consider sending a personal email to Planning and Housing Commissioners by early afternoon, January 12th.
Need help? Have questions? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may want to highlight:
How the lack of housing at all income levels affects you and the people you care about. Be specific!
How more housing aligns with your values. At Menlo Together, we envision 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, developed to produce zero net greenhouse gasses.
The importance of increasing the accessibility, vibrancy and climate-friendliness of downtown Menlo Park by building higher and denser housing near services and transit. (Note: removing some of the less realistic sites from the draft Housing Element would require the City to increase the amount of housing it plans for viable sites downtown, including city-owned parking lots and other locations in the downtown/El Camino area)
The benefits of building housing on city-owned land such as downtown parking lots include the potential for nonprofit housing developers to build homes for some of our most housing-insecure residents.
Why Menlo Park should plan for a variety of affordable housing options, including for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, large families, and others with special needs.
The need for policies that prevent the displacement of our neighbors (42% of Menlo Park residents rent their homes), such as prohibiting unfair evictions and excessive rent increases, preventing discrimination and harassment, and preserving “naturally affordable housing” (such as homes in older buildings located in more affordable neighborhoods).
The opportunity to increase the viability of at least one potential housing site near highway 280 (such as the Sharon Heights Shopping Center). The city can incentivize housing at these sites by increasing the allowable height and density of buildings it allows on these properties.
As of November 17, with approximately 80% of the votes counted, No on V prevailed in every single council district and nearly every precinct citywide.
Menlo Together participated with multi-faceted coalition of local and regional stakeholders who organized, canvassed, phone-banked, educated friends and neighbors, hosted gatherings, recruited volunteers, delivered signs, wrote postcards, and knocked on doors all over the city to inform people about the bad measure that would have made affordable housing more difficult, and that proposed to have replaced the city’s deliberative process with more contentious ballot measures.
So, now what?
By defeating Measure V, Menlo Park residents chose to keep our public processes. This means there are important opportunities to engage in decisions about important issues like:
Housing at the Flood School Site
Housing at the SRI Site
Completing and implementing a Housing Element to provide housing for people of all income levels and meet fair housing requirements.
Now that the obstacle of Measure V is behind us, stay tuned for more opportunities to meet neighbors, engage, and improve housing affordability in Menlo Park.
Join the Political Forum Webinar the Almanacis hosting this fall. Hear from both sides of the Measure V ballot measure via Zoon this upcoming Thursday, October 6, from 7 to 8 p.m. Almanac Editor Andrea Gemmet and Staff Writer Cameron Rebosio will pose questions to Nicole Chessari of Menlo Balance and Margarita Méndez of Menlo Park Neighbors for Affordable Homes.
What’s this all about? This November, Menlo Park neighbors will vote on a local ballot measure designed to stop the Ravenswood City School District from creating affordable homes for teachers and staff at its Flood School site. The measure would also block future homes from being created for your neighbors throughout Menlo Park. YOU can stop this! Learn more about the measure here.
Last month (June 28), your Menlo Park City Council Members commissioned an independent, objective impact analysis of a November 2022 Menlo Park ballot measure.
That report was released last Friday and the findings are clear – the ballot measure would create big barriers for affordable housing in Menlo Park and block teacher and staff housing for the Ravenswood City School District.
If the ballot measure passes in November 2022, it will:
Block affordable housing for teachers and school staff at the vacant site of the former Flood School site owned by Ravenswood City School District.
Lock in and exacerbate racial and economic segregation by blocking future homes in high opportunity neighborhoods which are predominantly upper income and white.
Limit the city’s ability to plan for housing for people at a variety of income levels, in conflict with the city’s General Plan
Put the city at risk of being sued by reducing our ability to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH), as required by law (CA 2018 Assembly Bill 686)
Block Menlo Park Fire District from redeveloping their headquarters without a public vote.
Block Menlo Park religious organizations from redeveloping their properties without a public vote.
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 26, council members will most likely vote to put this measure on the November ballot rather than enact it into law without a public vote, which is the only other option. City Council measures can also express their opinions to the measure if they so choose.
To watch a presentation on the report and share your thoughts with the City Council, you can dial in by Zoom or phone.
Dial In: (669) 900-6833 Meeting ID: 831 3316 9409 Press *9 to raise hand to speak
The meeting starts at 5pm with a closed session. The Ballot Measure item will likely get started some time after 7pm. If you would like a text message or email when the item starts, rather than waiting, please send a message with your contact information to email@example.com