Meanwhile, in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, cities in the Bay Area and across the US, are exploring ways to provide traffic enforcement and safety improvements without armed police. Berkeley has already approved such a measure, and similar measures have been under consideration in Oakland.
According to the article in The Appeal below, “Of all the functions that could be separated from the police department, one of the most significant would be the removal of traffic enforcement. Over 24 million people each year come into contact with police during a traffic stop, according to data from the Department of Justice. And traffic stops can be especially dangerous and discriminatory for people of color: Black drivers are 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers, and as much as twice as likely to be searched, according to a study of 100 million traffic stops conducted by the Stanford Open Policing Project. And 11 percent of all fatal shootings by police in 2015 occurred during traffic stops, according to a Washington Post database of police killings.”
Prior to Covid, the staff reports notes that Menlo Park had relatively high collision rates, so the solutions we were using before Covid weren’t delivering safety.
Improving safety for people using roads is important, and there are many needs for which armed police are not the most effective or cost-effective strategy.
To protect the safety of children going to school, crossing guards would be helpful
To help children learn to bike and walk safety, education specialists would be helpful
And, in the long run, improving streets for safe driving speeds and safer walking and bicycling will have the greatest impact.
As the nation rethinks how best to provide public safety, Menlo Park should review investments in roadway safety beyond policing.
Here are some resources on the issue and other cities:
In July 2020, Menlo Park adopted a new climate action plan (CAP) that included groundbreaking measures phasing out fossil fuel use throughout the city, and prioritizing racial justice. This was the boldest of any city in California, with a zero carbon target by 2030, through a combination of 90% greenhouse gas reductions and 10% carbon removal.
Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, the impacts of climate change have not slowed. The climate crisis continues, and Menlo Park is uniquely vulnerable with residents in Belle Haven disproportionately impacted by significant flooding from sea level rise expected to worsen in the next few decades. There is scientific consensus that if we want to avoid the very worst and irreversible impacts of climate change, we must dramatically reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 through rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented measures.
The City of Menlo Park, aided by many experts on the Environmental Quality Commission, has stepped up as a climate leader. In 2019, Menlo Park adopted innovative all-electric, clean construction standards for new homes and buildings that at least a dozen other cities have since adopted, creating a movement for zero carbon development. The 2020 Climate Action Plan continues that leadership with four core strategies to dramatically reduce carbon pollution:
Phasing out Fossil Gas use in homes & buildings (through clean, zero emission heaters, water heaters and appliances as they are replaced), with a target of a 95% transition by 2030;
Supporting and advancing a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) with reduced gasoline sales, expanded EV charging, and City Fleet leadership;
Reducing traffic through measures making the City easier to navigate without a car, and increasing housing downtown; and
Eliminating the use of fossil fuels from municipal operations.
This Tuesday, March 23, the City of Menlo Park will hear an update on the Climate Action Plan, and consider 6 key measures. The staff report gives some options including halting some measures or reconsidering the CAP. Over the past year most City Council Members have been very supportive of climate action, so this new proposal is a disappointing turn that is out of step with city leadership. And the vast majority of residents in Menlo Park understand that climate change is happening, and most would like to see our city leaders take more action (according to Yale Climate Opinion Research).
Your voice matters! The City needs to hear from you that our Climate Plan can be done equitably, affordably, and to everyone’s benefit. It is so important to keep the CAP goal intact (Zero Carbon by 2030), maintain the core measures, and continue with the highest impact measure on building electrification (CAP Measure #1). As the world warms, now is not the time to get cold feet on climate action. Reducing our fossil fuel use is the most important thing Menlo Park can do to address the climate crisis. And you all know this can’t wait.
Here is what a sample message to city council could look like:
Dear Mayor Combs and City Council Members,
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to addressing the climate crisis. Adopting the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in July 2020 was a major milestone that cemented Menlo Park as a true leader. Please don’t let up on this important effort – we need all of the actions that were approved in the CAP to meet our 2030 target. The sooner we get started with equitable measures to reduce pollution across every community in Menlo Park, the more we will all benefit. In particular, Menlo Park’s leadership to phase out polluting fossil fuels from our homes and buildings is critical.
I care about addressing the climate crisis because (please add something personal about your concern with wildfires & hazardous air quality from smoke, wanting to leave a livable world for grandchildren, or being personally impacted by fossil fuel pollution if you have asthma or another health condition).
I support the recommendations of the Environmental Quality Commission and the Complete Streets Commission, and urge you to direct staff to continue working with these Commissions to implement the CAP with the appropriate sense of urgency that the Climate Crisis calls for.
[Your Name & any affiliation you’d like to add]
Emails should be sent by 4pm at the latest on Tuesday to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for considering it! Your voice means a lot to city leaders.
This is not an easy time to advance a bold climate goal and yet we must move forward and accelerate action. As many of you may be feeling the impacts of climate change already intensifying, with 2020 being the hottest on record and with the worst wildfire season, there is no time for delay. Where several decades ago, climate change was impacting the Arctic and more about polar bears than people, now we are all polar bears.
At the Menlo Park City Council goal-setting meeting on March 9, Council Members refined their priorities for the coming year.
The overall summary of top priorities included:
Covid response and recovery, focusing on addressing inequities
Meeting the state’s Housing Element requirement, with a robust scope to address housing affordability
Implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan
Also, with regard to transportation, City Council maintained a priority to complete the bicycle / pedestrian undercrossing of the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue, paired with complete streets and traffic calming on Middle Avenue, providing safer trips for people of all ages across town to the Community Center, schools, and downtown.
See this blog post for more on the recent revelations about Covid disparities and how you can help
In response to resident feedback, the Council added exploration of rail quiet zones to the queue. A summary of the resource / CIP implications is expected to come back on the 23rd. Also, the request from a number of residents for a ban on gas leafblowers is being referred to the Environmental Quality Commission.
Summary and Next Steps
There will be an important milestone meeting on April 13, when City Council will identify top priorities and take action to adopt 2021 priorities and work plan. A summary of the meeting by city staff can be found here and the timeline for next steps are listed below.
It will be important to continue to pay attention to the consequences of the priorities in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan and Budget. One item to watch out for is the potential impact of proposed additions to transportation priorities, including quiet zones, on the pre-existing CIP queue that had good projects for safety and climate, including important safety improvements in Belle Haven.
An eye-opening new investigative report from community organization Belle Haven Action uncovered stark disparities in rates of COVID-19 in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, whose residents include a large majority of people of color who are more likely to be essential workers, mirroring COVID-19 disparities around the nation. The research revealed that Belle Haven residents, who account for 15.6% of the city’s population, have experienced 50.3% of Menlo Park’s total number of COVID-19 cases.
These disparities in the rates of COVID-19 across Menlo Park had been invisible for a year because the county only reported data by city until recently.
Given the legacy of residential segregation and disinvestment in Menlo Park, and in many San Mateo County cities, it should have been an immediate priority to gather data by census tract. Thankfully, we have the data now – and it’s clear why we needed it from the start. Since the statistics for Belle Haven, in census tract 6117, were averaged together with the wealthier, whiter neighborhoods of Menlo Park, Belle Haven did not emerge as a hot spot. Yet the infection rate there is 14%, as compared to 2.7% in the rest of Menlo Park. These impacts were not made clear until Belle Haven Action published its report.
Belle Haven Action recommended that to address the disparities, San Mateo County must use trusted messengers to bring the resources directly to the communities with the highest infection rates, which are communities of concern with high shares of households with minority or low-income status, seniors, and people who have limited English proficiency. Serving as known and trusted messengers, Belle Haven Action has set up testing sites and, most recently, a vaccination clinic in the community. To locate a testing and/or vaccination site in the Belle Haven community please visit: https://www.bellehavenaction.org/testing.html
In addition, Belle Haven and nearby communities of concern in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks have been excluded from eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine prioritization targeted at communities of concern, on the basis of data is reported by city and zip code instead of finer-grained census tracts.
Demanding a City Council Priority
The Belle Haven Action report helped to strengthen advocacy by Belle Haven residents, supported by Menlo Together, for the City of Menlo Park to set COVID-19 response and recovery as a City Council priority. The city can provide funding, resources, and communication assistance to connect Belle Haven residents to services provided by the county and state, by partnering with trusted neighborhood-based organizations and leaders. Local elected officials and trusted messengers must be at the table when planning testing and vaccinations in the communities of concern.
At a recent City Council discussion about priorities for the coming year, sharp questioning by Council Member Taylor revealed that the City had not previously identified a point person on staff to focus on COVID-19 response, and the perception of city senior staff was that because the County has primary responsibility for public health, the City does not have a major role to play. The meeting is recorded here, and the discussion runs from 4:26 to 5:30 in the video.
In response to Council Member Taylor questioning and resident demands, City Council demanded a higher priority for COVID-19 response by the city, with actions including:
assigning a staff person focused on COVID-19 response
listening for community needs
providing a bridge between state/county programs and Menlo Park resident needs
supporting community based organizations that are effective at communicating with residents in Belle Haven
allocating new federal relief funds to address COVID-19 disparities
supporting prioritization of vaccines for Belle Haven and neighboring communities in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks (see below).
Demanding a fair share of vaccines and relief funds
Local residents have recently received the support of state legislators Josh Becker and Mark Berman in calling attention to the need to allocate COVID-19 resources by census tract, instead of zip code or city, to ensure that low-income communities of color in the Bay Area receive vaccine priority and a fair share of relief funding. This is especially important for communities in San Mateo County zip codes– with high incomes and good health indicators relative to the rest of the state– as they have not benefited from the state’s strategy to prioritize vaccine distribution to the lowest-income, highest-risk areas of California.
The COVID-19 disparities echo the shocking but familiar stories of underinvestment and insufficient attention to low-income committees of color in our area and nationwide.
Here are some steps you can take to reinforce the hard work of our local leaders in revealing the inequities and demanding attention and resources to address them.
* Let Menlo Park City Council know by their priority-setting meeting on April 13 that you support the participation and leadership of local community-based organizations in communities of concern, especially as more resources from federal relief funds become available for COVID-19 response. Send email to email@example.com
A robust Housing Element process to address opportunities to improve affordability and racial equity
A broader initiative to support people and businesses to endure and recover from the impacts of Covid
Continued focus on the Climate Action Plan, potentially including opportunities to improve walking, bicycling, and other alternatives to driving.
There were also a variety of other ideas that emerged from community members and Council members. Council will need to make important decisions to winnow the list of ideas that the city will focus on.
On February 23rd, City Council will return to the goal setting process to make decisions – this will be an important moment to steer the city’s priorities in a year that will have big challenges and opportunities for housing, transportation, sustainability and racial justice.
We will keep you posted on actions you can take to further these goals.
Read on for more background on what happened at the meeting.
Housing Element. With regard to the Housing Element, which is a legal requirement to plan for housing for people of all income levels, council members including Wolosin and Nash supported the perspective of going beyond the minimal requirements to address needs for housing affordability and repairing the city’s legacy of segregation. Staff noted that the Housing Element this year has new requirements to affirmatively further fair housing will will create momentum for these goals.
Covid Recovery. With regard to considering restoring city services within a broader frame of supporting people and businesses with the impacts of Covid, Council Member Mueller was a strongest voice for a robust response; there was a lot of dialogue about how much and what functions the city might take on, such as participating in the county COVID recovery table and make sure our most vulnerable communities receive the resources they need, and requesting disaggregated data to illuminate the disparate impact of Covid in the Belle Haven neighborhood.
Climate Action Plan (CAP). With regard to concerns raised by Council and community members that the Climate Action Plan did not appear to be highlighted as a priority in the staff report, staff reframed their recommendation, considering the project to apply for a Safer Bay grant to protect the Ravenswood electrical substation as a major focus of climate action. Several council members supported making sure that CAP implementation remains a priority including opportunities to focus on improving residents’ quality of life and reducing car traffic by improving alternatives to driving. This priority would also dovetail with the city’s Vision Zero policy to greatly reduce injuries and fatalities from traffic crashes.
There were a variety of other items that drew public comment and council discussion.
With regard to policing and public safety, there were multiple public comments in addition to Menlo Together and longtime community leader Pam Jones. Staff commented that the new police chief starting this Spring would focus on community outreach on the issues.
With regard to redistricting, which will use new US Census data to define the city council districts in Menlo Park, staff recommended early action in hiring a demographer since they will be in high demand.
A number of community members were interested in banning gas leafblowers, which cause annoyance and pollution. Council Member Mueller made a sensible recommendation to refer this item to the Environmental Quality Commission. While the EQC had declined to take the item up in 2019, battery technology has made rapid progress even in the last few years so the electric alternatives to gas leafblowers may be more ready for broad rollout.
A number of community members were interested in “quiet zones” – a policy initiative that the city would need to lead, to have Caltrain reduce horn noise. This project would require the installation of four-quadrant gates, which prevent drivers from getting onto the tracks as the train approaches, at the intersections where the Caltrain tracks cross surface streets. Atherton has already installed quiet zones and a Council Member from Atherton reported in the goal-setting session’s public comment on what that town had done. Menlo Park Council and staff discussed how this item might be advanced with some more planning.
As date of the Feb 23 meeing approaches, a staff report will be published with more detail for the Council’s consideration of goal-setting decisions. We will keep you posted on helpful ways to support the goals of housing, sustainable transportation, environment and racial equity.
On Saturday, January 30, the Menlo Park City Council is holding a goal-setting workshop from 10am to 3pm. Read on for tips for encouraging City Council to strengthen goals for the coming year to make the city more equitable and sustainable.
The agenda is here. You can send your thoughts in advance by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can give public comment at the meeting. Public comment is slated to start around 10:25am, subject to change. You can dial in by zoom at Zoom.us/join with Meeting ID# 947 1320 5683 , or by phone at (669) 900-6833 Meeting ID# 947 1320 5683, press *9 to raise your hand to speak.
The coming fiscal year, from July 2021 through June 2022, will continue to be challenging and uncertain. Widespread vaccination will alleviate the health risks of Covid and the burden on people’s livelihoods, but the pace of vaccination and rise of new virus strains add uncertainty. Covid recovery will be an important theme. The City has urgent and important priorities to meet state legal requirements to plan for housing (called the Housing Element), and important goals to address climate change.
The city staff is starting the Council’s discussions with some good proposed priorities, including the 2022 Housing Element, rebuilding library and community services from service cuts driven by Covid, and the SAFER Bay Project, an opportunity to get federal grant funding to protect a power substation in the Belle Haven neighborhood from sea level rise.
Menlo Together has some recommendations for the City Council to enhance these good priorities:
The Housing Element is essential, as a legal requirement and as a process that can enable the city of Menlo Park to take steps to address housing unaffordability and the legacy of segregation. As part of this goal, the City Council should consider prioritizing related policies and programs to increase housing production, preserve affordable housing, and protect renters that do not strictly fall within the legally required scope of the Housing Element update.
The priority on “rebuilding library and community services” is important for a year in which we expect pandemic restrictions to lift. We are very glad to see that the staff report highlights the need for assessment of “diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility in LCS department services and operations” as part of service restoration, and are eager to ensure that community outreach plays a big part in restoring services. However, we believe this theme of rebuilding services should be reframed more broadly as “rebuilding city services to achieve an equitable COVID recovery,” allowing the city to consider a variety of recovery needs.
In advancing the Climate Action Plan, we strongly support the strategies of building electrification and electric vehicle charging that have already been approved. However, the City Council should also consider prioritizing the city’s regular transportation planning in ways that reduce vehicle miles traveled. For example, there will be opportunities coming forward in the existing program to advance a transportation management association that can help workers reduce car commuting, and there will be opportunities in the routine selection and design of bicycle and pedestrian projects,that can be oriented toward addressing our climate goals
Here is a copy of the comment letter that Menlo Together sent on January 12 regarding City Council goal-setting.
On Tuesday, June 16, the Menlo Park City Council will be considering a resolution proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.” This is a welcome step, and an opportunity to go further to demand action.
Already, nearly 100 residents have signed a petition demanding that Menlo Park’s Police Open Data Portal track stops by neighborhood and race. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition. As promised, we are forwarding the names of petition signatures to City Council. If you have not yet signed, you can do so here.
In addition to the demand to track stops by race, Menlo Together’s letter is asking for several other steps to improve public safety – a Public Safety Commission with review and oversight capabilities, and to replace the upcoming “police strategic plan” with a “public safety strategic plan” that would consider more broadly what types of investments will improve community safety, and explore for which activities other community resources may be a better, such as social workers with mental health and substance abuse expertise.
You can share your own thoughts with City Council tonight – the public meeting is likely to start around 5pm, after a closed session starting at 4pm. If you are sending written comment, please send it before 3pm (see instructions below)
The Black Lives Matter agenda item is on what is called the “consent calendar” – items that Council will vote on without discussion. But the City Council will hear comments on the item and may choose to discuss if there are comments.
How to participate in the meeting • Submit a written comment online: menlopark.org/publiccommentJune16* • Record a comment or request a call-back when an agenda topic is under consideration: Dial 650-474-5071* • Access the special meeting real-time online at: joinwebinar.com – Special Meeting ID 987-314-579 *Written and recorded public comments and call-back requests are accepted up to 1 hour before the meeting start time. Written and recorded messages are provided to the City Council at the appropriate time in their meeting. Recorded messages may be transcribed using a voice-to-text tool.
Menlo Park City Council is working on recession budget cuts at tonight’s City Council meeting. There are some decisions in the hands of Menlo Park City Council that can advance or hamper racial and economic equity in the city.
The City is proposing to cut community services in Belle Haven for two years or more before a new community center is built. Belle Haven is a neighborhood that was formerly “redlined” (segregated by financial policy) and has historically been provided with lower quality services than the whiter and wealthier areas of Menlo Park. This budget decision would exacerbate those historical inequities.
Preserving childcare. The draft budget proposes to maintain childcare services. However, the proposed changes risk failure for the program – increasing fees above market rate, adding surcharges, and closing the program if it is undersubscribed with these uncompetitive rates. Closure of the childcare services will harm the livelihood of families who depend on childcare to hold paying jobs and those who make up the child care workforce (largely women of color).
Instead of cutting Belle Haven services and putting childcare at risk, Menlo Together is urging City Council to deferring capital projects that can wait, and using reserve funds the City saved for emergencies such as this.
For more details on the budget decisions and Menlo Together’s recommendations, see this letter to City Council. And share your thoughts by sending a message to City Council before 4pm.
Or you can participate in tonight’s online meeting. The meeting starts at 5pm with a “close session.” – the public section of the meeting will likely start between 6 and 7. • Record a comment or request a call-back when an agenda topic is under consideration: Dial 650-474-5071* • Access the special meeting real-time online at: joinwebinar.com – Special Meeting ID 932-476-515
On a June 3 teleconference with the Menlo Park Mayor Cecilia Taylor and Police Chief Dave Bertini, a woman called in and asked about how to explain to neighborhood teens about being stopped for no apparent reason by police. Studies show that youth who experience intrusive police stops are at risk of heightened emotional distress.
The City of Menlo Park has an Open Data Portal that provides information about local law enforcement activity. The portal provides statistics for citations, showing disparities by race. Of the citations between 2016 and 2018 that listed the individual’s race (all but 2%) 31% were given to white individuals while 69% were given to non-white individuals (40% for Black and Hispanic individuals alone). In contrast, the population of Menlo Park is exactly the opposite: 70% white and 30% non-white (according to the 2010 census).
If you want to see Menlo Park police track data about police stops by race and neighborhood, please sign this petition. If you sign this petition, Menlo Together will:
share your name with Menlo Park City Council
contact you with more opportunities to demand transparent data about police stops, and other opportunities for a more transparent and just city
On June 1, hundreds gathered at Burgess Park, at a rally in support of #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter. Mayor Cecilia Taylor, the city’s first African-American Mayor, gave a moving talk where she shared with the crowd that she fears for her stepson and nephews’ lives. When she heard the news during a Council meeting she struggled with tears from the dais.
After the Mayor spoke, the group knelt for nine minutes, recalling how long the murderer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Then the group marched, chanting and holding signs, up Alma Street and across the Caltrain tracks to the Palo Alto Avenue soccer fields. The rally, like so many across the United States, was organized by high school students who demand a more just and equitable future where #BlackLivesMatter, where Black people do not fear police violence, and where the outcome of people’s lives – health, education. prosperity – can’t be predicted by skin color.
At the close of her talk Mayor Taylor, “There are policies we can put in place” to bring about a more just and equitable city. For those who share this vision, click here to join us at Menlo Together, a group of Menlo Park and Peninsula residents who envision a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. We’ll keep you posted on opportunities to learn and take action at bringing about a just and sustainable Menlo Park.