Update on the Parkline project at SRI

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.

The updated proposal incorporates feedback from numerous residents who advocated last spring for the Parkline proposal to include more housing and more deeply affordable housing and now includes:

  • 150 more homes (from 400 to 550)
  • An acre of land dedicated to a non-profit housing developer to produce 100 homes for people who are most impacted by housing insecurity, such as extremely low income people with special needs.  

To support these improvements, sign this letter to the Planning Commission. We encourage you to share why this is personally important to you. 

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. 

Environmental Justice and the Case for a Stronger Housing Element

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 draft Environmental Justice and Safety Element have been released and public meetings on these elements will be held in early February, 2023.

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. 

Take action now:

  1. Before 7pm on Jan 11th, please sign on to this Menlo Together/Housing Leadership Council letter in support of a rigorous and equitable Housing Element 
  2. Lend your voice even more powerfully:  Speak directly to your Planning and Housing Commissioners at tomorrow’s  joint meeting.

Here’s all the relevant meeting information you’ll need:

Agenda

When: January 12, 2023 at 7:00 pm

In Person: City Council Chambers, 751 Laurel St., 94025

Online Via Zoom: Meeting ID 862-5880-9056

Phone:

Dial 669-900-6833

Meeting ID 862-5880-9056

Press *9 to raise hand to speak

If you have any questions info@menlotogether.org or kchan@hlcsmc.org will be happy to help.

Our city needs a realistic and equitable plan for housing over the next decade

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 info@menlotogether.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.

More information:

Menlo Park voters soundly reject Measure V

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.

Hear From Both Sides of Measure V

Join the Political Forum Webinar the Almanac is 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. 

Independent Report finds that Ballot Measure would block affordable housing

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.

Here’s the meeting information:

Agenda: Items J1 and J2
Zoom: https://zoom.us/join
Meeting ID: 831 3316 9409

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 adina@menlotogether.org

Non-Single-Family Properties Affected by the Ballot Measure

Menlo Park Eviction Moratorium – Public Comment

Dear Menlo Park City Council:

The expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium on June 30 has the potential to set off an unnecessary housing crisis.

As the economy recovers and people get back to work, household incomes need time to recover from months of joblessness and economic hardship. This is especially true for lower-income renter families who have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to PolicyLink, approximately 700,000 California renters are still behind on rent, with an average of $4,600 in arrears. In San Mateo County, 11,000 households were in arrears by an average of $2,363 in May.  The numbers are likely higher today, and we know that Menlo Park households are struggling because Samaritan House reported recently that the Menlo Park Covid Tenant Assistance Fund they administered was able to assist 30 households before it was depleted.

Much of the federal and state $47 million allocated to San Mateo County for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) remains unused due to a variety of reported factors, including lack of landlord and tenant information, a lengthy application, and eligibility criteria that exclude some households. The Governor has announced that more relief is on the way, but we have learned that such programs take time to roll out and reach those who need it most.

It is clear that the state must extend SB 91 (COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act) protections beyond June 30, but so far, it has not taken action. This is despite many local elected officials, advocacy groups, and concerned residents urging it to do so. With the statewide reopening, the County of San Mateo is limited in its authority to enact a countywide moratorium; any action it takes to extend a moratorium would apply to unincorporated county land, not to cities like Menlo Park. As the clock runs out, it may be up to individual cities to create this temporary stopgap.

We therefore 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.

We know that COVID-19 has not affected all communities equally: for example, in California, state data show that communities of color have faced much higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates than their share of the population, and nationwide, the economic fallout of the pandemic has hit lower-income households the hardest. According to the San Mateo County Health Dashboard, Menlo Park’s historical COVID-19 cases are 1,680 citywide, of which 828 (or 49.3%) were in the Belle Haven neighborhood where only 20% of Menlo Park resides.  

Pre-pandemic, many of these same communities faced a disproportionately higher risk of eviction. Public health advocates point out that the threat of eviction, the health effects of which are well-documented, could cause a second public health crisis on the heels of the pandemic.

We appreciate that you, our City Council, are committed to striving towards an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in Menlo Park. We thank you for your consideration of this important and timely action.

Sincerely,

Menlo Together Team

Menlo Park Budget 2021/2 – Recovery for a healthy, safe and just future

Menlo Park City Council is considering its budget for the 2021/2 fiscal year.   Thankfully, the budget is based on optimistic projections that take into account the high vaccination rates, declining Covid prevalence, and increasing economic activity. 

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 to simply return us to previous conditions, but to instead, focus on forward-looking priorities of climate, safety, health and equity.

The City Council has opportunities to restore services and recover from the impact of the pandemic with budget decisions that provide
* progress on transportation and climate
* reimagining public safety

* recovery for vulnerable community members

Community members will have a chance to weigh in on the city’s budget at several upcoming meetings including a community meeting on June 1, and Council meetings on June 8 and June 22.

If you have thoughts for City Council (after reading this blog), send a note to city.council@menlopark.org

The community meeting on June 1 from 5-8pm is a good time to ask questions of staff: https://www.menlopark.org/855/City-budget
Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/91271920424

If you have to choose one time to make spoken public comment to the City Council, join the June 8 City Council meeting (by Zoom/dial-in). The agenda and dial-in information is expected to be posted on Wednesday, June 3 and we will share it as well.

Read on for some overview information on the budget, and ideas for recommendations to refine the budget to support Menlo Together’s values. 

Budget overview

The City’s General Fund, where the City Council has the most spending discretion, represents about $58 million dollars.  If we are reading the city’s budget data correctly,  the city’s General Fund budget was about $70 million. However, this year the city made some accounting changes moving about $4 million into other funds, leaving $66 million for an apples to apples comparison to the pre-Covid General Fund. 

So the city’s revenue is projected to still be more than 10% down, but that may change based on the pace of economic recovery. .

https://stories.opengov.com/menlopark/published/6tQNllAoZ

The bulk of the city’s resources, over 60% are used for personnel pay and benefits. The largest share goes to police, followed by the library and community services, and public works (see chart.).  

For more information, check out the city’s budget website and this helpful presentation put together by Council Member Wolosin for her constituents and all city residents.

https://stories.opengov.com/menlopark/published/iwqNQF6Mb

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1jAboQ9m4LQQ9s5UeplVC6eUWYEc31DA_FvaRdieBfx8/edit?usp=sharing

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 full time equivalent staff for the heritage tree program and maintenance, restoring staffing for neighborhood traffic management, and adding 1 full time equivalent 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 (TMP) that identifies numerous projects and programs that provide safe, convenient, and climate-friendly alternatives to driving.

In the Covid recovery budget, we urge the City to prioritize proactive measures to implement TMP projects and programs and advance the Climate Action Plan. 

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 full time equivalent staff positions to the police force, before the process to assess and reimagine policing and public safety.

A recent analysis (see below) shows that there are 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.  We do 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 American Rescue Plan funds for measures addressing the impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable residents and businesses, including rent relief, displacement prevention, homelessnes services and downtown revitalization.

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

Investing in traffic safety

On Tuesday, the Menlo Park City Council meeting agenda #K2 includes proposals to hire back two police officers for traffic enforcement.

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:

Berkeley Policy for unarmed civilian traffic stops

Presentation to Oakland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee on Reimagining Traffic Safety

Encinal Elementary School Crossing Guard Sammy Williams stops traffic for a pedestrian after school on Jan. 23, 2014. Michelle Le/The Almanac

Tuesday March 23 – Staying on track with strong Climate Action in Menlo Park!

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Supporting and advancing a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) with reduced gasoline sales, expanded EV charging, and City Fleet leadership;
  3. Reducing traffic through measures making the City easier to navigate without a car, and increasing housing downtown; and
  4. 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.

Sincerely,

[Your Name & any affiliation you’d like to add] 

Emails should be sent by 4pm at the latest on Tuesday to city.council@menlopark.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