Housing Element Education for Advocacy Workshop

On May 26th, Menlo Together held a Zoom workshop to share information about  Menlo Park’s Draft Housing Element, the process required by state law for cities to plan for homes for people of all income levels.  

The purpose of the workshop was to share context and information people could use to advocate for a Housing Element that supports our vision of an equitable, integrated, diverse, multi-generational, accessible and environmentally sustainable city.

We reviewed the Draft Housing Element and discussed opportunities to advocate to the City Council at their meeting on June 6.  Participation is critical – whether we are homeowners or renters.  We know it’s important to use our voices to ensure we have housing that meets the needs of our community, now and over the next decade.

Thanks to everyone who attended the workshop and to those who wrote letters and made phone calls or public comment!

If you missed the workshop or want to review, here are some helpful resources:

Menlo Park Housing Element Site Tour

Join Peninsula For Everyone, Menlo Together, Housing Leadership Council, Silicon Valley Bike Coalition and other housing advocates to see where Menlo Park is planning to build new homes! Part of Affordable Housing Month in May!

We’re thrilled that an expert group of speakers will be joining us:

  • State Senator Josh Becker
  • Affordable housing providers Alta Housing and MidPen Housing
  • Menlo Park Vice Mayor Jen Wolosin
  • San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley

The tour includes several sites that are included as priority sites for the next eight years. You can bicycle the route, or follow in a car. We’ll have scheduled stops for those who want to drive or do not wish to do the bike route.

Click here to register.

What is a Housing Element? More information and common questions here.


About your hosts:

Peninsula For Everyone is a group that works to create a more inclusive and sustainable Peninsula by advocating for building more housing, better transportation, and protecting renters.

Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and Peninsula 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.

Housing Leadership Council works with communities and their leaders to create and preserve quality affordable homes. HLC envisions a San Mateo County that works together to build inclusive, equitable, and healthy communities where all people can access safe, affordable homes and the resources needed for their families to thrive.

Silicon Valley Bike Coalition’s purpose is to create a healthy community, environment, and economy through bicycling for people who live, work, or play in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. We envision a community that values, includes, and encourages bicycling for all purposes for all people.

Affordable Teacher Housing at Flood School Site

The Ravenswood City School District is proposing to produce affordable housing on the former Flood School Site (at 321 Sheridan Dr.), which they own, and which is in Menlo Park. The homes would be restricted to people who qualify by income level, and RCSD staff would have first priority to live there.

In addition to producing much-needed affordable housing for education staff, the project would generate sustainable revenue for the district on the order of 1-2% of current budget. Click here for more information about the school district’s proposal.

Menlo Park, like all Bay Area cities, is currently drafting its Housing Element — which is the plan for where and how affordable homes could be built over an 8-year period. The former Flood School site has been identified as a site with the opportunity to produce some of the 1500 affordable homes we are required to plan for this cycle.

On Tuesday, May 3rd, 7pm. the City of Menlo Park is holding public input meeting about the project.

Here are actions you can take to support affordable housing for teachers and school staff:

Menlo Park Planning Commission SRI Parkline Study Session – Letter to Planning Commission

Dear Members of the Menlo Park Planning Commission, 

Menlo Together is made up of Peninsula residents from all walks of life who envision a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. 

We, and the attached list of residents, believe that our city can achieve these goals by building more homes across all levels of affordability, especially near transit and downtown services.  The 400 proposed mixed-income homes in the Parkline proposal are a great start, but we believe we can do more. To ensure that we meet the needs of all our residents, including those with extremely low income and/or special needs, Menlo Together would like to see an acre of land within the development donated to a non-profit housing developer and developed to meet our most pressing needs – deeply affordable housing for families and people of all abilities.  

We also support increasing our inclusionary BMR requirement from 15% to 20%.

These additional affordable units can be feasible if the project is allowed to increase the number of market rate units (by allowing greater height and density) and by reducing or eliminating minimum parking requirements.  As stated before, the site is very close to a public transit hub, and could be designed to attract residents who prefer not to own or drive their own car.  This would help reduce local traffic, and our city’s climate impact.  In particular, the deeply affordable housing should have flexibility with regard to number of parking spots in the development, because according to a study by Housing Leadership Council and Transform, CA, the lower the income of a household, the more likely they are to take public transit instead of driving, so the need for parking spots is less than for many market rate developments.  

No matter where you begin, success in life starts at home for all ages and all people. When we have safe, secure places to live, parents earn more, kids learn better, health and well-being improve, and our community is strengthened because it now has the building blocks needed to thrive.  

Let’s take full advantage of the Parkline project to build a strong community of people and families of all incomes and abilities who thrive.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

The Menlo Together Team

info@menlotogether.org 

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

Menlo Park City Council advances priorities of Covid response, housing affordability, climate action

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.

The City Council’s direction for the upcoming year’s priorities closely resembled the items that Menlo Together identified from the beginning of the Council goal-setting process in January.  Thanks to everyone who has communicated with City Council in writing and in public comments.

See this blog post for more on the recent revelations about Covid disparities and how you can help

Other items

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.

New report reveals stark COVID-19 disparities 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.  

Action Steps:

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.

* Support Belle Haven Action with your volunteer time and/or donations

* Write the governor to support State allocation of COVID-19 resources by census tract  https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/ 

* 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 city.council@menlopark.org