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Menlo Park Council considers Environmental Justice and Safety

On Tuesday June 18, starting at 5:30pm, Menlo Park City Council hold a study session on an updated draft of the new Environmental Justice/Safety Element of the General Plan.  Menlo Park is following a new state law requiring an Environmental Justice element of the city’s General Plan to create policies and investments to address our history of environmental injustice and to create the plan with leadership from communities impacted by environmental injustice.

The Belle Haven Empowered project of Menlo Together hosted an gathering last week to discuss Environmental Justice and the new draft plan. The meeting had a background of the history of environmental injustices in Menlo Park, the work that has been done over the last 2 and a half years to gather community feedback and community recommendations, and the process going forward.

You can check out the video recording and presentation slides from the meeting.
Summary slide: Menlo Park Environmental Justice Element
And share your views to the City Council meeting to support an equitable and sustainable city

The agenda is here.

Physical locations
City Council Chambers,  751 Laurel St., Menlo Park, CA 94025Belle Haven Community Campus, 100 Terminal Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025

Zoom
 https://zoom.us/j/83212857140

Or submit written comments to city.council@menlopark.gov.  

City Council supports 800 mixed income homes at Parkline/SRI site

On Tuesday, May 21, Menlo Park City Council responded favorably to an updated proposal for a mixed use development at the centrally located SRI site. The new proposal increases the number of homes from 450 to 800–in a location convenient to downtown, public transit, parks, and open space.

Affordability of these new homes will range from market-rate to rents that are affordable to people with extremely low incomes (lower than 30% of the median income in our area).  Overall, 31% of the homes will be rented at below market rate, and up to 154 will be affordable to people with extremely low, very low, and low incomes through partnership with a non-profit housing provider. 

There were dozens of public comments, in person and in writing, a large majority in support of the project including the additional homes overall and greater number of affordable homes.

City Council’s comments focused on interest in including affordable homes earlier in the timeline if possible, strengthening transportation demand management to reduce the share of driving, attention to the details of pedestrian and bicycle circulation and community spaces.

As next steps, the draft Environmental Impact Report will be published in June, the Planning Commission will review the EIR within a 45 day review period, and the City Council is expected to make a decision about the development this coming Winter. 

In addition to including more homes and deeper levels of affordability, the new design provides for 46 townhomes, adding to the diversity of housing types. The new design improves street safety for bicyclists and pedestrians by limiting how cars can access the development from Laurel.  Project amenities include walking and bike paths, open space, trees, and a dog park; for more information, see the project description and detailed plans at the city website.

Opportunities to turn plans to action: City Council priority-setting workshop moved to March 12

The City of Menlo Park has rescheduled its Priority Setting Workshop to Saturday, March 12, starting at 5pm. The meeting will be held in person at City Hall and online via Zoom

Tuesday, March 12, starting at 5pm
In Person: City Council Chambers, 751 Laurel St., Menlo Park
Via Zoom: https://zoom.us/join – ID# 832 1285 7140

In the coming year there are important opportunities to turn the city’s plans into action.  

In recent years, Menlo Together has supported the city developing plans for affordable housing, environmental justice, and safe and sustainable transportation, to advance a vision of a city that is diverse, sustainable, and equitable.

Key opportunities for action in the coming year include:

  • Implementing the Housing Element, including adding affordable housing on the city’s downtown parking lots, adjusting the guidelines so that affordable housing serves the needs of more low-income residents, implementing tenant protections, and streamlining projects that meet city guidelines so needed housing is built faster
  • Completing the city’s Environmental Justice and Safety Element and getting started on implementation, including hiring outreach workers to connect residents in underserved communities with resources and encourage participation in decisions; creating an urban forest master plan with a focus on increasing tree cover in underserved communities, and pursuing funding to implement the plan.
  • Continue the Council priority to support citywide efforts to create a network of safe, accessible and appealing pedestrian and bicycle facilities, by implementing the city’s Transportation Master Plan, with special priority on investments in underserved communities
  • Pursue economic development of local services for the Bayfront area that were called for years ago in the Connect Menlo Plan enabling people to live, work, play and shop in the area.  The city should prioritize implementation of local services in the Bayfront that has been lagging

Menlo Together submitted a letter to Council with these recommendations.

What do you think?   Come join the workshop on March 12 to share your input on what Menlo Park should prioritize for the 2024-25 fiscal year.  Or send your thoughts by email to city.council@menlopark.gov

Menlo Park City Council approves zoning for more homes downtown and across the city; state approves housing plan

On December 20, the Menlo Park’s Housing Element – ​​a state-required plan to allow 3,000 homes at different levels of affordability and affirmatively further fair housing across the community – was conditionally approved by the State pending some minor edits.

The state approval follows closely after the recent major milestone when City Council approved zoning to legalize more housing, especially affordable housing on city-owned parking lots downtown, as well as more housing in mixed-income developments across the city. Importantly, the housing sites in the new plan are outside of District 1 (the Bayfront area that includes the Belle Haven neighborhood), which has accommodated a disproportionate share of development in recent years.

This “upzoning” is a major step forward, advancing the vision that Menlo Together started with in 2018: To support “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.”

The City Council made the decision after receiving petitions from over 150 residents, including personal stories from people young and old. A few examples of the comments that City Council heard:

A young man who was visibly distraught about the personal impact of the affordable housing crisis: “As rents have soared over the last 10 years, I’ve seen more and more of my friends being priced out of the area.” 

An older gentleman–a 5th generation Bay Area native–said that his apartment has some serious problems, but he puts up with it because he can’t afford to move. Once he retires, he won’t be able to afford to stay in the area, and he doesn’t know what he will do.

An immigrant woman who moved to Menlo Park from New York City is stressed about having to find a new home near her job because of a landlord renovation/move-in. She’s having a harder time finding housing in Menlo Park than the entirety of her time spent in New York City. 

More homes, including deeply affordable homes in centrally located areas near transit will provide more people with opportunities to live with easy access to jobs, schools, and services. 

Of course, people live in homes, not in zoning documents.   It will require the collective encouragement of community members to ensure that homes including deeply affordable homes–get built.  And it will take more encouragement to ensure that the city updates its Below Market Rate (BMR) Housing policy so  that homes are affordable to more people, and that tenant protections are strengthened so the city protects more residents from being displaced. 

Thanks to everyone who spoke up at community and City Council meetings to help achieve this milestone. Your ongoing participation is vital to ensuring that Menlo Together’s vision becomes reality.

JUST ACTION: Challenging segregation enacted under Color of Law

Join friends and allies to hear from Just Action co-authors Richard Rothstein and daughter Leah Rothstein about the sequel to the powerful Color of Law , a book that uncovered the hidden history of segregation.

Just Action discusses what we can do to challenge the segregation enacted under The Color of Law and help remedy the profoundly unjust policies and conditions in our community and more broadly.

Thursday, October 26, 7 – 9pm
Congressional Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton Ave, San Mateo
Register now to hear Richard and Leah Rothstein in San Mateo on Oct. 26

Just Action Book Club – October 22

In anticipation of the big Just Action event in San Mateo, we will be partnering with our friends at Palo Alto Forward for a small book club gathering to discuss what we’re learning from the book and actions to take. To get the most from this interactive discussion, it will be helpful to have read/skimmed the book ahead of time, or to listen to one of the many book tour interviews with Leah and/or Richard Rothstein.

Sunday, October 22, 11:30-1pm
RSVP here or drop by Cafe Zoe, 1929 Menalto Ave, Menlo Park

Menlo Together Community Meeting, Saturday October 21

On Saturday, October 21st, between 3pm – 5pm, drop by Cafe Zöe to celebrate and learn.  Meet community members interested in environmental justice, local history and education, housing, safe and sustainable transportation, and hear a short presentation about Menlo Together initiatives.

The Neighborhood Pizza Guy and Cafe Zöe will provide refreshments. Kids are welcome!  RSVP here!

June 20: Menlo Park City Council considers Environmental Justice

This evening, June 20 starting at 6pm, Menlo Park will hold its first study session with the City Council and Planning Commission introducing the Environmental Justice/Safety Element and previewing its process toward refining the documents and making decisions. The agenda for the meeting is here.

Why is tonight’s meeting so important?

For the first time, Menlo Park is preparing this Environmental Justice Element of the City’s General Plan with the aim to create policies and programs that address long-standing inequities in our city. At the same time, they will update its Safety Element to reduce existing and future hazards due to the impacts of climate change.

Climate Resilient Communities, with the help of many community groups including Belle Haven Empowered and Menlo Together, worked for over 15 months to survey Belle Haven residents and determine a key list of recommendations for this plan.

What can you do to support our community members?

Right after the City Council introduces their Environmental Justice/Safety Element during the council meeting, we urge you to deliver a public comment to the city council (virtually or in-person) about what you want to see happen in our city to make it more equitable and sustainable.

If you or someone you know would prefer to deliver this comment in Spanish, they must go to the Belle Haven Library and deliver their comment there; there will be translation services available at the library.

Learning more – last week’s Community Gathering

Last Friday, Menlo Together held a Community Gathering to provide background about the history of environmental injustice in Menlo Park, the engagement over the last 15 months to gather feedback and recommendations from impacted community members in Belle Haven, and the process for the city to complete the EJ element

To learn more, check out the presentation and Zoom recording from last Friday’s gathering

Some talking points you can draw on

  • Listen to Belle Haven residents – amplify the voice of the community impacted by environmental injustice
  • Support the key priorities identified by the community. These include: protecting renters, growing the tree canopy, investing in infrastructure to facilitate safe walking and bicycling, and protecting residents from heat and sea level rise
  • Encourage the City to set timelines and follow through, including funding for implementation

________________________________________

If you cannot attend the meeting, email your public comment by 4pm today to city.council@menlopark.gov

To attend the meeting virtually:

Zoom.us/join – Meeting ID 890 3919 2702
Access the meeting real-time via telephone at:
(669) 900-6833 Meeting ID 890 3919 2702
Press *9 to raise hand to speak

Now is the time for action because together, we can make meaningful change to help our city become more equitable and sustainable!

Menlo Park Environmental Justice Community Gathering – Preparing for Action

Update – check out the presentation and Zoom recording from last Friday’s community education meeting, with important information about the history of environmental injustice in Menlo Park and key recommendations from the community outreach over the last 15 months.

Menlo Park Environmental Justice Community Gathering

This Friday, June 16, from 5-6pm, join Menlo Park residents and allies for an overview of progress to date on the first ever Environmental Justice Element for Menlo Park, next steps toward city decisions, and what you can do.

On June 20th, the Menlo Park will hold its first study session with the City Council and Planning Commission introducing the Environmental Justice/Safety Element and preview its process toward refining the documents and making decisions. 

For the first time, Menlo Park is preparing an Environmental Justice Element with the aim to create policies and programs that address long-standing environmental inequities in the city. At the same time, the city will update its Safety Element to reduce existing and future hazards due to the impacts of climate change.

Join us to get ready:

  • Hear a brief but substantive overview from long standing community leaders about the city’s history of environmental injustice
  • Learn about the robust leadership and input from the Belle Haven community in gathering needs and making recommendations
  • Get a concise update about key recommendations, and how you can support meaningful decisions in the days and months ahead. 

Now is the time for action because together, we can make meaningful change to help our city become more equitable and sustainable! 

Please share with family, friends, and organizations

In 2022, the Belle Haven Climate Change Community Team, led by Climate Resilient Communities, gathered data from over 400 residents of Menlo Park’s historically disadvantaged and marginalized communities on how climate change affects them. 

For background on Menlo Park’s Environmental Justice Element click here.

Tenants Belong

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! 

Take Action!

  • SB 567 – The CA Homelessness Prevention Act – Help get this bill through the legislature and onto the Governor’s desk! Contact Jess Hudson jhudson@uwba.org 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.

For information and resources related to renting in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Redwood City, visit our Tenants Rights and Resources Page.

Menlo Together 2022 Year in Review

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. 

There were strong overlaps between the Environmental Justice Element recommendations and the Housing Element.   Safe and secure housing was identified by community members as vital to address and repair environmental injustices.  This feedback about the importance of safe and secure housing resulted in strengthened provisions for renter protections approved by City Council in 2022.

Measure V – Defeating an anti-housing ballot measure

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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. 

Coalition building

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.

Media coverage

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.