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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.

Update on the Parkline project at SRI: 550 new homes proposed, 800 to be studied

Menlo Park has been considering a proposal for housing, offices and amenities at SRI by Parkline since last Spring. After meetings on January 23 and February 6, the City of Menlo Park Planning Commission made improvements to the proposal that increased the number of total homes at the site to 550, and dedicated an acre of land for 100 deeply affordable homes. 

The City has listened to community feedback, and on March 14 the City Council made another big step towards bringing this proposal closer to reality. The Council voted to approve the Environmental Impact Review scope, which includes studying the impact of up to 800 total homes on the site. This opens the door to improving the proposal’s housing to jobs ratio, and potentially increasing the number of deeply affordable homes.

As the City continues to move this proposal closer to reality, we will keep you updated on opportunities to shape it.  Stay tuned! 

Read previous blog posts about this project:

SRI Parkline Study Session: Letter to Planning Commission (Spring 2022)

Update on the Parkline project at SRI (January 2023)

City Council Priority Setting 2023

On March 18, Menlo Park City Council held its first priority-setting session since before the Covid pandemic.     

The top priorities, according to dots allocated by Councilmembers, were Housing (with 4 dots), and in no special order, Emergency Preparedness, Climate Action, Activating Downtown and Economic Development, and Safe Streets with three dots each (apologies for a photo that cut off the 4th Housing dot.)

The City Council’s priorities affirm several of the top priorities recommended by Menlo Together, in a letter that highlighted the importance of implementing the city’s plans for Housing; Environmental Justice and Equitable Electrification; and Sustainable Transportation.  These are all areas where the City has completed, or is finishing major plans, and it is good to see the council focusing on implementation.

 

While the topics of Advancing Equity and Community Engagement got two dots each (lower than the threshold to become a top priority), we hope that these practices can be woven into the way that the city goes about its business, so that when issues are brought to City Council for review, that city staff will highlight the steps toward equity and the community engagement as a matter of course. The topics of Housing, Climate Action and

Environmental Justice, and Street Safety had received input from many hundreds of residents over the last year and in recent years.  The City Council reviewed input from residents solicited specifically for the priority setting session.  Items that received the most feedback include advancing a Quiet Zone to reduce train horn noise, a project which is currently in progress with a community outreach meeting coming up on March 23, and residents wanting space for pickle ball and tennis, a topic which is being addressed in an ongoing update to the city’s Parks Master Plan.

The draft priorities will be brought back for City Council review and approval, along with a Work Plan and Budget to implement the priorities.

Thanks to everyone whose voice over time has contributed to the prioritization of Housing, Climate and Safe Streets. It will take ongoing attention to encourage the Council and the City to infuse equity in the way it does work.

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.