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Menlo Together Accomplishments in 2021

As Menlo Together, we are proud to share our work in the last year! To learn more about the efforts of each of our projects and committees, please read on.  Thanks to everyone who participated – if you read this and are inspired to learn more and participate, please sign up here.


Belle Haven Empowered has completed its first year goal of presenting Kitchen Table Chats, a 9-month long series of conversations designed to bring Belle Haven neighbors together to share information and discuss topics related to the community.  The Chats covered issues including housing, police and public safety, community amenities for the Belle Haven neighborhood and more. These chats helped Belle Haven residents engage in the city’s Housing Element and other decisions. The team has created “infomercials” on the nuts and bolts of participating in city decisions including reading agendas when published, reading staff reports, and making meaningful recommendations to the council.  


The Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition is an interactive workshop to explore together the history of how our government segregated America and Menlo Park. The information is presented from Richard Rothstein’s book, “The Color of Law” as well as history we dug up from local archives, and we share first-hand personal stories. By now, we’ve held 9 workshops, reached over 500 people, and most importantly, we’ve added new voices in support of racial equity and housing justice


The Housing Committee has advocated for a viable plan for the city to meet its state requirements to update the Housing Element of its general plan to prepare for housing at all income levels, especially homes for extremely low/very low affordable housing for people of all abilities; and supporting the city in addressing the requirements to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing. Recommendations included greater density at all levels of affordability near downtown and El Camino real and robust tenant protections to avoid further displacement. 

The Housing Element is a once every eight years process of planning for housing, and it’s a significant opportunity for us to plan for more homes and much greater affordability in a way that achieves Menlo Together’s vision of a city that is integrated and diverse, walkable and bikeable, and environmentally sustainable.


The Budget Watchdog Committee dove into the information about the City’s budget. As President Joe Biden stated as he quoted his father in 2008, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value”. With this in mind, the budget watchdog committee took a look at opportunities to make recommendations and help Menlo Park actions in the coming year be in line with our values of equity, sustainability, inclusion, health, racial and economic justice. The committee put together a blog post providing an overview of the budget and an update making further recommendations


The Climate Committee has conducted public outreach on Menlo Park’s Climate Action Plan, aiming for Zero Carbon by 2030. This goal supports the health and environmental benefits of helping homes and buildings transition to electric appliances and the benefits of expanding access to electric vehicle charging stations. During the Summer of 2021, the committee collaborated with Menlo Spark to host an in-person Climate Coalition Social to connect more with local residents. The committee also presented with Menlo Spark at the Bay Area Youth Climate Summit to showcase the City’s exceptional Climate Action Plan and how young people can build an effective and include climate coalitions in their localities. 


An Introduction to the Menlo Park Housing Element

Menlo Park is currently having a community conversation about where to build new housing.  This conversation has been sparked by our state-mandated housing goals, which require that we plan for a little over 3,000 new units of housing over the next 8 years.

This is a perfect time to plug into the conversation, learn about Menlo Park’s housing past, and plan for our community’s vibrant future. The Housing Element planning process has just recently started, and is scheduled to continue over the next year.  Below and online is the Housing Element Timeline — the linked website also contains links to recordings of previous meetings and other meeting materials.

On Thursday, Sept. 23rd at 6:30pm, the City’s Housing Element team will be holding a community input meeting to hear feedback on where to plan for new housing.  More information on the meeting is available here.  Please attend to share your feedback!

Below, we at Menlo Together have pulled together some context to help you understand the why and how of Housing Elements.  If you prefer to watch/listen to learn about the City’s housing plan as well (or instead!), we also highly recommend:

Why is the City talking about housing?  What’s the “Housing Element” people keep mentioning?

In a nutshell: Each local jurisdiction in California, like the City of Menlo Park, is required by the state to have (and periodically update) a General Plan.  Each General Plan is required to include a section called the Housing Element, which ensures that the City is enabling a reasonable minimum number of homes to be built in and for the community.  

The Department of Housing and Community Development, commonly abbreviated as HCD, is the state agency tasked with all things related to Housing Elements.  In their own words

“California’s housing-element law acknowledges that, in order for the private market to adequately address the housing needs and demand of Californians, local governments must adopt plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for (and do not unduly constrain), housing development”

Cities, as an entity, do not build housing.  Instead, the Housing Element requires that the City zones and plans for an adequate amount of housing to be built in each 8-year planning cycle, to meet its RHNA goals.

What is RHNA?

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation is the process by which the state, in conjunction with regional and local governments, determines how much housing each locality must plan for given its recent job growth.  

For instance, during 2010-2015, San Mateo County built only 1 unit of housing for every 19 jobs created:

Source

This imbalance has increased competition for homes, and as a result, increased displacement and exclusion in our City:

How much is Menlo Park’s allocation, and why is the goal larger than in previous years?

For the 6th Cycle RHNA (which begins in 2023), Menlo Park’s overall target includes 2,946 units: 

Source

The statewide and regional need for more housing, the high rate of job growth in our region and City, and Menlo Park’s past lack of housing production all led to our next RHNA being higher than previous cycles.

RHNA targets also specify a minimum amount of housing to be built at each income level.  The income tiers for San Mateo County are defined below:

Source

Menlo Park’s allocation by income tier is as follows:

Source

It’s important for the City to think strategically about housing plans by affordability tier because the conditions required to produce housing differ by affordability tier. The challenges to producing affordable housing are many, so the City needs to consider several approaches at the same time, including redeveloping City-owned land (like downtown parking lots — as Mountain View is doing), continuing to require that developers set aside 15% of each new market-rate development for affordable units, providing significant density bonuses in exchange for greater affordability, encouraging ADU production, and other strategies.

Q: What sites are being considered for housing?

A: Menlo Park is now planning for new housing throughout the City, in all districts. 

Menlo Park — like many cities across the nation — has a history of law, policies, and practices that segregated its neighborhoods and schools.  (If you haven’t yet spent time with our Color of Law materials, please check them out to learn more about this history!)  

State housing law has finally kicked in to move cities closer to reversing harmful practices of segregation.  In the 6th RHNA cycle, cities are required to “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing” — for example, by planning for housing for all incomes and abilities throughout the City.  Data presented by the City of Menlo Park Housing Element Consultant finds that the City has stark racial differences between its “high” and “low” opportunity neighborhoods.  Watch this recording to see the data (example slide below) presented at the recent Housing Equity, Environmental Justice, and Safety community input meeting. 

In terms of the specific parcels themselves where housing could be located — we as a community need to get creative and consider a variety of parcel types to meet our goals.  Each parcel that is proposed for redevelopment must have a reasonable likelihood of redevelopment within the next 8 years.  For example, the state is likely to reject a Housing Element that plans for housing on sites such as an existing cemetery, any site where the owner has not expressed interest in developing, or in place of park land.  With this in mind, the City of Menlo Park has brainstormed a variety of potential parcel types to consider:

Source

Q: What if the City doesn’t submit a valid Housing, Environmental Justice, and Safety element?

A: This is important — in earlier RHNA cycles, some cities (including Menlo Park) did not submit a compliant Housing Element.  Prior to the 2010s, there were no significant consequences for this imposed by the state.  In 2017, seeing that local jurisdictions still weren’t building sufficient housing, state law changed to give HCD more enforcement powers.  It’s more important than ever to get the Housing Element right.  

The state has made clear that submission of a thoughtful, compliant Housing Element is the best path forward — doing so unlocks state resources and grants.  Beyond these state-supplied benefits, we at Menlo Together are also excited for this chance to create more opportunity and equity in all districts of Menlo Park.

Conversely, if the Housing Element is not in compliance — which can occur if the City:

  • Fails to plan for all the units required
  • Submits sites with no likely chance of development in the next 8 years
  • Locates new units in ways that do not affirmatively further fair housing

Then, state-imposed penalties can include:

  • The state gaining authority to approve housing developments in the City, without say from the City or residents (said differently, if we as a City don’t pick where and how to site housing, the state will pick for us!)
  • Costly legal battles, where the losing party pays court fees and penalties.  There is simply no room for this in the City budget.  
    • As a community, let’s spend our money on things that improve our City, not on legal fees for a losing battle.  HCD’s requirements are clear, so it would not be advisable to find ourselves on the wrong end of legal action.
  • Suspension of all local permitting powers — which means all projects requiring a permit, including residential remodels and builds, would grind to a halt.

If the planning is done correctly, our community and City are in control of where new housing will go.  There will be some tradeoffs to consider along the way.  For instance, in new developments such as the SRI redevelopment and potential redevelopment of the USGS site, the higher and denser the zoning, the more land can be preserved for parks and open space. Perhaps by sufficiently upzoning along El Camino, the City can even can free up land for a new elementary school.  We’re excited about this opportunity to reimagine housing in Menlo Park!

In conclusion:

The Housing Element is a state-mandated regulatory activity, with rewards and consequences to our City.  The challenge is great.  The need is real.  We at Menlo Together see this as an opportunity to plan for the City we envision.  One that is integrated and diverse, multigenerational, and environmentally sustainable.  We hope you will join us by engaging in the Housing Element, Environmental Justice, and Safety Element process and give voice to these values that are important to our community.

How can you get involved?

  • Sign up for our action alerts to be notified of upcoming housing-related meetings and actions
  • Engage with the City of Menlo Park’s Housing Element process — check this website for the latest updates.

Your input is essential to the Housing Element process.  Together we can build a fantastic future for our City!

Council Reviews new Proposal to Fully Electrify Buildings

It is widely known that climate change poses a great risk and requires mitigation measures to reduce environmental effects. In Menlo Park, we are already feeling the impacts of climate change with intensifying wildfires, heatwaves, poor air quality, flooding and sea level rise. Menlo Park has adopted a bold Climate Action Plan to reduce our carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. The plan includes six core measures to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a pathway to be carbon-neutral by 2030. 

Climate change is an issue of equity – those that contribute least to climate change, including low-income, racial minorities, marginalized ethnic groups and the elders will be adversely affected. Bold and equitable action is needed to mitigate these adverse effects from putting our community at risk, especially our most vulnerable members. 

In this bold Climate Action Plan, the 6 core measures are: 

  1. Transition 95% of existing buildings from gas to all electric
  2. Get electric vehicle (EV) use up to 100% and reduce gasoline sales
  3. Make EV chargers accessible for commercial and multifamily units 
  4. Decrease vehicle miles traveled by 25% 
  5. Electrify City Operations 
  6. Develop a climate adaptation plan to protect the community from sea level rise and flooding 

The first core measure to convert 95% of existing homes and commercial buildings from natural gas appliances to all-electric clean energy sources will eliminate almost 40% of Menlo Park’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the next City Council Meeting, the Council will make a decision using the new consultant’s cost effectiveness analysis and policy options draft report to move us beyond gas and onto clean electricity. Based on this draft report, the Environmental Quality Commission has made recommendations to help provide an equitable transition to electrification. Let’s show our support and encourage the Council to move forward with the climate actions that the EQC is recommending. Going all-electric and phasing out fossil fuels is important to not only mitigate climate change, but also to improve our health, air quality, and resilience. 

NATURAL GAS THREATENS HEALTH AND IS LESS EQUITABLE 

The burning of natural gas produces potent indoor air pollutants that pose serious threats to health, especially to our most vulnerable populations; young children, the elderly, and people with asthma. The air pollution is also substantially higher in Belle Haven, being in the top 82 percentile, almost double the level in the rest of Menlo Park. As a result, children in this neighborhood pose an even higher risk of asthma from continued exposure to natural gas stoves. 

NATURAL GAS IS DANGEROUS 

Gas leaks can cause fire and explosions, such as the 2010 accident in San Bruno, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning. 

COST TO GO ALL-ELECTRIC 

Based on the TRC and DNV consultant’s draft report, the cost for electrification can be several thousand dollars extra initially (but then pays back over time (looking at 30 years, with efficient product choices that give some utility bill savings). If buildings have rooftop solar, the utility bill savings with efficient electric appliances can be roughly $140 per month. 

KEY EQC RECOMMENDATIONS 

The Environmental Quality Commission has robust recommendations on this item, supported by research and actions to transition 95% of existing buildings from gas to all electric through an equitable approach. 

If these recommendations are approved by the City Council, it will provide support to low income residents through a special equity fund to fully electrify ~1,400 households in the city that are currently on bill assistance through PG&E. 

To provide protection to renters, the EQC recommends the City to pass new policies protecting renters from increased rent or “renovictions” due to electrification retrofit. 

Reduce the “hassle factor” of electrification policies for building owners by providing technical assistance, easing permitting, and making it more convenient to go electric. 

The City will decide whether and how to go forward with the first set of bold measures in the Climate Action Plan, with a focus on this electrification core measure. Let’s show our support and encourage the Council to move forward with the climate actions that the EQC is recommending. 350 Silicon Valley has prepared a letter that may be personalized! Send this quick letter  to the City Council endorsing EQCs recommendations. 

Replacing Gas with Clean Electric Appliances in our Homes and Buildings is a Key Climate Action for Menlo Park!

Menlo Park Budget 2021/2- 6/22 Budget Updates

Based on the June 8th City Council Meeting and staff report, we have made some progress with the city’s budget, but there is still some clarification and further work needed later in the year. 

Be sure to send a note to city.council@menlopark.org if you have any thoughts or also join the City Council Meeting today, June 22nd to provide public comment.

Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/99880734930

The city’s finance staff has updated its overall budget picture, concluding that the General Fund, which is the largest fund where the City Council has discretionary spending, is balanced at a level of $61.49 million in revenues and $61.49 million in expenditures. In addition, there is about $5.39 million remaining in American Rescue Plan federal relief funds that can also help the city restore services that must be fully spent by December 31, 2024. 

At the budget meeting on 6/8, it appeared as though there was progress on Menlo Together’s budget asks. Based on the staff report, there are still some open questions about how the city council will fund these asks.

  1. Covid Relief

Menlo Together had requested that some of American Rescue Plan funding be used to support those most heavily impacted. The budget contains several items to do this, including funding for rental and mortgage assistance outreach, connecting residents to existing programs; small business relief, and assistance to people facing eviction.

  1. Climate and transportation: 

Menlo Together wanted to see robust staffing to implement the city’s climate action plan, and relatedly, to fund the projects and programs that improve safety for people walking and bicycling, and provide compelling alternatives to driving. In both cases, it sounded like there was majority council support for these goals, but the city was not yet ready to fully staff up, and was going to come forward in the middle of the year with plans that could be funded. 

We invite you to thanking the city council for refraining from hiring the additional staff until the city goes through a process of assessing how to fund public safety.

  1. Policing: 

Menlo Together wanted the city to hold off on hiring new police staff until the city went through a process to reexamine public safety and decide how to invest the funds. We did support hiring data staff to provide the data to analyze police activity and hold police accountable. The budget reflects these asks. 

Also, the staff report for June 8 had said that the project to reimagine public safety was not funded, and the police chief said that the community-oriented civilian personnel could work on this project.

Join us in our 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.

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

Eviction crisis looms: Take action now to prevent further evictions

SB 91’s eviction moratorium expires on June 30th. This puts at risk over 14,000 households in San Mateo County and over 1 million in California of being unhoused. Read on for a brief explanation of what’s happening and steps you can take right now to help.

California launched Housing Is Key, a rent relief program which reimburses landlords 80% of an eligible renter’s unpaid rent as long as they waive the remaining 20%. [Learn more here] Yet, once this moratorium expires, the program will also be lifted. 

Faith in Action Bay Area conducted phone calls to tenants and landlords who hold or owe rent debt in San Mateo County and found

  • There is not enough outreach about this rent relief program. To put into perspective, 49 phone calls out of 58 were not aware of the program, that’s 87%. 
  • The program is not accessible due to lack of access to technology and/or language support. 
  • Money is being dirbured too slowly. Pacific Tribune reported that only 1.6% of the money requested in San Mateo County has been paid out. 

Housing Leadership Council adds the following updates: 

  • There have been improvements with this debt relief program, but they are meaningless without the extension of the extinction moratorium. As perfectly stated by HLC, “The debt relief program needs to be improved AND given time to work”. To read HLC’s full newsletter, click here

Here is what you can do, reach out to your representative:  

  1. Contact your State Senator, Josh Becker by clicking here and Assemblymember, Marc Berman here, in support of a state-wide eviction moratorium extension. When asked to “Select an issue” choose COVID-19, Bill/Legislation, or what most closely relates to your comment.
  2. Ask the Menlo Park city council to prioritize rent relief and other covid financial assistance with a new grant to Samaritan House in the budget
  3. Ask the city to fund outreach by local organizations with trusting connection to hard-to-reach residents (BHA, BCDF) and legal services (CLSEPA, Legal Aid SMC)
  4. You may also contact Senate President Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, or Governor Newsom in support of a state-wide eviction moratorium extension. 

Need support putting together a comment? Silicon Valley Sponsoring Committee has provided these great talking points:

  • Identify yourself as a leader in your organization (e.g. Marin Organizing Committee) and a member of your institution (e.g. your place of worship, nonprofit affiliation, etc.)
  • More than a million CA families are at risk of eviction if the state does not act now to expand and extend protections for renters.
  • We must extend the eviction moratorium until the end of 2021, or we will see an explosion in our state’s homelessness crisis.
  • Amend SB 91 to expand eligibility and allow more flexibility in distribution. Senate Bill 91 only provides relief to tenants who owe back rent directly to their landlords. Many renters borrowed from payday lenders, family, friends and others to keep their rent current, or sublease from others.
  • In order for families to get back to work and repay their debts, tenants need the flexibility to use rental relief funds to prepay rent for at least 6 months.
  • SB 91 must be expanded to include families who sublease.

Menlo Park Budget 2021/2 – Budget Comments

Budget comments from Menlo Together, 2021/22 – Agenda M1

Honorable City Council Members,

Thank you for considering plans with this year’s budget to help the city restore services and recover from the impact of the pandemic.  Following are updated comments from Menlo Together regarding the city budget based on the city’s community meeting and additional research.

Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and area 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.

We are glad to see more optimistic projections taking into account high vaccination rates, declining Covid prevalence, and increasing economic activity. 

With this, we urge City Council to consider budget decisions that advance
* progress on transportation and climateprogress on transportation and climate
* reimagining public safety
* recovery for vulnerable community members

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 FTEs for the heritage tree program and maintenance, restoring staffing for neighborhood traffic management, and adding 1 FTE 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 that identifies numerous projects and programs that provide safe, convenient, and climate-friendly alternatives to driving.  For the coming year, the Capital Improvement Plan budget includes work on several projects that improve safety on high injury corridors and reduce driving, notably El Camino Real crossings, and Middlefield repaving, which has the potential to be bundled with bike safety improvements and several pedestrian crossings. This is in addition to the Caltrain undercrossing and Middle Avenue improvements that are already called out as a top Council priority. 

At the Community Budget Workshop, we learned that important TMP projects that enhance safety and provide alternatives to driving may be at risk with the proposed staffing levels.  

We urge City Council to fund Public Works staffing at a level that can reliably achieve the CIP projects that improve safety on high-injury corridors and enable reduced VMT.

With regard to the Climate Action Plan, we understand that there is analysis under way that is likely to recommend specific actions and staffing requirements to implement high priority CAP items this fall. In addition, we see that there are uncertainties in the budget with regard to the speed of recovery of tax revenues, and the budget includes conservative assumptions.  Given high vaccination rates and low Covid rates in our area and the State, we are hopeful of positive economic news.  

Therefore, we would recommend that the Council do a mid-year budget check. If there is revenue available, we would recommend using funding to implement specific CAP recommendations including staffing where needed.

Lastly, in contrast to the TMP, which plans to proactively improve safety in high-injury areas based on citywide outreach, data about safety issues, and needs across the city, the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program is designed to be reactive. It places a heavy burden on both residents (to gain the support of a supermajority of their neighbors) and staff (to support this process), and does not address the greatest safety risks of death and serious injury.  

As the city moves forward with initiatives to pursue racial equity, we urge the Council to consider that residents neighborhoods with greater wealth and security are more likely to have the discretionary time to file NTMP requests and pursue the laborious effort to marshall a supermajority of neighbors to support traffic calming.

Also, during the pandemic, many places in the Bay Area and the world shifted to a “quick build” model where slow streets and safety improvements were made with a rapid and iterative approach with community feedback based on flexible implementation.  We urge Menlo Park to pursue newer, faster approaches to safety improvements.

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 FTEs to the police force before the process to assess and reimagine policing and public safety.

A recent analysis shows 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.

In addition, we are hearing from our friends and neighbors that members of MPPD are seen in neighboring communities behaving harshly.  If this is the case, we do not support this taking place in the name of our city and with our city’s funding. 

Currently we do not receive data on police interactions that do not require further action such as detentions and citations. We would like to see data showing the location of stops, and race/ethnicity of the people stopped by MPPD in Menlo Park and in neighboring communities including East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks. We 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 ARPA funds for measures addressing the impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable residents and businesses, including rent relief, displacement prevention, homelessness services and downtown revitalization.

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

In addition, the staffing cuts to city services disproportionately impacted low-income and part-time staff who are community residents.  We urge the city to prioritize rehiring if these community members are available. This may be an opportunity to rehire for full-time jobs and elevate long-time workers.

Lastly, budget analysis reveals that community services workers earn less than 40% of police department workers.  While Menlo Park alone cannot solve the undervaluing of community services workers in American society, we would urge the city’s internal equity assessment to consider wage scales across departments, considering lenses of race and gender.

To address the uncertainty about the pace of revenue recovery, we urge the city to do a mid-year check and identify spending to resume at that time if revenue recovery continues in a positive direction.

In summary, 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 just to return to the previous conditions, but to focus on forward-looking priorities of climate, safety, health and equity.

The Menlo Together Team

info@menlotogether.org

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