Kitchen Table Chat: Color of Law – Belle Haven and Education

Sunday, September 18th at 4:00 pm

Hybrid: Belle Haven Library and Zoom

Join us and Belle Haven Empowered for a chat this Sunday on the history of education in the Ravenswood City School District (RSCD) and Sequoia Union High School District (SUHS). We will discuss the impacts of segregation on the RCSD and decisions made that affected the district’s funding. We will also discuss SUHD’s decisions that segregated our high schools and their impact. 

The Belle Haven Empowered initiative hosts a series of conversations (chats) throughout the year designed to bring Belle Haven neighbors together to share information and discuss topics important to the community. By increasing community involvement in the city’s decision-making and working together for common goals, we can strengthen our voices and representation. 

Please invite your family and friends interested in learning more about the history of Belle Haven and the educational systems to register for this event.  We look forward to seeing you there.

More informational updates and events to be discussed during the chat include:

  • Belle Haven Community Development Fund 
  • Resource Fair
  • Climate topics and events highlighting Environmental Justice
  • New JobTrain Digital Literacy courses 

Join: Pam D Jones and Juanita Croft at the Belle Haven Library or on Zoom. 

When: Sunday, September 18th, 2022 at 4:00 pm

REGISTER HERE After registering, you will receive an email with information about how to join this Kitchen Table Chat.

Independent Report finds that Ballot Measure would block affordable housing

Last month (June 28), your Menlo Park City Council Members commissioned an independent, objective impact analysis of a November 2022 Menlo Park ballot measure.

That report was released last Friday and the findings are clear – the ballot measure would create big barriers for affordable housing in Menlo Park and block teacher and staff housing for the Ravenswood City School District.

If the ballot measure passes in November 2022, it will:

  • Block affordable housing for teachers and school staff at the vacant site of the former Flood School site owned by Ravenswood City School District.
  • Lock in and exacerbate racial and economic segregation by blocking future homes in high opportunity neighborhoods which are predominantly upper income and white.
  • Limit the city’s ability to plan for housing for people at a variety of income levels, in conflict with the city’s General Plan
  • Put the city at risk of being sued by reducing our ability to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH), as required by law (CA 2018 Assembly Bill 686)
  • Block Menlo Park Fire District from redeveloping their headquarters without a public vote.
  • Block Menlo Park religious organizations from redeveloping their properties without a public vote.

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 26, council members will most likely vote to put this measure on the November ballot rather than enact it into law without a public vote, which is the only other option.  City Council measures can also express their opinions to the measure if they so choose.

To watch a presentation on the report and share your thoughts with the City Council, you can dial in by Zoom or phone.

Here’s the meeting information:

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

Dial In: (669) 900-6833
Meeting ID: 831 3316 9409
Press *9 to raise hand to speak

The meeting starts at 5pm with a closed session.  The Ballot Measure item will likely get started some time after 7pm.  If you would like a text message or email when the item starts, rather than waiting, please send a message with your contact information to adina@menlotogether.org

Non-Single-Family Properties Affected by the Ballot Measure

Community Meeting: 61 New Affordable Homes for Veteran Families in Menlo Park

Are you Invested in creating 100% affordable homes for veterans and their families in your community

Join your neighbors this upcoming Monday July 18, 2022 from 6:30 – 7:00 PM to chat with MidPen Housing Corp about the new Veterans Affairs affordable housing proposal

Veterans Affairs have selected MidPen Housing to create affordable, multi family homes on their Palo Alto Health Care System Campus (view map below). This is your opportunity to learn about the proposal and provide your feedback! 

This proposal will provide 61 of much needed affordable and supportive homes for Veterans and their families who are unhoused or at-risk in your community. The homes will be available to households earning 30-50% of the Area Median Income ($55,900-$93,200 for a family of four). The homes will be a part of a 2-3 story building – consisting of 54 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom, and 2 three-bedroom homes; an additional two-bedroom will be set aside for an on-site manager. The larger homes will be for Veterans with families and/or their in-home caregivers. 

May 2022 General Meeting Recap

We had our first in-person General Meeting, at Flood Park. It was great to spend the time on a beautiful day, hearing about important housing, transportation, and environmental justice challenges in the context of our local history. 

We heard from decades long Belle Haven residents and community leaders, Juanita Croft and Pam Jones, who shared their first-hand experience with, and analysis of, our local history and the legacy of residential segregation and environmental injustice.

We also heard from Cade Cannedy of Climate Resilient Communities and Marlene Santoyo of Menlo Together and Menlo Spark, about environmental justice and how we achieve it.

Folks were very interested in discussing the Housing Element and Environmental Justice Element process which is ongoing in our city right now, as well as ways to support new affordable housing at the former Flood School Site and the SRI Site Parkline Project.

Engage with us and our partners!

Housing Element: Education for Advocacy Workshop

On May 26 we held a Zoom workshop about Menlo Park’s draft Housing Element: a planning process required by the state every eight years in order for cities and other municipalities to plan for homes at all income levels.  

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

We reviewed the draft Housing Element and discussed opportunities to advocate to the City Council at their June 6 meeting. Participation is critical – by both homeowners and renters. We must use our voices to ensure future housing that meets the needs of our community, now and over the next decade.

Thanks to everyone who attended the workshop and to those who wrote letters, made phone calls, or provided public comment at the City Council meeting.

Here are some helpful resources from the workshop:

Menlo Park City Seeks Funds and Input for Willow Road Ped/Bike Improvements

The City of Menlo Park is pursuing a state grant through the Active Transportation Program (ATP) to fund pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements along Willow Road between Bayfront Expressway and Highway 101. This project includes a new pedestrian crossing at O’Brien Street and separated bikeways on both sides of Willow Road. For more information, visit the City’s Willow Road Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements project page.

Menlo Together supports the city’s mission to improve transportation alternatives, enhance safety for bikers and pedestrians, and eliminate gaps in the walking and biking network. Read our full letter of support

We welcome you to take this short online survey to provide input on improvements the city can make to this plan. 

Housing Element Site Tour

Join Peninsula For Everyone, Menlo Together, Housing Leadership Council, Silicon Valley Bike Coalition and other housing advocates to see where Menlo Park is planning to build new homes. This event is part of Affordable Housing Month.

An expert group of speakers will be there, including:

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

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

More Information

  • What is a Housing Element? Check out our introduction to the Housing Element blog post.
  • Event Hosts:
    • Peninsula For Everyone is a group that works to create a more inclusive and sustainable Peninsula by advocating for building more housing, better transportation, and protecting renters.
    • Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and Peninsula residents who envision a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. We advocate for an accessible and inviting downtown Menlo Park with housing at all affordability levels, and with pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces, developed to be carbon-free.
    • Housing Leadership Council works with communities and their leaders to create and preserve quality affordable homes. HLC envisions a San Mateo County that works together to build inclusive, equitable, and healthy communities where all people can access safe, affordable homes and the resources needed for their families to thrive.
    • Silicon Valley Bike Coalition’s purpose is to create a healthy community, environment, and economy through bicycling for people who live, work, or play in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. We envision a community that values, includes, and encourages bicycling for all purposes for all people.

Affordable Teacher Housing at Flood School Site

The Ravenswood City School District is proposing to produce affordable housing on their property at the former Flood School Site (321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park). District staff would have first priority to live there.

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

Menlo Park, like all Bay Area cities, is currently drafting its Housing Element — the plan for where and how affordable homes can be built over an 8-year period. The City has identified the former Flood School site as having the opportunity to produce some of the 1,500 affordable homes required by the state for this cycle.

On Tuesday, May 3 at 7pm, the City of Menlo Park will hold a public input meeting about the project.

Here are ways you can support affordable housing for teachers and school staff:

  • Attend the meeting and make public comment.
  • Write a letter of support to Housing Element Project Planner Calvin Chan with the subject line, “Housing Element Update – Support for RCSD Housing Project at Flood School Site.”
  • Add your name and affiliation to this letter of support.

SRI Parkline Study Session: Letter to Planning Commission

Dear Members of the Menlo Park Planning Commission, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Sincerely,

The Menlo Together Team

How Land Use Policies and Housing Goals Shape the Future of Our City

Photo of Menlo Park’s Sequoia Belle Haven Senior Housing courtesy of MidPen Housing’s Housing Element Best Practices

The City of Menlo Park will host a virtual community meeting to talk about housing this Saturday, February 12 from 10am until noon. Details are available here (add a reminder to your calendar).

This community meeting will be an opportunity to hear updates about and provide feedback on the City’s progress on the Housing Element, a process by which cities plan for housing growth for the next decade. (For background on the Housing Element process, see our earlier blog post.)

As the City thinks about its goals and what its housing policies should accomplish, it’s powerful to share your own story and thoughts about why housing security is so important. Stable, reasonably-priced housing available equitably to all is crucial for maintaining a complete community. Whether you rent, own, or live in another setup in Menlo Park today or you participate in the community in another way, you’re part of the community, and your thoughts matter. 

Your advocacy is key this Saturday and in the future as the City plans for what Menlo Park looks like in the years ahead. Based on the City’s meeting description, the following topics could be discussed on February 12.  They may sound technical at first, but the principles behind them are simple, and they have the power to shape a lot that impacts our daily lives!  We’ll explain below:

City/Land Use Policies 

Land use policies include zoning that dictates what can be built (homes, retail, offices) and where, and limits on height or density.  Zoning can differ from property to property throughout the city  For example, some of the new development along the Bayfront is currently taller/more dense than what can be built downtown. The city shapes what can be built on various sites through zoning; here are a few land use policies they can use to dial development up or down:

1: Number of Units Allowed per Acre

…sometimes referred to as “du/ac” limits for “Dwelling Units per Acre”.

If zoning for a site is too restrictive, it may not be realistic for a developer of any kind to create housing – especially affordable housing – at the site.  

The City is currently zoning Housing Element sites for a baseline density of 30 units per acre.  Whether this is enough to spur the development of more homes in Menlo Park – especially affordable homes – is not clear.  However, 30 units per acre is considered “developable density” by the state, which is why it is being proposed as a baseline.  If development does occur at this low of a density, many more sites would need to be developed at this lower density for the City to meet its overall need for housing.

Opportunity: The City can design density bonus policies that allow more density in developments that produce the most-needed types of housing.  In general, increasing density can result in more homes on the limited land available, which is a good thing – especially when land is scarce and sites do not often turn over.  However, increasing baseline density for all forms of development can increase the cost of land without always resulting in new homes.  More on that in the next section!  

2: Incentives for Affordable Housing

Another important land use policy is a zoning bonus called an “Affordable Housing Overlay,” or AHO.  AHOs can allow developers to build more units (taller, denser, or both) on a site if doing so would create more affordable units.  An AHO aids in the creation of affordable housing by spreading land and construction costs across a larger number of units.  High land acquisition costs in Menlo Park can make it difficult for affordable housing developers to acquire sites for projects, especially from private owners, so strategic additional density can help a lot.

Menlo Park has an AHO today, and in the City’s Notice of Preparation for its Housing Element Environmental Impact Report, it’s stated that it may modify the existing AHO to allow up to 100 units per acre for affordable projects.

Opportunity: Increasing the number of units allowed per acre for 100% affordable sites would allow for more much-needed affordable homes to be created on these parcels.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the definition of affordable housing for the Housing Element, see below for a City slide on affordability tiers, based on median household incomes for San Mateo County.  A family of 4 making $146,350/year qualifies as low income in our County.

Source

3: Parking Requirements

In its R-3 (Apartment) zoning district, Menlo Park currently requires that developers create 2 parking spaces for each unit with 2 or more bedrooms, and 1.5 spaces per smaller unit.  In practice, this means that developers often need to dig out costly basements to ensure that buildings can create mandated parking while staying under the neighborhood’s height limits, or sacrifice above-ground floors to cars.  In either case, these construction costs add to the total project cost that must be shared across units, and especially in the case of above-ground parking, takes up valuable, expensive-to-build space that could go to people and homes instead of vehicle storage.  (As an example: consider that in standalone homes, garage space is sometimes seen as so valuable that residents use or convert their garage space for things other than car storage!)

Many of the proposed Housing Element sites are close to transit and walkable/bikeable routes.  Removing City parking mandates would still give developers the option to create as much parking as they’d like, but would not burden them with a requirement to do so where it doesn’t make sense.  Especially for certain types of housing, such as low-income senior housing or housing for residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities, much less residential parking is needed.  Excess parking requirements increase costs significantly.

Opportunity: Reducing or eliminating minimum parking mandates helps to prioritize limited space for people and homes instead of cars.  

Reduced parking requirements free up more resources for more homes, allowing more of our workforce to live near their jobs.  And residents are more likely to bike or walk to work when they live in the same city where they work!  This reduces long car commutes, which improves air quality, and reduces congestion and our climate footprint. We have a great climate for walking and biking, which is healthy and fun! And, seeing neighbors on the street helps to build a sense of community.

Potential Housing Opportunity Sites: 

The City has released its list of sites that it can zone for new housing!  However, many of these properties are already in use for other purposes, such as venture capital offices on Sand Hill Road, the popular finance app Robinhood’s Headquarters, and the City’s Safeway stores/parking lots.

For the State to approve Menlo Park’s Housing Element, the City will likely need to demonstrate with “substantial evidence” that non-vacant sites will be redeveloped into housing.  To create this evidence, the City would research what changes or policies are needed to incentivize the creation of affordable housing on these sites.  Opportunity: Ask the city what it will take for these identified sites to be redeveloped into affordable housing.  Little affordable housing has been created in Menlo Park to date, especially in the western neighborhoods.  What changes to policies and zoning are being proposed?  For ideas on policies that have worked in the past, see this report by local affordable housing developer, MidPen Housing.

Anti-Displacement Measures

As rents continue to rise, our community members are being priced out.  To stop displacement, cities like Menlo Park can adopt protective policies and practices like the following:

1. Adopt an anti-displacement red tag ordinance that protects tenants from displacement during necessary repairs

2. Continue to provide emergency rental and mortgage assistance

3. Provide support to Legal Aid, Stanford Legal Clinic, and/or Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto so low-income tenants have access to legal support

4. Create a rental registry and track rent increases 

5. Pass fair standards for evictions and rent increases 

6. Update the City’s Below Market Rate (BMR) program so it serves Menlo Park low-wage earners

Many of these measures have been championed by our friends at the Housing Leadership Council – be sure to check out their site to learn more about their important work!

In conclusion: whether or not you’ve been following along with the Housing Element so far, this is a great time to participate and advocate for values you believe in!  We hope to see you on Saturday on Zoom, or in future meetings!