The Color of Law, Menlo Park Edition: The local history of housing segregation

On November 17, 2019, over 100 people crowded into the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center for the Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition. Co-sponsors for the event included Community Equity Collaborative, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Housing Leadership Council, League of Women Voters of South San Mateo, Menlo Park Historical Association, Menlo Spark, NAACP San Mateo County, Nuestra Casa, Palo Alto Forward, Palo Alto Housing, Peninsula for Everyone, and Tech Equity Collaborative.

Photo courtesy of Chris Sturken: from left to right San Carlos resident David Pollack, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation Nicole Taylor, Belle Haven resident Pam Jones, Redwood City Planning Commissioner Michael Smith, and author of the Road to Resegregation Alex Shafran (not pictured)

A small team of commuity members transformed the Arrillaga Recreation Center into a gallery which documented the history of racial segregation in Menlo Park. They created a timeline using city documents, court documents, news clippings, photos, and maps and posted it around the room. Attendees discussed the timeline in small groups, sharing a mix of shock and sadness at the policies and practices which divided Menlo Park.  Learning about this history instilled a sense of responsibility and determination to demand more housing in our neighborhoods for a more inclusive and equitable community.

Photo courtesy of Robb Most

Kenia Najar, Program Director at Youth United for Community Action, made the point that  history is being repeated in Belle Haven today. She explained that the block-busting to make the community a segregated Black neighborhood that took place in the 1960s is replaced today by rapid gentrification and displacement of long term Black and Latino residents to far off communities from where they often commute back here to work.

In the mid 20th century Black families were barred from buying homes in Menlo Park and other white suburbs through racial covenants that restricted the purchase of homes by people of color. Redlining also restricted who could secure home loans. Later, real estate agents used discriminatory real estate tactics like “block-busting” to scare white residents into selling their homes at a discount. Meanwhile, Black people in San Francisco and Oakland were encouraged to move in so that real estate agents could make a profit from buying at panic sales prices from white families and selling at inflated prices to Black families. With the economic boom since 2009, many Belle Haven families have been displaced by newcomers more equipped to pay rising market prices and rents.  

Jen Wolosin of Menlo Together said that “We can no longer pretend that [we don’t know] what happened and how our community is shaped is the way it is and that we…have the responsibility now to go forward to do something about it. In the past the housing element put all the affordable housing in the Belle Haven area. This conversation has laid a foundation for all of us  to start thinking about letting more people into our neighborhoods.”

Karen Grove, in closing the event, told attendees “If we as a community accept our responsibility to compensate for the isolating patterns that shaped us, our neighborhoods and our city will become stronger! Time and again in our history, we’ve seen that when we act to improve racial equity, all people’s lives are improved.” 

Photo courtesy of Robb Most: from left to right Menlo Park Mayor Pro Tempore Cecilia Taylor, former MPCSD Board President Caroline Lucas, & current MPCSD Board President David Ackerman

View the gallery walk and sign the “More Homes Downtown” petition to support more affordable homes in Downtown Menlo Park. For more resources and next steps, visit our resources page.

We would like to recognize our elected and appointed officials who attended this important event, including Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller, Menlo Park Mayor Pro Tempore Cecilia Taylor, Menlo Park Council Member Betsy Nash, Menlo Park Council Member Drew Combs, and Menlo Park Planning Commissioner Michele Tate.

Menlo Park City Council to Consider Emergency Tenant Protection Ordinance

This Tuesday, November 12 at 5:30 pm, the Menlo Park City Council will vote on an Urgency Ordinance to implement protections that mirror Assembly Bill 1482. The Council needs to know that renters need protection from extreme rent increases and unjust evictions happening right now. 

The recently passed Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (AB 1482) will protect renters from excessive rent gouging and no-fault evictions, but not until January 1st. Here’s what you can do right now: 

  • Send a brief email to City Council with your opinion or a personal story about why you care by end of day Monday, November 11th, if possible.
  • Come to the council meeting on Tuesday at 5:30 pm at Menlo Park City Hall and make public comment. For more meeting details, click here.

Learn more about AB 1482 by reading this report from the City Attorney’s office. 

For an eye-opening event on the history of our housing challenges, join us next Sunday.

The Color of Law, Menlo Park Edition: The Hidden History Shaping Our Menlo Park Neighborhoods Today    

Sunday, November 17 from 5:00-6:30 pm – Arrillaga Family Recreation Center: Sequoia Room, 700 Alma St. Menlo Park, CA 94025

We’ll take a look at how public policies that segregated America have affected Menlo Park. We will learn, reflect, and discuss how to move toward a more equitable future. 

Click here to sign up for this free event.

Acclaimed Author Unveils the History of Government-Sanctioned Housing Discrimination

On Thursday, October 4, Richard Rothstein, the famed author of The Color of Law, spoke to a crowd of nearly 300 people. There were audible gasps when he described some of the government policies that mandated residential segregation well into the 20th century and the legacy of exclusionary zoning that continues to shape our communities today.  

Belle Haven resident Pam Jones and Stockton native Brandon Wofford-Asuncion provided compelling testimonials of how segregation and redlining has affected their families. 

Rothstein made the case that  residential segregation could be the biggest social issue facing our nation today and called for a new civil rights movement to make change.  He challenged the audience, asking the question, “what are you going to do?” 

Reverend Doctor Penny Nixon closed the event with her own commitment to lead from her position as clergy, because “once we learn our history we cannot un-know it.” And that compels us to act.

Please join Menlo Together and our partner community groups on Nov. 17 from 5-6:30 pm at the Arrillaga Recreation Center in Menlo Park to learn and reflect on the Menlo Park history of residential segregation and discuss how we can move towards a more equitable future.

We appreciate our elected and appointed leaders who attended this important event: Menlo Park Mayor Pro Tempore Cecilia Taylor, Menlo Park Council Member Betsy Nash, and Menlo Park Planning Commissioner Michele Tate. 

Menlo Park City Council Takes Climate Action

Image caption: City of Menlo Park staff, Menlo Spark and allies, 9/24/19

The Menlo Park City Council unanimously adopted an all-electric reach code! On Tuesday, September 24, Menlo Spark, a coalition member of Menlo Together, advocated for an all-electric reach code. Menlo Spark was joined by Stanford professor and clean energy expert Mark Jacobson and a number of current & former Environmental Quality Commissioners. The all-electric green building “Reach Code” will phase out natural gas use in new homes and buildings beginning in January 2020. The reach code will help Menlo Park continue to lead on climate by phasing out fossil fuels from buildings, the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, behind transportation.

That same evening, the Council also addressed worsening air quality/environmental justice in Belle Haven. The Council authorized San Mateo County Labs, a division of the County of San Mateo, to collect air quality data from neighborhoods in Menlo Park, potentially including Belle Haven. Prior to the launch of the air quality and environmental monitoring pilot project, the only official air quality monitor in all of San Mateo County was managed by BAAQMD in in Redwood City. SMC labs has installed 10 sensors throughout the County since February 2019. to deliver direct, publically available data that will capture the impact of increased development and traffic. Sensors are slated to be installed in Belle Haven by the end of the year. Existing sensor data would be available later this month. 

Two upcoming educational events on the history of housing shaping our communities today

The Road to Resegregation
September 10, 2019 at 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Menlo Park Library, 800 Alma St, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Meet author Alex Schafran and discuss his book, “The Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics.”

From the publisher’s description:
How could Northern California, the wealthiest and most politically progressive region in the United States, become one of the earliest epicenters of the foreclosure crisis? How could this region continuously reproduce racial poverty and reinvent segregation in old farm towns one hundred miles from the urban core?

This is the story of the suburbanization of poverty, the failures of regional planning, urban sprawl, NIMBYism, and political fragmentation between middle class white environmentalists and communities of color. As Alex Schafran shows, the responsibility for this newly segregated geography lies in institutions from across the region, state, and political spectrum, even as the Bay Area has never managed to build common purpose around the making and remaking of its communities, cities, and towns. Schafran closes the book by presenting paths toward a new politics of planning and development that weave scattered fragments into a more equitable and functional whole.

The Color of Law: The Hidden History Shaping Our Communities Today 
October 3, 2019 at 7 pm – Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton Ave. San Mateo, CA 94401
To RSVP, please go to

Housing discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity is against the law.  Do you know that in recent history, it was actually required?

Richard Rothstein, renowned author of THE COLOR OF LAW, will deliver a riveting presentation about the little known history of how our communities have been shaped, bringing to light the forces that locked the requirement of discrimination into place.  This is a history that continues to have powerful implications for our communities today. 

The author’s presentation will be followed by a Q&A period and a brief reception in the CCSM community hall. 

Financial sponsors for this event are the Working Families Alliance and the San Mateo County Faith Leaders’ Solidarity Network.  Other sponsors include One San Mateo, Housing Leadership Council, San Mateo NAACP, Housing For All Burlingame, DSA, Peninsula For Everyone, Peninsula Young Democrats, Menlo Together, Faith in Action Bay Area, and Tech Equity Collaborative.  Please address requests for more information to

Menlo Park plans to phase out natural gas in new construction by 2020

On September 10, the Menlo Park City Council will vote on a new ordinance requiring new buildings to be all-electric. The all-electric green building “Reach Code” will phase out natural gas use in new homes and buildings beginning in January 2020. New single family homes may still install gas stoves, but must be electric ready. The reach code will help Menlo Park achieve its current goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 27% below 2005 levels by 2020 and to address the climate crisis. The new requirement will also save homeowners an average of $6,000 or more in construction costs. For more information about the ordinance, find the staff report here. Read more about the Council’s discussion of the reach code in the Mercury News here

“Dumbarton Forward” to Expedite East-West Bus Service

PALO ALTO (Friends of Caltrain) – Bus speedup on Bumbarton Corridor by 2021A pilot program to speed up buses on the Dumbarton Corridor, with bus lanes on the shoulder of Highway 84, has been approved and funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Bay Area Toll Authority.

Changes in the “Dumbarton Forward” program are intended to improve commutes well before the potential start of a revived Dumbarton Rail service across the bay, being planned by Facebook in a public/private partnership.

The “Dumbarton Forward” program includes a set of relatively small changes to speed up buses, implementing some of the fastest-to-implement recommendations of the SamTrans Dumbarton Corridor study, including:

  • Peak Period Bus on Shoulder (BOS) Pilot Program
  • Signalization Improvements to Bayfront Expressway Intersections
  • Reconfiguration of Eastbound SR 84/Thornton Avenue Off-Ramps
  • Relocation of Ardenwood Park-Ride Bus Stops
  • Improvements to Operations at the Dumbarton Bridge Toll Plaza

The project is planned for opening in 2021, a year before the planned opening of managed lanes on Highway 101 which would speed buses toward their destinations North and South on 101.

The results of the pilot will show whether routing buses on dedicated shoulder lanes on 84 to managed lanes on 101, will speed trips for the plurality of commuters who are heading south on 101 to destinations including Palo Alto and Mountain View.

The MTC/BATA material about Dumbarton Forward that we found didn’t include information about potential reversible carpool/bus lanes on the bridge, which was identified as a potential medium term transit improvement.

This story was originally posted on May 30, 2019
by Friends of Caltrain on the Green Caltrain Blog. 

Welcome to Menlo Together

Photo courtesy of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce.

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.

Letters to the Council: Strengthening the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan

March 11, 2019

Re: El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Review

Honorable Council Members,

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 are glad to see the review of the downtown plan come forward, since the downtown area can help further these goals for Menlo Park:

  • Adding more housing at a variety of income levels to address the housing crisis
  • Improving jobs/housing balance and fit for Menlo Park
  • Reducing solo driving while making downtown easier to access
  • Eliminating carbon emissions from new buildings
  • Making zero displacement a priority in new development

Following are recommendations for the Downtown Plan review to achieve these goals:

More housing. Allow and encourage more housing in the downtown plan area, by identifying and reducing barriers including height limits, parking requirements, density and other zoning parameters.

Affordable housing.  Prioritize public land to be used for affordable housing – including current parking plazas.  Consider examples in San Mateo and Burlingame where parking lots have been redeveloped with affordable housing and public parking.

Improve jobs/housing balance and fit.  Publish data on the jobs housing ratio (in total and net new development) in the Downtown Plan area and Citywide, considering availability of housing for workers at all income levels, and use the information to make decisions about developments and policies to improve and not worsen the imbalance.

Parking and access. Improve management of current parking, advance transportation demand management including for low-income workers, and improve safety and comfort for people walking and bicycling downtown.   Set a goal to reduce solo driving rate to 50%.

Shared parking. Reduce parking requirements for new buildings, and make use of shared parking to facilitate development of smaller parcels that don’t have enough room for full onsite parking. Council has already decided to pursue ways to improve access and make parking more efficient; that assessment should help determine whether new garage space would be needed.

Reduce carbon emissions.  Adopt ConnectMenlo building standards and require all-electric buildings.

Eliminating displacement.  In prior Downtown Plan reviews, some Council Members suggested enabling more housing by adding blocks with existing housing into the plan area and increasing allowable zoning. Implement policies that would prevent displacement of residents.

Community character.  Support diversity in age, income, ethnicity.  Work collaboratively with school district to address school system needs.

Menlo Together is eager to retain and improve a vibrant downtown where people continue to live, work, and play, with a comfortable environment for people to walk, socialize and shop.

Since the Downtown Specific Plan was approved in 2012 based on community input from 2007 and earlier,  and since ConnectMenlo was approved in 2016, the housing affordability crisis around the region has worsened, displacement has increased, commute traffic has increased and Menlo Park has contributed to the crisis by adding more jobs than homes.

Since the Downtown Plan was finalized we believe that more residents are concerned about housing affordability, maintaining the diversity of the community and protecting our neighbors from displacement, and will be willing to make changes to achieve those goals.

During the ConnectMenlo process, the city recognized the value of housing near jobs and enabled taller housing/mixed-use buildings in the Bayfront area near Belle Haven. There is also great value for housing near existing regional transit and services, so the height and density in the Downtown Plan and ConnectMenlo areas should be applied with equity.

Thank you very much for your consideration,

Adina Levin
Angela Evans
Diane Bailey
Jen Wolosin
Karen Grove
Pamela Jones
Rachel Horst

Menlo Together

City Council chooses goals advancing housing, transportation, sustainability

Several items from MenloTogether’s priority list were advanced at the council’s goal-setting decision agenda item last week.

Housing study session. Council Member Taylor assertively asked for a housing study session,with a scope that could potentially address a variety of aspects of the city’s housing challenges.

Downtown parking and access. The City Council prioritized “parking and access” strategies to improve access to downtown in the near term. This description helps the city to think about a “pie chart” with slices that include driving, transit, walking, and biking. This language implies that while driving remains important, the city will focus on improving access to downtown with a variety of modes.

Providing a safe bicycle route from Burgess Park through a new crossing of the Caltrain tracks to Olive Street and Hillview Middle school. Mayor Mueller expressed eagerness for this project to get input from Complete Streets Commission and to move forward.

Environmental goals – electrifying buildings. Several council members expressed enthusiasm about the environmental goals including the REACH codes that would set more aggressive standards for new buildings to be installed all-electric (without polluting natural gas). Council referred the topic to the Environmental Quality Commission to scope the project with staff swiftly enough to meet REACH program deadlines.

A few other topics came up at the Goal-Setting meeting related to Menlo Together objectives for housing and transportation:

There is an upcoming study session on Tuesday March 12 on strategies to address longterm homelessness

Council Member Combs proposed removing funding from the parking garage project, rather than deferring the garage while taking short-term steps to improve parking management. A decision to remove funding from the parking garage would need to come back to Council as a study session. This is a complicated topic – considerations might include demonstrating the effectiveness of strategies to use parking more efficiently before making a final decision; and the potential value of shared parking to goals of encouraging more housing downtown. A parking garage study session hasn’t yet been scheduled.

The Council removed consideration of teacher housing on the Flood magnet school site because that project is in limbo due to ongoing change in the Ravenswood school district.

We’ll continue to keep you posted as these topics come up for review and decision at City Council.