New report reveals stark COVID-19 disparities in Belle Haven

An eye-opening new investigative report from community organization Belle Haven Action uncovered stark disparities in rates of COVID-19 in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, whose residents include a large majority of people of color who are more likely to be essential workers, mirroring COVID-19 disparities around the nation. The research revealed that Belle Haven residents, who account for 15.6% of the city’s population, have experienced 50.3% of Menlo Park’s total number of COVID-19 cases.

These disparities in the rates of COVID-19 across Menlo Park had been invisible for a year because the county only reported data by city until recently.  

Given the legacy of residential segregation and disinvestment in Menlo Park, and in many San Mateo County cities, it should have been an immediate priority to gather data by census tract.   Thankfully, we have the data now – and it’s clear why we needed it from the start.  Since the statistics for Belle Haven, in census tract 6117, were averaged together with the wealthier, whiter neighborhoods of Menlo Park, Belle Haven did not emerge as a hot spot. Yet the infection rate there is 14%, as compared to 2.7% in the rest of Menlo Park.  These impacts were not made clear until Belle Haven Action published its report.

Belle Haven Action recommended that to address the disparities, San Mateo County must use trusted messengers to bring the resources directly to the communities with the highest infection rates, which are communities of concern with high shares of households with minority or low-income status, seniors, and people who have limited English proficiency. Serving as known and trusted messengers, Belle Haven Action has set up testing sites and, most recently, a vaccination clinic in the community. To locate a testing and/or vaccination site in the Belle Haven community please visit:

In addition, Belle Haven and nearby communities of concern  in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks have been excluded from eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine prioritization targeted at communities of concern, on the basis of data is reported by city and zip code instead of finer-grained census tracts.

Demanding a City Council Priority

The Belle Haven Action report helped to strengthen advocacy by Belle Haven residents, supported by Menlo Together, for the City of Menlo Park to set COVID-19 response and recovery as a City Council priority.  The city can provide funding, resources, and communication assistance to connect Belle Haven residents to services provided by the county and state, by partnering with trusted neighborhood-based organizations and leaders. Local elected officials and trusted messengers must be at the table when planning testing and vaccinations in the communities of concern.

At a recent City Council discussion about priorities for the coming year, sharp questioning by Council Member Taylor revealed that the City had not previously identified a point person on staff to focus on COVID-19 response, and the perception of city senior staff was that because the County has primary responsibility for public health, the City does not have a major role to play.  The meeting is recorded here, and the discussion runs from 4:26 to 5:30 in the video. 

In response to Council Member Taylor questioning and resident demands, City Council demanded a higher priority for COVID-19 response by the city, with actions including:

  • assigning a staff person focused on COVID-19 response
  • listening for community needs
  • providing a bridge between state/county programs and Menlo Park resident needs
  • supporting community based organizations that are effective at communicating with residents in Belle Haven
  • allocating new federal relief funds to address COVID-19 disparities
  • supporting prioritization of vaccines for Belle Haven and neighboring communities in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks (see below). 

Demanding a fair share of vaccines and relief funds

Local residents have recently received the support of state legislators Josh Becker and Mark Berman in calling attention to the need to allocate COVID-19 resources by census tract, instead of zip code or city, to ensure that low-income communities of color in the Bay Area receive vaccine priority and a fair share of relief funding. This is especially important for communities in San Mateo County zip codes– with high incomes and good health indicators relative to the rest of the state– as they have not benefited from the state’s strategy to prioritize vaccine distribution to the lowest-income, highest-risk areas of California. 

The COVID-19 disparities echo the shocking but familiar stories of underinvestment and insufficient attention to low-income committees of color in our area and nationwide.  

Action Steps:

Here are some steps you can take to reinforce the hard work of our local leaders in revealing the inequities and demanding attention and resources to address them.

* Support Belle Haven Action with your volunteer time and/or donations

* Write the governor to support State allocation of COVID-19 resources by census tract 

* Let Menlo Park City Council know by their priority-setting meeting on April 13 that you support the participation and leadership of local community-based organizations in communities of concern, especially as more resources from federal relief funds become available for COVID-19 response.  Send email to

General Meeting Announcement

Please join us by Zoom on Sunday, March 7 from 4:00 to 5:00pm for our first General Meeting. We will:

  • Connect and hear briefly about Menlo Together’s accomplishments and how you can get involved.
  • Hear a presentation from San Mateo County Health Equity leaders, Shireen Malekafzali and Belén Seara, on the Health Impacts of Housing, Environment, and Mobility. Q&A will follow. 
  • Host optional post-meeting break-out groups to dive deeper into an upcoming activity of your choice.

Please extend this invitation to others who share our vision of a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable.

The Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition Workshops – an honest look at how we segregated our neighborhoods and how we can interrupt and reverse the pattern.

Covid-19 and the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and the countless other Black people killed by U.S. police have once again exposed the ongoing impact of America’s long history — and present-day patterns — of racist policies and actions. These events have inspired many Menlo Park residents to learn the truth — however uncomfortable — about our city’s past, and to build a more equitable future for all. Menlo Together’s The Color of Law: Local Edition workshops have met the moment by helping local residents face our history with honesty and by offering specific opportunities to act. 

Before the racial reckoning of 2020, Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America inspired Menlo Together to learn more about how residential segregation played out in Menlo Park. The Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition was the result of a deep dive into our local library archives. Over a hundred local residents attended this in-person workshop in 2019. In 2020, Menlo Together brought the experience to Zoom starting with Housing Leadership Council’s Housing Leadership Day and the Menlo Park City School District Speaker Series, followed by events for the Ladera DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Committee and the San Mateo Housing Department. In total, Menlo Together’s The Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition workshops have reached almost 350 residents, with more workshops on the way.

What is the draw?

For many, the workshop’s power is in its local specificity. “It was about Menlo Park, where I live,” according to one participant. “[In the past,] learning about segregation was not about my home…” For another attendee, the most impactful part of the workshop was learning “the local history, how Belle Haven and East Palo Alto became isolated,” and “how certain [white] Menlo Park neighborhoods fled Ravenswood [school district].”

Other participants cited the impact of the personal stories of Menlo Together members Pam D. Jones and Deadra Lampkin, and member emeritus Karen Camacho, who shared how residential segregation has impacted their families. These stories made real what might have been abstract concepts before the workshop; for one participant, they “made the book come alive.”

Combined with these stories, Menlo Together’s use of the interactive tools available in Zoom made the workshop feel intimate, even with a large number of participants on an online platform. One attendee “liked most of all how everyone was encouraged to participate,” and appreciated “how anxieties about doing so were well addressed” and another “was … thrilled to find so many folks nearby who are passionate about this.”

A call to action

The Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition is not just a history lesson, it is a call to action. “I really appreciated the ways in which the workshop provided opportunities for engagement by the participants,” one participant noted. Even “more eye opening was the more recent ways in which discrimination continues to impact people of color’s access to housing or pushes them out of  their neighborhoods when there is gentrification and displacement.”

How can you engage?

Menlo Park City Council Goal-setting – Report and Next Steps

On Saturday, January 30, Menlo Park City Council had a Saturday work session focusing on goal setting for the coming year. 

City Council was generally supportive of the priorities that Menlo Together had encouraged:

  • A robust Housing Element process to address opportunities to improve affordability and racial equity
  • A broader initiative to support people and businesses to endure and recover from the impacts of Covid
  • Continued focus on the Climate Action Plan, potentially including opportunities to improve walking, bicycling, and other alternatives to driving.

There were also a variety of other ideas that emerged from community members and Council members. Council will need to make important decisions to winnow the list of ideas that the city will focus on.

On February 23rd, City Council will return to the goal setting process to make decisions – this will be an important moment to steer the city’s priorities in a year that will have big challenges and opportunities for housing, transportation, sustainability and racial justice.

We will keep you posted on actions you can take to further these goals.

Read on for more background on what happened at the meeting. 

Housing Element. With regard to the Housing Element, which is a legal requirement to plan for housing for people of all income levels, council members including Wolosin and Nash supported the perspective of going beyond the minimal requirements to address needs for housing affordability and repairing the city’s legacy of segregation. Staff noted that the Housing Element this year has new requirements to affirmatively further fair housing will will create momentum for these goals.

Covid Recovery. With regard to considering restoring city services within a broader frame of supporting people and businesses with the impacts of Covid, Council Member Mueller was a strongest voice for a robust response; there was a lot of dialogue about how much and what functions the city might take on, such as participating in the county COVID recovery table and make sure our most vulnerable communities receive the resources they need, and requesting disaggregated data to illuminate the disparate impact of Covid in the Belle Haven neighborhood.

Climate Action Plan (CAP). With regard to concerns raised by Council and community members that the Climate Action Plan did not appear to be highlighted as a priority in the staff report, staff reframed their recommendation, considering the project to apply for a Safer Bay grant to protect the Ravenswood electrical substation as a major focus of climate action.  Several council members supported making sure that CAP implementation remains a priority including opportunities to focus on improving residents’ quality of life and reducing car traffic by improving alternatives to driving. This priority would also dovetail with the city’s Vision Zero policy to greatly reduce injuries and fatalities from traffic crashes.

There were a variety of other items that drew public comment and council discussion. 

  • With regard to policing and public safety, there were multiple public comments in addition to Menlo Together and longtime community leader Pam Jones.  Staff commented that the new police chief starting this Spring would focus on community outreach on the issues.
  • With regard to redistricting, which will use new US Census data to define the city council districts in Menlo Park, staff recommended early action in hiring a demographer since they will be in high demand.
  • A number of community members were interested in banning gas leafblowers, which cause annoyance and pollution.  Council Member Mueller made a sensible recommendation to refer this item to the Environmental Quality Commission. While the EQC  had declined to take the item up in 2019, battery technology has made rapid progress even in the last few years so the electric alternatives to gas leafblowers may be more ready for broad rollout.
  • A number of community members were interested in “quiet zones” – a policy initiative that the city would need to lead, to have Caltrain reduce horn noise.  This project would require the installation of four-quadrant gates, which prevent drivers from getting onto the tracks as the train approaches, at the intersections where the Caltrain tracks cross surface streets.  Atherton has already installed quiet zones and a Council Member from Atherton reported in the goal-setting session’s public comment on what that town had done.  Menlo Park Council and staff discussed how this item might be advanced with some more planning.

As date of the Feb 23 meeing approaches, a staff report will be published with more detail for the Council’s consideration of goal-setting decisions. We will keep you posted on helpful ways to support the goals of housing, sustainable transportation, environment and racial equity.

Saturday Jan 30 10am – City Council Goal-Setting

On Saturday, January 30, the Menlo Park City Council is holding a goal-setting workshop from 10am to 3pm. Read on for tips for encouraging City Council to strengthen goals for the coming year to make the city more equitable and sustainable.

The agenda is here. You can send your thoughts in advance by email to And you can give public comment at the meeting. Public comment is slated to start around 10:25am, subject to change. You can dial in by zoom at with Meeting ID# 947 1320 5683 , or by phone at (669) 900-6833 Meeting ID# 947 1320 5683, press *9 to raise your hand to speak.

The coming fiscal year, from July 2021 through June 2022, will continue to be challenging and uncertain. Widespread vaccination will alleviate the health risks of Covid and the burden on people’s livelihoods, but the pace of vaccination and rise of new virus strains add uncertainty. Covid recovery will be an important theme. The City has urgent and important priorities to meet state legal requirements to plan for housing (called the Housing Element), and important goals to address climate change.

The city staff is starting the Council’s discussions with some good proposed priorities, including the 2022 Housing Element, rebuilding library and community services from service cuts driven by Covid, and the SAFER Bay Project, an opportunity to get federal grant funding to protect a power substation in the Belle Haven neighborhood from sea level rise.

Menlo Together has some recommendations for the City Council to enhance these good priorities:

The Housing Element is essential, as a legal requirement and as a process that can enable the city of Menlo Park to take steps to address housing unaffordability and the legacy of segregation. As part of this goal, the City Council should consider prioritizing related policies and programs to increase housing production, preserve affordable housing, and protect renters that do not strictly fall within the legally required scope of the Housing Element update.

The priority on “rebuilding library and community services” is important for a year in which we expect pandemic restrictions to lift.  We are very glad to see that the staff report highlights the need for assessment of “diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility in LCS department services and operations” as part of service restoration, and are eager to ensure that community outreach plays a big part in restoring services.  However, we believe this theme of rebuilding services should be reframed more broadly as “rebuilding city services to achieve an equitable COVID recovery,” allowing the city to consider a variety of recovery needs.

In advancing the Climate Action Plan, we strongly support  the strategies of building electrification and electric vehicle charging that have already been approved. However, the City Council should also consider prioritizing the city’s regular transportation planning in ways that reduce vehicle miles traveled.  For example, there will be opportunities coming forward in the existing program to advance a transportation management association that can help workers reduce car commuting, and there will be opportunities in the routine selection and design of bicycle and pedestrian projects,that can be oriented toward addressing our climate goals

Here is a copy of the comment letter that Menlo Together sent on January 12 regarding City Council goal-setting.

If you have some time, please share your thoughts with the City Council.

Save Caltrain with Measure RR

So many of the goals of Menlo Together – sustainable transportation, environment, housing affordability, equity – depend on having Caltrain service continue and improve over time.  

Measure RR on the November ballot will save Caltrain from being shut down, fund affordability and equity programs, reduce congestion, keep pollution out of the air, and enable Menlo Park and other cities to add housing near public transit where residents need to drive less. 

In addition to voting yourself, you can help with phone banking and text banking to reach voters.

There are online events to phone bank this weekend, including:
* Sunday, October 18, at 3pm with Silicon Valley Sunrise – click here to RSVP
* Sunday October 18 at 5pm with Mark Cordes, new CEO of San Francisco Transit Riders – click here to RSVP

Have more questions? Read on… 

Caltrain’s budget is in terrible shape because of the pandemic. Pre-Covid, Caltrain got most of its revenue from riders, but with most offices legally required to be closed, ridership has been steeply down. Caltrain’s public funding comes from its 3 county transit agency partners whose budgets are down because of the pandemic.  Without Measure RR, Caltrain faces a shutdown of 2.5 years or more!

Measure RR will prevent Caltrain from being shut down, and in the future will provide more frequent service at more times of the day, to relieve congestion and to make more kinds of trips convenient – you could go to San Mateo for dinner without having to look for parking.

Before Covid, Caltrain kept 4 lanes of cars off the highway and local roads. Congestion will be terrible if pandemic restrictions ease and Caltrain is still down.  

Our Climate Action Plans in Menlo Park and other cities depend on Caltrain to provide effective alternatives to driving. Pre-Covid, Caltrain removed 400 million driving miles per year from the roads. This would grow by about 240 million with improvements funded by Measure RR, removing 110 additional metric tons of carbon emissions each day.

Measure RR will fund implementation of new equity policies, including a 50% discount for low-income people, and better connections to local transit which more low-income people depend on to get to the train.

During the pandemic, Caltrain is supporting essential workers – about 50% of riders are travelling for jobs in health care, life sciences and government.  

Riders who have been required to stay home due to Covid plan to return – 70% of people who were regular riders before Covid plan to use Caltrain as much or more than before, according to Caltrain’s poll. 

Voters are voting early in record numbers, but about 80-90% haven’t voted yet. Many haven’t heard yet about Measure RR and how it will save Caltrain from shutdown, improve affordability and service, and save our region from congestion and pollution.  

So if you have an hour or two this weekend, click here to sign up to phone bank this weekend, or sign the pledge card to get connected with more ways to help.  

Voting is different this year so please make a plan to vote early by mail or at a dropoff site near you – check out for more info and to track your ballot.

Menlo Together D3 Candidate Forum – Video and Questions

Thanks to everyone who registered and attended the Menlo Together D3 City Council Candidates Forum.  Here a link to the video of the event. The list of questions is below.

Menlo Together’s goal was to enable voters to hear the perspectives and opinions of candidates on the interrelated issues of housing affordability, transportation, sustainability and racial justice.  Menlo Together provided questions to all candidates and the public in advance, on the day of the event.

On Saturday, candidates Fennell and Nguyen made short statements in lieu of participating in the forum. Nguyen made her statement at the beginning of the event. An event organizer read Fennell’s statement at the end.

All three candidates participated in the League of Women Voters forum on Wednesday, September 30, which can be viewed here.

Menlo Together Candidate Forum Questions

Question 1: 

California law requires cities to affirmatively further fair housing through zoning plans and policies that counteract and undo racially discriminatory laws and policies.

Examples of enduring discriminatory practices include concentrating affordable housing in under resourced neighborhoods and excluding affordable homes from other neighborhoods using single family zoning. 

What strategies to affirmatively further fair housing do you support, and which will you prioritize during your term?

Please be as specific as possible. 

Question 2:

During the Covid crisis, many tenants and some homeowners face financial challenges like never before and the challenges will persist for long after the pandemic ends.

What are the most important things you will do in your role on city council to prevent evictions and displacement of our most vulnerable residents?

(Note to Moderator – if they mention County and State solutions, ask how they will contribute to the desired outcome)?

Question 3

There is robust data showing a strong correlation between driving speed and the safety of streets for everyone – people driving, walking, and bicycling. The speed that drivers drive depends more on street design than on the posted speed limit.

Unfortunately, there is a state law that doesn’t allow the city to enforce a lower speed limit if most drivers are moving faster.  There are three parts to this question:
* Would you support setting speed limits to a max of 25mph citywide?
* Would you support setting design standards to gradually redesign streets to support 25mph speeds?
* Would you support the city joining other cities in advocating for changes to the state law?

Question 4

Meeting the Climate Action Plan goal depends on council direction and staff execution. Currently only 3 of 60+ steps to advance the Climate Action Plan are on the agenda for this year.  This is a two part question.
* What measures will you prioritize and how would they move the needle? 
* Given the unique and significant vulnerability to climate impact in Belle Haven, what measures would you advance to improve resilience?

Question 5:

We believe that racial equity is achieved when outcomes – in terms of housing, education, health and wealth – can no longer be predicted based on race and are improved for everyone.  What are two strategies you will prioritize to achieve racial equity in Menlo Park; and given the moment we are in, one of your strategies should be related to policing.  

Audience Question #1:
What does increasing housing affordability in Menlo Park look like to you?

Audience Question #2:

We received several questions about policing and public safety, so we will batch them into our first audience question:
* Do you support reallocation of police funding to alternative, community-based emergency responders? If yes, how will you achieve this change?
* Regarding city funding received by Facebook and allocated to the Facebook Community Response Team, (or Beat 4 of MPPD), do you support this allocation of funds?  If not, how will you achieve this change?

Audience Question #3
When the Housing Element is updated again, what will be the candidate’s preferred make up of the advisory committee steering the effort?

Audience Question #4
We have a lot of housing and retail projects going on right now, on El Camino. How many of those units are “affordable-15% less” and is it true that after a set time period, those rents at the “affordable range”, will be go back to fair market housing and those occupants will be forced out.  How will you work to control this.

Lightning Round short answer questions

– Do you support Measure RR, which provides dedicated funding to Caltrain, would prevent a shutdown because of Covid, improve affordability and improve service in the future? (C, J, M)

– Do you support Schools and Community First Prop 15, which will assess commercial property at market value and reclaim $11-12B in revenue for local government and public schools? (J, M, C)

– Do you support ending Menlo Park Police Department’s participation in the federal 1122 program which provides surplus military equipment to cities? (M, C, J)

– Would you support assigning resources to Caltrain grade separations – this was postponed to cut costs in the last budget cycle (C, J, M)

– When we redraw city council districts, will you support an independent redistricting commission? (J, M, C)

New addition from audience member – make it a simple Y/N/don’t know – Do you support Prop 16, 17, or 18?

Menlo Together and elections

One of Menlo Together’s goals is to help community members across the city get more engaged in the issues we care about and to learn about how to participate in city decisions, for example the recent Civics 101 event led by Belle Haven residents primarily for a Belle Haven audience.

We’re thrilled when Menlo Together participants take leadership roles in community groups, join commissions, and move on to run for office, though it is not appropriate for them to be members as candidates.

Jen Wolosin was one of the founding members of Menlo Together. She stepped down from Menlo Together when she launched her campaign for city council. She is listed on our site as a former member.

Menlo Together does not endorse candidates for office.

Menlo Park D3 City Council Candidates’ Forum 2020

On Saturday, October 3 at 5pm, Menlo Together will be co-hosting an online Candidates’ Forum for Menlo Park District 3, with candidates Chelsea Nguyen, Jen Wolosin and Max Fennel.    Discussion will focus on the interrelated issues of housing affordability, transportation, environmental sustainability and racial justice.  

Partner co-hosts include Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, Menlo Spark, and Friends of Caltrain. Spanish interpretation will be provided.  The event will be held via Zoom. Click here to pre-register

Menlo Park Civics 101 Wrapup and Resources

On September 24, community members gathered to teach and learn about “Turning Ranting into Advocacy.” Community leaders and journalist Kate Bradshaw told the story of how community members educated themselves, protested, and organized communication to City Council, and local journalism informed the public. As an outcome the city council alleviated potential drastic budget cuts to services at the Onetta Harris Community Center and childcare.

Here is the video of the event, and the presentations on the timeline of the events, city budget basics, and how to participate in city government decisions.

Thanks to moderator Michele Tate, and presenters Pam Jones, Rev. Teirrah McNair, Brigith Babb, Rachel Horst, and Adina Levin, and interpreter Noemi Gonzalez-Rocha.

Sign up here if you would like to be informed of future educational events and opportunities for action.