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.

Council chooses weaker Tenant Relocation Assistance option

Last Tuesday, over 40 people came to the Menlo Park City Council meeting to ask them to pass the Housing Commission’s recommended Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance. At the end of a long meeting, in a 3-2 vote with Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor and Councilwoman Betsy Nash opposed, the Council approved a limited ordinance modeled on one passed in Redwood City last year.

The ordinance will apply only to low-income renters forced out of their homes because the landlord of a property of five or more units is opting to permanently remove the unit from the rental housing market and will require landlord to give qualifying tenants relocation assistance equal to three months of fair-market rent (currently $8,427 for a two-bedroom apartment).  Recent news from Redwood City demonstrates why this is insufficient, as long-time renters receive no compensation when forced to move as their rents double. Click here to read a detailed summary from the Almanac.

The Menlo Park City Council decided to pair the Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance with a community fund for renters not eligible for assistance through the ordinance. At this Tuesday’s City Council meeting Council will have the first discussion about the fund.

Setting the Tone for 2019: City Council Goal Setting update and next steps

Thanks to everyone who sent comments regarding the City Council goal-setting. Menlo Together Core Team members attended, commented, and reported. Here are updates on the outcomes of the February 2 meeting and the next steps to address the issues that matter to you, including housing, transportation, and sustainability. Priority-setting is coming back to Council on February 26 for final review.

The Council prioritized the consideration of a Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance in response to rampant displacement of Menlo Park residents. For more updates on next steps, click here. Unfortunately, the Council did not advance Just Cause Eviction as a priority.

Though not a priority at this time, the Council directed the Housing Commission to proactively identify public and surplus land and funding resources for transit-oriented, affordable housing.

The Council did not advance a proposal for a quarterly report on jobs/housing balance available to the public via the city website. The ConnectMenlo General Plan is coming back to Council for review in March, and that is a good time to demand reporting on this information.

The Council requested that the Complete Streets Advisory Committee make recommendations for a robust bicycle and pedestrian network. They also recommended that the city explore participation in a regional transportation management association that would recommend and implement traffic mitigation strategies.

The Council requested that the Environmental Quality Commission make recommendations for an ordinance to adopt the CalGreen Reach Codes for 2019. This would include cost effective energy efficiency and carbon-free energy standards (encouraging pollution free, all electric new construction) that surpass those mandated by law. Council also recommended to extend the Bayfront neighborhood green building (zoning) codes to the El Camino Real corridor and downtown specific plan subject areas.

However, the Council did not give a deadline and the item is time-sensitive. Council would need to make a decision this year for Menlo Park to be one of 32 cities piloting this climate-friendly policy.  

Menlo Park Council seeks 3-street solution for Caltrain grade separation

Thanks to the numerous residents who submitted public comments in favor of 3-street solution on January 15. The Menlo Park City Council, with three newly elected members, reversed its previous preference regarding how to grade-separate the Caltrain tracks from local streets. That is, to allow pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists to pass under the railroad tracks safely while reducing traffic and associated vehicle emissions.

The previous council favored an option separating only one street, Ravenswood, with an underpass. On January 15, in a study session, the four council members present preferred to separate three streets (Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood) with a hybrid/berm, similar to the design in Belmont and San Carlos.

For more detail and next steps, read the original post by Friends of Caltrain on the Green Caltrain blog.