Sharon Park removed from list of affordable housing sites
As expected, the six people overseeing Menlo Park's hunt for new housing sites voted to drop a neighborhood park from the list on Wednesday night. The 2.67 acres of the 10-acre Sharon Park are no longer under consideration as a possible location for affordable senior housing.
But dropping that site meant adding others to the list. In this case, the Housing Element Update Steering Committee restored two areas previously discarded, both on Sand Hill Road — the Hewlett Foundation site and a 1.7-acre parcel near I-280 and the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club.
Sharon Heights residents flooded the City Council with hundreds of emails demanding that the park be left alone and that affordable housing be placed elsewhere in the city. After City Attorney Bill McClure determined that rezoning the park would be a long, expensive process, the steering committee agreed.
Other areas, such as the Linfield Oaks neighborhood, are also starting to protest being on the list.
JoAnne Goldberg wrote this to the council, echoing sentiments expressed by several neighbors: "It is pretty clear that my neighborhood, Linfield Oaks, remains a target of your plans. This is especially unfortunate as Linfield Oaks has already been the site of recent housing developments and has borne the brunt of the additional traffic and other negative impacts.
"Green space that neighbors used to enjoy has vanished forever. We have more residents but no more amenities. Moreover, our neighborhood will be profoundly affected by upcoming changes in intensity to the downtown/El Camino corridor."
Menlo Park has no choice about adding enough high-density housing zones to accommodate space for 1,000 units as part of a lawsuit settlement over its non-compliance with state law. While the city is not required to actually build the units, it must provide incentives for developers to do so, according to the settlement approved on May 22.
State law requires cities to assess and plan to meet their fair share of regional housing needs, which includes affordable housing, every seven years. Menlo Park hasn't met the state requirements since 1992, but now only has until Oct. 31 to send a draft update to the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
"Each city and county has a responsibility to provide, in their housing element, adequate sites to provide affordable housing to people who live there," HCD spokesman Colin Parent told the Almanac.
It's not a requirement that cities actually build enough affordable housing. "It's sort of a supply side approach," he said. Once the zoning part is complete, there is state financing assistance and market pressures.
If a city has no housing element or the element is declared invalid, and if someone sues — as happened with Menlo Park — the court can assume the local government's authority and make zoning decisions, as defined in the statute. "That's the primary deterrent," Mr. Parent said.
In Menlo Park's case, that meant zoning for 30 houses per acre and the threat of court-order restrictions on building permits and shorter windows of time for development projects.
Mr. Parent explained that if the HCD signs off on a housing element, that's "often very persuasive," but the court makes the final decision. When HCD signs off, the primary effect is that the city is able to apply for state financing.
Not following through by building houses "is not necessarily an indication of bad faith." Asked for an example of bad faith, Mr. Parent didn't have one.
The "overwhelming majority" of cities have adopted an approved housing element.
The difference between implementation of a housing element and construction of housing: implementation means the city has a plan to rezone parcels within a certain amount of time. If that window of time expires without having rezoned, then the HCD may look again, but they don't care about construction.
"The intent of the law is to ensure that localities plan for and zone for affordable housing units," Mr. Parent said. "A lot of people (and reporters) confuse" implementation and construction.
Go to tinyurl.com/MP-housing to review maps and reports associated with the Menlo Park update.