Menlo Park: Belle Haven residents praise changing neighborhood


"I cannot tell you the number of people who tried to persuade me not to buy a house in the neighborhood," Joellen McGruder, who bought a home in Belle Haven in 2011, told the Menlo Park council on Aug. 26. "And indeed within a month after I'd been there, there was a drive-by shooting and at least two gun incidents within a two block radius. But now, she has seen the community change "tremendously."

Those changes are coming about thanks to a collaboration between residents, the city and local nonprofits and other business partners as the Belle Haven action plan kicks into high gear.

Even after only six months of action, Belle Haven is experiencing a rejuvenation of spirit as the plan, first approved by the council one year ago, has shifted from identifying goals to reaching them.

As might be discerned from Ms. McGruder's comments, improving public safety is a top priority.

The new police substation and neighborhood service center on Hamilton Avenue opened in April. The city also launched a youth diversion and truancy program under the coordination of a police officer based at the substation. According to Community Services Manager Derek Schweigart, 25 families have already been referred for help through the diversion program.

The residents have also stepped up, finding 11 neighborhood watch captains and forming a public safety action team, which has tackled projects such as creating a "who to call for city services" list and fixing problems with street lighting.

Dennis Bower, who has lived in Belle Haven for about four years and now serves as one of the 18 members of the public safety team, said the recent infusion of resources has helped his community feel like a part of Menlo Park despite being on the other side of U.S. 101.

"I've seen many changes, most of them in the last year," Mr. Bower told the council. "All of these are beginnings" with room to grow, he said. "With the City Council's continued support, I see only good things for our community ahead."

The city has also convened 32 gatherings in Belle Haven during the past six months, according to Mr. Schweigart, prompting complaints of "too many meetings," although residents seem pleased at the results. The events included three neighborhood cleanups and four community dialogues involving city staff, police officers and residents.

While Menlo Park has allocated $253,000 in funding for the first two years of the Belle Haven action plan, other community partners have chipped in as well: Facebook funded the full-time police officer position at the substation, and the Belle Haven Community Development fund awarded $13,000 in mini-grants to 18 residents, who proposed projects from improving the "curb appeal" of their homes and neighborhood to hosting events such as National Night Out.

The Rotary Club has come forward with a proposal to create a community garden, and Mr. Schweigart said the lease agreement should go to the council for approval in September.

Belle Haven resident Vicky Robledo said that thanks to all of the community engagement, she's "seeing neighbors become friends. ... We've had a lot of meetings and we've complained, but we've also developed a lot of relationships."

After listening to the update on the action plan during their Aug. 26 meeting, council members expressed their gratitude for the community's "inspiring" participation and hoped that the momentum continued.

The new and improved Belle Haven may even set the standard for other Menlo Park neighborhoods. Councilman Peter Ohtaki said he wants to replicate the action plan across the city to create that "sense of belonging" in every community.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joan Smith
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 2, 2014 at 10:28 am

Kudos also to Tim Sheeper and Menlo Swim who have opened the swimming pool there and scholarship-ed children so they can learn to swim !
Joan Smith
Kings Swim Academy

1 person likes this
Posted by gentrification
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Be careful of what you wish for. Gentrification is fun at first, but greedy landlords often take advantage of the situation to jack up their rents and evict lower-income residents or lower-profit-margin businesses. Gentrification is happening all over the Bay Area right now and it can be really unpleasant, especially if you are on the eviction list. Hopefully, the city council will take steps to protect current residents against skyrocketing rents.

1 person likes this
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm

What can the city council do to protect tenants? And, do they want to? They pretty much have never given a darn about Belle Haven.

3 people like this
Posted by Andy
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 2, 2014 at 6:49 pm

If gentrification means cleaner safer streets, then I'm all for it!

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Snark
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm

The other thing that's happened in Belle Haven since 2010? A massive amount of private reinvestment and revitalization: Menlo Gateway, Facebook. Sobrato. What is that, like a million square feet of new tech/innovation projects? Office *is* a great way to turn dilapidated properties into tax-producing developments... as long as they're not near Mike Lanza and Patti Fry's houses?

Great piece, Sandy. Keep reprinting "Save Menlo" propaganda and not doing any actual reporting.

1 person likes this
Posted by anti-snark
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 7:16 am

So how is it that these produce revenue? ANYTHING redeveloped provides new property taxes, and those are just about the same regardless of what the new buildings are. But in terms of revenue to the city (sales tax, tot), none of these provide a penny except the hotel portion of Menlo Gateway.

How about dropping the negative comments about individuals, whether the reporter or fellow residents? Snarky and disrespectful.

3 people like this
Posted by Knock it off
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 3, 2014 at 8:09 am

Keep your West Menlo Politics out of a great community effort.

1 person likes this
Posted by Really
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm

[Post removed; off topic.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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