The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to discuss some of Menlo Park's biggest issues during its Tuesday, July 19, meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center.
Among the issues are:
● How to promote educational equality.
● Whether the city should levy new fees to raise funds for affordable housing development.
● How much Facebook should have to pay to address housing, transportation and environmental issues and be allowed to move forward with its plans to build two large office buildings and a hotel.
● The city's policy on addressing noise from commercial aircraft.
Educational joint powers authority
Menlo Park City Councilman Ray Mueller is trying to get Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Palo Alto to join forces with Ravenswood City School District and the county of San Mateo to set up a joint powers authority, or multi-jurisdictional agency, that could work together toward educational equality between the Ravenswood school district, which has more lower-income families, and the Menlo Park City, Las Lomitas and Palo Alto Unified school districts.
Mr. Mueller said he received an opinion from public finance lawyers at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP that such a joint powers authority would be legal to "respond to the growing regional economic disparities that negatively impact educational opportunities within the (Ravenswood) District," according to a memo from the lawyers.
Mr. Mueller said: "At the end of the day, every resident should care about providing the same quality of education across this area, regardless of socioeconomic status. I think it's just a social equity issue."
At the state level, Mr. Mueller said, there are no clear answers about how to resolve the inequities created when more affluent communities choose to support schools with voter-approved bond measures at high levels, while lower-income communities don't have the resources to generate the same kind of funding.
Mr. Mueller said he began thinking about a joint powers authority for education after seeing how the cities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto formed a joint powers authority to address flood threats and conservation along the San Francisquito Creek. The Ravenswood City School District is based in East Palo Alto and has two schools in eastern Menlo Park.
The authority could use surplus resources from those agencies to help the district, the memo by the lawyers said.
"This idea hasn't been done before, that we're aware of," Mr. Mueller said.
According to the legal memo, the Ravenswood City School District did a master plan in 2015 that found that the district needs an estimated $330 million worth of technology infrastructure, structural safety, building systems and disability-access projects to bring its facilities up to "modern standards." However, because the district is in an area that has historically been more affordable, its residents have tended to be lower-income than in the surrounding areas.
In June, voters in the Ravenswood City School District overwhelmingly approved a $26 million, 10-year bond measure for the school district. The bond is expected to be able to finance about $51 million in improvements overall. Still, that falls far short of what is and will be needed, said Eugene H. Clark-Herrera, who authored the legal memo.
"The district's capacity to finance needed facilities and infrastructure improvements stands in stark contrast to the capacity of its neighboring districts," Mr. Clark-Herrera wrote. He went on to say the Ravenswood district has only about one-fifth of the capacity that the Menlo Park City School District has to raise bond money for its schools.
Mr. Mueller said he plans to raise the topic while the council discusses the citywide general plan update during the Menlo Park City Council meeting Tuesday, July 19, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Menlo Park City Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St.
Other items that are scheduled to be discussed are:
New fees for developers?
The council will have a study session on a "nexus study" that could restructure and raise the fees that developers pay toward supporting affordable housing in the city.
The study looks at how the construction of new homes and apartments can create new spending in the economy, which then creates new jobs, many of which are low-paying. Greater low-wage job growth further increase demand for housing that is below market rate. To "bridge the difference between what (the) new households can afford to pay and the cost of developing modest housing units to accommodate them," a fee could be levied on commercial and residential development for sale and rent, according to the staff report.
Recommended housing impact fees per square foot on residential housing could range from $25-$50 in most cases, with a $25-$35 range set for condos. Other recommended housing impact fees are $10-$15 per square foot for hotel development, $5-$10 for retail, restaurants and services, and $25-$50 for office, medical office or research and development spaces. Such fees could increase city fees paid by developers by about 200 to 400 percent, according to the staff report.
The council is also scheduled to review a development agreement between the city and Facebook, in which Facebook could receive permission from the city to expand its campus by building two office buildings and a hotel in eastern Menlo Park, in exchange for millions of dollars in annual and one-time payments and services to address housing, transportation, and environmental issues.
The council may vote on a resolution to request action from the Federal Aviation Administration to take steps to reduce aircraft noise in Menlo Park. According to the staff report, local airports are switching to using satellite-based air routes to boost efficiency, which can change flight paths and increase aircraft noise on the Peninsula.