Menlo Park City Council members spent more than an hour Oct. 25 talking about when and how they should discuss what to do about the renters' displacement problem.
The council had been scheduled to discuss the issue this past April, but a meeting on the topic was canceled, and never rescheduled. Now, city staff said, every scheduled meeting until the end of the year is accounted for with such complex topics as the review of the general plan and Facebook's expansion.
City staff is working on many projects and it takes time to do the in-depth research requested by the council on how other cities are attempting to address the displacement problem, said City Manager Alex McIntyre and City Attorney Bill McClure.
Each council member had a different notion of what should be pursued. Mayor Rich Cline wanted a review of the city's current housing policies, such as its below-market-rate housing program.
For months, Councilwoman Kirsten Keith has requested a discussion of three ideas for dealing with displacement: mandatory non-binding arbitration, 12-month leases, and tenant-relocation assistance. Councilwoman Catherine Carlton has suggested that tenants should get more than a 30-days notice of their eviction.
An idea from Councilman Ray Mueller is the creation of a displacement fund, or a new kind of impact fee developers would pay to cover the costs of helping displaced families relocate.
Before adopting a new development-impact fee, an analysis called a "nexus study" would have to be done to determine what those impacts could be, and such a study would likely take six to 12 months, said Housing and Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan.
The main point of the council discussion would be to talk through "best practices" in displacement policy, councilmembers asserted, preferably with housing experts in the room.
Whether the discussion happens during the general plan update process could have a bearing on what gets codified in the general plan. Councilman Peter Ohtaki said he thought the displacement talks should be an urgent, but separate, process to the general plan update.
Councilman Mueller said he wants to have the talk now, before the end of the general plan process, because it would create urgency to act, and recommendations could be a part of the revised general plan document. "This conversation is happening all around us and we're just sitting on the sidelines," he said. Two motions he proposed to the council to require the displacement talk to happen before the approval of the general plan were not seconded.
Councilwoman Keith agreed that having the discussion before the general plan update process ends would be nice, but, given the constraints on staff, she suggested another approach: Pick a couple of measures that are on the less controversial side of the spectrum of options, and try to get them passed as soon as possible.
She recommended policies that would require tenants and landlords to do mandatory, non-binding arbitration and that would require landlords to offer tenants the option to have a 12-month lease. Other cities have those policies and ordinances already written and they could easily be drafted for Menlo Park's use, she said.
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously on a motion indicating the displacement talk could "possibly" occur before the close of the general plan update process, but would most likely occur in January, after the general plan is approved.