It's become a tradition for the Menlo Park City Council to narrow down its list of top projects for the year into a top five do-or-die list. Those items, as identified by the council on March 5, are to: complete the transportation master plan and establish a transportation impact fee; create separate bike and pedestrian pathways and other improvements to Chilco Street; pursue work on a pedestrian and bike Caltrain crossing at Middle Avenue; update the city's heritage tree ordinance; and move full-steam ahead with efforts to build a new Belle Haven Branch Library.
Other items added to the work plan for 2019 are to: form a transportation management association, update the city's El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan (which Community Development Director Mark Muenzer announced is scheduled to come before the council March 12), preserve affordable housing, pass a short-term rental ordinance, review and potentially streamline the approval process for single-family residential projects, develop and implement near-term downtown parking and access strategies, implement the zero-waste plan, and implement the city's IT master plan, including transitioning to new land management software.
Exploring the possibility of developing affordable teacher housing at the former Flood School site was originally among the items on that list. The property belongs to the Ravenswood City School District. According to Mayor Ray Mueller, former district superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff had requested that the topic be added to the city's work plan before she was put on paid leave Feb. 27.
Councilman Drew Combs said he opposed adding the topic to the work plan without prior outreach to the surrounding neighborhood.
The challenge of the work plan process, Mueller argued, is that it creates a "chicken and egg" problem. If a project isn't added to the work plan, then it can be difficult mid-year to allocate staff resources and funding to pursue it and do community outreach; if it is added, then people assume it is a done deal before they've been permitted the opportunity to weigh in. That's what happened with the topic of sidewalks on Sharon Road, he argued. (See Almanac coverage here.) He added that efforts to begin public outreach on the possibility of sidewalks on Sharon Road are scheduled to begin later this year.
Merge Ravenswood City, Sequoia Union High school districts?
Mueller asked that a study session already scheduled to be held in June about an "Equity in Education Joint Powers Authority" – an initiative he's pursued in the past to get stakeholders from other jurisdictions to find ways to commit funding to meet the capital needs of the under-resourced Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park – to be just about equity in education.
He tentatively presented a new idea: having the Sequoia Union High School District absorb the Ravenswood City School District to create a K-12 district.
Mueller added that for years the success and graduation rates of Ravenswood students in the Sequoia district have been of concern.
"It may be, perhaps, that a K-12 district, with (the Sequoia district's) resources, might be able to help address that, and also provide some stability to the district," he said.
"I'm not saying we are fully committed," he added.
The plan would be to talk to the East Palo Alto and Ravenswood district communities, and to come up with a mutually acceptable plan, he said.
Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor added that she'd like to see Menlo Park's schools in the Ravenswood district – Belle Haven Elementary and Willow Oaks Elementary – included in meetings with those communities, as well families facing homelessness attending Ravenswood district schools that LifeMoves, a homeless services provider in Menlo Park, works with.
A study session with the Menlo Park City Council on the topic has been tentatively scheduled for June 18. "There's a lot of work to be done before that study session," Mueller. said. "I think it's time we had that discussion."
In addition, the council scheduled the following study sessions for May through August: on May 7, a minimum wage policy; on May 21, the annexation process for a triangle of unincorporated West Menlo Park; on June 4, an update to the council's procedures manual; on July 16, a potential voter initiative to convert Menlo Park into a "charter city; and on Aug. 27, the creation of a public amenities fund.
The council also plans to hold a study session on March 12 to discuss the issue of chronic homelessness in Menlo Park.
On the city's capital improvements plan, the top priorities, broken down by department, are laid out as follows. The plan prioritizes projects for funding based on a five-year timeline.
● City buildings and systems: Improve the Belle Haven youth center, develop fire plans and replace equipment at city buildings, implement the city's information technology master plan, and improve the Belle Haven branch library.
● Environment: Evaluate the city's heritage tree ordinance and develop a trash and recycling strategic plan.
● Parks & Recreation: Repair Bedwell Bayfront park collection and leachate systems, update park playground equipment, and update the city's Parks & Recreation Master Plan.
● Stormwater: Improve the Chrysler Drive Pump Station and work on the city's Green Infrastructure Plan.
● Streets & Sidewalks: Install sidewalks and make bike and pedestrian improvements on Chilco Street, add green infrastructure and support a safe routes to school program on Oak Grove Avenue, and resurface streets.
● Traffic & Transportation: Design and construct the Middle Avenue Caltrain bicycle and pedestrian crossing, move forward on Caltrain grade separations at Ravenswood Avenue and possibly other rail crossings, and complete the Willow Road/U.S. 101 interchange (a Caltrans project).
● Water: Improve the city's emergency water storage and supply, and replace the water main.
With the priorities set for the work plan, city staff will prepare a budget that is expected to be released on May 16, and adopted on June 18, prior to the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.