News

Menlo Park triathlete and coffee entrepreneur to run for City Council

Max Fennell on the current moment: 'If anything, this continues to wake something up inside of myself.' Photo by Charles Russo.

Max Fennell has made a name for himself as a triathlete and entrepreneur living in Menlo Park. Now he's planning to run for the City Council's District 3 seat on a platform aimed at lowering the cost of living.

He's the entrepreneur behind Fenn Coffee, a small batch coffee roasting company, which sells beans in several local markets, including at Delucchi's in Redwood City, Bianchini's in Portola Valley, the Willows Market on Middlefield Road in Menlo Park and the Market at Edgewood in Palo Alto.

He's also a professional triathlete who made headlines as a "defender" on LeBron James' TV show competition, "Million Dollar Mile," and was identified in 2017 by the New York Times as the only African American triathlete competing as a pro.

Fennell said he decided to run for office after experiencing a series of frustrations within the community. He's come to know his district well, running and cycling through its streets as he trains for triathlons and Spartan obstacle races, he said.

District 3 stretches from Crane Street downtown to Coleman Avenue and from San Francisquito Creek and Willow Road to the Atherton border in the Felton Gables neighborhood. Of Menlo Park's five districts, it has the highest proportion of residents over 16 who are employed, at 67%. Fifty-two percent of the district's households rent their homes and it is the only district in Menlo Park where a majority – 51% – of the housing supply is multi-family housing rather than single-family.

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Other candidates who plan to run for City Council this year are Jennifer Wolosin, founder of Parents for Safe Routes, who has announced she plans to run for the District 3 seat, and incumbent Ray Mueller, who has announced he plans to run for the District 5 seat.

Only Wolosin so far has filed the initial form that declares a candidate's intent to run for office, according to City Clerk Judi Herren.

Rent policies

Implementing citywide rent control would be his first policy priority, Fennell said.

He said he knows what struggling over the cost of living is like here.

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"I'm not living in a $5 million house and guessing," he said. "I feel this, I see it, and it's bothering me."

As a renter, he said, the cost of living is frustrating, for him and his peers. He's 32 and his friends still talk about buying a van to live in or moving out of town because it's so expensive here.

The high cost of living shapes who can live in the community, he said. At his apartment complex, he's the only Black guy, and since the pandemic started, he's seen three moving trucks parked in front of his neighbors' apartments.

The pandemic is putting steep pressures on renters, and the reasons to stay may be diminishing for some.

Residents are looking at a fall of "glorified house arrest" while paying costly rent, and many are able to work remotely, he said.

"You can go move to another state right now and pay half of this rent. I don't understand why you wouldn't. I don't think we should be forced to do that."

"Why are landlords not stepping up to the plate and lowering people's rent?" he continued. He added that he'd favor rent set on average at $2,000 per month.

Other policy ideas

Fennell said he would also favor reallocating police funding to social service community programs and instituting a monthly mandatory training for police officers. The training would involve contemporary case studies of people being unjustly killed by police, and if officers don't pass, they'd have to undergo additional training.

As a Black resident of Menlo Park, he said, he's been pulled over five times since moving into the city in 2017. Twice, he was on a bike.

About 1 in 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police, Fennell said, a statistic reported in 2019 research from the National Academy of Sciences.

"That's just extremely scary to think about," he said.

He said he'd like to see the police engage more in the community. All residents should know five police officers by name.

Neighbors should talk to each other more too, he said.

Another priority for him would be to enliven downtown life. He's in the market for a retail location for his coffee shop, but the realities of what's profitable with high commercial rent is a significant challenge for restaurants and people in the food industry, he said.

High rents mean restaurants need a large number of visitors spending a fair amount of money with each visit to break even, let alone profit. The city should take on extra barriers or costs to offering outdoor dining right now, he said.

His larger priority when it comes to rent policy is to work toward immediate relief, figuring how to make the community affordable now rather than wait for new housing to be built.

"Someone needs to step up to the plate, and I'm willing to do it, and give it 110%" he said. "I'll speak the truth and be loud about it. I'll fight for what I believe in – whatever has to be done to get the cost of living down."

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Menlo Park triathlete and coffee entrepreneur to run for City Council

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Jul 6, 2020, 10:55 am

Max Fennell has made a name for himself as a triathlete and entrepreneur living in Menlo Park. Now he's planning to run for the City Council's District 3 seat on a platform aimed at lowering the cost of living.

He's the entrepreneur behind Fenn Coffee, a small batch coffee roasting company, which sells beans in several local markets, including at Delucchi's in Redwood City, Bianchini's in Portola Valley, the Willows Market on Middlefield Road in Menlo Park and the Market at Edgewood in Palo Alto.

He's also a professional triathlete who made headlines as a "defender" on LeBron James' TV show competition, "Million Dollar Mile," and was identified in 2017 by the New York Times as the only African American triathlete competing as a pro.

Fennell said he decided to run for office after experiencing a series of frustrations within the community. He's come to know his district well, running and cycling through its streets as he trains for triathlons and Spartan obstacle races, he said.

District 3 stretches from Crane Street downtown to Coleman Avenue and from San Francisquito Creek and Willow Road to the Atherton border in the Felton Gables neighborhood. Of Menlo Park's five districts, it has the highest proportion of residents over 16 who are employed, at 67%. Fifty-two percent of the district's households rent their homes and it is the only district in Menlo Park where a majority – 51% – of the housing supply is multi-family housing rather than single-family.

Other candidates who plan to run for City Council this year are Jennifer Wolosin, founder of Parents for Safe Routes, who has announced she plans to run for the District 3 seat, and incumbent Ray Mueller, who has announced he plans to run for the District 5 seat.

Only Wolosin so far has filed the initial form that declares a candidate's intent to run for office, according to City Clerk Judi Herren.

Rent policies

Implementing citywide rent control would be his first policy priority, Fennell said.

He said he knows what struggling over the cost of living is like here.

"I'm not living in a $5 million house and guessing," he said. "I feel this, I see it, and it's bothering me."

As a renter, he said, the cost of living is frustrating, for him and his peers. He's 32 and his friends still talk about buying a van to live in or moving out of town because it's so expensive here.

The high cost of living shapes who can live in the community, he said. At his apartment complex, he's the only Black guy, and since the pandemic started, he's seen three moving trucks parked in front of his neighbors' apartments.

The pandemic is putting steep pressures on renters, and the reasons to stay may be diminishing for some.

Residents are looking at a fall of "glorified house arrest" while paying costly rent, and many are able to work remotely, he said.

"You can go move to another state right now and pay half of this rent. I don't understand why you wouldn't. I don't think we should be forced to do that."

"Why are landlords not stepping up to the plate and lowering people's rent?" he continued. He added that he'd favor rent set on average at $2,000 per month.

Other policy ideas

Fennell said he would also favor reallocating police funding to social service community programs and instituting a monthly mandatory training for police officers. The training would involve contemporary case studies of people being unjustly killed by police, and if officers don't pass, they'd have to undergo additional training.

As a Black resident of Menlo Park, he said, he's been pulled over five times since moving into the city in 2017. Twice, he was on a bike.

About 1 in 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police, Fennell said, a statistic reported in 2019 research from the National Academy of Sciences.

"That's just extremely scary to think about," he said.

He said he'd like to see the police engage more in the community. All residents should know five police officers by name.

Neighbors should talk to each other more too, he said.

Another priority for him would be to enliven downtown life. He's in the market for a retail location for his coffee shop, but the realities of what's profitable with high commercial rent is a significant challenge for restaurants and people in the food industry, he said.

High rents mean restaurants need a large number of visitors spending a fair amount of money with each visit to break even, let alone profit. The city should take on extra barriers or costs to offering outdoor dining right now, he said.

His larger priority when it comes to rent policy is to work toward immediate relief, figuring how to make the community affordable now rather than wait for new housing to be built.

"Someone needs to step up to the plate, and I'm willing to do it, and give it 110%" he said. "I'll speak the truth and be loud about it. I'll fight for what I believe in – whatever has to be done to get the cost of living down."

Comments

resident
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 6, 2020 at 12:38 pm
resident, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 6, 2020 at 12:38 pm
13 people like this

Very sad to hear that Menlo Park Police are scared of "bicycling while black". Glad to hear that Max is doing something about it by running for office.


DC McGlynn
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 6, 2020 at 12:46 pm
DC McGlynn, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 6, 2020 at 12:46 pm
7 people like this

Hello Max: Thanks for running for Council. I'll look out for you. As regards your bicycle stops by the police, did they give you a reason for the stop? Was it justified? (I only ask because I see constant disregard for traffic lights, riding in the wrong direction of traffic, no lights at night, cycling 4 abreast et al ..).
Best, DC McGlynn


Brian
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 6, 2020 at 8:53 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 6, 2020 at 8:53 pm
21 people like this

"Why are landlords not stepping up to the plate and lowering people's rent?" he continued. He added that he'd favor rent set on average at $2,000 per month.
"You can go move to another state right now and pay half of this rent. I don't understand why you wouldn't. I don't think we should be forced to do that."

Forced? Do you know what force is? Force is telling landlords *they* have to pay for you because you don't "feel" like living somewhere you can afford. Force is government telling landlords what rents they can charge—or else. Force is that "or else." Here's a guide: if your life, freedom of movement, or property isn't threatened by that "or else"—force isn't involved.

Got some news for my fellow millennials: you don't have a (moral or legal) right to use the FORCE of the government to steal from your neighbors, tell them what to do with their property, or how to live just because you think you're entitled to things other people have to provide for you.

This is a joke. And I don't mean rent control, or even this guy. I mean the fact our intellectual standards have dropped so low that The Almanac thinks such shallow, clueless thinking on behalf of a candidate of City Council is worth reporting.


Jeff
Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 6, 2020 at 10:29 pm
Jeff, Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 6, 2020 at 10:29 pm
15 people like this

Hi Max, excited to learn about your candidacy. Agree that cost of living is too high and your other issues, but please re-think your call for rent control. There's a good Freakonomics podcast about it (ep. 373) you could listen to sometime. (Web Link)

In short, the rents are too high because there are too many people and not enough housing for them. Putting price controls on the supply of housing may help some in the short run, but hurts others who don't currently have a place or want to move, and over the long run results in even less housing being developed than without rent control. Please consider advocating for policies such as easier building permits to build higher density housing, laws to permit construction of granny units, and tax breaks for high density housing near transit hubs. The more central density we can get near transit and near the jobs, the fewer people will have to live hours away with long commutes, creating terrible traffic throughout the entire Bay Area.


paperwork
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2020 at 1:39 am
paperwork, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2020 at 1:39 am
Like this comment

Until the filing period opens, a candidate can only file paperwork intending to raise money.


Anon
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2020 at 8:50 am
Anon, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2020 at 8:50 am
3 people like this

Wages play a huge part as well.
If we love the company we work for why should we feel the need to move further and commute long hours just to keep a roof over our heads?
We should be able to live in the area where we work.
I work full time in Menlo Park and rent is still more than half my income.


Stu Soffer
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 7, 2020 at 11:16 am
Stu Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 7, 2020 at 11:16 am
2 people like this

I grew up in rent-controlled housing - a 1-bedroom apartment where may parents had the bedroom, and I had a pull-out couch in the hallway. Keep in mind that while the rent may be controlled, the level of maintenance and amenities isn't. I rented a studio apartment downtown Palo Alto when I first moved here. My parents rented at Oak Creek apartments for 30 years. For what they paid over the years they could have owned a house. It's a lifestyle that leaves mowing and calling a plumber to the landlord.

For 10 years I rented an office across from Cafe Borrone, and then for the next 10 years I rented a great office on University Avenue. All that office rent adds up.


Mich
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2020 at 2:06 pm
Mich, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2020 at 2:06 pm
5 people like this

Please help address the housing crisis by banning AirBNB. It's reduced the number of rentals and driven up rental prices. Almost no AirBNB hosts pay the required temporary occupancy tax, too, so every Menlo Park resident has been cheated out of tax revenue, while our legit hotels struggle. Help the workers and ban AirBNB!


MP Resident
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 7, 2020 at 4:21 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 7, 2020 at 4:21 pm
19 people like this

Max, you’ve been incredibly arrogant and selfish on NextDoor, telling neighbors that their problems aren’t real because you have “worse” issues, or undermining varying perspectives because you don’t personally see the same problems or have the same opinions. You’ve shown a poor ability to communicate and a lack of compassion or empathy, and for (at least) these reasons I will not support you for a City Council or any other civic position.

You chose to move here and pay high rent - now you want to complain about it and try to change or make laws around rent? Housing supply and demand in a very limited geographic area is not a simple problem that rent control will help alleviate.

I also find it too convenient that your self-interest and business would be timely promoted by your City Council spot (you’re currently looking for a storefront to rent in MP and trying to expand business).


new guy
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 7, 2020 at 4:35 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 7, 2020 at 4:35 pm
21 people like this

Hey, I would love to vote for you, but first you need to explain how your ideas actually work.

1, who gets the $2,000 apartments? how do you qualify?

I am asking because I want one too, and like forever right? I will keep it for my kids someday, ok. Are you going to have a lottery, you do realize that at $2000 there will be more demand than supply?


2. for Jeff who is counseling you here - can you please point out the open space for where you are going to build schools and playing fields and parks (you know the amenities of living and paying high taxes in a community) I just looked at a map, and it appears Menlo Park is “built out”.


3. Since you are opposed to being forced to pay for living expenses, can you also lower mine, I mean like I should not have to pay more than $1000 a month in property taxes, like ever, right? You do know that property taxes pays for schools, right? If you could go even lower, than I will personally work to get you elected, if you promise to give me free stuff too.



I could go on but I agree with Brian, this is a joke, and the almanac should have higher standards than to simply print non-sense ideas.



Mister Common
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 8, 2020 at 8:42 am
Mister Common, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 8, 2020 at 8:42 am
12 people like this

Had Facebook opened its corporate campus in Fresno, or Bakersfield, or Tracy ... would there be a "housing crisis" here in Menlo? Rents are high because people are willing to pay high rents if it means a high salary at a place like Facebook.

A new Tesla can cost 100K because people are willing to pay 100K. I can't, but I don't claim it's a "car crisis". I buy a less expensive car.

If rents are too high, move. If this causes a shortage of hourly wage workers, raise the cost of restaurant menu, because the dishwasher gets $25 per hour in order to afford rent. If the restaurant diner doesn't like the price of the meal, don't dine out.




Robert Cronin
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:31 pm
Robert Cronin, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:31 pm
16 people like this

You don't have to be black to be stopped by law enforcement while cycling. Some LEOs are ignorant of the vehicle code provisions relevant to bicyclists. The difference is, being white, I can challenge their ignorance. I'm not sure a black man would get away with that.


Brian
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 11, 2020 at 3:49 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 11, 2020 at 3:49 pm
4 people like this

Ray,

Have you volunteered for any of the City Committees or Commissions? If you haven't you really should before running for a seat on city Council. You will get needed experience. As for a $2000 rent average, how would you legally do that. The city council can not set rent. They can put in controls for rent increases but that can not arbitrarily say rent is set at this amount for the city. How would you propose to legally do that?

In the Willows we had a large number of house burglaries a couple years ago, it took the police several months but the caught the people responsible and that crime is way down in our neighborhood. How would your plan for "reallocating police funding to social service community programs and instituting a monthly mandatory training for police officers" affect the crime rate in the city and the police ability to respond to and investigate crimes?

For the record, I am not black but I have been stopped by the Menlo Park and Atherton Police over the years for stupid reasons like "Your car registration is going to expire next month" because I looked out of place in the neighborhood in an older vehicle late at night.


Did you mean Max?
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 11, 2020 at 3:59 pm
Did you mean Max?, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 11, 2020 at 3:59 pm
Like this comment

@Brian -you addressed your comment to "Ray" but the content of the comment seems to be directed to Max Fennell.


Gail Slocum
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:37 pm
Gail Slocum, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:37 pm
Like this comment

A healthy and deeper discussion on how best to deal with affordability issues in housing is needed. Anyone running for council should plan to lay out their approach, and I would hope that people will listen with an open mind. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, esp. in a country that still has (and must protect) its First Amendment rights. Some of the "clever" seeming snarky put-downs we find too often, and esp those posted "anonymously," tend to erode civic discourse and have a chilling effect on those venturing out with different points of view. Can we have a more respectful discussion? Although I am not a fan of rent control in general, as a matter of economics, it's not like other communities haven't had highly respected leaders who support it for their own reasons. It is easy to be against things or others' opinions, but it's an entirely different thing to govern and have to come forward with solutions. Tearing each other down isn't a sustainable approach. People can and should get the information about all potential candidates' views and then make an informed decision. So I do not fault the Almanac for reporting on Max and his views. I would hate to live in a country where a potential candidate was censored before even getting his or her ideas out there. The very idea that others seem to want the Almanac to do so just gives me the creeps. Time to remember (and protect) our First Amendment, folks. That too seems to be "on the ballot" this November, starting at the very top and all the way down to the local level. Can we recover respectful dialog? I pray we can.


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