Here are updates from the Menlo Park City Council's Oct. 6 meeting, with decisions on outdoor dining, Facebook's outsize role on deciding how to use a $1.5 million housing fund and endorsing state propositions.
As the city of Menlo Park works through an agreement reached years ago with Facebook, council members are raising concerns that the company has too much say over how it will spend $1.5 million set aside for a Housing Innovation Fund.
As part of the development agreement, Facebook agreed to conduct a study on the local housing inventory and create an eight-member oversight board to decide how to allocate a $1.5 million contribution from the company. However, under the terms of the agreement, only two members of the oversight board will not be selected by Facebook – the city managers of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park each get one representative.
The fund is different from Facebook's "Catalyst Housing Fund," which the company has contributed $18.5 million toward. The fund, which has raised about $75 million, has produced or preserved about 600 affordable homes near Menlo Park in East Palo Alto, Redwood City and San Carlos, Facebook reported in August.
"Facebook picks three-quarters of the people that determine how we use this," Councilwoman Catherine Carlton pointed out. "I don't know how we got there. Facebook is basically determining how those funds get used."
Vice Mayor Drew Combs, who works for Facebook and noted it wasn't clear whether he could vote on the matter, said he was also concerned. "This seems like theater," he said. "I don't see the value of us participating in something like that."
However, because the terms of the agreement were laid out in a development agreement, interim City Attorney Cara Silver said the council can't change it.
The council also directed staff to contact the team that did an initial study, University of California at Berkeley's Center for Community Innovation and its Y-PLAN group from the Center for Cities and Schools, to learn more about its methodology and look into the costs and time it might take to collect more data for the time period between 2017 and 2020.
The council also directed the Housing Commission to explore the recommendations from the study and consider adding them to that advisory group's work plan.
The council voted 4-0 on Oct. 6, with Councilman Ray Mueller absent, to follow through on a few changes it had previously discussed to the downtown closures on Santa Cruz Avenue.
By mid-October, the city will put up "walk your bike" signs to deter cyclists from riding through street dining areas, according to a staff report. The council also gave support to a proposed partial closure of Ryans Lane, which runs parallel to Santa Cruz Avenue between Crane Street and Chestnut Street.
The idea came from owners at Carpaccio's and Ann's Cafe who wanted to use the space between their restaurants to expand outdoor dining. So long as the city signs off on a permit and the businesses meet the city's requirements, the council supported that idea.
The council also decided not to make any endorsements on state propositions. Combs called the practice a "slippery slope."
Several months after Councilwoman Betsy Nash and Mayor Cecilia Taylor proposed a long list of initiatives for the City Council to take up to promote equity in the city, they have pared back the list. The two council members were appointed to a subcommittee to work on adopting the list of community amenities that developers must provide in exchange for certain development permissions from the city, and to create a comprehensive and updated inventory of existing, proposed and potential development citywide. In the future, they're interested in reviewing how land use is counted and reviewing the impacts of development near the city's Bayfront.
Email Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]