News

Menlo Park: Voter ban on building housing at city parks proposed

A woman watches ducks swim by at Sharon Park on July 15, 2020. Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller, who represents the Sharon Heights neighborhood, has proposed a voter ban on any zoning changes at city parks. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

To keep city parks from being considered for housing development or any other uses, Menlo Park City Councilman Ray Mueller on Tuesday requested that the city of Menlo Park pass an ordinance banning zoning changes at city parks. He also favors asking voters to approve a "Park Preservation Measure" that would ban any other land uses at city parks, including housing, unless a majority of voters support it.

In an email sent to Mayor Drew Combs, City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson and City Attorney Nira Doherty, Mueller requested that the matter be brought before the City Council before the city's housing element in the works is completed.

A housing element is a state-mandated document that lays out where and how each city plans to meet a requirement to plan for new housing units at various affordability levels between 2023 and 2031.

Under new housing element requirements, Menlo Park is expected to plan for 740 new homes for very low-income earners or those earning less than half of the area's median income; 426 new homes for low-income earners earning up to 80% of the area median income; 496 new homes for moderate-income earners who receive up to 120% of the area median income; and 1,284 new homes for above-moderate earners who receive more than 120% of the area median income. That's a total of 2,946 new homes the city is expected to plan for between 2023 and 2031.

In early community meetings held to discuss the possibilities for where and how those new homes should be planned for, some community members have expressed interest in adding housing growth more equitably throughout the city.

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Over the past decade in Menlo Park, the bulk of new housing either built or planned has been concentrated in two areas that underwent zoning changes to allow more density: in the city's downtown area and in Menlo Park territory on the Bay side of U.S. Highway 101.

Now, with the new housing element in the works, some community members have expressed interest in developing more housing in areas considered "high opportunity" that are, for instance, located out of the flood plain and away from other environmental threats, near community and transit services, and are within zones where children may attend school in the Las Lomitas or Menlo Park City school districts – putting new pressure on Menlo Park's western neighborhoods to accommodate new housing growth. That includes Mueller's District 5, which includes the Sharon Heights neighborhood.

Housing Commissioner Karen Grove, a Sharon Heights resident, has suggested the possibility of dedicating a corner of the district's Sharon Park to affordable housing, or perhaps a part of Burgess Park.

"All of that would expand opportunities for everyone in the city," Grove said, speaking as an individual rather than on behalf of the commission, in a community meeting on Aug. 26 dedicated to discussing the upcoming housing element.

In Mueller's email request for the parks rezoning ban to come before the City Council, he said that it was foreseeable that the vast majority of new housing resulting from the housing element update wouldn't provide much new recreational space for residents, and noted that park space has been important to people's mental and physical health during the pandemic.

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"As our population grows we must not cannibilize City park space that will support the public health of present and future generations," he wrote.

Instead of allowing housing at city parks, he added that he favored considerations to increase zoning at existing apartment developments and shifting zoning at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center to allow mixed-use housing and commercial development instead of using park space in his district.

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Menlo Park: Voter ban on building housing at city parks proposed

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 31, 2021, 12:49 pm

To keep city parks from being considered for housing development or any other uses, Menlo Park City Councilman Ray Mueller on Tuesday requested that the city of Menlo Park pass an ordinance banning zoning changes at city parks. He also favors asking voters to approve a "Park Preservation Measure" that would ban any other land uses at city parks, including housing, unless a majority of voters support it.

In an email sent to Mayor Drew Combs, City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson and City Attorney Nira Doherty, Mueller requested that the matter be brought before the City Council before the city's housing element in the works is completed.

A housing element is a state-mandated document that lays out where and how each city plans to meet a requirement to plan for new housing units at various affordability levels between 2023 and 2031.

Under new housing element requirements, Menlo Park is expected to plan for 740 new homes for very low-income earners or those earning less than half of the area's median income; 426 new homes for low-income earners earning up to 80% of the area median income; 496 new homes for moderate-income earners who receive up to 120% of the area median income; and 1,284 new homes for above-moderate earners who receive more than 120% of the area median income. That's a total of 2,946 new homes the city is expected to plan for between 2023 and 2031.

In early community meetings held to discuss the possibilities for where and how those new homes should be planned for, some community members have expressed interest in adding housing growth more equitably throughout the city.

Over the past decade in Menlo Park, the bulk of new housing either built or planned has been concentrated in two areas that underwent zoning changes to allow more density: in the city's downtown area and in Menlo Park territory on the Bay side of U.S. Highway 101.

Now, with the new housing element in the works, some community members have expressed interest in developing more housing in areas considered "high opportunity" that are, for instance, located out of the flood plain and away from other environmental threats, near community and transit services, and are within zones where children may attend school in the Las Lomitas or Menlo Park City school districts – putting new pressure on Menlo Park's western neighborhoods to accommodate new housing growth. That includes Mueller's District 5, which includes the Sharon Heights neighborhood.

Housing Commissioner Karen Grove, a Sharon Heights resident, has suggested the possibility of dedicating a corner of the district's Sharon Park to affordable housing, or perhaps a part of Burgess Park.

"All of that would expand opportunities for everyone in the city," Grove said, speaking as an individual rather than on behalf of the commission, in a community meeting on Aug. 26 dedicated to discussing the upcoming housing element.

In Mueller's email request for the parks rezoning ban to come before the City Council, he said that it was foreseeable that the vast majority of new housing resulting from the housing element update wouldn't provide much new recreational space for residents, and noted that park space has been important to people's mental and physical health during the pandemic.

"As our population grows we must not cannibilize City park space that will support the public health of present and future generations," he wrote.

Instead of allowing housing at city parks, he added that he favored considerations to increase zoning at existing apartment developments and shifting zoning at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center to allow mixed-use housing and commercial development instead of using park space in his district.

Comments

Ray Mueller
Registered user
Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 31, 2021 at 6:26 pm
Ray Mueller, Menlo Park: University Heights
Registered user
on Aug 31, 2021 at 6:26 pm

I really appreciate this article sharing information regarding the proposal with the public. As a point of clarity, I just want to share would want the mixed use at Sharon Heights Shopping Center to also continue to include community serving retail.


Brian Cutcliffe
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 1, 2021 at 1:18 pm
Brian Cutcliffe, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 1:18 pm

Love this idea to preserve our parks that are enjoyed by everyone in the community.


lspw
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 1, 2021 at 1:31 pm
lspw, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Yes! Bravo to Ray Mueller! Save our parks! And, indeed, with increased housing requirements from the state, we will need the open spaces more than ever to accommodate extra citizens.

Hmmmm. Why am I "other" on this Almanac site? As per Menlo Park itself, I am "Central Menlo,"
and on original San Mateo County plans, Menlo Park Villa Lots.


Wendyb
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 1, 2021 at 1:34 pm
Wendyb, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 1:34 pm

Thank you Ray Mueller for suggesting such a common sense proposal.


Happy Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 1, 2021 at 2:02 pm
Happy Resident, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 2:02 pm

This is a perfect idea to preserve our limited park space and to update the aging Sharon Heights Shopping Center to become a real contributor to the community and make a substantial contribution to area housing availability in all categories. There is land and there is opportunity.


Laurel
Registered user
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 1, 2021 at 8:39 pm
Laurel, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 8:39 pm

Thank you Ray Mueller! You have have given this topic a great deal of thought and have come up with a positive solution to the issue of increasing housing and preserving our parks and open space. Thank you for serving our community and working towards solutions for the benefit of all.


dana hendrickson
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2021 at 1:12 pm
dana hendrickson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 2, 2021 at 1:12 pm

Great idea, Ray. The ordinance should also ban housing on any city public land.


new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2021 at 3:17 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 2, 2021 at 3:17 pm

Great Idea!

Can we also add a ban on new housing until land for the additional schools, ballfields, and playgrounds that will need to be built to support them is secured and built.


Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 3, 2021 at 1:29 pm
Observer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 3, 2021 at 1:29 pm

new guy is right.

Has anyone talked to the people who run the rec department? Every scrap of green space is in high demand, with multiple sports leagues, sports classes, and the city's own programs negotiating for slivers of land. We're already adding thousands of new residents to the El Camino corridor, and we have no idea what that impact will be. It's short-sighted to add even more housing for residents without first determining how to accommodate their educational and recreational needs.


Sunny Storm
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 6, 2021 at 4:59 pm
Sunny Storm, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 6, 2021 at 4:59 pm

@new guy

It is these kind of seemingly innocent proposals to block housing that have prevented California from building needed housing for generations. While I recognize we also need more sports fields and the like:

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

In maslow’s hierarchy of needs, housing comes before recreation. Just because you have housing, don’t be the reason that other people don’t.


Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 7, 2021 at 1:03 pm
Observer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 7, 2021 at 1:03 pm

Maslow never said that everyone needs to be housed in the most expensive part of the country. In the virtue signalers' perfect world, there would be housing for everyone who wanted to live here. In the world we've got, there are kids who already live here who want to go out and play baseball, soccer, lacrosse -- and can't because of the intense levels of development.

Most densely populated cities set aside recreational space because they understand the need for green space. Not Menlo Park, though, because it doesn't "pencil out."


new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 7, 2021 at 1:37 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 7, 2021 at 1:37 pm

Really wish economics classes were mandatory...

but.. you "sunny" learned about Maslow so social sciences it is then. what does the study of sociology suggest happens when you crowd more people together who compete for already limited resources?

how about real numbers (Zillow shows 52 listings for home for sale, 133 listings for rent), kind of wondering what the "crisis" is.

next time I visit Malibu, I will visit their city representatives and explain that Maslow says I need to be housed there. cuz housing comes before...insert word here...

as for how local government is supposed to work, we, citizens of the town, vote for people who are supposed to represent MP residents and put OUR best interests first. when this works, those towns (including MP) become desirable placed to live.

as for perfect being the enemy of good. not sure what this has to do with school/playground/ball-field capacity. I am not suggesting a perfect anything, if you knew anything about MP, you would know that the schools are currently at or beyond stated capacity, require fundraising and added parcel taxes to support... BUT these issues are thing you wish to not have to think about, since those things are "the enemy of good"...


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