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.