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Menlo Park: Proposal to ban development in parks falls short

Visitors at the duck pond in the Sharon Heights neighborhood of Menlo Park. After someone suggested developing housing in an underutilized area of Sharon Park, community members circulated a petition to permanently preserve parks from development that gained more than 1,700 signatures. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A proposal to ban development in city parks fell short Tuesday when a majority of Menlo Park's City Council members failed to coalesce around whether and how to ban future development in city parks.

The council voted 2-3, with council members Cecilia Taylor, Jen Wolosin, and Vice Mayor Betsy Nash opposed, on a motion to pass an ordinance dedicating the city's parks as parklands that could not be developed upon unless a majority of residents votes to do so.

Following the failure of the vote, Councilman Ray Mueller said, "We'll be meeting with residents to figure out our next steps."

The topic of developing housing in city parks rose to the fore of the community discourse after Housing Commission Chair and Sharon Heights resident Karen Grove said in recent public meetings that the city should discuss the possibility of using underutilized parts of city parks for affordable housing, and cited as an example an undeveloped corner of Sharon Park.

She noted that the city is obligated through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA for short), a state-mandated process, to plan for the development of nearly 3,000 new homes at a range of affordability levels citywide over the next eight years, including nearly 900 units of very low-income housing.

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In a Sept. 21 email to the City Council, she explained that she had come to a different perspective since suggesting the idea.

"I've looked into the idea some more, and learned that (California's Housing and Community Development Department) would reject our housing element if we were to reduce our park land to meet our goals. I've also learned that in 2012 our city attorney at the time came to the same conclusion. I think that settles the question," she wrote.

In between when Grove's comments were made for and against the idea, a coalition of other residents formed and circulated a petition called "Save Menlo Park Green Spaces" that generated about 1,700 signatures. The petition called on the city to permanently preserve city parks from development and expressed support for developing housing in other areas of the city, including at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center, existing multifamily apartment complexes in Sharon Heights, or downtown parking lots.

Access the full petition here.

Are parks threatened?

One of the key points of discussion within the council Tuesday was whether city parks are really under threat of development due to the housing element.

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According to Mueller, the parks may still be threatened despite the verbal commitments of City Council members to preserve parks because of a loophole that allows councils to develop parkland if the city is the developer and the development is for municipal purposes.

In addition, he pointed to a bilingual informational pamphlet that the city of Menlo Park mailed to all residents just this week that includes, as part of a list of possible ways for the city to meet state housing mandates, the consideration of public land for housing.

"Downtown parking lots and other publicly owned lands, such as parks, could be considered a potential tool to meet our RHNA – particularly affordable income units where land cost is often a barrier," the pamphlet states.

When asked whether parkland may be rezoned to permit housing, California Housing and Community Development department spokesperson Alicia Murillo told The Almanac that, "What gets zoned, to what use, and where, is entirely in the purview of the jurisdiction. That said, there might be easements or other conservation provisions that would inhibit the jurisdiction from making the zoning change from parks to residential. For the housing element we are looking for the program to rezone to residential use if they identify one of these spaces. If it is city-owned property, the jurisdiction must demonstrate how it is adhering to the surplus lands act."

Marie Summers, an author of the petition to permanently preserve parklands from development, said she was surprised and disappointed by the council's vote Tuesday.

"If any parks are in fact safe, I don't understand why it's not feasible to just put it in writing ... if the parks are truly safe, then it should be no big deal to just close those loopholes," she said.

Summers talked about how she had also helped to circulate a petition on the same matter in 2012, noting that back then, she had been told that Sharon Park was off-limits for development.

"I feel like this is going to happen over and over again," resident and local Realtor Maya Sewald told the council Tuesday. "We've lost a lot of institutional memory. This happened years ago with Sharon Park (and I) don't want it to continue another eight or nine years from now."

Summers said she and a group of neighbors in Sharon Park have had discussions about bringing the matter forward as a possible ballot measure.

"This could have been resolved last night," she said. "We have decided we are regrouping. We will be having a meeting to discuss our next steps."

The ordinance

Mueller had proposed that the City Council ask the city attorney to draft a "Parks Preservation" ordinance that the council could consider in the future that would make all of the city's parks "dedicated" parks and close legal loopholes that permit development in parks under some circumstances, as well as require a majority of the public's vote for the city to permit parklands to be used for "municipal purposes."

Wolosin proposed an alternate but similar motion to direct staff to analyze and draft a zoning ordinance prohibiting the use of city parks for other municipal purposes. She said she wasn't interested in discussing ballot measures and perpetual park protections at the moment because it wasn't one of the City Council's stated goals at the start of the year and because staff resources are limited.

In a Sept. 15 video Wolosin created to explain the housing element to residents, she said that one of the main ways the city has been able to get affordable housing built in city limits has been through its inclusionary housing policy, which means that for every 100 new housing units that get built, 15 are required to be set aside for low-income residents. By that ratio, it will take far more housing growth for the city to reach that low-income goal than even the state mandated numbers suggest, she explained.

Access Wolosin's video here.

If the city doesn't comply with the mandate to develop realistic plans for how to build those new units, it could be on the hook to pay tens of millions of dollars in fines, Wolosin explained.

Mayor Drew Combs acknowledged the significant challenge ahead of the city in "getting housing at a variety of different income levels, especially some of the lower levels," because Menlo Park, "unlike a lot of other communities, doesn't have lots of excess land that it owns."

"I have to also be responsive to the fact that lots of residents are rightfully angry because without any real context from the city, this very specific idea has been thrown out there and had legitimacy," he added.

According to City Attorney Nira Doherty, the crux of whether parks can or cannot be developed depends on the terms under which the city acquired the parkland and what legal language was used in defining how the parkland could be used when the city first came to own the park. She said she hadn't yet ironed out which parks were fully protected by this policy and which might be legally vulnerable to conversion to other land uses.

Those who didn't support Mueller's ordinance agreed they didn't want to build housing in parks, but rather pointed to the topic as a non-issue, or as Complete Streets Commission member Katie Behroozi put it, "a red herring."

They argued that instead, the City Council and community should be focused on the city's upcoming housing element and ironing out how to ensure that parks remain accessible and equitable as the city plans for new residents as mandated by the state.

Nash, who voted against Mueller's proposal, said she was "100% committed to preserving and expanding parks for all our Menlo Park residents," and added "it's important for everyone to know that parklands are not viable sites and cannot be used to meet housing element requirements."

As a result, she said, she found the creation of an ordinance or ballot to be "an unnecessary exercise."

Resident Brittani Baxter said she favored the community directing its political energy toward working on identifying other affordable housing sites in Menlo Park's District 5, such as at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center, which petition signers said they favored as a potential site for new housing units in the neighborhood. That would require working with the parcel's owner to develop the site, she added.

The city of Menlo Park was also scheduled to host a community discussion on the housing element the evening of Thursday, Sept. 23, after The Almanac went to press. Go to almanacnews.com for the latest updates.

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Menlo Park: Proposal to ban development in parks falls short

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 10:44 am

A proposal to ban development in city parks fell short Tuesday when a majority of Menlo Park's City Council members failed to coalesce around whether and how to ban future development in city parks.

The council voted 2-3, with council members Cecilia Taylor, Jen Wolosin, and Vice Mayor Betsy Nash opposed, on a motion to pass an ordinance dedicating the city's parks as parklands that could not be developed upon unless a majority of residents votes to do so.

Following the failure of the vote, Councilman Ray Mueller said, "We'll be meeting with residents to figure out our next steps."

The topic of developing housing in city parks rose to the fore of the community discourse after Housing Commission Chair and Sharon Heights resident Karen Grove said in recent public meetings that the city should discuss the possibility of using underutilized parts of city parks for affordable housing, and cited as an example an undeveloped corner of Sharon Park.

She noted that the city is obligated through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA for short), a state-mandated process, to plan for the development of nearly 3,000 new homes at a range of affordability levels citywide over the next eight years, including nearly 900 units of very low-income housing.

In a Sept. 21 email to the City Council, she explained that she had come to a different perspective since suggesting the idea.

"I've looked into the idea some more, and learned that (California's Housing and Community Development Department) would reject our housing element if we were to reduce our park land to meet our goals. I've also learned that in 2012 our city attorney at the time came to the same conclusion. I think that settles the question," she wrote.

In between when Grove's comments were made for and against the idea, a coalition of other residents formed and circulated a petition called "Save Menlo Park Green Spaces" that generated about 1,700 signatures. The petition called on the city to permanently preserve city parks from development and expressed support for developing housing in other areas of the city, including at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center, existing multifamily apartment complexes in Sharon Heights, or downtown parking lots.

Access the full petition here.

One of the key points of discussion within the council Tuesday was whether city parks are really under threat of development due to the housing element.

According to Mueller, the parks may still be threatened despite the verbal commitments of City Council members to preserve parks because of a loophole that allows councils to develop parkland if the city is the developer and the development is for municipal purposes.

In addition, he pointed to a bilingual informational pamphlet that the city of Menlo Park mailed to all residents just this week that includes, as part of a list of possible ways for the city to meet state housing mandates, the consideration of public land for housing.

"Downtown parking lots and other publicly owned lands, such as parks, could be considered a potential tool to meet our RHNA – particularly affordable income units where land cost is often a barrier," the pamphlet states.

When asked whether parkland may be rezoned to permit housing, California Housing and Community Development department spokesperson Alicia Murillo told The Almanac that, "What gets zoned, to what use, and where, is entirely in the purview of the jurisdiction. That said, there might be easements or other conservation provisions that would inhibit the jurisdiction from making the zoning change from parks to residential. For the housing element we are looking for the program to rezone to residential use if they identify one of these spaces. If it is city-owned property, the jurisdiction must demonstrate how it is adhering to the surplus lands act."

Marie Summers, an author of the petition to permanently preserve parklands from development, said she was surprised and disappointed by the council's vote Tuesday.

"If any parks are in fact safe, I don't understand why it's not feasible to just put it in writing ... if the parks are truly safe, then it should be no big deal to just close those loopholes," she said.

Summers talked about how she had also helped to circulate a petition on the same matter in 2012, noting that back then, she had been told that Sharon Park was off-limits for development.

"I feel like this is going to happen over and over again," resident and local Realtor Maya Sewald told the council Tuesday. "We've lost a lot of institutional memory. This happened years ago with Sharon Park (and I) don't want it to continue another eight or nine years from now."

Summers said she and a group of neighbors in Sharon Park have had discussions about bringing the matter forward as a possible ballot measure.

"This could have been resolved last night," she said. "We have decided we are regrouping. We will be having a meeting to discuss our next steps."

Mueller had proposed that the City Council ask the city attorney to draft a "Parks Preservation" ordinance that the council could consider in the future that would make all of the city's parks "dedicated" parks and close legal loopholes that permit development in parks under some circumstances, as well as require a majority of the public's vote for the city to permit parklands to be used for "municipal purposes."

Wolosin proposed an alternate but similar motion to direct staff to analyze and draft a zoning ordinance prohibiting the use of city parks for other municipal purposes. She said she wasn't interested in discussing ballot measures and perpetual park protections at the moment because it wasn't one of the City Council's stated goals at the start of the year and because staff resources are limited.

In a Sept. 15 video Wolosin created to explain the housing element to residents, she said that one of the main ways the city has been able to get affordable housing built in city limits has been through its inclusionary housing policy, which means that for every 100 new housing units that get built, 15 are required to be set aside for low-income residents. By that ratio, it will take far more housing growth for the city to reach that low-income goal than even the state mandated numbers suggest, she explained.

Access Wolosin's video here.

If the city doesn't comply with the mandate to develop realistic plans for how to build those new units, it could be on the hook to pay tens of millions of dollars in fines, Wolosin explained.

Mayor Drew Combs acknowledged the significant challenge ahead of the city in "getting housing at a variety of different income levels, especially some of the lower levels," because Menlo Park, "unlike a lot of other communities, doesn't have lots of excess land that it owns."

"I have to also be responsive to the fact that lots of residents are rightfully angry because without any real context from the city, this very specific idea has been thrown out there and had legitimacy," he added.

According to City Attorney Nira Doherty, the crux of whether parks can or cannot be developed depends on the terms under which the city acquired the parkland and what legal language was used in defining how the parkland could be used when the city first came to own the park. She said she hadn't yet ironed out which parks were fully protected by this policy and which might be legally vulnerable to conversion to other land uses.

Those who didn't support Mueller's ordinance agreed they didn't want to build housing in parks, but rather pointed to the topic as a non-issue, or as Complete Streets Commission member Katie Behroozi put it, "a red herring."

They argued that instead, the City Council and community should be focused on the city's upcoming housing element and ironing out how to ensure that parks remain accessible and equitable as the city plans for new residents as mandated by the state.

Nash, who voted against Mueller's proposal, said she was "100% committed to preserving and expanding parks for all our Menlo Park residents," and added "it's important for everyone to know that parklands are not viable sites and cannot be used to meet housing element requirements."

As a result, she said, she found the creation of an ordinance or ballot to be "an unnecessary exercise."

Resident Brittani Baxter said she favored the community directing its political energy toward working on identifying other affordable housing sites in Menlo Park's District 5, such as at the Sharon Heights Shopping Center, which petition signers said they favored as a potential site for new housing units in the neighborhood. That would require working with the parcel's owner to develop the site, she added.

The city of Menlo Park was also scheduled to host a community discussion on the housing element the evening of Thursday, Sept. 23, after The Almanac went to press. Go to almanacnews.com for the latest updates.

Comments

Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:26 am
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:26 am

It seems like 3/5th of the city council does not care to protect our parks or care about the existing residents. They seem to care more about building housing for "future residents" than protecting the reason many of us chose to live here in the first place. It is a shame and one I think the voters of Menlo Park will likely remember come election time.


Native
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:45 am
Native, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:45 am

I'm confused. No one is talking seriously about developing parkland. I'm baffled as to why there's sudden hysteria around this, though it seems to be tied up in Ray Meuller's effort to get his brand name out there as he runs for supervisor and show that he's "saving the parks" (even though they're not threatened).

And parking lots would be well suited for redevelopment. Just today Palo Alto announced plans to submit bids to develop some of their parking lots into housing over parking. That seems … good? Why would we tie our hands, forever, to not be able to do something like that? It makes no sense.

Why are we suddenly hysterical about trying to prevent development on green space, which isn't going to happen and no one is suggesting? Right…I know the answer.


Misha
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:52 am
Misha, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:52 am

I agree with Brittani, CM Nash, and others. This is a waste of time. Why are we focusing on banning development in certain places when instead the goal should be to build more housing and put together our housing element? I love our parks and our greenery but given how much money we just threw away on a recall, do we really need to throw away more money on pointless ballot measures too?


Sad
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:09 pm
Sad, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:09 pm
MP Reader
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:22 pm
MP Reader, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:22 pm

I'm glad we're having this community conversation about housing. We have a big lift ahead of us in planning for new homes, and the state is mandating that each district does its part to equitably distribute new housing throughout town. If we miss on our goal, we all pay some very hefty penalties for being out of compliance with the state. But at the moment, we're still in charge of our own destiny! Getting to our goal will require thoughtful, nuanced planning and I appreciate that many of our city leaders are demonstrating that they're wanting to fully understand the topic and laws at hand to create the right kind of plans and protections, versus rushing into broad, rash lawmaking in the heat of a moment (i.e. without a study session), which could result in unintended consequences.

I also noticed something in an earlier comment. I would say that new units aren't for "new residents" so much as they allow longtime residents to stay here. Those at the top of the income scale have been displacing our longtime residents and essential workers especially quickly over this past decade. More units help relieve some of the bidding war pressure and let more residents stay here.


Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:25 pm
Observer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:25 pm

The three council members affiliated with Menlo Together aren't opposed to repurposing parks for housing. Almanac: this is your opportunity to do some investigative reporting. i can accept that those council members are ideologues who've glommed on to the virtue signaling. But who is behind this group? Someone is expecting to profit by strip-mining Menlo Park.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 23, 2021 at 1:57 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 1:57 pm

The easiest way for Menlo Park to meet its RHNA goals for BMR housing is to substantially raise the affordable housing impact fee on new office development. It's a policy Joe Simitian proposed for Stanford during its last go around with its GUP. He was right.

Cities set the housing impact fee at well below the actual market cost needed to fully mitigate the impact office has on affordable housing. Cities set rates at about $20sf where as something closer to $120sf or even higher is required according to AB1600 nexus studies.

Upping fees will create a much large pot of money for BMR housing to *PURCHASE* private land for affordable BMR housing as the city has done in the past, or to purchase new or existing MR units and convert them to BMR units.

Forcing office to fully mitigate its impact on affordable housing, makes office less profitable relative to housing. This will lower office demand and increase marginal MR housing projects, in areas zoned COMMERCIAL such as M-2. More MR housing projects will increase the number of inclusionary BMR units and converting COMMERCIAL parcels to housing will DECREASE the job density, thereby lowering affordable housing requirements under RHNA formulas.

Rezoning commercial lots for housing is a twofer.

The problem with housing is not single family zoning. When housing and office compete for the same parcels office is a superior economic use that crowds out housing opportunities. Housing gets pushed out to "cheaper" land sprawling to Gilroy or Tracy, which creates other problems.

If the RHNA policy makers wish to shoehorn less profitable uses, housing, into really profitable office markets they must use the right economic policies. Raising the impact fee on office is correct policy.

Another way to make housing more competitive relative to office is to zone two building envelopes for parcels, a much smaller one for office and a large one for housing.




Sad
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 23, 2021 at 2:00 pm
Sad, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 2:00 pm

Why vote against this ordinance, if you really intend to protect parks?
This type of gaslighting by City Councilmembers makes me sad.

Blaming Councilmember Ray for responding to peoples concerns claiming other motives is political trolling. We don’t care about your smears. What matters is votes. What you say you as a Councilmember you should be willing to vote.

The City sent out a message in the mail saying the City was considering putting housing in parks.

The Commissioner said so in a meeting and wrote an article about it in this paper.

Thank you Ray for responding to this and representing people who care about parks.




new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 23, 2021 at 2:59 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 2:59 pm

First of all, I sincerely hope, our leaders, elected-appointed-volunteer, etc. start using words correctly. We (the people and city government) are not required to build housing. The city government is required to "plan" for it, which means "zone" for it. This time around, there are new requirements to "realistically" "plan" for it. There was a line in a presentation from a city council member that stated, that even if "we = city planers" identified open land (I can only see a few places of open, non-park land on google maps) we = city planers/staff will have to contact owners and verify that there are plans to develop that property, otherwise this is labeled as not realistic and will not count. I believe the open land was in Seminary Oaks.

What faces we=all of current Menlo Park citizens, is a massive multiple constraint problem where any decision to alleviate a constraint effects the other constraints (all linked, and most alleviations for one, negatively effects the others), BUT, decision making authority is dispersed.

Also, back to using words. Equity is just a word. Yes it has a definition but it does not specifically state how to implement. The generally acceptable definition is "the quality of being fair or impartial". "Fair" in our our current country/society has decidedly different meanings. It is also, just a word: with multiple definitions, most appropriate to this discussion: marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Both words are adjectives (and I do not have space remaining here to explain what/how adjectives work. Equity/fairness as judged by individuals can vary.

No matter how nice it sounds to build housing so "our kids can live here, etc." the truth is building costs (hard costs) are currently $550-$650sq/ft. Soft costs are in the $125,000 to $160,000. You are looking at a million just to build. Unless the city has millions none of this is feasible. Constraints exist, sorry.






PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 23, 2021 at 4:42 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 4:42 pm

"the truth is building costs (hard costs) are currently $550-$650sq/ft. Soft costs are in the $125,000 to $160,000. You are looking at a million just to build. Unless the city has millions none of this is feasible."

Yup.

Subsidies required per BMR unit are formidable, between $250-$500k. Menlo Park's 1000 unit RHNA problem might require subsidy pools of between $250M-$500M. (That's one reason why I advocate substantially increasing the affordable housing impact fee on new office development, and, no, that alone won't solve the BMR problem.)

The put-housing-on-park-land "solution" is political theater given the magnitude of the problem.


Dagwood
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 23, 2021 at 5:14 pm
Dagwood, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 5:14 pm

Under a recent previous city council philanthropist John Arrillaga tentatively offered to rebuild the library and other Burgess buildings. Council member Keith supported a number of residents to add housing on top of a new library, leading even to an initial public design workshop. So residential housing in our parks is no ‘red herring’. The workshop ended in controversy.


new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 23, 2021 at 6:30 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2021 at 6:30 pm

Dagwood:

This one was easy to find! It was about 4 years ago. Arrillaga offered $20Mil, BUT only if MP city put up the rest and expedited building. City estimated what they wanted to build to cost $45Mil. FYI, the city did not and does not have $25Million waiting for "donors" to put up partial amounts in exchange for building naming rights.

Cheers!


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 24, 2021 at 8:00 am
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2021 at 8:00 am

The quickest and most long-lasting solution is to convert commercial properties to housing. That would do two things: provide land for housing and reduce demand for housing (fewer jobs in Menlo Park). This does require greatly slowing commercial growth potential. The council should rezone commercial properties to residential or mixed use and to reduce total commercial growth.

The suggestion by PH makes sense, too, to increase the BMR fees to help subsidize needed housing as well as to alter the economic desirability of building housing rather than commercial.

I am glad there is a conversation about parks. We already have a shortage. We need more. There are few opportunities to create more, but there are some such as the USGS and SRI sites. The quality of life for Menlo Park depends on creating plans that aren't narrowly focused on just one issue such as state housing mandate but more broadly on what is needed for a safe, healthy living environment for residents and our families.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 24, 2021 at 1:07 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2021 at 1:07 pm

"This does require greatly slowing commercial growth potential."

At certain rates, increasing the BMR fees toward full cost recovery will probably slow commercial growth.

Some fear it might stop office development completely. I don't agree, but if it did, cities can tinker with the rate to balance residential and commercial development rates.


MP Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 24, 2021 at 5:37 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2021 at 5:37 pm

While it's unlikely work from home will be as prevalent in the future as it is today, workforce experts anticipate a significant reduction in full-time office workers going forward. This means less office space will be required since existing space will be shared among visiting staff.

Is it really true that office space that current exists, plus everything under construction, will be insufficient to meet future needs? Until the future of work becomes clearer, the city should look to converting existing office space to residential or mixed use through zoning changes. This could occur throughout the city.

In the future, if there is a need for more offices, the city can keep today's imbalance in mind before unleashing the tyrant of more and more offices that caused today's situation.

The city needs more housing, much of it affordable, but looking to build on every available parcel, such as rezoning single family neighborhoods or creeping into parks, is not planning in the city's best interests. At least some of the new housing should come from empty offices.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 26, 2021 at 11:52 am
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Sep 26, 2021 at 11:52 am

"This means less office space will be required since existing space will be shared among visiting staff."

It means that the rate of *increase* for new office demand will either be slowed or change, it does not mean it will cease.

I think it might change but not be slowed. Why. Our local super corporations Apple, Google, Facebook, et al and our honorary super corporation, Stanford University, are firmly invested in physical plant here. They are not going to idle multi billion dollar facilities.

Silicon Valley office demand will not cease until there are more attractive global locations or until the market failures caused by subsidized office development (e.g. affordable housing*, traffic) get to be so bad, that companies can no longer attract workers to the area.

The easiest metric is to monitor office rents, particularly in the elite markets: SF, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, RWC are all in the US top 10.

Web Link


*[Here "affordable" means market rates affordable to tech workers not to income categories requiring BMR subsidization under RHNA mandates.]


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 26, 2021 at 12:50 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Sep 26, 2021 at 12:50 pm

A list of top ten US office rents is here, Web Link Five are local to us.

Lets do the math to see why we have a jobs housing imbalance.

From the list, assuming office rents of $100/sf in Menlo Park, and assuming tech companies employ at densities of 3-4 per 1000 sf, then $100k/month will employ 3-4 people.

Now let's house them. Assuming top dollar for rent (~$4/sf)and assuming they get about 800 sf each, then 3-4 employees will require 2500-3200 sf which will fetch $10-12k/month. [Apropos of nothing 7.5 employees (e.g. Facebook density) would produce $24k/month of residential rent.][1]

In short, Landlords/property owners get $100k/mo rent to employ or $10-12k to house.

You're a long time property owner of underused commercial land in Menlo Park's M-2 zone (area near Facebook) and you're getting offers from both commercial and residential developers.

Q1: Which will offer you more for your land?
Q2: Will you accept the higher or lower offer?
Q3: I.e. do land prices reflect commercial or residential rents?

That is why there is more office than housing. Office crowds out housing when competing for the same parcels.

Also, the zoning code sets the same building envelope for either. It's a 50 or 60 foot height limit, and the FAR (density) is the same regardless. Meaning, you can build a large rectangle of either office or housing, but the max rectangle is the same regardless. Lots are usually zoned commercial and require rezoning for residential.

IF office rents are 4-10x higher than residential rents, then residential height limits/densities must be 4-10x higher to generate competitive rents.


[1] Using the Facebook Campus FIA Web Link It seems to indicate ~9000 employees in 1.2M sf office and employment density at 7.5/sf. This would approximately double the residential rent for housing employees to about 24k.


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