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Where to put 3,800 new homes in Menlo Park? City Council debates details of housing growth plan

A map of the possible development sites under consideration in Menlo Park's current Housing Element Update. Courtesy city of Menlo Park/M-Group.

Menlo Park's project to plan for roughly 3,800 new housing units hit a speed bump Tuesday night when the City Council raised a number of questions and pushed back on an ambitious timeline to begin environmental review work.

Menlo Park's "housing element" is a piece of its general plan, or governing document, laying out how the city should grow from a residential perspective. As part of a state-mandated process called the "Regional Housing Needs Allocation" or RHNA for short, California jurisdictions are assigned a certain number of housing units to plan for based on those community's growth patterns. Those numbers are updated in eight year cycles. Communities across the Bay Area are expected to update their housing elements by January 2023.

As part of that process, Menlo Park also plans to update its safety element as well as create an environmental justice element. It also plans to do both an environmental impact analysis and a fiscal impact analysis for the housing element update to thoroughly evaluate the potential environmental and financial effects of a proposed project on the city, as well as school and special districts, according to a staff report.

In addition, based on a number of new state laws, the city has to take further steps than in previous eight-year RHNA cycles to make sure that the plans for adding new housing are both feasible and equitable, offering affordable units in high opportunity areas, such as those with amenities and high-performing school districts.

As Menlo Park's upcoming RHNA mandate, the city is expected to plan for at least 740 very low-income homes (from 0% to 50% of the area median income), 426 low-income homes (from 50% to 80% of the area median income), 496 moderate-income homes (from 81-120% of the area median income) and 1,284 above-moderate income homes (from above 120% of the area median income, for a total of 2,946 new homes.

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However, the city has also been encouraged to develop a 30% "buffer" in the number of housing units increasing the expectation to plan for 3,830 new homes citywide to ensure that if some of the housing possibilities proposed don't work out, the city will still be able to reach its housing development mandates.

After factoring in that 30% buffer and subtracting the current proposed homes in the city's development pipeline, as well as a rough estimate of the number of accessory dwelling units that homeowners within the city are expected to add, staff and consultants recommend the city plan for 802 very low-income homes, 299 low-income homes, 389 moderate income homes, and no above-moderate homes for a total of 1,490 homes. (There are already 3,053 above-moderate homes in the city's development pipeline, according to staff and consultants).

City staff and the consultant firm the M Group have been working on developing a plan for where to add that housing and have so far held a number of meetings in the community and with stakeholders and commissioners. They have also conducted a survey that generated about 800 respondents.

A mistake in the survey collection process was also reported: As part of the survey collection process, somewhere between 30 and 50 paper surveys collected from Belle Haven residents were accidentally thrown away, confirmed Assistant Community Development Director Deanna Chow to the City Council Tuesday.

"I was very saddened by the loss of those surveys," she said.

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Staff and consultants suggested four alternatives for where to zone for the new housing possibilities, exploring various configurations for moderate upzoning citywide, mixed-use development focused on Middlefield and Willow roads, mixed-use development focused in the downtown/El Camino Real area, and adding a focus on increased density in Sharon Heights.

In public comments, residents expressed a range of opinions on the proposals.

Several residents of District 3 said they didn't want their district to bear the burden of the new growth proposal, and expressed surprise to learn that a proposal to add 400 new homes as part of a redevelopment of the SRI campus had been submitted.

"I think that we need to take more housing out of District 3 and put it into other areas. Put it into the Sharon Heights area," said Gail Gorton.

In District 5, which includes the Sharon Heights neighborhood, Shanda Bahles pushed back, saying that there was a "misperception that Sharon heights is all single-family," noting that there is "quite a lot of multi-family housing on Sharon Park Drive."

"We do have a number of apartment complexes that could be upzoned," she added.

According to Mayor Drew Combs, the district he represents, District 2, actually has the largest percentage of single-family homes.

Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said she wanted to see more analysis done before the council signs off on beginning the environmental review process. "I'm super reluctant to go full steam ahead," she said.

Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor said she wanted to see her district downzoned, to allow less housing than is currently permitted. The City Council in 2016 approved, as part of its general plan update, the addition of up to 4,500 new housing units in Menlo Park on the Bay side of U.S. 101, despite not having any representatives on the City Council from that part of the city at the time. While that part of the city permits up to 100 homes per acre, the highest amount of density permitted elsewhere, in the new developments under construction along El Camino Real, is 40 homes per acre.

"One hundred units per acre is excessive," Taylor said.

Councilman Ray Mueller said he wanted to see the project team more thoroughly vet possible sites for development feasibility to avoid undercounting possible new home growth in some areas and overcounting in others.

"We do need good parcel-by-parcel information about where the housing would go," said Geoff Bradley, principal and president at M-Group, the consultant firm leading the project.

Ultimately, Bradley recommended authorizing beginning the environmental review process next month that provides information about the different sites and areas identified for development at the "default density," which is 30 homes per acre.

"That would give us a wide envelope to work with to craft specific affordable housing strategies," he said.

Several council members said they weren't fully ready to authorize that and planned to send additional follow-up input to the project team over email by Monday, Nov. 1.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

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Where to put 3,800 new homes in Menlo Park? City Council debates details of housing growth plan

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 29, 2021, 11:48 am

Menlo Park's project to plan for roughly 3,800 new housing units hit a speed bump Tuesday night when the City Council raised a number of questions and pushed back on an ambitious timeline to begin environmental review work.

Menlo Park's "housing element" is a piece of its general plan, or governing document, laying out how the city should grow from a residential perspective. As part of a state-mandated process called the "Regional Housing Needs Allocation" or RHNA for short, California jurisdictions are assigned a certain number of housing units to plan for based on those community's growth patterns. Those numbers are updated in eight year cycles. Communities across the Bay Area are expected to update their housing elements by January 2023.

As part of that process, Menlo Park also plans to update its safety element as well as create an environmental justice element. It also plans to do both an environmental impact analysis and a fiscal impact analysis for the housing element update to thoroughly evaluate the potential environmental and financial effects of a proposed project on the city, as well as school and special districts, according to a staff report.

In addition, based on a number of new state laws, the city has to take further steps than in previous eight-year RHNA cycles to make sure that the plans for adding new housing are both feasible and equitable, offering affordable units in high opportunity areas, such as those with amenities and high-performing school districts.

As Menlo Park's upcoming RHNA mandate, the city is expected to plan for at least 740 very low-income homes (from 0% to 50% of the area median income), 426 low-income homes (from 50% to 80% of the area median income), 496 moderate-income homes (from 81-120% of the area median income) and 1,284 above-moderate income homes (from above 120% of the area median income, for a total of 2,946 new homes.

However, the city has also been encouraged to develop a 30% "buffer" in the number of housing units increasing the expectation to plan for 3,830 new homes citywide to ensure that if some of the housing possibilities proposed don't work out, the city will still be able to reach its housing development mandates.

After factoring in that 30% buffer and subtracting the current proposed homes in the city's development pipeline, as well as a rough estimate of the number of accessory dwelling units that homeowners within the city are expected to add, staff and consultants recommend the city plan for 802 very low-income homes, 299 low-income homes, 389 moderate income homes, and no above-moderate homes for a total of 1,490 homes. (There are already 3,053 above-moderate homes in the city's development pipeline, according to staff and consultants).

City staff and the consultant firm the M Group have been working on developing a plan for where to add that housing and have so far held a number of meetings in the community and with stakeholders and commissioners. They have also conducted a survey that generated about 800 respondents.

A mistake in the survey collection process was also reported: As part of the survey collection process, somewhere between 30 and 50 paper surveys collected from Belle Haven residents were accidentally thrown away, confirmed Assistant Community Development Director Deanna Chow to the City Council Tuesday.

"I was very saddened by the loss of those surveys," she said.

Staff and consultants suggested four alternatives for where to zone for the new housing possibilities, exploring various configurations for moderate upzoning citywide, mixed-use development focused on Middlefield and Willow roads, mixed-use development focused in the downtown/El Camino Real area, and adding a focus on increased density in Sharon Heights.

In public comments, residents expressed a range of opinions on the proposals.

Several residents of District 3 said they didn't want their district to bear the burden of the new growth proposal, and expressed surprise to learn that a proposal to add 400 new homes as part of a redevelopment of the SRI campus had been submitted.

"I think that we need to take more housing out of District 3 and put it into other areas. Put it into the Sharon Heights area," said Gail Gorton.

In District 5, which includes the Sharon Heights neighborhood, Shanda Bahles pushed back, saying that there was a "misperception that Sharon heights is all single-family," noting that there is "quite a lot of multi-family housing on Sharon Park Drive."

"We do have a number of apartment complexes that could be upzoned," she added.

According to Mayor Drew Combs, the district he represents, District 2, actually has the largest percentage of single-family homes.

Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said she wanted to see more analysis done before the council signs off on beginning the environmental review process. "I'm super reluctant to go full steam ahead," she said.

Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor said she wanted to see her district downzoned, to allow less housing than is currently permitted. The City Council in 2016 approved, as part of its general plan update, the addition of up to 4,500 new housing units in Menlo Park on the Bay side of U.S. 101, despite not having any representatives on the City Council from that part of the city at the time. While that part of the city permits up to 100 homes per acre, the highest amount of density permitted elsewhere, in the new developments under construction along El Camino Real, is 40 homes per acre.

"One hundred units per acre is excessive," Taylor said.

Councilman Ray Mueller said he wanted to see the project team more thoroughly vet possible sites for development feasibility to avoid undercounting possible new home growth in some areas and overcounting in others.

"We do need good parcel-by-parcel information about where the housing would go," said Geoff Bradley, principal and president at M-Group, the consultant firm leading the project.

Ultimately, Bradley recommended authorizing beginning the environmental review process next month that provides information about the different sites and areas identified for development at the "default density," which is 30 homes per acre.

"That would give us a wide envelope to work with to craft specific affordable housing strategies," he said.

Several council members said they weren't fully ready to authorize that and planned to send additional follow-up input to the project team over email by Monday, Nov. 1.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

Comments

Misha
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 29, 2021 at 12:58 pm
Misha, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 12:58 pm

A lot of residents commented in favor of building more housing in general, regardless of district. I think that was missed in this article. Also, the legal requirements for the housing element don't necessarily match what is needed to realistically plan for actually building more affordable housing. I think that's ultimately where council pushed back on the current plan. It's legal but not realistic. Good for them.


DS
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2021 at 2:31 pm
DS, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 2:31 pm

This rush to housing - everywhere and anywhere, including overrunning our precious parks with it - is being spearheaded by Karen Grove and her sidekick Rachel Horst through the Housing Commission where they are the current Chair and Co-Chair. And behind it is Grove's pet project, Menlo Together, that Horst and her other cronies are a part of - the same group that wants to take away your gas stoves. City Council needs to send a message and kick Grove off the Housing Commission when her term expires next April.
In the meantime, the first thing Council should do is direct staff to remove that optional 30% buffer. It's already a ridiculous amount of housing that the state is asking for, why add to it when we don't have to?


sjtaffee
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 29, 2021 at 2:46 pm
sjtaffee, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 2:46 pm

Opposition to new housing in projects often comes from those who are already adequately housed. They have the advantage of having "made it" and don't want their way of life changed. The status quo is great for those in such a position, but hardly fair to those who aspire to the same things that many do. Decades of advantage to those of economic means resulted in those without being consigned to less desirable areas, often areas subject to greater air and water pollution, higher building density, way from desirable retail areas and other community amenities.

While we may never be able to achieve equality, surely we can try to achieve greater equity, fairness, and parity for all the residents of Menlo Park. Creating more equitable housing across our city is a test of the values some many people espouse verbally but frequently oppose when it comes to action. If not in your backyard, then where? And why not your backyard? What's so special about it that you would deny equitable access to others? You can talk the talk but the real test is to walk the walk.


Westbrook
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 29, 2021 at 3:29 pm
Westbrook, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 3:29 pm

We need to disqualify the state's authority to demand new housing. It's Government overreach.


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 29, 2021 at 4:09 pm
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 4:09 pm

Most of the jobs in Menlo Park are in District 2. It makes sense to put more housing there. More density will help justify groceries, pharmacies and other amenities important to residents. Even more transit. District 2 should not be off the table for locating new housing. The more jobs that get added there, the more housing should be added there rather than in other parts of our town.


Triona Gogarty
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 29, 2021 at 5:41 pm
Triona Gogarty, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 5:41 pm

Has anyone in the city spoken to the school districts yet? This conversation has been brewing in various forms for years. The increase in households will result in more students. The local school districts will have to build the equivalent of 2 new schools to house the new students. That is about 18 acres of land and 350+ million dollars. Please talk to the school districts before this turns into another crisis caused by zero foresight.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 29, 2021 at 8:25 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 8:25 pm

There is no need to concentrate the required new housing in District 2 IF we are willing to allow taller residential buildings throughout the city. Such tall building would also permit more adjacent open space than would 2 or 3 story complexes of the same density.

There are many examples in nearby communities of tall residential buildings that can be used as planning templates. Ideally Menlo Park tall building zoning ordinances would ensure adjacent open space and other amenities.


MenloVoter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2021 at 8:46 pm
MenloVoter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 8:46 pm

Peter:

Menlo Park already has an example of a tall residential building at the corner of University and Valparaiso. Ten stories I think.


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 29, 2021 at 8:47 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 8:47 pm

Those nearby communities set aside open space. Menlo Park never has because parks don't pencil out. The only way we will ever see any more open space -- and we don't have enough now -- will be if the city decides to add parks to the top level of parking lots and office buildings.

Those of us who have worked hard our entire lives to be able to afford to live in Menlo Park are now having to face the truth: property rights have no value, at least not for the middle class. And because developers won't add housing unless they can also add office space, in another eight years we'll be faced with doing this exercise all over again. Except next time, we might be expected to grow our city by 50% rather than a mere 25%.

To Triona: the district has no say in the matter; their role is to educate everyone. They are, however, using the housing element as a talking point for Measure B.


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2021 at 10:12 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 10:12 pm

"Most of the jobs in Menlo Park are in District 2"

How do you reach this conclusion?

Personally I agree with the comments that it is time for residents of this city to have a say. Any new housing plans should be up for a city wide vote by the residents. Menlo Park has been changing a lot lately, we are losing land marks and the small town feeling that was a hallmark of the city. It is why many people moved here in the first place. I think it is time for residents, not Menlo Together or other special interest groups to say how Menlo will be shaped in the future.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 29, 2021 at 10:54 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 10:54 pm

"I think it is time for residents, not Menlo Together or other special interest groups to say how Menlo will be shaped in the future."

Sadly the vast majority of MP residents have zero interest in doing the hard work of getting involved in this issue. Being informed on the law, zoning ordinances and the economics of housing construction and operation requires a concerted effort and without those skills an uninformed resident will have no impact on the decision making regarding new housing.


MDupen
Registered user
another community
on Oct 30, 2021 at 8:25 am
MDupen, another community
Registered user
on Oct 30, 2021 at 8:25 am

I no longer live in Menlo Park, but follow the news. In all the discussion of affordable units, and where to put them, I hope there is discussions of ADU's (accessory dwelling units) that could allow homeowners to put a small (under 700sf) unit in their backyards. It would have many advantages for parents with grown children or for those with senior parents who need to be close but want their independence.


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 30, 2021 at 3:18 pm
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Oct 30, 2021 at 3:18 pm

@enough
"Most of the jobs in Menlo Park are in District 2"
"How do you reach this conclusion?"

I read. See page 29 of the city's General Plan EIR section at Web Link
According to that document at the time it was created, the Bayfront area (District 2) had about 2/3 of Menlo Park's jobs. It projects there will be about 20,000 more in that area by 2040 when District 2 will have 75?% of Menlo Park's jobs. If Menlo Park continues to put so many jobs there, it makes sense to continue to put housing near them. Otherwise, the jobs will be filled with commuters from other parts of Menlo Park or other cities.

I do not advocate this much growth in jobs, but just pointing out where a lot of the new housing should go if it happens.


new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 30, 2021 at 4:00 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Oct 30, 2021 at 4:00 pm

A few things:

my opinion to current residents: this whole thing is a charade, it is simply a planning exercise that the state forces down on each town in the hope that the local officials will make mistakes and either find a way to get housing built or get caught not doing it right, and have their power removed from them.

there is still la HUGE lack of understanding regarding this exercise which is painfully evident if you watch the meeting (its available on YouTube), commenters seem to think the city will build housing, council seems to think they: need to vet each parcel, get to say what is viable or not, like they are personally going to call each parcel owner to get some kind of answer if they would "redevelop" their property. I have searched all the state websites and found no clear methodology (at all) for how cities are to "vet" parcels. certain council members went out of their way to state "THIS IS A CHANCE OF A LIFETIME", "NEED TO DOWNZONE MY ENTIRE DISTRICT", as if being a part of this will somehow vault them to higher government offices...

loved how open, unemotional, and honest the person from the city staff was with answering all the uneducated questions regarding this.

best part is I got my answer for how cities "vet" parcels. city staff stated and it went something close to this: We sent them a letter, AND if they did not respond (who would) then the parcel is available for "redevelopment". I am sure that the certain council member (who purports to know the process and has stated that each site be "confirmed" did not like to hear that one.

so, I am not worried about this, it is a charade.

also, my family shared an old used car, did not go on vacation for years, saved every penny living in cheap crappy apartments for over 10 years, just to be able to make a down payment in MP. so, yea, talk about "equity" falls short with this family. Also, not sure what a housing EMERGENCY is, Zillow lists 121 apartments, 38 houses for sale.


MenloVoter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 31, 2021 at 7:46 am
MenloVoter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2021 at 7:46 am

But new guy, you don't understand, we have to "do something". No one really knows what that "something" is but appearing to do it satisfies some peoples' need to virtue signal. All the while living in a multi-million dollar home. smh This town and the adjacent towns are full of limousine liberals.


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 1, 2021 at 2:55 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Nov 1, 2021 at 2:55 pm

It's not a charade, but a green light for development. When the last plan was approved, seems like they broke ground almost immediately on the big complexes.

One challenge, at least according to council members, is that the development in the last plan was almost exclusively unaffordable for those in the lowest income brackets. This time around, we are expected to build 740 homes for people of very low and extremely low income levels. To qualify as "extremely low" according to San Mateo County standards, you need an income of not more than $38,400/year. What developer can afford to build apartments/homes for low income households, and what concessions will they expect in exchange?

Meanwhile, the members of the council can engage in shameless virtue signaling, professing more concern for the people who might want to live here than for those of us who actually have invested in this community. They threaten that the state will take over if we don't comply. Really? California has enough going on without having to manage development planning for every small city in the state.

The cynical takeaway is that this is a ploy to support our local Meta-whatever corporations by giving them a cheap place to house workers. That's essentially what's happened with the 777 Hamilton apartments.


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