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Menlo Balance initiative faces council scrutiny, resident complaints

A flyer by Menlo Balance reads "Residential neighborhoods are at risk" and is taped to a light pole outside the Arrillaga Family Gymnasium in Menlo Park on April 25, 2022. Photo by Andrea Gemmet.

Menlo Balance's initiative to prohibit the Menlo Park City Council from redesignating lots zoned for single-family homes without voter approval has all the signatures needed to appear on the November ballot. Rather than immediately vote to place the initiative on the ballot, the council at its June 28 meeting delayed it, deciding that further information was needed and authorized a study on the impacts.

Eight residents came to voice their opinions on the Menlo Balance initiative, with seven speaking in opposition and imploring the council to order a report on its impacts. Menlo Balance is a grassroots organization created by two Menlo Park residents with the goal of preventing the council from rezoning single-family lots for multi-unit development. If the initiative passes in November, any rezoning would have to be put to a public vote.

Belle Haven resident Vicky Robledo said that the Menlo Balance initiative would disproportionately affect residents in her neighborhood, which is Menlo Park's most diverse, according to 2020 U.S. Census demographic data.

Robledo said that Belle Haven is already the site of 4,000 units of housing development and by passing the initiative, projects that would more equally distribute housing in other areas of Menlo Park could be blocked. She also pointed out that Belle Haven has the worst air quality in the city.

"It seems that (the city) tend(s) to focus on Belle Haven, like it is the only space to build and it isn't, and we are literally being poisoned in our own communities," Robledo said. She called the decision to concentrate development in Belle Haven a little bit of "modern-day redlining and racism."

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Multiple residents took to public comment to say that they agreed with Robledo's stance and that affordable housing in the city should be built outside of Belle Haven.

Other residents complained of being fed misinformation by Menlo Balance's canvassers, including false reports that council members and city staff have given their support to the initiative.

A flyer by a newly formed organization called Menlo Balance that reads "Residential neighborhoods are at risk" is taped to a light pole on Waverly Street in Menlo Park's Linfield Oaks neighborhood on April 25, 2022. Photo by Andrea Gemmet.

"As one of those Belle Haven residents who was given misinformation by the canvassers, it really concerns me that even the people that are promoting this may not understand what it is," resident Pam Jones said.

This initiative has the potential to impact the Flood School housing development, a proposal that could build up to 90 units of affordable housing at the site of the former James Flood Magnet School. The former school property is zoned for single-family housing.

Council member Jen Wolosin went on the record to say that she opposes the measure.

"I am eager to hear the results of the report in terms of unintended consequences that may not have been fully considered by myself and others," Wolosin said. "However, given the known impact to the Flood School site, I am opposed to this ballot measure."

Rebecca Barnes, manager at MidPen Housing mentioned that Menlo Park had previously been cited for non-compliance by the state for its housing element, a state-mandated plan for accommodating housing growth over an eight-year period. She said that the ballot initiative could only make the problem worse.

"Requiring a vote of the people in order to produce new affordable homes will have a detrimental effect on affordable housing development, and preclude the development of church and school sites, which are some of the best places to consider due to being mission-aligned or already held as a public asset," Barnes said. "We are deeply concerned that this ballot measure as is will be a step backward for the city."

The current housing element has identified sites for potential affordable housing development that have single-family zoning, but they don't have existing homes -- they are churches, a school and a vacant lot.

The City Council had the option to adopt the initiative itself or submit it to citizens for a vote at an upcoming election. The council elected to order a report on the potential impacts of Menlo Balance's initiative on racial and economic equity, educational equity, ability to comply with state housing laws, climate and traffic impacts, and impacts on the current sites included in the draft housing element.

Council member Drew Combs implored the staff not to allow any bias when analyzing data.

The motion for the report, proposed by Combs, passed unanimously. The report must come back in 30 days, after which the council will take further action.

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Cameron Rebosio
 
Cameron Rebosio joined the Almanac in 2022 as the Menlo Park reporter. She previously wrote for the Daily Californian and the Palo Alto Weekly. Read more >>

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Menlo Balance initiative faces council scrutiny, resident complaints

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 30, 2022, 11:23 am

Menlo Balance's initiative to prohibit the Menlo Park City Council from redesignating lots zoned for single-family homes without voter approval has all the signatures needed to appear on the November ballot. Rather than immediately vote to place the initiative on the ballot, the council at its June 28 meeting delayed it, deciding that further information was needed and authorized a study on the impacts.

Eight residents came to voice their opinions on the Menlo Balance initiative, with seven speaking in opposition and imploring the council to order a report on its impacts. Menlo Balance is a grassroots organization created by two Menlo Park residents with the goal of preventing the council from rezoning single-family lots for multi-unit development. If the initiative passes in November, any rezoning would have to be put to a public vote.

Belle Haven resident Vicky Robledo said that the Menlo Balance initiative would disproportionately affect residents in her neighborhood, which is Menlo Park's most diverse, according to 2020 U.S. Census demographic data.

Robledo said that Belle Haven is already the site of 4,000 units of housing development and by passing the initiative, projects that would more equally distribute housing in other areas of Menlo Park could be blocked. She also pointed out that Belle Haven has the worst air quality in the city.

"It seems that (the city) tend(s) to focus on Belle Haven, like it is the only space to build and it isn't, and we are literally being poisoned in our own communities," Robledo said. She called the decision to concentrate development in Belle Haven a little bit of "modern-day redlining and racism."

Multiple residents took to public comment to say that they agreed with Robledo's stance and that affordable housing in the city should be built outside of Belle Haven.

Other residents complained of being fed misinformation by Menlo Balance's canvassers, including false reports that council members and city staff have given their support to the initiative.

"As one of those Belle Haven residents who was given misinformation by the canvassers, it really concerns me that even the people that are promoting this may not understand what it is," resident Pam Jones said.

This initiative has the potential to impact the Flood School housing development, a proposal that could build up to 90 units of affordable housing at the site of the former James Flood Magnet School. The former school property is zoned for single-family housing.

Council member Jen Wolosin went on the record to say that she opposes the measure.

"I am eager to hear the results of the report in terms of unintended consequences that may not have been fully considered by myself and others," Wolosin said. "However, given the known impact to the Flood School site, I am opposed to this ballot measure."

Rebecca Barnes, manager at MidPen Housing mentioned that Menlo Park had previously been cited for non-compliance by the state for its housing element, a state-mandated plan for accommodating housing growth over an eight-year period. She said that the ballot initiative could only make the problem worse.

"Requiring a vote of the people in order to produce new affordable homes will have a detrimental effect on affordable housing development, and preclude the development of church and school sites, which are some of the best places to consider due to being mission-aligned or already held as a public asset," Barnes said. "We are deeply concerned that this ballot measure as is will be a step backward for the city."

The current housing element has identified sites for potential affordable housing development that have single-family zoning, but they don't have existing homes -- they are churches, a school and a vacant lot.

The City Council had the option to adopt the initiative itself or submit it to citizens for a vote at an upcoming election. The council elected to order a report on the potential impacts of Menlo Balance's initiative on racial and economic equity, educational equity, ability to comply with state housing laws, climate and traffic impacts, and impacts on the current sites included in the draft housing element.

Council member Drew Combs implored the staff not to allow any bias when analyzing data.

The motion for the report, proposed by Combs, passed unanimously. The report must come back in 30 days, after which the council will take further action.

Comments

Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 30, 2022 at 12:05 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 12:05 pm

The signatures have been collected and verified, this belongs on the ballot for the voters to decide. I hope that the council does not try to block or prevent it, I don't think that would be well received by the voters.


Rachel
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 30, 2022 at 12:35 pm
Rachel, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 12:35 pm

I was surprised by how biased this article is. There are only quotes from critics and none from supporters of the ballot initiative. I'm disappointed The Almanac is publishing such one-sided journalism.


Belle Haven Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 30, 2022 at 12:42 pm
Belle Haven Resident, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 12:42 pm

If the signatures were collected by people who lied to the public, it would be good for the public to know a full analysis before being called on to vote on the initiative.


Menlo Park resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 30, 2022 at 1:47 pm
Menlo Park resident, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 1:47 pm

The canvasser who came to our door blatantly lied about what the initiative would do -- he said that the city council is planning commercial development in residential neighborhoods. I knew enough about what it would do that I calmly told him he was wrong and that I wouldn't sign the petition.


SoodyQ
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 30, 2022 at 1:57 pm
SoodyQ, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 1:57 pm

As a matter of fact (as I commented in another article on this subject), a woman collecting signatures for this initiative at the downtown Menlo Park Farmers Market stated to me, directly and without any ambiguity, that the initiative was supported by Council Member Ray Mueller. Those were her words, not mine. The exchange happened before the June election as Council Member Mueller's signs were present around the market.

I told her point-blank that I would not sign the petition regardless of who may or may not support it.

Given that members of the Council have not stated their support for this initiative (including Council Member Mueller), it would stand to reason that the signature gatherer/s have been falsifying information during the signature gathering. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not stating that Council Member Mueller supports the initiative, just that it is what the woman said.


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 30, 2022 at 2:03 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 2:03 pm

I signed the petition and was approached by several people at different times to sign it. Of course I read what I was signing before I signed, as any person should do. I can state without question that none of the people who approached me misrepresented the petition or mentioned anyone supporting it. They collected well over the necessary number of signatures to make the ballot and it should be on the ballot. If you oppose it then vote against it. Pretty simple...


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 30, 2022 at 2:09 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 2:09 pm

Having read the arguments made by Menlo Balance -- and heard the obfuscations from Menlo Together (the people who support housing in parks?) I see Menlo Balance as more supportive of residents and our long-term quality of life. Menlo Together supports the profit motives of developers; our neighborhoods and residents are collateral damage in their vision.

Every time one of these threads appears, the same anti-Menlo Balance propaganda is posted. Someone claims that someone who was collecting signatures said something that may or may not be true. How about instead quoting from the actual Menlo Balance website or initiative? The detractors don't do that because they know they have no argument.

I trust that Menlo Park voters will educate themselves before the election. I realize that Menlo Together/the council majority don't want to give that kind of agency to the people who actually live/vote here, but their efforts to mislead us will only alienate more residents and result in a greater victory for the initiative.


Menlo Lifestyle
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 30, 2022 at 4:07 pm
Menlo Lifestyle, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Jun 30, 2022 at 4:07 pm

It's very easy for the vocal people against the initiative to start screaming "people lied to us!" to obfuscate the fact that more than the required signatures were lawfully collected. The signatures were collected by residents who were instructed at community meetings to honestly represent what the current law allows and what changes this initiative proposed. This initiative does nothing to stop housing in any way. It simply takes the zoning control for single family homes away from 5 people, 4 of whom residents cannot vote for, and puts it back in the hands of residents.

If the city council doesn't like control being taken away they should have spent more time fighting for out neighborhoods. I hope they don't break the law and refuse to put the initiative on the ballot.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 2, 2022 at 8:28 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jul 2, 2022 at 8:28 am

I don't think the sponsors have carefully considered the dynamics of a city wide vote on a neighborhood specific project.

Perhaps the sponsors of Measure M will explain why they think that voters NOT impacted by a zoning change in someone else's neighborhood would vote against that change.

The rational voter would vote FOR increased density elsewhere in order to reduce the need for greater density in their neighborhood.

And voters concerned with equity issues would also support a zoning density increase.

The only voters motivated to vote against the change would be the immediate neighbors and, by definition, the immediate neighbors would be a small minority of the total voters.

And we would all bear the considerable cost of each such election.

I think the Measure M folks need to go back to the drawing board.


Ray Mueller
Registered user
Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 5, 2022 at 2:56 pm
Ray Mueller, Menlo Park: University Heights
Registered user
on Jul 5, 2022 at 2:56 pm

InMenlo has published an op-ed I penned advocating for a proposed solution at: Web Link


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 5, 2022 at 3:05 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jul 5, 2022 at 3:05 pm

Thank you Ray and Drew for a superb proposal which would be hard for anyone to reject except on narrow personal interest grounds.


Roy Thiele-Sardiña
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2022 at 4:11 pm
Roy Thiele-Sardiña, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jul 7, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Ray & Drew.

Perfectly reasonable solution.

Roy


Roy Thiele-Sardiña
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2022 at 4:11 pm
Roy Thiele-Sardiña, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jul 7, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Ray & Drew

Perfectly reasonable solution.

Roy


Menlo Lifestyle
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jul 11, 2022 at 1:30 pm
Menlo Lifestyle, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Jul 11, 2022 at 1:30 pm

To answer your question Peter, if the city council can stick a monster apartment building (90 units where 12 single family homes would sit) in the middle of one existing neighborhood they might do it in any of our neighborhoods. 9 out of 10 Menlo homeowners approached during the petition drive were angry that this city council was so casually destroying the Menlo that they have invested their lives in. They know very well if you trash one corner of the city it eventually creeps into everywhere.


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