Menlo Park City Council member Ray Mueller recently released a reasonable compromise to develop teacher and staff housing at the former Flood School Site while also minimizing traffic impacts to adjoining neighborhoods. The three of us believe this is a good compromise with a practical approach to building badly needed housing capacity, mitigating traffic and helping the Ravenswood City School District level the financial playing field with neighboring school districts.
Let's agree to the concepts proposed by Mueller, hammer out the details and work together to begin to address the inequities in our community.
How did Ravenswood get here? Nearly a year ago, the school board approved issuing a public procurement process to explore uses for the site. The most compelling offer came from Alliant Strategic Development, who proposed an affordable housing project of up to 90-units, three- to four-stories tall. This would allow our teachers and staff at the Ravenswood school district to be first in line to rent an apartment whenever an opening arose (currently 75% of Ravenswood staff are renters).
This project helps the district achieve two essential goals. First, when accounting for student need, Ravenswood gets less than half the funding per student as Menlo Park City School District and other surrounding districts, and it's worth remembering that one-third of Ravenswood students are Menlo Park residents. The proposed project would bring in about $500,000 of operating funds annually. These funds would make a small but meaningful dent in closing those funding gaps.
Second, Ravenswood need to be able to recruit and retain high quality staff within our community in the face of rising housing costs. This spring the district surveyed its staff on their housing opportunities and the results were bleak. Only one-third of staff report having a "safe, secure, and affordable housing option." Of the respondents, 2% are currently unhoused, 43% are considering leaving the district because of their housing situation and 85% of our staff have incomes (less than $149,100 for a family of four) that make them eligible for affordable housing.
We have continued to receive positive support from all corners of Menlo Park. As more facts about the proposed opportunity have come out, arguments against the project have weakened. For example, despite initial concerns about traffic, a recent study from the City of Menlo Park found that the proposed development would represent 200 daily trips less than it would as a school.
Based on the mediation efforts led by Council member Drew Combs, Mueller proposed the following:
• The city of Menlo Park would work with Caltrans and LifeMoves to open an additional access road to the site from Van Buren Road
• Ravenswood would install a removable physical barrier that halves the site, allocating vehicle traffic from the site to two entrances. (For the Suburban Park community, this would mean at rush hour there would be one additional car every 3.5 minutes.)
• Proponents of a ballot initiative designed to slow or stop this project would withdraw the measure from the November election.
Of course, there remain important details to resolve such as obtaining approvals from Caltrans and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, understanding and mitigating the impact to nearby Haven House, and other impacts to neighbors.
Ultimately the three of us support this proposal because it is a win-win for everyone. The school district can attract and retain high quality staff, the traffic impacts are minimized and the neighborhoods will enjoy a vibrant new community to replace an empty lot eyesore. If other interested parties want to suggest creative ideas that allow for productive and realistic uses of this publicly owned land, then the three of us are open to them. Meanwhile, we invite our neighbors to sit down with us and nail down the details of this insightful compromise.
Mele K. Latu is president of the Ravenswood City School District school board. Gina Sudaria is superintendent of the school district, and William Eger is its chief business officer.