A group of Menlo Park residents celebrated the kick-off of the Menlo Park Neighbors for Affordable Homes campaign on Sunday, July 31. The group formed to oppose the Menlo Balance initiative, claiming that if it passes in November, it would do damage to equitable housing in Menlo Park.
The community group, which goes by the acronym MPNAH, seeks to promote the creation of affordable housing throughout Menlo Park. On the to-do list: oppose another resident-led grassroots organization, Menlo Balance.
Menlo Balance's initiative would revoke the city council’s ability to change the zoning of single-family lots. Instead it would require a popular vote in a general election to build multifamily housing on any property currently zoned as a single-family lot. Some critics fear that this would halt future developments for high-density housing in large swaths of the city.
A study commissioned by the city of Menlo Park found that zoning would be frozen throughout 80% of areas zoned for residential uses in Menlo Park without a public vote, including 53 lots eligible for development. Proponents of the initiative say that it would give residents a voice in approving large developments.
MPNAH is campaigning against Menlo Balance's initiative. One development that would be deterred by the passage of the initiative is located at the Flood School lot, where the Ravenswood City School District aims to create up to 90 units of affordable housing.
Adina Levin, a Menlo Park resident and one of the group's leaders, said that she's worried about the effects of the initiative on both housing in Menlo Park and other local projects, such as rebuilding the Menlo Park Fire District headquarters on Middlefield Road that is currently zoned under single-family housing.
“(I want residents) to know what the ballot measure actually does in terms of preventing affordable housing," said Levin, adding that the effects would be a loss of housing in high-opportunity areas and an impact on non-housing developments such as the fire district headquarters.
Karen Grove, a Menlo Park resident and another leader of the group, said MPNAH was formed a few weeks ago as residents became aware of the initiative and heard that the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo warned that the initiative could have a regional impact.
"We're especially concerned about this measure because it would have citywide implications and region-wide implications," said Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the county Housing Leadership Council, an organization with the goal of furthering accessible and affordable housing within San Mateo County. "I'm afraid that if it passes and goes into effect, every small city in the Bay Area and in the state is gonna say, 'Oh, yeah, we'll pass one like that too,' and that would be really, really hard on the state for us to meet our housing needs and for us to come up with creative solutions to meeting the needs of our most vulnerable residents."
The launch event included several speeches, including one from Andrew Lie, a trustee from the Jefferson Union High School District where affordable teacher housing has been built in Daly City. The event also had informational stations on the impact of housing on communities, including one on environmental sustainability.
“Environmental justice and housing justice are inherently connected,” said Cade Cannedy with Climate Resilient Communities. “Your first and most immediate environment is your home, and all of the climate effects that we're concerned about, extreme heat, smoke, air quality, flooding, sea level rise, all those issues are going to be mediated by the quality, safety, affordability and accessibility of housing.”
Another station laid out the long history of segregation in Menlo Park’s school districts and housing. Juanita Croft, who said she has lived in Belle Haven for a long time, said that Menlo Park has a history of redlining and discrimination dating back to the 1940s when Belle Haven and Ravenswood High School were both segregated, according to Croft.
“The issue with Menlo Balance is that, quite frankly, they're using an old discriminatory practice to discriminate against affordable housing, and so they're using the single-family detached dwelling home as a strategy for segregation,” Croft said.
She added that the state has already struck down similar bills as a discriminatory practice, and that Menlo Park would be liable for a lawsuit if the initiative was to pass.
Information about MPNAH is on its website.