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Menlo Park Neighbors for Affordable Housing launches campaign to fight fall ballot initiative

A toppled over basketball hoop and abandoned picnic table at the now closed James Flood Magnet School at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park on Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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.

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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.

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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 Park Neighbors for Affordable Housing launches campaign to fight fall ballot initiative

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 2, 2022, 11:20 am

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.

Comments

Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 2, 2022 at 1:00 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 1:00 pm

It is great to see a group of well informed citizens willing to mobilize against the fear based Menlo Balance initiative which is both unwise from a policy perspective and would have the predictable consequence of neighborhoods voting in their own best interest to APPROVE density increases in other neighborhoods.


Stuart Soffer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 2, 2022 at 1:35 pm
Stuart Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 1:35 pm

a) Like other putative housing projects near the bay, it may need to be abandoned if Indian skeletons are encountered when digging. That has happened in the past.

b) Whatever happened to living where you can afford? Like others do.

My parents were always renters. Even in Palo Alto. I got off that track by first renting downtown. Buying a condo downtown. Saving for a downpayment. And then buying a single family home (Also - find an enlightened realtor - and an enlightened bank. We have them here.)


And also - don't be afraid to use your real name - adds a lot of credibility when you do.

b)


MP Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 2, 2022 at 2:45 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 2:45 pm

Neighbors for Affordable Homes? Why not call it Menlo Together?

I hope Ms Rebosio updates her article to include the highly relevant addition that Adina Levin and Karen Grove are leaders of Menlo Together, the pro-density, pro-electrification and anti-natural gas group that has been deeply involved in city politics, and has close ties to three current members of our city council.

Ms Levin and Ms Grove are entitled to promote causes they believe in, but if the Almanac is going to report on their initiative, they owe it to their readers to get all the pertinent information out there so the public to come to their own conclusions.


Stuart Soffer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 2, 2022 at 3:30 pm
Stuart Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 3:30 pm

Let me add that I am not unsympathetic.

Until I was 13 I grew up in a 1-bedroom apartment in a 6-story brick apartment building across from subway tracks,, where the bedroom was used by my parents. I slept in a hallway by the front door on a pull-out couch.

And I am grateful for the NYC school system, and Brooklyn Museum.



Belle Haven Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 2, 2022 at 4:38 pm
Belle Haven Resident, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 4:38 pm

What ever happened to people living near where they work? That is not going to happen as long as only rich people can afford Menlo Park.


Mark Potter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 2, 2022 at 5:03 pm
Mark Potter, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 5:03 pm

I am so grateful that my fellow citizens are standing up to the tribalism of Menlo Balance. The nimbyism that opposes and stifles affordable housing on the Peninsula is something that must be exposed and opposed.


Stuart Soffer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 2, 2022 at 5:15 pm
Stuart Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 5:15 pm

How much housing is proposed in District 4?

How much housing is proposed in District 5?


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 2, 2022 at 9:27 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Aug 2, 2022 at 9:27 pm

This seems to be just another face of Menlo Together. Why not use the name Menlo Together? I think because people know it and are not sympathetic to what they have been pushing for years. I support the initiative and will advocate for it. When three members of the city council won't even support our public parks enough to take housing development in the parks off the table, initiatives like this are necessary. People paid a high premium to live in Menlo Park, and news flash they were not born rich, they worked hard to get their houses. Now the City Council wants to come in and drastically change the characters of the neighborhoods without a thought to the existing residents? Time to step up and take back some control of our own neighborhoods.


Resident
Registered user
another community
on Aug 3, 2022 at 6:12 am
Resident , another community
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2022 at 6:12 am

Why can’t people just live in East Palo Alto? There are a lot of houses here for sale. It would be great if families started buying them instead of LLCs and slumlords.


Stuart Soffer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 3, 2022 at 10:35 am
Stuart Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2022 at 10:35 am

Define "affordable housing"


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 3, 2022 at 9:13 pm
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2022 at 9:13 pm

This group and the town council need to grasp that they have to stop adding more offices and jobs without first improving the current jobs and housing imbalance. They also need to grasp that a way to do that is to convert land zoning from office to housing. That addresses both parts of the jobs and housing equation without blowing up existing neighborhoods.


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 4, 2022 at 8:41 am
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 8:41 am

I just looked at the ConnectMenlo General Plan (2016). The zoning changes then were forecast to add 4,500 housing units east of 101 (see page LU-11) beyond projects already in the pipeline, along with more non-residential sq ft and hotel rooms in the same area.
How has that turned out?

How does the Housing Element update jive with that plan, and why weren't other parts of the plan modified to ensure adequate infrastructure exists for more housing?

If the town council is now looking to put that housing elsewhere, isn't it time to step back and comprehensively modify the plans through a community-based process rather than by ad hoc decisions by them?


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 5, 2022 at 4:58 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2022 at 4:58 pm

@Stu Soffer "Define 'affordable housing'"

According to state HCD rules, "Housing affordability for moderate income households is assumed by state law to start at 20 DU/ac and lower income affordability is accepted at “default densities” of 30 DU/ac or more."

Web Link
housing-element-memos/docs/defaultdensity2020censusupdate.pdf

So according to HCD, before being built, the Greenheart housing units were zoned for lower income households simply because they were zoned R-40. Even though the built apartments (now: Springline) now rent for between $4000-$7000/month.




PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 5, 2022 at 4:59 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2022 at 4:59 pm

Here's the broken link: Web Link


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 6, 2022 at 10:17 am
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2022 at 10:17 am

@Iris "If the town council is now looking to put that housing elsewhere, isn't it time to step back and comprehensively modify the plans through a community-based process rather than by ad hoc decisions by them?"

Yes. And ...

Honestly, you should be running for city council in your district. Can we talk? Nomination season is open. I think its a change election, and you'll do just fine. you would be doing a great public service by providing a much needed policy choice to voters desperate for that choice. Please contact me at paigehurstatprotonmaildotcom in any event.

And just to drone on providing a little text cover for the in-post recruitment. Menlo Together was able to plant a charge of "disparate treatment" against ConnectMenlo in the City's "Impact Report" of the Initiative. If you haven't read it you should. It's part of the City Staff report for that evening. (There's other interesting stuff in the Report.)

Here's my point. If ConnectMenlo is disparate treatment then the City is essentially accusing itself of a pretty serious civil rights violation, and since Menlo Together controls a majority of council, how can it not take action on those grounds? The Grove Foundation also has the funds to wage such a suit. The accusation was arguably planted at the behest of or to pander to KG for use in the campaign. How can she plant the allegation in the Report and take no action? Isnt that similar to an HR #metoo complaint of "harassment" after which HR does nothing with the complaint?

Moving on. There should be common political ground between those who resent ConnectMenlo because of alleged disparate treatment, even if they don't really mean it, and those of us who object to ConnectMenlo as dumb and imbalanced land-use policy.

I have no idea how we all might get together to hold hands to sing Kumbaya, but there is common ground. Getting a leash on ConnectMenlo is job #1, IMO.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 6, 2022 at 10:48 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2022 at 10:48 am

And why exactly does someone from Woodside (PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills) feel that they should have a voice in who are the elected leaders in Menlo Park?


Adina
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 6, 2022 at 4:53 pm
Adina, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2022 at 4:53 pm

People who watched the city council meeting will know that there were several people who asked city council to research a variety of potential impacts of the ballot measure. The questions about the impacts on fair housing also came from several residents of Belle Haven, the neighborhood that was formerly redlined, and was the site of almost all the affordable housing in the city's previous (and first ever) Housing Element. The assessment concluded that the ballot measure would make it difficult for the city to meet state obligations to "affirmatively further fair housing" which means providing housing in high-opportunity areas across the city. People would be, of course, free to run for office on a platform opposing affirmatively furthering fair housing.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 7, 2022 at 2:07 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Aug 7, 2022 at 2:07 pm

@adina

You actually talked past my point, right? The point was about ConnectMenlo, not the Initiative. It cites information revealed in the Report about ConnectMenlo.

If you (or the Report) are saying that ConnectMenlo, by putting "almost all" the affordable housing in or near Belle Haven, constitutes either "disparate treatment" under the Civil Rights Act or "disparate impact" now "cognizable" under the Fair Housing Act, then *both* of those allegations are serious violations of the law and are actionable, by those, like Menlo Together, who casually insinuate explosive charges of civil rights violations and then do nothing about it.

Adina, are you publicly charging that ConnectMenlo is discriminatory and violates the Civil Rights Act?

The "cure" would be for the city to sue itself to *stay* the implied treatment or disparate impact and undo ConnectMenlo. In other words, rezone the thousands of unit previously targeted for Bayfront throughout the city.

Iris' suggestion was, if that need be done, and that is what is being done, secretly, that it best be done as a public process, not in secret, and not through repeated ad hoc zoning of council.

If you think ConnectMenlo is discrminatory and do nothing, that is on you.

If you think affordable housing once zoned for Belle Haven now has to be rezoned for elsewhere, but without full public disclosure of how many units, and no formal public input, and at the whim of council, then good luck with that.

My other point was we both AGREE that ConnectMenlo is bad policy but for different reasons. The main reason why ConnectMenlo had to jam thousands of housing into Menlo Park is because it also decided to jam tens of thousand of jobs into Menlo Park.

Another solution would be to revisit ConnectMenlo to reduce job densities thereby reducing housing pressure throughout the whole city, including near Belle Haven, and through a public process which was Iris' point.

And, yes, that's a winning platform.






Stuart Soffer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 7, 2022 at 3:55 pm
Stuart Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Aug 7, 2022 at 3:55 pm

There is a disconnect in the policies discussed, and that is, "residential density" and "income" for rent are two different quanta. Density alone doesn't make it affordable (if so, tell us how).

Affordability should describe. parameters of family size and income.

And there is silence on policies to protect families from life contingencies, like divorce, job loss. While that can disrupt families, that's not what this is about.

---

I've served two terms on the Menlo Park Planning Commission, and on the Finance Committee, albeit some time ago. I've traversed and wrestled with these issues, and they're not new to me.


---

And a note to Karen Grove. I used to see her father Andy having dinner regularly at Trellis Restaurant downtown when I was there also. Andy Grove was a holocaust survivor. Bless his memory.





private citizen
Registered user
Laurel School
15 hours ago
private citizen, Laurel School
Registered user
15 hours ago

Great, old book:

"Getting to Yes: Negotiating without Giving In"

Just sayin'.


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
2 minutes ago
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
2 minutes ago

@PH - thank you for restating, even better, what I was trying to say.

Less than half the land in Menlo Park is zoned Very Low/Low density residential (43.8%), with another 11.1% zoned Medium/High density. For those of us who think of Menlo Park as a residential community, the numbers belie that, with barely 1/2 the land designated that way.

The initiative could help achieve a better balance between business and residential areas by making it easier to focus on Bayfront, Commercial, and Specific Plan areas for fewer jobs and more housing. These areas are 15.2% the land.

To the point that neighborhoods need to do their share: By state laws, all single family neighborhoods could have ADU's. Presumably those are relatively "affordable". The initiative doesn't affect that or SB-9, right?


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