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Ravenswood school district staff make their case for workforce housing

The empty James Flood Magnet School property at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park in 2021. The Ravenswood City School District would like the site to be developed into workforce housing. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Gerardo Garcia's workday is not yet done after he shuts the door of his seventh grade science classroom at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto. For the last six years, he's spent two to three hours driving for Uber in the evenings.

Garcia, like many school staffers on the Peninsula, said he has to find alternative means to bring in extra cash to pay for the high cost of living in the Bay Area, exacerbated by the recent spike in inflation. A father of three, he has worked for the district for two decades and rents a house in Redwood Shores with his wife, who is also a teacher.

"We moved about a year and half ago because the rent price went up," he said, noting that his family's basic needs take up 80% of their combined incomes. He said driving for the ride-hailing company takes away quality time with his family. "Gas, food, rent, everything is going up. … It's very difficult and expensive to support our family."

Garcia's experience mirrors that of other staffers in the Ravenswood City School District, according to a survey of 89 of the district's 300 staff members in May 2022. Twenty percent said the cost of housing is causing them to consider quitting their job. Two percent said they do not have access to reliable housing, and only one-third of respondents reported having a "safe, secure, and affordable housing option."

The district gave teachers a 10% raise last year, bringing salaries on par with neighboring school districts, but the bump is not enough to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area, they said.

Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School Athletic Director Mario Zamora is photographed on the ranch where he runs Camp Doza in East Palo Alto on July 26, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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Mario Zamora, an East Palo Alto native and athletic director at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School, said he is also struggling to make ends meet. He rents out his ponies on the weekends for birthday parties and runs a summer camp called Camp Doza, which offers lessons in basketball, soccer, and farm culture at Ravenswood Ranch in East Palo Alto.

In response to developers purchasing Ravenswood Ranch, Zamora is planning to buy 40 acres of land two hours away, near Jackson, California, in the coming years. He wants to build cabins and bus kids from East Palo Alto there for camps. He said he will probably eventually need to move out himself since he can't afford to buy a home.

"Our neighborhood is lacking community in the sense that people, when they get in the workforce, they can't afford to stay there; they leave," he said. "Outsiders come into our community to teach our kids. If they can't relate to the kids, they (kids) are never going to give them their full attention."

Outsiders come into our community to teach our kids. If they can't relate to the kids, they are never going to give them their full attention.

-Mario Zamora, Ravenswood school athletic director

"East Palo Alto has always been a little city tucked in the corner," he said. "The people with the restaurant jobs, cleaning jobs lived there. They're being pushed out toward the (Central) Valley."

Zamora, who has two young children, said some of his colleagues spend three or four hours a day commuting, getting up at 3 a.m. just to drive to the Bay Area for work.

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"They're not going to be mentally healthy to do their job because they're worried about the commute or the rent," said Zamora, 37. "Housing is critical but at the same time my parents who did buy their house in '96 for dirt cheap – they deserve a good retirement. I'm happy he (my father) can sell his house for $1 million. It just sucks for us younger generation who are just never going to be able to afford to buy in their community."

Flood School site

Garcia and Zamora support the district's proposal to build up to 90 units of workforce housing at the 2.5-acre former James Flood Magnet School site in Belle Haven, close to U.S. Highway 101 next to Flood Park. The school operated from 1980 to 2011.

The plan has received pushback from nearby residents concerned about the project bringing traffic to their neighborhood. The site, at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park, is currently zoned for single-family homes (as of 1986). At the time, many of the neighbors felt that the residential designation was appropriate for the site given the surrounding area, and that doing so "provided control and protection from future use of the site," according to the city of Menlo Park.

"I like teaching there, however if this project can not be carried out, we will be forced to move to another area and leave everything behind," Garcia said. "Many of our colleagues are in the same situation."

Traffic from operating a school, the original use of the property, is much heavier than what would be generated by a housing development, a report from the city shows. The traffic impacts of a 90-unit residential development would create 400 new daily trips. By comparison, an elementary school with 275 students, the size of the Flood School before closure, would likely produce over 600 trips per day.

Menlo Park is currently facing a state mandate to zone for thousands of new homes, including plans to accommodate more than 1,000 units available for lower-income households. The Flood School project could help meet those affordable housing goals.

"There are certain stigmas or images that come to mind when it comes to affordable housing; racist tropes," said Chief Business Officer Will Eger. "It was personally powerful reading the responses of our staff (to the survey)."

Ravenswood Teachers Association (RTA) President Ronda White, a reading specialist and instructional coach at Costaño School of the Arts, said she's lucky to live in the home she grew up in East Palo Alto with her two kids and mother.

White said she loves teaching in East Palo Alto, but knows that without affordable housing it's difficult for other teachers to live in the community they teach in.

"It was where I was born and raised," she said. "It's where I get my values and beliefs. … The location is beautiful and the soil grows everything. … change is necessary but it can be difficult. To the people who are nervous or confused (about developing the Flood site into housing), through this process, I hope they'll figure out a way to be a little more compassionate."

More on the survey

Other key findings in the survey showed:

• 43% of respondents are considering leaving the district because of the cost of housing or the length the of their commute

• Over 70% of respondents indicated an interest in workforce housing; over 60% of those responded that housing would make them "much more likely" to stay with the district

• Another 38% said the length of the commute is causing them to consider quitting their job

• 85% of respondents had incomes and household sizes that would make them eligible for affordable housing; of those, a further 85% are interested in workforce housing

Feedback from staff members in the Ravenswood City School District on their housing situations. Courtesy Ravenswood City School District.

The survey also estimated that the district would need over 200 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of staff. Close to 75% of district faculty and staff rent.

Ravenswood school board member Ana Maria Pulido said the survey was very helpful for understanding the needs of the districts.

"I remember a few years ago when we considered workforce housing, the numbers weren't strong enough for us to move forward with the project at that time," she said. "It's reassuring us we're in the right direction in terms of that project is concerned."

In 2018, staff brought a proposal to build below-market-rate apartments at the Flood School site. But further analysis found that the project was not economically feasible, according to the city. All of the bids assumed a higher level of density at the time.

The district last surveyed staff three years ago when it initially explored building workforce housing at the Flood site, Eger said. The district wanted to revisit and update the survey.

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Ravenswood school district staff make their case for workforce housing

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 3, 2022, 11:07 am

Gerardo Garcia's workday is not yet done after he shuts the door of his seventh grade science classroom at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto. For the last six years, he's spent two to three hours driving for Uber in the evenings.

Garcia, like many school staffers on the Peninsula, said he has to find alternative means to bring in extra cash to pay for the high cost of living in the Bay Area, exacerbated by the recent spike in inflation. A father of three, he has worked for the district for two decades and rents a house in Redwood Shores with his wife, who is also a teacher.

"We moved about a year and half ago because the rent price went up," he said, noting that his family's basic needs take up 80% of their combined incomes. He said driving for the ride-hailing company takes away quality time with his family. "Gas, food, rent, everything is going up. … It's very difficult and expensive to support our family."

Garcia's experience mirrors that of other staffers in the Ravenswood City School District, according to a survey of 89 of the district's 300 staff members in May 2022. Twenty percent said the cost of housing is causing them to consider quitting their job. Two percent said they do not have access to reliable housing, and only one-third of respondents reported having a "safe, secure, and affordable housing option."

The district gave teachers a 10% raise last year, bringing salaries on par with neighboring school districts, but the bump is not enough to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area, they said.

Mario Zamora, an East Palo Alto native and athletic director at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School, said he is also struggling to make ends meet. He rents out his ponies on the weekends for birthday parties and runs a summer camp called Camp Doza, which offers lessons in basketball, soccer, and farm culture at Ravenswood Ranch in East Palo Alto.

In response to developers purchasing Ravenswood Ranch, Zamora is planning to buy 40 acres of land two hours away, near Jackson, California, in the coming years. He wants to build cabins and bus kids from East Palo Alto there for camps. He said he will probably eventually need to move out himself since he can't afford to buy a home.

"Our neighborhood is lacking community in the sense that people, when they get in the workforce, they can't afford to stay there; they leave," he said. "Outsiders come into our community to teach our kids. If they can't relate to the kids, they (kids) are never going to give them their full attention."

"East Palo Alto has always been a little city tucked in the corner," he said. "The people with the restaurant jobs, cleaning jobs lived there. They're being pushed out toward the (Central) Valley."

Zamora, who has two young children, said some of his colleagues spend three or four hours a day commuting, getting up at 3 a.m. just to drive to the Bay Area for work.

"They're not going to be mentally healthy to do their job because they're worried about the commute or the rent," said Zamora, 37. "Housing is critical but at the same time my parents who did buy their house in '96 for dirt cheap – they deserve a good retirement. I'm happy he (my father) can sell his house for $1 million. It just sucks for us younger generation who are just never going to be able to afford to buy in their community."

Garcia and Zamora support the district's proposal to build up to 90 units of workforce housing at the 2.5-acre former James Flood Magnet School site in Belle Haven, close to U.S. Highway 101 next to Flood Park. The school operated from 1980 to 2011.

The plan has received pushback from nearby residents concerned about the project bringing traffic to their neighborhood. The site, at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park, is currently zoned for single-family homes (as of 1986). At the time, many of the neighbors felt that the residential designation was appropriate for the site given the surrounding area, and that doing so "provided control and protection from future use of the site," according to the city of Menlo Park.

"I like teaching there, however if this project can not be carried out, we will be forced to move to another area and leave everything behind," Garcia said. "Many of our colleagues are in the same situation."

Traffic from operating a school, the original use of the property, is much heavier than what would be generated by a housing development, a report from the city shows. The traffic impacts of a 90-unit residential development would create 400 new daily trips. By comparison, an elementary school with 275 students, the size of the Flood School before closure, would likely produce over 600 trips per day.

Menlo Park is currently facing a state mandate to zone for thousands of new homes, including plans to accommodate more than 1,000 units available for lower-income households. The Flood School project could help meet those affordable housing goals.

"There are certain stigmas or images that come to mind when it comes to affordable housing; racist tropes," said Chief Business Officer Will Eger. "It was personally powerful reading the responses of our staff (to the survey)."

Ravenswood Teachers Association (RTA) President Ronda White, a reading specialist and instructional coach at Costaño School of the Arts, said she's lucky to live in the home she grew up in East Palo Alto with her two kids and mother.

White said she loves teaching in East Palo Alto, but knows that without affordable housing it's difficult for other teachers to live in the community they teach in.

"It was where I was born and raised," she said. "It's where I get my values and beliefs. … The location is beautiful and the soil grows everything. … change is necessary but it can be difficult. To the people who are nervous or confused (about developing the Flood site into housing), through this process, I hope they'll figure out a way to be a little more compassionate."

Other key findings in the survey showed:

• 43% of respondents are considering leaving the district because of the cost of housing or the length the of their commute

• Over 70% of respondents indicated an interest in workforce housing; over 60% of those responded that housing would make them "much more likely" to stay with the district

• Another 38% said the length of the commute is causing them to consider quitting their job

• 85% of respondents had incomes and household sizes that would make them eligible for affordable housing; of those, a further 85% are interested in workforce housing

The survey also estimated that the district would need over 200 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of staff. Close to 75% of district faculty and staff rent.

Ravenswood school board member Ana Maria Pulido said the survey was very helpful for understanding the needs of the districts.

"I remember a few years ago when we considered workforce housing, the numbers weren't strong enough for us to move forward with the project at that time," she said. "It's reassuring us we're in the right direction in terms of that project is concerned."

In 2018, staff brought a proposal to build below-market-rate apartments at the Flood School site. But further analysis found that the project was not economically feasible, according to the city. All of the bids assumed a higher level of density at the time.

The district last surveyed staff three years ago when it initially explored building workforce housing at the Flood site, Eger said. The district wanted to revisit and update the survey.

Comments

Mary
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Aug 3, 2022 at 12:41 pm
Mary , Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2022 at 12:41 pm

Please don’t keep repeating the same miss information about the traffic study. When the Flood School was operating Flood Park graciously allowed the Ravenswood school buses and traffic to go in and out through flood park.


diesel
Registered user
another community
on Aug 3, 2022 at 1:48 pm
diesel, another community
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2022 at 1:48 pm

"James Flood Magnet School site in Belle Haven, close to U.S. Highway 101 next to Flood Park. " My understanding is that the school site is on the Menlo Park side of highway 101 (and yes, next to Flood County Park), not where your map shows it. Or are there 2 similarly named sites?


sie
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 3, 2022 at 2:40 pm
sie, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2022 at 2:40 pm

@diesel: FYI - Menlo Park is on both sides of Highway 101. Belle Haven is part of Menlo Park; however, the school site is not in Belle Haven.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 5, 2022 at 5:20 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2022 at 5:20 pm

Actually the area that was first sub-divided and called Belle Haven City was on both sides of what was then called the Bay Shore Highway. BHC tracts 1-17 were on what is now called Flood Triangle and BHC tracts 18-35 are in what is now called Belle Haven. That's why some of the street names are identical on both sides.

They were initially subdivided in 1930 and 1932. Before zoning, before annexation into Menlo Park.

If you are into it, go to the county property maps viewer click on parcels and then pull up the subdivision maps.




PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 5, 2022 at 5:31 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2022 at 5:31 pm

The reason why comparing alleged project traffic to alleged school traffic would not be either valid or lawful under CEQA is that CEQA requires comparing the project use to the current use, not some fictitious past or future use cited by project proponents or Almanac Reporters.

The alleged school use is irrelevant to any legal traffic analysis performed for the site, now.

The site has not been used as a school for about a decade, and, in order to lease it for 90 years as housing, the School District had to formally jump through a number of legal hoops to prove there is no school use for the property in the next 90 years.

Hence the pro-project world, and Almanac reporters, continues to compare alleged project traffic to a use which does not currently exist on the site and has been legally proven will not occur on the site for 90 years.

It may be a persuasive political argument to make to suggest that neighbors should "expect" to live near "school traffic", but sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

I can show you a subdivision map, also on the county parcel viewer, of the flood school site when it subdivided for 15 single family units.

If we're going to compare a future project to some irrelevant past use, why not to the time when it was subdivided for 15 single family homes?


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