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New state law allows schools to build housing: What this means for the Flood School site in Menlo Park

The empty James Flood Magnet School property at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park on Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2295 into law on Sept. 28, allowing school districts to build teacher housing on land they own. What does that means for future housing prospects at the Flood School site in Menlo Park, and what does this mean for the citywide ballot initiative this November?

AB 2295 allows for any local educational agency in the state including school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to build housing on property owned by that agency.

That means the governing boards of these agencies can now render a city or county zoning ordinance inapplicable when building workforce housing. Permitted uses of the property include classroom facilities and housing for staff. The housing built upon the parcel can be 35 feet tall or to the height allowed by the city for the parcel, whichever is greater.

Flood School site

In Menlo Park, the Ravenswood City School District has been trying to redevelop a vacant 2.6-acre lot on the former site of the Flood Magnet School in Suburban Park. The school district owns the property and aims to build up to 90 units of low-income housing prioritized for staff. The former school property is zoned for single-family housing. The proposal, which has not been formally submitted to the city, sparked a great deal of pushback from surrounding residents.

A community group, Menlo Balance, sponsored a measure for the November ballot, Measure V, which if passed would prevent the Menlo Park City Council from rezoning single-family properties, instead forcing it to be put to a popular vote in a regular election. This would slow or prevent development at several sites, including the Flood School site, which is currently zoned for single-family housing despite having housed an elementary school.

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The newly signed law states that school districts can build up to 30 units per acre on sites located in jurisdictions in metropolitan counties. If this applies to Menlo Park, the Ravenswood City School District could build at least 75 units under AB 2295 without requesting discretionary approval.

According to a bill analysis, the lot would still be subject to the entitlement process, including CEQA. "The local government would be able to apply its own zoning and design review standards, as long as they do not preclude the project from being three stories or 35 feet in height and allow a density that accommodates at least 30 units per acre in urban areas," according to the analysis.

Nicole Chessari, co-founder of Menlo Balance, believes that AB 2295 will dramatically change the Menlo Park election due to the protection of teacher housing already being codified, poking holes in the argument that Measure V would block Ravenswood's plans.

"There is no teacher housing to protect when the state has already protected it," Chessari said.

The new law requires school districts to first offer the units to their staff, which Ravenswood officials said they were already planning to do. But if any units were left vacant, they would next have to be offered to directly adjacent educational agencies, such as the staff of Menlo Park City School District. If any units still remain vacant, they would be offered to the staff of cities within the school district's boundaries.

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Cory Wolbach, Community Engagement Senior Associate at the [email protected] Action Fund, said that this was good progress for the state.

"Teachers and other employees in school districts are really hurting and that makes it hard for our kids to get the education they need," Wolbach said.

Chessari said she's fully in support of AB 2295, saying she always wanted Ravenswood to provide teacher housing at the site. However, she said that she doesn't believe that the Ravenswood City School District would use this method as it's not profitable enough.

Evelyn Stivers of the Housing Leadership Council said that she didn't see a 35-foot tall, 75-unit project permitted under AB 2295 as being viable, adding that Ravenswood City School District didn't get affordable housing developer bids for anything less than 90 units across four floors.

"Look at other teacher and school staff housing projects in our area," she said. "The Jeferson Union High School District educator housing is 41 units per acre, the Palo Alto teacher housing is 80 units per acre. A San Francisco educator housing project being developed by MidPen Housing is 98 (units per acre)."

Will Eger, chief business officer of Ravenswood City School District, said in an email that the school district was "thrilled" about the passage of the bill, but that they have some time to explore the full implications of the bill since it doesn't go into effect until December 2024.

The Almanac contacted the office of Assembly member Richard Bloom, the bill's author, but has not yet gotten a response.

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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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New state law allows schools to build housing: What this means for the Flood School site in Menlo Park

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 11:06 am

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2295 into law on Sept. 28, allowing school districts to build teacher housing on land they own. What does that means for future housing prospects at the Flood School site in Menlo Park, and what does this mean for the citywide ballot initiative this November?

AB 2295 allows for any local educational agency in the state including school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to build housing on property owned by that agency.

That means the governing boards of these agencies can now render a city or county zoning ordinance inapplicable when building workforce housing. Permitted uses of the property include classroom facilities and housing for staff. The housing built upon the parcel can be 35 feet tall or to the height allowed by the city for the parcel, whichever is greater.

Flood School site

In Menlo Park, the Ravenswood City School District has been trying to redevelop a vacant 2.6-acre lot on the former site of the Flood Magnet School in Suburban Park. The school district owns the property and aims to build up to 90 units of low-income housing prioritized for staff. The former school property is zoned for single-family housing. The proposal, which has not been formally submitted to the city, sparked a great deal of pushback from surrounding residents.

A community group, Menlo Balance, sponsored a measure for the November ballot, Measure V, which if passed would prevent the Menlo Park City Council from rezoning single-family properties, instead forcing it to be put to a popular vote in a regular election. This would slow or prevent development at several sites, including the Flood School site, which is currently zoned for single-family housing despite having housed an elementary school.

The newly signed law states that school districts can build up to 30 units per acre on sites located in jurisdictions in metropolitan counties. If this applies to Menlo Park, the Ravenswood City School District could build at least 75 units under AB 2295 without requesting discretionary approval.

According to a bill analysis, the lot would still be subject to the entitlement process, including CEQA. "The local government would be able to apply its own zoning and design review standards, as long as they do not preclude the project from being three stories or 35 feet in height and allow a density that accommodates at least 30 units per acre in urban areas," according to the analysis.

Nicole Chessari, co-founder of Menlo Balance, believes that AB 2295 will dramatically change the Menlo Park election due to the protection of teacher housing already being codified, poking holes in the argument that Measure V would block Ravenswood's plans.

"There is no teacher housing to protect when the state has already protected it," Chessari said.

The new law requires school districts to first offer the units to their staff, which Ravenswood officials said they were already planning to do. But if any units were left vacant, they would next have to be offered to directly adjacent educational agencies, such as the staff of Menlo Park City School District. If any units still remain vacant, they would be offered to the staff of cities within the school district's boundaries.

Cory Wolbach, Community Engagement Senior Associate at the [email protected] Action Fund, said that this was good progress for the state.

"Teachers and other employees in school districts are really hurting and that makes it hard for our kids to get the education they need," Wolbach said.

Chessari said she's fully in support of AB 2295, saying she always wanted Ravenswood to provide teacher housing at the site. However, she said that she doesn't believe that the Ravenswood City School District would use this method as it's not profitable enough.

Evelyn Stivers of the Housing Leadership Council said that she didn't see a 35-foot tall, 75-unit project permitted under AB 2295 as being viable, adding that Ravenswood City School District didn't get affordable housing developer bids for anything less than 90 units across four floors.

"Look at other teacher and school staff housing projects in our area," she said. "The Jeferson Union High School District educator housing is 41 units per acre, the Palo Alto teacher housing is 80 units per acre. A San Francisco educator housing project being developed by MidPen Housing is 98 (units per acre)."

Will Eger, chief business officer of Ravenswood City School District, said in an email that the school district was "thrilled" about the passage of the bill, but that they have some time to explore the full implications of the bill since it doesn't go into effect until December 2024.

The Almanac contacted the office of Assembly member Richard Bloom, the bill's author, but has not yet gotten a response.

Comments

Tim Yaeger
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 6, 2022 at 3:23 pm
Tim Yaeger, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 3:23 pm

Great article which highlights the completely debunked premises that voting No on Measure V will protect teacher housing. Schools can build on their properties no matter the zoning with AB 2295's passage. Who are we all kidding, teacher housing was always going to be built at Flood School whether Measure V passed or not and even before 2295. Menlo Park voters are smarter than to believe all of this smoke and mirrors. Ms. Stivers seems to forget that land isn't expensive when it comes to schools building on public property, the land is free, we as the tax payers already own it. AB 2295 was cowritten by housing advocates at UCLA CityLab Dana Cuff and Jane Blumenfeld, who are leaders in their field and clearly they understand that the densities allowed by the bill are feasible for building affordable teacher housing. There is a great video on AB 2295 produced by SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association) in which the bill is discussed, those of you interested in teacher housing should have a view. Those of you who had been duped into voting no on Measure V because you were told it would hurt teachers can now 100% vote Yes on measure V because it has zero impact on teachers and allows the City of Menlo Park to build more housing, in a thoughtful way.


Heather Hopkins
Registered user
Las Lomitas School
on Oct 6, 2022 at 5:22 pm
Heather Hopkins, Las Lomitas School
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 5:22 pm

Tim, AB2295 only allows Ravenswood to build 75 housing units on their property (30 units per acre). Ravenswood could not find an affordable housing developer who would build under 90 units, because in the Bay Area (unlike in other parts of California), affordable teacher housing doesn't pencil out at 30 units/acre. See the article above for the densities of other local school staff housing projects recently built in our area.

Maybe it would be more appropriate to say that the proponents of Measure V do not wish to "block" teacher housing, but they are interested in less teacher housing than what is proposed. So the No on V folks are correct in saying they want to protect teacher housing - 15 units, to be precise, which would go to 15 families who deserve to live near where they work as they educate our children.


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 6, 2022 at 5:47 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 5:47 pm

Doesn't matter how many units any residents want to see built on the Flood site -- the district has made it clear they won't build affordable teacher housing there as they can't make enough money.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 6, 2022 at 6:16 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 6:16 pm

I urge RCSD to announce that they will use AB2299 as their vehicle for development of the Flood School site.

It is not the perfect solution but it is a guaranteed solution.

The whole purpose of Measure V was to stop the rezoning of this site - AB2299 gives the RCSD a guaranteed entitlement with no need to negotiate.


SF
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 6, 2022 at 6:32 pm
SF, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 6:32 pm

I am still opposed to prop V. We have a housing shortage and every time the city of MP wants to build in a vacant lot, they want to have an election? How much is that going to cost? Not to mention that it seems incredibly undemocratic since only a few people really educate themselves on the issues that are included in ballots.
I asked more information on prop V and someone directed me to a 50-page report on the issue. Please let our elected officials do their job and direct resources (in this case, vacant lots) to their best use


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 8, 2022 at 10:20 am
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 10:20 am

@Heather Hopkins "... in the Bay Area (unlike in other parts of California), affordable teacher housing doesn't pencil out at 30 units/acre/"

This is incorrect, according to the State.

According to HCD counting rules 30du/acre is the "default" density for THE BAY AREA that is "deemed deemed appropriate to accommodate housing for lower income households."
Web Link

" Pursuant to ... section 65583.2, subdivision (c)(3), the housing element must include analysis of ... sites [that] demonstrate[s] how adopted densities accommodate ... lower-income households."

"... 65583.2, subdivision (c)(3)(B), allows local governments to utilize “default” density standards that are “deemed appropriate to accommodate housing for lower income households.” ... [this] provides a streamlined option for local governments to meet the density requirement. No analysis to establish the appropriateness of the default density is required, and the ... (HCD) must accept that density as appropriate in its review."

For "low" incomes 30du/acre is spelled out in California 65583.2 subdivision (c)(3)(B)

Now you know how the State is misleading people, Heather. It's tempting cities into zoning at 30du/acre to meet mandated "low-income" housing quotas, even though units built at this density will not be affordable.

Unquestioning affordable housing advocates are being misled into supporting these rezonings in R-1 neighborhoods to create "affordable housing" when in reality it will ONLY produce luxury housing.

This is what we have been saying all along.

That is exactly why people should support Measure V. Voters are collectively wary enough to know when a rezoning is for a truly affordable project and when not.

We know the difference. You have been too easily turned against us. We are for "deed restricted" affordable housing. Market Rate is NEVER affordable.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 8, 2022 at 10:32 am
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 10:32 am

@Heather Hopkins

The main stated goal in the RCSD Flood School RFP was to maximize revenue in the form of a ground lease on the property.

It chose a for-profit developer who must also exact its pound of flesh.

Had RCSD wanted SOLELY to create "affordable" housing on the site it could have chosen a NON-PROFIT developer like Habitat or Mid-Pen, WITHOUT a ground lease.

Under those circumstances 30 du/acre could be leased as "deed restricted" units.

RCSD cannot serve two masters -- profit and affordability.


kbehroozi
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 8, 2022 at 10:42 am
kbehroozi, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 10:42 am

Paul,
a) no nonprofit developer responded to the RFP, and this was the only affordable housing proposal. While the developer is a business, not structured as a non-profit, they do specialize in financing, developing, and managing BMR housing communities, including teacher housing. This is what they do.

b) the units built by the proposed developer will also be deed-restricted for the lifetime of the lease and teachers/staff will always get first priority. Any units not taken by RCSD employees go to others who qualify (could be other teachers/public sector employees – those details get worked out in the planning process.)

c) 30 du/acre is a BASE density for building affordable housing – you're omitting that the state bonus density is what makes the affordable housing pencil out in areas like ours.

d) irrespective of the above fact, the zoning that council recommended for the Ravenswood site was lower: 20 du/acre. Why? Because that's what Ravenswood needed (combined with state bonus densities) to achieve 90 units of 100% BMR housing, which is all they've ever been asking to build. This is financially feasible because the district owns the land.

e) the goal of the RFP was to get revenue in order to sustain competitive teacher salaries. BUT Ravenswood had been clear earlier on their desire to build teacher housing at that site, and the project they picked was a BMR housing development with first priority for any opening always going to qualified teachers and staff.

f) Ravenswood needs revenue to pay teachers competitive salaries so they don't leave for other districts. This isn't about profit. It's actually (still, always) about good teachers and good schools. They are serving one master: the taxpayers and residents who expect them to deliver a high-quality education. They have a fiduciary responsibility to those stakeholders to use their land to further their educational mission. This project would do that.


kbehroozi
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 8, 2022 at 11:04 am
kbehroozi, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 11:04 am

"Unquestioning affordable housing advocates are being misled into supporting these rezonings in R-1 neighborhoods to create "affordable housing" when in reality it will ONLY produce luxury housing."

Nope – not in Menlo Park.

Menlo Park just submitted a draft housing element to the state. It left R1 neighborhoods alone with a couple of exceptions:
1) the Flood School site (which should never have been zoned R1 to begin with, as every other neighborhood public school in our city is zoned PF), and
2) a couple of church parking lots that are unlikely to develop.

This is an 8-year plan. The current council has had their say on where housing should potentially develop, and they are not changing R1 neighborhoods.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 8, 2022 at 12:56 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 12:56 pm

Katie,

Two concepts: Does Flood need 90 (effective 35du/acre) to deliver all-DR units? Does HCD 30 du/acre "logic" + State density bonus produce densities suitable for "low income."

No. Not really.

a.) The RFP changes with no requirement to produce ground lease revenue (or developer profit.) Of course non-profits didn't respond. (I "understand" RCSD considered fewer units but wanted to be made whole on lost ground lease revenue. If my "understanding" is factual it proves the point.)

b.) I personally don't care about the prioritization for DR units. I support DR housing. *ANY* order is fine. I'm fine with custodians and baristas. The "teacher" thing is a PR food fight for campaigns to prove who loves teachers most.

c.) (a) State bonuses are optional. MR developers don't have to use them, or target "low" income DR units. Cities don't have discretion over either.

c.) (b) The State bonuses do not increase total DR percentages in MR projects above MP BMR percentages. Anton Menlo proves it. (Net-net: MP/State gave away 102 MR units (@$3000/mo = $3.6M/yr) for 6 FEWER total BMR units.)

Anton Menlo which USED both the R4S(AHO) along with State bonuses to produce an effective density of 37du/acre DID NOT achieve an ALL DR project. Its effective BMR rate was less than what it would have been had the zoning been flat 30du/acre under Menlo Park's BMR ordinance with no State bonuses. (Anton Menlo did yield more "low" units but fewer total BMR units than all-Menlo zoning and BMR. Again, "low", by developer choice.)

I've seen Capital , developers, and Gov't interact for three decades. I know who always wins this game and its not low income people. And I know who pays externalized developer costs --its neighbors.

Truly change this and I'm your best friend.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 8, 2022 at 3:09 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 3:09 pm

@Kbehroozi "Nope – not in Menlo Park.

Agreed. I have said and here confirm that the 2023-2031 Housing Element cycle is "safe."

It is free of the immediate need to zone in R-1 neighborhoods. The Report also says so, and Yes on V has quoted the Report in its video. (Similarly, the near-term threat to "affordable" housing is also nonsense.)

Got it? We agree.

Measure V is a FORWARD-LOOKING measure that won't be needed (much) until the 2032 cycle.

I also believe the (future) "threat" to neighborhoods is real, it is "gathering" and that SB9, however feckless, was a shot across the bow.

I don't think 8 years is too soon.




Dawn1234
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 14, 2022 at 8:43 pm
Dawn1234, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2022 at 8:43 pm

I support no on V because ravenswood teachers need support in the form of housing (and the 12 staff that get the 12 units that rezoning for 90 allows will absolutely feel like making 90 units work was worth the while) and teacher pay raises so that ravenswood teachers make closer to what other teachers make. Also, I think the teachers have all come out against it, so that I guess is a good judge of which side is more pro-teacher.


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