On the Nov. 8 ballot, only residents of Menlo Park's District 4, which includes downtown, Allied Arts and a southern segment of El Camino Real, will have the chance to vote for a representative on the City Council. First-term incumbent Betsy Nash is facing some familiar competition in Peter Ohtaki, the former two-term council member she unseated in 2018.
Ohtaki campaign signs have been a frequent sight in recent years -- he's run on the Republican ticket for the state Assembly in 2016 and 2020, and on the June primary ballot against U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo before shifting gears to run for Menlo Park City Council this fall.
We believe Nash, who has shown herself to be an energetic, forthright and engaged member of the City Council, is voters' best choice to represent the district in this election.
In Nash, residents will have a representative who is focused on Menlo Park as it recovers from pandemic closures and grapples with state mandates for housing growth. Her top issues are increasing opportunities for housing, which she says has become unattainable for many of the city's seniors, workers and young adults who grew up in Menlo Park; working for safer streets in the wake of increasing traffic as employees return to offices and new developments along El Camino Real are completed; and facing the impacts of climate change, from poor air quality in Belle Haven to sea level rise and greenhouse gas emissions.
Nash is well aware that the jobs-housing imbalance driving the Bay Area's acute housing crisis and is eager to see that future developments, such as the USGS campus, add new housing to balance any new office space bringing more workers to the city.
The biggest divide between the candidates is their stance on Menlo Park's Measure V. Nash opposes it, Ohtaki not only supports it, he signed the ballot argument in favor of it.
In our view, Measure V is a poorly designed initiative that seems destined for expensive legal challenges, an odd choice for a candidate running on his financial acumen.
It's hard for us to understand why anyone with experience serving on a council would be so willing to give away the City Council's zoning authority over single-family lots in perpetuity. Zoning, which provides a blueprint that guides where and what kind of development is appropriate, is crucial to a council's ability to guide the future growth of a community. The public process required to change a property's zoning, with hearings, public notices and public deliberations by elected representatives, can be lengthy but is designed to allow nuanced decisions for what's often a complex situation.
Measure V's experiment in direct democracy replaces that process with what we're seeing now -- a general election battle of sound bites and yard signs, scare tactics and slogans massaged by Sacramento consultants -- every single time a property owner of a single-family zoned lot wants to make a change.
Longtime residents of Menlo Park are understandably nervous about what the future holds. Under pressure from new state laws like the "duplex law" SB 9, state mandates to seriously plan for 3,830 new hosing units over eight years and the threat of stiff consequences for failing to do so, elected officials face a difficult balancing act. Menlo Park needs City Council members who can responsibly meet that challenge, protecting its family-friendly neighborhoods while doing its part to solve the housing crisis.
The Almanac's editorial board recommends Betsy Nash for the Menlo Park City Council District 4.