News

Editorial: Vote No on Menlo Park's Measure V

The flood school site is the center of the Measure V debate, despite arguments to the contrary. Almanac file photo.

In most Bay Area cities, an all-affordable teacher housing project is met with excitement – it's exactly the kind of housing that's needed, because schools are losing employees due to the high cost of living. But in Menlo Park, it was met with a ballot measure that stands to hinder its path forward, and that is profoundly disappointing.

Measure V, as written, would take the highly unusual step of stripping the Menlo Park City Council of its power to make zoning decisions when it comes to areas designated for single-family homes. Instead, it would require any changes to such properties to come before the residents for a vote in a regular election. We believe the measure is a solution in search of a problem, creating a cumbersome process for a city trying to do its job.

Voters have no real reason to think the Menlo Park City Council has gone off the rails and needs to be prevented from packing tranquil neighborhoods with incongruous uses like big-box stores or huge apartment buildings looming over the house next door. Council members are not going out of their way to destroy Menlo Park's suburban neighborhoods. If a project comes forward that isn't a good fit, the community can rally together and oppose it the old-fashioned way: Show up at meetings and give the council an earful.

Contrary to its backers' disingenuous campaign slogans, Measure V is decidely not "pro-teachers, pro-housing." While Measure V's rules would be applied to the entire city, the ballot measure's focus and raison d'etre is to prevent the Ravenswood City School District from building a 90-unit affordable housing project for school employees at the former Flood School site, a 2.6-acre property near Highway 101. No formal development application has been submitted yet, but Ravenswood officials are optimistic that they have a viable project.

The Ravenswood district is struggling with significant teacher turnover, and in a staff survey this year, the shortage of nearby affordable housing is a major factor. This project could go a long way toward attracting and retaining teachers to a school district of modest means serving a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

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The argument that the district and its developer is only out to make money is unfair – leasing unused school campuses as a source of funding is common in many nearby districts. Why it's fine for Las Lomitas or Menlo Park City school districts but not Ravenswood, with its greater need, doesn't make sense.

The concerns about traffic, parking and other impacts that some residents living near Flood School have expressed about the project are understandable. These are exactly the things that get studied, vetted and addressed during normal development review, once a project is submitted to the city. Preemptive panic about peak traffic volumes is not a solid rationale for supporting Measure V and smacks of the NIMBY attitude that proponents are so anxious to distance themselves from.

The passage of California's Assembly Bill 2995 (AB 2995) last month would give the Ravenswood City School District a possible path to teacher housing at Flood School the circumvents Measure V, but it does not change our stance on this issue. The law allows districts in metropolitan areas to sidestep local zoning rules and build up to 30 units per acre for teacher housing, limiting Menlo Park to imposing only "objective zoning standards" in its approval process.

Whether 30 units per acre, or roughly translate to 78 apartments, on the Flood School property would make for a financially viable project is questionable. Even if it is viable, we have no idea if this by-right approval process is going to lead to a better project. Neighbors worried about impacts would fare better with a cooperative process between the city and the school district to build the right project, not the one that fits the confines of AB 2295.

While Flood School may be the focus, but there are much broader impacts of Measure V. The city identified 53 developable properties not currently occupied by single-family homes that nevertheless fall under single-family zoning, and making any changes to them will be incredibly difficult if the measure passes. Properties owned by churches and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District will be preserved in amber. Measure V proponents argue that the voters will do the right thing and approve good projects at the ballot box, but they fail to account for reality.

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Development, particularly affordable residential development, already carries a great deal of financial risk, and taking on the delays and expenses of putting it to a vote of the people – which includes launching a campaign and pounding the pavement to get support – is certain to bury most, if not all, projects before they ever make it on the ballot.

Throughout the election season, there has been an undercurrent of distrust in local government. Measure V's camp is pushing the idea that the Menlo Park City Council and the Ravenswood City School District will make the wrong choices when it comes to teacher housing, and that voters should seize control in an act that will have consequences for years to come on projects totally unrelated to Flood School.

We believe this drastic move is unnecessary, and that these public agencies, headed by elected representatives and accountable to the public, will have a transparent development process for Flood School. The city of Santa Clara was a trailblazer with its subsidized teacher housing in 2002, and in recent years Mountain View and Palo Alto have followed suit. Let's do the right thing and ensure teachers can stay in the community in which they work. Vote No on Measure V.

Editorials represent the opinions of The Almanac's three-member editorial board.

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Editorial: Vote No on Menlo Park's Measure V

by The Almanac Editorial Board /

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 14, 2022, 11:46 am

In most Bay Area cities, an all-affordable teacher housing project is met with excitement – it's exactly the kind of housing that's needed, because schools are losing employees due to the high cost of living. But in Menlo Park, it was met with a ballot measure that stands to hinder its path forward, and that is profoundly disappointing.

Measure V, as written, would take the highly unusual step of stripping the Menlo Park City Council of its power to make zoning decisions when it comes to areas designated for single-family homes. Instead, it would require any changes to such properties to come before the residents for a vote in a regular election. We believe the measure is a solution in search of a problem, creating a cumbersome process for a city trying to do its job.

Voters have no real reason to think the Menlo Park City Council has gone off the rails and needs to be prevented from packing tranquil neighborhoods with incongruous uses like big-box stores or huge apartment buildings looming over the house next door. Council members are not going out of their way to destroy Menlo Park's suburban neighborhoods. If a project comes forward that isn't a good fit, the community can rally together and oppose it the old-fashioned way: Show up at meetings and give the council an earful.

Contrary to its backers' disingenuous campaign slogans, Measure V is decidely not "pro-teachers, pro-housing." While Measure V's rules would be applied to the entire city, the ballot measure's focus and raison d'etre is to prevent the Ravenswood City School District from building a 90-unit affordable housing project for school employees at the former Flood School site, a 2.6-acre property near Highway 101. No formal development application has been submitted yet, but Ravenswood officials are optimistic that they have a viable project.

The Ravenswood district is struggling with significant teacher turnover, and in a staff survey this year, the shortage of nearby affordable housing is a major factor. This project could go a long way toward attracting and retaining teachers to a school district of modest means serving a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

The argument that the district and its developer is only out to make money is unfair – leasing unused school campuses as a source of funding is common in many nearby districts. Why it's fine for Las Lomitas or Menlo Park City school districts but not Ravenswood, with its greater need, doesn't make sense.

The concerns about traffic, parking and other impacts that some residents living near Flood School have expressed about the project are understandable. These are exactly the things that get studied, vetted and addressed during normal development review, once a project is submitted to the city. Preemptive panic about peak traffic volumes is not a solid rationale for supporting Measure V and smacks of the NIMBY attitude that proponents are so anxious to distance themselves from.

The passage of California's Assembly Bill 2995 (AB 2995) last month would give the Ravenswood City School District a possible path to teacher housing at Flood School the circumvents Measure V, but it does not change our stance on this issue. The law allows districts in metropolitan areas to sidestep local zoning rules and build up to 30 units per acre for teacher housing, limiting Menlo Park to imposing only "objective zoning standards" in its approval process.

Whether 30 units per acre, or roughly translate to 78 apartments, on the Flood School property would make for a financially viable project is questionable. Even if it is viable, we have no idea if this by-right approval process is going to lead to a better project. Neighbors worried about impacts would fare better with a cooperative process between the city and the school district to build the right project, not the one that fits the confines of AB 2295.

While Flood School may be the focus, but there are much broader impacts of Measure V. The city identified 53 developable properties not currently occupied by single-family homes that nevertheless fall under single-family zoning, and making any changes to them will be incredibly difficult if the measure passes. Properties owned by churches and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District will be preserved in amber. Measure V proponents argue that the voters will do the right thing and approve good projects at the ballot box, but they fail to account for reality.

Development, particularly affordable residential development, already carries a great deal of financial risk, and taking on the delays and expenses of putting it to a vote of the people – which includes launching a campaign and pounding the pavement to get support – is certain to bury most, if not all, projects before they ever make it on the ballot.

Throughout the election season, there has been an undercurrent of distrust in local government. Measure V's camp is pushing the idea that the Menlo Park City Council and the Ravenswood City School District will make the wrong choices when it comes to teacher housing, and that voters should seize control in an act that will have consequences for years to come on projects totally unrelated to Flood School.

We believe this drastic move is unnecessary, and that these public agencies, headed by elected representatives and accountable to the public, will have a transparent development process for Flood School. The city of Santa Clara was a trailblazer with its subsidized teacher housing in 2002, and in recent years Mountain View and Palo Alto have followed suit. Let's do the right thing and ensure teachers can stay in the community in which they work. Vote No on Measure V.

Editorials represent the opinions of The Almanac's three-member editorial board.

Comments

About that
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 14, 2022 at 6:26 pm
About that, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2022 at 6:26 pm

This debate is going astray as there are really two discussion intertwined, one about teachers having somewhere to live (which we all want) and the other about meeting state mandates for higher density. The real problem is the second part.

Is it shameful to be a NIMBY? Perhaps and probably, but it is at the bottom a question of fairness. Yes, everybody should have somewhere to live and that is fair, but it is also fair that a family that does its research and invests in moving into a low-density neighborhood can rely on it not being rezoned into a high density area without a public vote.

I bet all would agree with this, if the focus of the debate wasn't on Flood Park, and in equal fairness it has to be said that the people who moved there and live there knew this was a school zoning, a high density area per definition with dorms, etc. and they most likely paid less to live there because of it.


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 14, 2022 at 7:54 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2022 at 7:54 pm

How is this about teacher housing? There's no guaranteed units for teachers it's being developed as a for-profit by a for-profit developer and the no on V campaign is being supported by a huge for-profit developer that wants to make lots of money off of Menlo Park. This is not about teacher housing, if it was they would have agreed to the compromise proposed by the residents around the development which would require units be set aside for teachers. They had no interest in doing that because that might limit their ability to make a profit. It should also be noted that no plans have been submitted to the city as far as I know at least. So what they're saying about the size could balloon to a 300 unit building that would likely be approved by the three council members that support high density housing.

No it's time to put the decision back in the hands of the city voters and not in the hands of three city council members who are not elected by the people being affected by this development and would not be able to be held accountable by them.


Dawn1234
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 14, 2022 at 8:33 pm
Dawn1234, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2022 at 8:33 pm

Thank you, Almanac for clearing up some common misrepresentations in this editorial. I, too, think this is not a good plan for Menlo Park. I envision a Menlo Park that is a vibrant community for multiple income levels and family sizes where children can play safely all over the city and people connect with neighbors. I don't think we need to stop council from zoning as part of city planning to achieve this vision. I will definitely be voting no.


steve schmidt
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 15, 2022 at 10:15 am
steve schmidt, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2022 at 10:15 am

Thanks to the Almanac for its editorial on Measure V.
The passage of AB2295 has cleared the way for the Ravenswood District to propose a specific plan for the Flood School site that will dispel the frightening hyperbole presented by the neighbors of the site. It's time to calm down, reject this now unnecessary and damaging initiative and let the City Council do its job.
Don't forget that if Measure V were to pass, the City would be on the hook for legal costs defending the election result against the State Attorney General or whoever has a stake in meeting regional housing production goals.
It's ironic that the prominent proponents of Measure V were the most vociferous opponents of Measure M that sought in 2014 to limit office development in Menlo Park. Job growth without a balancing increase in housing contributes mightily to housing shortage and cost in our region.
Let our Council do its job. Vote NO on V.


About that
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 15, 2022 at 11:32 am
About that, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2022 at 11:32 am

"Let our Council do its job. Vote NO on V."

And if you think your neighborhood is more equipped to make the decision, and don't want to wake up next to an office building, vote YES on V.


MP Father
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2022 at 12:13 pm
MP Father, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2022 at 12:13 pm

I very much appreciate The Almanac's reporting but feel that Editorial Board is once again not appearing objective and appears to be supporting Nash's agenda to prioritize driving additional housing regardless of the impact to the town or local residents.

"Voters have no real reason to think the Menlo Park City Council has gone off the rails and needs to be prevented from packing tranquil neighborhoods with incongruous uses like big-box stores or huge apartment buildings looming over the house next door. Council members are not going out of their way to destroy Menlo Park's suburban neighborhoods. If a project comes forward that isn't a good fit, the community can rally together and oppose it the old-fashioned way: Show up at meetings and give the council an earful."

91 Units sure seems equivalent to a "huge apartment building". Would this project double the density of the current neighborhood? The Editorial Board got it right that we residents feel that we have to defend our town from the City Council rather than the City Council representing us.

Measure V is the result of Menlo Park residents believing that Nash, Wolosin, and Taylor are working to drive personal agendas rather than listening to and meaningfully engaging with residents. Based on their collective actions to date, I have virtually no hope that Nash, Wolosin, nor Taylor will meaningfully listen to what I or other residents have to say.

Also, we have the issue of accountability. With the change to district-based elections, representatives of one district are no longer accountable to residents of other districts which results in what we are seeing now with projects like Flood Park. Vote "YES" on Measure V.


Menlo Lifestyle
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 16, 2022 at 5:07 pm
Menlo Lifestyle, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2022 at 5:07 pm

I don’t understand why the Almanac News editorial board would side with the efforts of big developers and special interests over the homeowners of Menlo Park. You make the point that there is a process, that it’s transparent, and that Measure V is simply unnecessary. But your trust is misplaced. Menlo Park homeowners have already tried to have conversations and provide input to the plan. What did that get us from out elected representatives? Council member Combs, whose district the Flood School sit is located, simply shrugged. Literally. He came to Suburban Park and told the collected homeowners that there “was really nothing he could do.” Mayor Betsy Nash is on the record saying that “it’s between Suburban Park and RCSD,” knowing full well that RCSD already has secured the votes of the council. NO ONE in the organizers of Measure V wanted to do this, but with those cavalier dismissals did we have reason to believe anything would be different in the planning process once the rezoning occurred? Your analysis is naive at best, and takes into account NONE of the facts leading up to the ballot initiative.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 16, 2022 at 7:03 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2022 at 7:03 pm

MP Father:

editorials by their nature are not "objective". The reporting is supposed to be objective and generally is, but editorials are not. That's the whole point of an editorial.


steve schmidt
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 16, 2022 at 9:42 pm
steve schmidt, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2022 at 9:42 pm

Look no further than the comment from "About that" to justify a vote against Measure V. The comment is an example of why voters should not make decisions about planning issues. Measure V has nothing to do with office buildings in residential zoning districts. The City Council, with the help of the Planning Commission, has the responsibility, the inclination and the resources to make land use decisions that are in the best interests of MP residents.
If you don't think council members meet your standards vote for someone else. Betsy Nash's District 4 opponent was a big fan of office buildings when he was on the Council, so I can see how voters could get confused.


Henry Riggs
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 16, 2022 at 11:18 pm
Henry Riggs, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2022 at 11:18 pm

@MP father.

Couldn't say it better than you have.

Sorry to say we do need to "help" certain council members put dense housing in transit oriented locations with supportive services - like the housing on El Camino just being completed.

And enough about new housing projects being "affordable". At $500/square foot construction cost alone, only subsidized housing is affordable. We fool ourselves when we tout small $5000/month apartments as response to the need for housing. Its all theater.


Henry Riggs
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 16, 2022 at 11:25 pm
Henry Riggs, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2022 at 11:25 pm

@ Steve schmidt

"The City Council, with the help of the Planning Commission, has the responsibility, the inclination and the resources to make land use decisions that are in the best interests of MP residents."

Yep, thats their responsibility. Too bad when a majority on council signals up front they will push through a project in the wrong place for the wrong reasons - ticking up the "housing count" so staff can submit a number to a state agency. The planning commission becomes irrelevant.

The North Koreans are also told whats in their best interest. No thanks.


steve schmidt
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 17, 2022 at 11:33 am
steve schmidt, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2022 at 11:33 am

@henry riggs
As a planning commissioner, a part of MP's government, chosen by our elected officials, you must think that you are acting in the best interests of the residents. And that the residents would agree?
Let's get a project for the Flood site, the original motivation of Measure V, before stripping the City Council of its responsibilities.
No on V


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 17, 2022 at 6:41 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2022 at 6:41 pm

"Let's get a project for the Flood site, the original motivation of Measure V, before stripping the City Council of its responsibilities."

Exactly! Let the process work.


Jlincoln
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 17, 2022 at 8:21 pm
Jlincoln, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2022 at 8:21 pm

Build more affordable and subsidized housing. The people working in our neighborhoods cannot afford to live here.
Why is this even a debate?

Web Link


Matt
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 23, 2022 at 9:11 pm
Matt, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 23, 2022 at 9:11 pm

No on V. I want Menlo Park to be a mixed use town with more housing and more commercial areas. I don't like wasted useless parking lots and abandoned empty spaces. Time to build. The 50's are over. Draeger's is a perfect example of a waste of space. There are many others.


Reza
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 6, 2022 at 3:20 pm
Reza, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2022 at 3:20 pm

My rationale for voting YES is simple. I have no confidence in our city council to believe that they’re capable of making the right decisions. Just look at our downtown and its backward rent structure, lack of retail diversity and general vibrancy and health - which I blame almost entirely on the city council. Their historical infighting and lack of clear focus does not help here either. Wish there was a measure to bring life, efficiency and common sense back to our city council.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Nov 7, 2022 at 7:49 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2022 at 7:49 am

Reza:

Our CC has little to nothing to do with the rents charged downtown. They don't own the property and they don't set the rents. There is a lack of retail diversity there because there's a lack of retail there due to the ridiculous rents being demanded by non-resident landlords. What would you have the CC do, take those properties by eminent domain so they could charge lower rents? Oh, problem with that is the city will have to pay market value which means if they charge lower rents they will effectively being subsidizing businesses. Are you OK with that? You can blame the CC for plenty, but let's stick to things that are actually their fault. The high rents and lack of retail diversity is not their fault.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 7, 2022 at 9:22 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2022 at 9:22 am

The biggest reason for downtown vacancies is Prop 13 because long time owners have very low carrying cost for vacant properties. Some jurisdictions have tried to impose fees on vacant properties but I do not know how successful or legal that has been.


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