Vote No on Measure V to walk back decades of segregation
She called it a "life-and-death" situation -- that building housing at the empty lot where Flood School used to be, within the Suburban Park neighborhood, is a life-and-death situation for her 5-year-old.
I, too, have a 5-year-old. I am a concerned citizen. I am a parent and board member with two kids in the Ravenswood City School District. And I agree with the Suburban Park resident, this is a life-and-death situation.
It is a life-and-death situation where Suburban Park received life at the cost of slowly killing the communities of color who are part of the Ravenswood City School District.
In order to understand this death sentence, we must revisit Menlo Park's history. Over the last few years, Menlo Together has hosted interactive sessions on Richard Rothstein's book "The Color of Law," which clearly outlined how government -- including Menlo Park -- created segregated neighborhoods with unequal access to opportunity through redlining and deed-restrictive practices.
This housing segregation led to school segregation, and more death followed. In 1975 and 1976, the predominantly white Suburban Park and Menlo Oaks neighborhoods petitioned successfully to leave the predominantly Black Ravenswood district for Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD), taking their tax base with them while valuing "the character and quality of their single-family neighborhood."
This was phase one of Ravenswood's death sentence fueling the Tinsley lawsuit, which successfully claimed the change created racially segregated school districts. The settlement, known as the "Tinsley Program," requires school districts to desegregate, forcing several surrounding (mostly white) school districts to accept students of color from Ravenswood. This program is actually a two-way program, meaning surrounding districts can (and should) send students to Ravenswood, but that is never marketed.
In 1983, the cycle continued when MPCSD annexed portions of the Willows and Flood neighborhoods, stripping Ravenswood of more students, funding, and diversity.
What is life to me? It is providing the best for my kids by building a strong foundation of understanding the world around them; learning communication skills; and finding joy, self-confidence, and self-worth. I am glad that I chose to send my kids to Ravenswood, where they build and value these principles and experiences daily. Ravenswood provides my kids an excellent education, and by attending our neighborhood schools, investing our resources, time, energy and advocacy, we strengthen the community.
What else strengthens the community? Diversifying our neighborhoods so they may house families, teachers, staff and anyone who needs an affordable place to live.
Ravenswood is transparent and efficient in how we allocate our funds. We, through the generous support of our foundation, have been able to adopt a new talent initiative to attract and retain amazing teachers, staff and district team members. We are moving beyond the many death sentences forced on us by unjust and broken systems. One way to sustain our budget is by leasing out our land. And what better way of helping our district have more signs of life than by giving well-deserving families life: the same access to life in Suburban Park, which its residents have the benefit of thanks to unjust laws, racist practices and selfish causes.
Housing is a human right and building 85 to 90 units of affordable housing that prioritizes teachers and staff from a district that has provided abundantly with minimal resources and a deck stacked against it is the least Menlo Park can do. Families need affordable housing, teachers need affordable housing, staff need affordable housing, people need affordable housing. Every neighborhood needs affordable housing.
Menlo Park, I implore you to vote No on V and shed this history, which you now understand. Vote No on this ill-conceived measure that harms us all. Don't value the "character" of a neighborhood built in the 1950s atop segregationist policies and practices that strangled Ravenswood's access to resources. Instead, join Ravenswood in building a future where all are welcomed, loved, valued and can live their lives to the fullest.
Jenny Varghese Bloom is a parent and board member of the Ravenswood City School District.
Measure V is a sledgehammer when a scalpel is needed
I have been reading The Almanac's coverage of Measure V with interest and concern. Since we moved to Menlo Park more than two decades ago, I've coached baseball, participated in parades, played in our parks and served on the Environmental, Transportation, and Planning commissions.
Menlo Park has been a wonderful place to raise our family. Early on, our then young son was inspired by a beloved teacher in grade school and could take additional lessons from her after school at her nearby home. He could see her in the store and get an encouraging smile.
Living in close community with our teachers strengthens our bonds through shared experience. The same holds with first responders, service workers and members of the trades. Today, these critical threads that have made our community fabric so vibrant are going missing due to the lack of affordable homes throughout Menlo Park.
Because the housing crisis is statewide, California mandates that cities plan for increasing affordable and other housing. The first step is submitting a roadmap for how the city might, over the course of years, approach reaching affordable housing goals. In response to Menlo Park's plan, concern over including a single parcel in Flood Park as a potential place for increased affordable housing has brought us Measure V, a proposal that would make the current affordability crisis even worse.
It is important to remember that Menlo Park's current planning process works, especially when concerned neighbors actively participate. It includes four Planning Commission reviews for major developments, each with an opportunity for public input. It has consistently allowed neighbors, city staff, developers, and seven volunteer planning commissioners to work together toward the best solution.
Potential project-scale concerns can be remedied by wonderful design, potential traffic concerns addressed through parking and alternate mobility policies, and potential impact on the natural environment mitigated with plans to protect mature trees and plant new ones. We have shown, time and again, that this approach can work as it provides ample opportunity for interested parties to sort through the complicated issues raised by individual developments to find the best solution.
The Flood Park parcel has yet to move through any of our city's current community engagement processes, and now Measure V would have the effect of throwing it all out, circumventing the opportunity for residents to participate thoughtfully to address concern over not just a project on the Flood Park site but many others across the city.
Measure V is a sledgehammer when a scalpel is needed. It creates an unfair two-tier process for planning depending on the zoning status of a property with uncertainty for property owners, increased workload for a city planning staff already stretched thin, and most importantly, it increases the potential that Menlo Park will be found non-compliant with state law.
Noncompliance would trigger the state to strip local control over our land use decisions, with extremely broad latitude for developers to move huge projects. Just look to cities like Santa Monica, found out of compliance and who then had no say in the size and scale of housing development because local zoning rules no longer applied.
Asserting that affordable housing will look like big-box housing projects found on the internet is simply not true. We are in an affordability crisis because we are missing housing of intermediate size -- housing like the four apartments from earlier zoning rules on a corner lot down the street from my home that nestle nicely in our single-family zoned neighborhood. Those apartments are slated to be torn down and turned into a single-family home. That would work just fine under Measure V. But where will those displaced community members now live?
The affordability crisis is impacting all of us and, left unaddressed, will make our once vibrant community a shell of its former self. At a minimum we shouldn't put Measure V in place to make it worse.
Chris DeCardy is chair of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.