With San Mateo County’s housing element returned for round two, the Board of Supervisors at a June 13 meeting looked for more potential housing sites, and West Menlo Park is now in the mix.
The California Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) returned the county’s housing element for reworking, and the county is hunting for additional ways to fulfill its goal of accommodating 2,833 new units over the next eight years. According to city staff, the plan had relied heavily on homeowners building backyard cottages and apartments, known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and on prospective housing sites in Belmont that are no longer viable for various reasons.
Five speakers at the meeting came out heavily in support of designating sites in West Menlo Park, the areas of unincorporated land along the Alameda de las Pulgas corridor, for housing development.
Kathleen Daly said that county staff should move forward with researching the possibility, even if some residents attempt to block it.
West Menlo Park is one of the areas that has tried to block housing, she said. “Wealthy neighbors have to do their part, and I struggle to understand why or how some of these areas dare to challenge the need to find new sites for housing.”
Jess Hudson, the public policy manager for United Way Bay Area, said that the county has to focus on building equitably, and that includes land in more affluent areas such as West Menlo Park.
County staffers said that they weren’t proposing rezoning in West Menlo Park, but rather looking to non-residential parcels in the area to see if there’s potential for development. County staff specifically named vacant parking lots and commercial land as sites that could be of interest.
Jordan Grimes, of Greenbelt Alliance, suggested that areas of West Menlo Park could be rezoned to allow up to 35 units an acre for denser family housing. Grimes called West Menlo a high-resource area, primed for accessibility to jobs, services, good schools and public transit stops.
“Failing to rezone West Menlo Park while making rezoning changes in less affluent areas like Colma and North Fair Oaks will likely trigger fair housing concerns by the state,” Grimes said. “Every area of our county must do its part to meet the overwhelming housing needs that we face.”
Supervisor David Canepa said he supported the further exploration of West Menlo Park as a housing opportunity, adding that the housing crisis was not a “North Fair Oaks problem” but a housing problem as a whole, so there needs to be a collective solution and it's incumbent on affluent cities to step up.
“When it comes to an affordable housing development, where we're supposed to show compassion, and to help others, we're not meeting the moment because we cave … to political pressures and political winds,” Canepa said.
Supervisor Ray Mueller, a former Menlo Park City Council member, said he supported looking into vacant lots in West Menlo Park, he emphasized that non-vacant lots were not up for discussion, since many of them housed small business owners.
“What I want to make clear to the community and also to those small business owners is that what's not on the table today is sort of driving them out of business, which I think the community certainly wouldn't be appreciative (of),” Mueller said.