Despite being a minor part of the document, rezoning once again dominated the conversation as the Menlo Park City Council at a June 27 meeting approved the third iteration of its housing element to be sent to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Menlo Park adopted its housing element on Jan. 31 on a 4-1 vote, with Drew Combs opposed, and sent it off to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for review. HCD returned it on April 7 after identifying issues that needed to be addressed.
The state requires cities to plan for future building with an eye toward balancing jobs and housing in a document known as a housing element. Menlo Park's housing target, also known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), is 2,946 net new housing units across all income levels over the next eight years.
According to Menlo Park city staff, nearly all of the required changes were for further detail in the document, however, staff elected to remove one site from the list of opportunity sites in response to HCD’s critiques.
Speakers during public comment were largely supportive of Menlo Park’s commitment to build affordable housing on city-owned parking lots. Olivia Grimes, a staffer at the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said that Menlo Park was making one of the largest land contributions in the county. However, multiple commenters said that they looked to downtown zoning changes to allow increased density to reach the highest number of possible units.
“At the end of the day, increasing density in the city's highest resource neighborhoods is the clearest and simplest way Menlo Park can comply with state law and of course, create the best possible plan for affordable homes,” Grimes said.
Mayor Jen Wolosin expressed concern about community outreach regarding rezoning in downtown, bringing up the Downtown Specific Plan, which included a goal to maintain a village character that could become inconsistent with higher-density development.
“I want to make sure it's loud and clear to residents what's about to take place in the next few months,” Wolosin said. “Because I worry a little bit that if anyone's asleep at the wheel, between now and Jan. 24, they might wake up and things could be very different.”
Menlo Park elected to remove one site from the list of opportunity sites for buildiung new housing. The U.S. Post Office at 3875 Bohannon Drive was previously on the list for potentially accommodating 85 moderate-income units, but was removed at the meeting due to scarce evidence the the United States Postal Service would be willing to part with the federally owned property. The site's removal does not affect Menlo Park’s ability to reach its RHNA goals.
The city also committed to close monitoring of projects in the development pipeline that aren’t currently under construction, as well as a mid-cycle review with the City Council in 2027 to evaluate the progress in meeting the RHNA. After the review, if the city is significantly failing to meet its RHNA goals, the City Council will identify additional sites or sites where residential density could be increased, and will take action on zoning changes that could improve the city’s progress.
One critique from the state was that Menlo Park's housing element was relying on non-vacant sites to accommodate over half of the needs for low-income housing Menlo Park must plan for. In response, Menlo Park staff has planned for the City Council to evaluate possible zoning changes this summer and the council may consider increasing density in areas of the city such as downtown.
The capacity of emergency shelters for the unhoused was also altered in the updated document, as the 16-bed limit was seen as restrictive. The capacity of shelters was increased to 30 beds.
The revised housing element passed 3-0, with Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor and Council member Drew Combs absent, after Council member Maria Doerr requested a revision to the document to leave out the revised drafts' specific numbers for reducing parking requirements for multifamily housing.
The housing element comment period ends Thursday, June 29, and then city staff will make any final changes before submitting it to the HCD, triggering a 60-day review period. If the HCD certifies Menlo Park’s housing element, the City Council will consider voting on re-adoption in this fall.