Editorial: Council gets earful from Belle Haven | May 15, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - May 15, 2013

Editorial: Council gets earful from Belle Haven

Although enveloped by Menlo Park city limits, the Belle Haven neighborhood often has a hard time identifying with neighborhoods west of the Bayshore Freeway, where property values are much higher and services, including schools, are more desirable.

So it was no surprise that when the Menlo Park City Council met at the Belle Haven Senior Center to discuss the community's vision for the future, it instead heard some sharp criticism from residents about the city's housing plans. Eleven residents stepped to the microphone to blast the city for zoning sites for 900 units of new housing in Belle Haven or close by. "Do you want 217 new homes on your street? I don't think so," said resident Vicky Robledo. She added that she hopes the housing plans will unite the community in opposition. Longtime resident Nina Wouk said, "Dumping it (housing) on Belle Haven is really not a moral option. We do not want to be stacked like cordwood." Other residents called for help with traffic problems and voiced an interest in getting basic services like banking and good schools.

During recent hearings on where to site major housing projects, the council found much the same negative reaction from residents of Sharon Heights, Linfield Oaks and other areas when the possibility of building denser housing near their neighborhoods was suggested. Instead, zoning changes to accommodate all 900 units — housing forced on the city by a court settlement — are proposed for east of Highway 101, in Belle Haven or nearby. The city's development services manager Justin Murphy said several factors influenced site selection, including whether the properties would be available for development by 2014; if the owners were interested in rezoning; and where job growth is likely to occur.

The selected sites are for up to 540 units on Haven Avenue north of Marsh Road; up to 216 units on Hamilton Avenue off Willow Road; two sites between the Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road; and a fifth site on Willow, just off the freeway.

It is ironic that dense housing is such a hot topic for residents today, who may not know that Belle Haven was built by David D. Bohannon during the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the Menlo Park Historical Association's "Beyond the Gate," the development was aimed at low- to moderate-income families, and included three-bedroom homes on 50-by-100-foot lots that sold for a starting price of $5,950. An electric dishwasher and two-car garage were included in many of the 1,305 units in the Casa del Flores subdivision. Apartments and duplexes were also part of the mix on the 540 acres.

But today, homes in that price range are long gone. Prices in Belle Haven can start at $300,000 and go much higher; in most of the rest of Menlo Park, prices can be $2 million or more. The wide split in property values is a fact of life that the council must cope with whenever the subject of Belle Haven comes up. It was no surprise to Belle Haven residents that the council decided it was preferable to authorize large blocks of low- to moderate-income housing east, rather than west, of Highway 101.

So rather than having a conversation about housing, which was not on the agenda, the council heard the results of a $90,000 "visioning" survey that reached out to Belle Haven through events, a website and a newsletter, and with a crew of four residents hired as an outreach team. Early results of the survey show the community's top concerns are improving schools (not in the city's purview); safety and security; more programs for youth and families; job training; community beautification; and ways to allow the community to work together.

Council member Ray Mueller said he did not find anything new in the survey and member Rich Cline pointed out that city will have to find money to pay for any upgrades.

Belle Haven recently got a huge shot in the arm when Facebook landed at the end of Willow Road. The company already has provided major grants to Belle Haven nonprofits, and more are planned. New housing could help accommodate some of the workers who will be hired during Facebook's next expansion.

But it will be difficult for the Belle Haven community to absorb even half the 900 units of new housing, even if it receives much more help from the city to upgrade the services new residents will require.

Police Chief Robert Jonsen assured residents that public safety will improve very soon, when a new police substation opens near Hamilton Avenue. The chief, who just took over the department in February, said he will add bike patrols and pay increased attention to Neighborhood Watch programs.

In the 1930s, David D. Bohannon had what turned out to be a successful vision for Belle Haven. He turned that opportunity into new homes for Depression-era residents. Today, with the right approach, Menlo Park could try to repeat the process, and turn the community into a much more inviting place to live and work, which can happen only if the city reconsiders the plan to locate its entire housing requirement of 900 units in Belle Haven or nearby. That is simply not fair.


Posted by True, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Belle haven should not bear the brunt of MPs poor housing compliance choices. I was shocked to see that announcement. It will never fly.

Back to the drawing board please.

Posted by Cabrini Green, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Let's back up.

The reason the lawsuit was originally filed was that housing activists were concerned that Facebook would drive out low income housing. So now the city is rezoning to ensure that Belle Haven will get all the inexpensive housing it needs. If that's not what the neighbors want, then the political powers-that-be on that side of the freeway should not have sued Menlo Park. But don't complain that you got what you asked for.

Land is just too expensive in most of MP to build low income housing. Land is still cheap in Belle Haven. Even so, a lot of people may not be able to afford to live here, and they should move somewhere else and not expect others to subsidize their lifestyles or poor choices. Most of us would move to a bigger/nicer home if we could afford to!

Posted by logical consequence, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm

So Belle Haven vigorously supported Bohannon's Menlo Gateway project that puts huge pressures to provide housing to balance out the jobs that ultimately come from the million SF project. Now residents there complain about finding places to put the housing.
Menlo Park doesn't get to keep adding more and more commercial construction without adding more housing, and Belle Haven is a logical place to put some of it. The land is less expensive there, and the housing should be more affordable as a consequence.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

logical & Cabrini - it's not nearly as simple as you've tried to paint it, & I suspect that you know that.

Posted by logical consequence, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 17, 2013 at 8:17 am

Hmmmm. Of course, finding locations for many new homes is not simple. But everyone should be mindful that the need to accommodate more homes is related to decisions about commercial development. Many in Belle Haven have supported massive new projects without considering logical consequences and then complain.

Posted by dawn, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I know of Menlo Gateway - and I'm not holding my breath that it ever gets built I'm unclear what other "massive project" Belle Haven has supported. And it seems to me that most recent development I've seen in town is all on the other side of 101 - which is where the housing should then be located. And, to be totally clear, the residents of Belle Haven were not parties to the lawsuit over housing. I'm not sure who initiated it, but it wasn't a community effort. You are making gross and inaccurate generalizations about what the residents of Belle Haven have done to warrant 900 new housing units. Maybe if we all put our thoughts together about how to solve the problem instead of making assumptions (and being quietly grateful it isn't in your backyard) we could show the world what a community can achieve when it works together. Or you could just point fingers and make generalizations.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on May 17, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Dawn - the lawsuit which pushed Menlo to accept their *legal* responsibility re affordable housing, which they'd been dodging for YEARS was an effort from faith-based groups. Depending on how long you've lived in BH, you may or may not have heard much about it at all. It was NOT a community-wide effort, which was the point of my previous post, which the other commenters are conveniently ignoring.

Besides the housing aspect, the point of the above article is how much BH has been ignored by the City's leadership for a long time. It's also, imo, a call to action - the squeaky wheel gets the grease. People must get involved in an organized fashion to accomplish their goals & it's not an easy process. For decades, I've seen many in BH NOT be vocal & ignore involvement & that's part of the problem.

Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on May 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hmmm, very well said. Logical Consequences, the "need" to accomodate more homes is related to the need for MP, like every other city in California, to comply with State law, period. And, finally Dawn, I have read with great interest and a lot of respect your opinions on this as well as other issues. You are obviously well intentioned, have a good grasp on the the issues, and are interested in improving the community in which you live. I obviously don't know if you have the time or inclination to devote to public service, but I will say that I would urge you to pursue public office. The City of Menlo Park would benefit from having someone with your point of view involved in the process.

Posted by resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm

High density housing needs to be built near existing high-capacity public transit routes like the Caltrain station. Building it miles away has no purpose other than creating a slum.

Posted by Martin, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 17, 2013 at 4:46 pm

There is some truth to every comment here so far.
At the time, I commented here about how Bohannon took advantage of retrograde local leaders to buy votes for his project by doling out free hot dogs at churches, obviously with the help of those churches' preachers.

The wealthy side of Menlo Park has also seen an explosion of new bussinesses. Bussinesse that require employess to run, and employees who drive to work and need places to live. Specially in the food and hospitality industries, you find low-paid workers who tend to live on the other side of 101.

Until people on the east side start learning about the issues and participating to influence outcomes, we will continue to get the short end of the stick.

Posted by logical consequence, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 18, 2013 at 10:20 am

I think there is a theory of "build more and transit will come". That's why there's so much pressure to put housing along El Camino where the transit quite frankly is not all that great but might become better when there is more demand and no other way to get around because of gridlock. Using the same logic, a lot of development to the east might ultimately result in already needed east-west transit.
A critical mass of people in BH could justify development of more neighborhood retail, too.
I'm not holding my breath, though, since I'm unaware of where these appealing theories have played out

Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 19, 2013 at 12:30 am

Regarding the prices of those Belle Haven homes, the actual prices were as follows. Straight off the sales billboard at the time, a photo of which is in the Union Bank branch on Santa Cruz Ave.

2 bedroom $2950, $300 down, $19.40/mo.
2 bedroom $3225, $325 down, $21.00/mo
3 bedroom $4225, $425 down, $26.00/mo

Including All Costs

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm

At one point I had a bunch of old gas station maps which showed Belle Haven as county.

All cities are fighting their housing mandates or settlements. People in PA want more housing to be built in EPA.

What ever happened to the planned rail crossing on that side of Belle Haven.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on May 19, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Garrett -

As far as EPA is concerned, we don't give a rat's behind what Palo Alto wants; we're a different city, a different county.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 20, 2013 at 7:20 am

Palo Alto and its neighbor to east in San Mateo County. While both counties have cities that have approved and built job producing projects. Each project has in way affected the host city and others that share a border. Traffic, housing and schools are 3 big common problems with growth.

IMO. What happens in Mountain View, could and mostly likely affect cities 10 miles away from Google. Facebook or the Stanford Project might do the same.

Posted by The Voice, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 21, 2013 at 8:56 am

The Bellhaven is not ignored. It has a library, pool, gym, new field, senior center and programs. It also takes up a large majority of the of police services and a fair amount of fire services. The area is landscaped and many many homes recieve assistance in remodeling not to mention a broad spectrum of welfare programs. I venture to say, pound for pound, the bell haven is making out ok. Fell free to prove me wrong

Posted by menloshopper, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Belle Haven folks are welcome to lobby Stanford to build much more housing into their El Camino Real project. With the new Housing Element, the Specific Plan areas have an affordable housing 'overlay' with development incentives.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" lobby Stanford to build much more housing into their El Camino Real project."

Why of course! Stanford is already providing more new housing than any other development in the history of Menlo Park. So let's just keep going back to the Stanford cash register to get all of the things that the city has never been able to do with its own resources.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Stanford is not the only building projects

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