By Cameron Rebosio
The Menlo Park City Council failed to reach a compromise on a teacher housing proposal at the former Flood School site at a closed session meeting on Aug. 4. As a result, backers did not agree to pull a contentious citywide initiative from the Nov. 8 ballot.
The meeting agenda said the council met privately, rather than during a public meeting, to discuss threats of litigation. Sources confirmed to The Almanac that the meeting included a discussion of the compromise.
Central to the deal was the Ravenswood City School District's proposal to redevelop its vacant 2.6-acre school campus with up to 90 units of affordable workforce housing.
The former school property, which is zoned for single-family housing, has been met with a wave of objections by residents of the surrounding neighborhood. Suburban Park residents created the group Menlo Balance and spearheaded a ballot measure to take away the City Council's ability to allow anything denser than single family homes on the Flood campus, or on any other lot with single-family zoning in Menlo Park.
Council member Drew Combs confirmed that he had worked to reach a compromise with interested parties, with the goal of getting Menlo Balance to pull its ballot initiative, Measure V.
Nicole Chessari of Menlo Balance said she never saw a formal version of the compromise plan from Combs.
Chessari said that any proposal she would've agreed to would have capped the Flood project at a maximum of 60 units and added a secondary access road on the Flood School lot — the single access point and number of units have been a cornerstone of the neighborhood objections. According to Chessari, the compromise also would require single-family lots that don't already have a home on them, identified on the City Council's list of so-called non-residential parcels suitable for development, be put to a citywide popular vote in order to be rezoned. Those 53 lots identified as having development potential would have to be reevaluated, and the revised list would only include those that do not already have single-family homes or sit in the middle of single-family neighborhoods.
A caveat that was important to Menlo Balance was also making at least 50% of the units guaranteed for teachers at the old Flood School lot. Currently, no developer has signed on, but Ravenswood officials have stated their intent to give school district staff priority for the affordable housing units.
Will Eger, the school district's chief business officer, said Menlo Balance is "dishonest" to claim that the proposed Flood School development isn't for teachers. There is a lot of interest in the housing project among school staff, many of them meet the income limits for affordable housing, he said.
"Right now, 85% of our teachers and staff are eligible for affordable housing," Eger said. "We hope to one day get to a point where teachers and our staff are not eligible for affordable housing. Because of that, we don't want to guarantee a set number of minimum units that could someday require us to leave a large number of affordable units open at a time when 40% of our families are homeless."
This compromise was not approved by the City Council in closed session.
While Chessari says that Menlo Balance has no plans to sue if Measure V does not pass, Eger says that Ravenswood would consider the option.
"We're not sure if this controversial ballot initiative is, in fact, illegal," Eger said. "And should it pass, we would certainly explore every option and every opportunity to have it challenged in court and potentially overturned."
Chessari says that the law is not illegal, as a similar one has been in place in Saratoga for 26 years. She purports that since 56% of the city of Menlo Park is unaffected by the initiative, there should be rezoning done in the Bayfront area or along Highway 101, not in neighborhoods full of single-family homes that she believes would be changed by high-density housing. Chessari also rejects the idea that Measure V would be illegal due to segregatory practices, as opponents have claimed.
"That's the City Council not doing its job," Chessari said. "And if people are concerned about City Council not doing its job, or doing things in a way that's racist, then that's not our measure's fault, but the City Council's fault. And part of our measure is that we are concerned that City Council is not thoughtfully rezoning."