Menlo Park Planning Commission seeks to fill city-owned lots with affordable homes | January 20, 2023 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - January 20, 2023

Menlo Park Planning Commission seeks to fill city-owned lots with affordable homes

Renter protections weighed to curb displacing residents

by Cameron Rebosio

Menlo Park's Planning Commission wants the city to focus on putting affordable homes on city-owned parking lots and find ways to reduce displacement, agreeing at a Jan. 12 meeting that both should be an emphasis in the city's housing element.

The meeting marked the final meeting before the draft housing element comes back to the City Council for possible approval on Jan. 30. The document has to be submitted to the state by Jan. 31 or the city risks repercussions.

The housing element requires cities to accommodate projected growth, with an eye toward balancing jobs and housing. Menlo Park's housing target, also known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), requires the city to plan for close to 3,800 new housing units by 2031.

Though Menlo Park submitted a draft of its housing element to the state in July, with a prediction that the city would not only reach its RHNA requirements but exceed them by over 2,000 units, the plan was rejected by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) on Oct. 9 for having unattainable goals.

Anti-displacement measures have been at the forefront of housing element discussions for months, with a subcommittee that comprises Jen Wolosin and Cecilia Taylor specifically created to address displacement in the city.

The Planning Commission recommended speeding up the timeline of suggested anti-displacement measures, such as increased tenant protection and no-cost tenant's rights classes and legal aid, with a focus on the Belle Haven neighborhood. The timeline of these measures was already accelerated to 2024 at the Dec. 22 City Council meeting on the housing element, but the commission sought to expedite the process. The Planning Commission also suggested that the city include methods of limiting rent increases.

"People are moving out like every day," Commissioner Michele Tate said. "We need to slow that down." She encouraged the City Council to implement some protections sooner than 2024 — "if not there won't be any people in underserved communities left."

Some of the locations picked by the city for future housing growth were problematic, as some "opportunity sites" listed in the housing element update aren't viable. Sites along Sand Hill Road, currently an office building and parking lots, seemed unlikely to become housing any time soon.

"With (the Sand Hill Road) sites in particular, there's even in the public record ... a conversation between the planner and the developer Divco where they say they're not interested in building housing," resident Misha Silin said.

Developer DivcoWest owns several properties along Sand Hill Road and has previously said that it is not interested in building housing on their properties.

The Planning Commission also recommended prioritizing city-owned lots to build affordable housing, as this would be one of the more immediate and direct ways the city could get affordable units built. Commissioners said they wanted commitments to build on city-owned downtown parking lots, as the current language in the housing element says the city will only "consider" this. Members recommended changing the language to say these lots will be "prioritized."

"This is going to be a massive public outreach priority as well, and it will need to be done thoughtfully and well," Chair Chris DeCardy said.

The measure passed unanimously and the draft version of the housing element will return to the City Council on Jan. 30.

Email Staff Writer Cameron Rebosio at [email protected]

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