Speakers: Save Belle Haven services | February 8, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - February 8, 2012

Speakers: Save Belle Haven services

by Sandy Brundage

Rarely does anyone show up to a budget hearing to say "please cut my program." The Menlo Park City Council's Jan. 30 study session to evaluate how to adjust to losing millions of dollars in redevelopment agency funding was no exception. Oddly enough, several people did say "raise my taxes."

But the main focus of the 10 public speakers attending the session was to plead for the survival of Belle Haven's community services.

Programs such as the Onetta Harris Community Center and the Child Development Center are on the chopping block because those services were heavily subsidized by the city, according to a staff report. These subsidies may no longer be possible thanks to the $3 million gap left in next year's budget by losing the city's redevelopment agency (RDA).

Matt Henry, representing the Belle Haven Neighborhood Association, said its members understood that the state killed the RDA, not the city.

"We understand there will be some pain here, but we're asking you not to concentrate the pain in Belle Haven," he told the council. "This is not just a Belle Haven problem. This is a city-wide problem. We've got to share the pain a little bit."

The council assured the audience that the cuts were recommendations, and that staff would continue to seek alternate funding sources. Some speakers, as well as council members, voiced support for raising Menlo Park's transient occupancy tax on hotel rooms from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Council members took no action at the meeting beyond voting 4-1 to officially eliminate the city's housing department.

Councilman Andy Cohen dissented. "Putting a little whitewash on an ugly vote is not good enough for me," he said. "What I want to go back to is what I asked for a while ago. I contend that this situation is intolerable, it's unacceptable."

He asked that the council direct city staff to write a letter to state representatives asking for relief for cities such as Menlo Park that used redevelopment funds for the intended purposes of housing rehabilitation and emergency repair. One reason the governor wanted to dissolve the agencies is that some cities have not used RDA funds for their intended purposes.

Mayor Kirsten Keith disputed his characterization of the vote as a whitewash, but agreed that drafting a letter would be appropriate.