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

Original post made on Jan 18, 2023

Menlo Park's Planning Commission highlighted the ideas of city-owned affordable housing and anti-displacement measures at a Jan. 12 meeting, the second-to-last meeting on the housing element.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 17, 2023, 10:46 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2023 at 11:44 am

David Roise is a registered user.

This is good news. We need to start putting the most valuable land in our city (the city-owned downtown parking lots) to a better use than free car storage. At the same time, we should institute demand-responsive pricing for all of the other parking in downtown Menlo Park. All revenue collected from parking fees should be used to fund downtown streetscape projects and improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Getting more people to live downtown and getting people out of their cars are the two most important things we can do to improve the vibrancy and economic success of our downtown. Building more housing of all types downtown will be a good start. Thank you to the Planning Commission!


Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 18, 2023 at 1:18 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

"The Planning Commission said it 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. The planning commission is recommending a change of language to say these lots will be “prioritized.”

I'll repeat what has been learned previously regarding City 'Owned' parking lots. The city may operate them and issue parking permits and fines, but we have learned that the lots are a hodgepodge of individual parcels owned by various trusts - whose owners in fact may be unreachable.

Stu. Former Planning Commissioner and Finance Committee.


Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 18, 2023 at 4:17 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

The parking lots were formerly single family houses. There is an aerial photo of these lots - with the houses - in the first floor hallway of 800 El Camino.


Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 18, 2023 at 4:28 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

David Roise (Hi David!):

The City parking lots do indirectly generate revenue by allowing shoppers to shop and pay sales taxes, and to patronize local restaurants. And pay fines for parking longer than the time limit. (Actually, I'd be surprised if the fines recovered even the fully loaded cost of writing tickets. But I digress).

The place to locate this information is the annual CAFR financial report issued by the the City of Menlo Park at the end of the Fiscal Year.


Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:01 pm

David Roise is a registered user.

Hi Stu,

Since I respect you and your contributions to Menlo Park, I will break my New Year's resolution (from 2017) of not getting involved in on-line discussions relating to local politics.

While it may be the case that ownership of downtown parking lots will be hard to dissect, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. If, as you say, the trusts owning those lots are unreachable, who is paying their property taxes, and who is liable for injuries occurring on their property? If no one is responsible, maybe those folks have forfeited their right to the property.

Even if the trusts owning rights in the parking lots can be identified and are up to date on their property taxes, that doesn't mean it is a good thing for them to be sitting on highly valuable property while paying pre-Prop 13 tax rates. As was shown way back in 2010 by our neighbor and local tax expert, Jennifer Bestor (Web Link ), property taxes in downtown Menlo Park are nuts. In my view, it is high time for a split-roll tax system (Web Link ) or a land value tax (Web Link ), but that may require state intervention.

In the end, your suggestion that drivers who park in the free parking lots generate revenue for the city of Menlo Park is pretty weak. Since when has it made sense to give away a valuable commodity (i.e., use of space in the middle of an expensive community) for free? By instituting demand-responsive pricing for downtown parking, we would provide incentives for people to stop driving their cars downtown AND we would open up more parking for people (you perhaps?) who prefer to drive to downtown Menlo Park.

In the end, I stand by my points that getting more people to live downtown and getting more people out of their cars are the two most important things we can do to improve the vibrancy and economic success of downtown Menlo Park.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2023 at 7:09 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

David:

Cars are not going away, nor will the need to have places to park them. If you build a lot of high density housing in that area you will need to provide adequate parking. The people that occupy that housing WILL have cars. The idea that they'll just Uber and take the train is absurd. They may do that some of the time, but when they want to travel greater distances and go places the train doesn't, they'll drive their cars. And those cars will need a place to park. Increase housing density in downtown - increase parking density. So, like the new El Camino project, that housing will be sitting on top of parking garages.


Posted by MP Father
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 19, 2023 at 1:36 pm

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I agree with @Menlo Voter, cars are not going away.

I also struggle to comprehend how utilizing the city's most valuable and high profile properties for affordable housing makes sense for current homeowners. Makes a ton of sense for the developers and renters who would be filling those desirable spaces. Is the idea to change the makeup of our downtown and develop more lower-end retail spaces, like fast foods? For instance, I don't see rational people in lower-cost housing making high-priced Draegars their grocery store of choice.

Also, I assume before "committing" to anything close to what the Planning & Housing Commissions is recommending, we would need a good analysis of what a replacement garage(s) would cost.

Since there is virtually little chance of eliminating cars, why not dedicate the much lower cost City-Owned Parcels of land near 101 for affordable housing. The plots are much bigger, and we thus have a much greater opportunity to require conveniences in those spaces and to build up. Attempting to place affordable housing on our most valuable property doesn't make sense to me.

The Planning & Housing Commissions are advocating that the City commit to this change for Expediency purposes, expediency. This change to our downtown will not be able to be undone. The city needs to be more thoughtful and include appropriate input from residents.


Posted by MP Father
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2023 at 8:40 am

MP Father is a registered user.

Here is a link to the Jan 12 joint Planning & Housing Commission meeting.

Web Link

A couple of points jump out:

- Fiscal impacts were not considered in the Housing Element. Again, fiscal impacts were not considered. The thought was that increased tax revenue can be diverted to fund the Housing Element plan at the expense of other city needs. Drops in tax revenue were not considered. Even worse, there were clear implications that the Planning Commission could facilitate driving additional construction and density in the city, such as hotels, to fund the Planning and Housing Commissions recommendations.

- The Planning and Housing Commissions are targeting to reduce open spaces in Menlo Park on a per capita basis by 25%.

- The Planning and Housing Commissions, much like our City Council, has been completely been taking over progressives who are aggressively driving personal and professional initiatives regardless of public sentiment. While there is a lot of excellent work being done, there is no balance. While most homeowners in the town object to the State's Housing Element requirements, the Commissions' desire to exceed the requirements. We need more balance and counter perspectives.

- The Planning and Housing Commissions are aggressively pushing for maximum density - beyond 100 units per acre.

- The Planning and Housing Commissions are leveraging the state's Housing Element requirements to accelerate personal and professional agendas.

- Future rental residents, and developers, are being wholly prioritized over current residents and current tax payers.

- The Planning Commission is looking for the City to "Commit to" rather than "Consider" use the downtown parking lots for low income housing and looking to exceed the states requirements.

We need more balance.


Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 20, 2023 at 2:43 pm

David Roise is a registered user.

We have been underbuilding housing for at least 60 years now, first because of restrictive zoning laws and then because of Prop. 13. The only way we are going to get out of the hole we are in is to BUILD MORE HOUSING.

That said, I would prefer to let the market decide what type of housing is built. While I am sure that any projects being developed in downtown Menlo Park will be required to include at least some “affordable” housing, I don’t think that should be the only--or even the majority--of housing that is built. I doubt that Draeger’s will suffer from having a bunch of new residents—of all income levels—living within walking distance of their store.

I would also prefer to let the market decide how much parking is needed in downtown Menlo Park. As things stand, we are letting people store their cars on some of our most valuable land FOR FREE. Not only is the city forgoing property and sales tax revenue on residences and businesses that aren’t being built on the downtown parking lots, the city is spending actual tax dollars to pave and maintain those lots. Cars won't be going away any time soon, but people who drive cars should at least pay the full cost of driving (and parking) those cars.

For what it’s worth, I would love to see the city of Menlo Park divide up one of the downtown parking lots into a bunch of land parcels small enough for even a local developer to bid on. Subsidize “affordable” housing on some of the parcels, set some aside as public space, but put the others up for bid. If someone thinks they can make money building a parking garage, they should go for it, but I’m guessing most of the development would cater to high-end residents and businesses serving those folks. Use the revenue from the projects to make our downtown so nice for walkers, bikers, and transit users, that people living downtown won’t miss having a car. That’s the kind of Menlo Park I would like to live in, and maybe my kids could even find a place to live here.


Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 20, 2023 at 3:30 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

David:

Lost in the mobility and walking downtown discussion is the planned underground tunnel from Alma, under the Caltrain tracks, up to the shopping center between the tracks and El Camino. Discussed, planned, may have secured funds, but the project is forgotten. Maybe Justin Murphy remembers.

Yes, in a whimsical mood, someone once suggested "The Menlo Catapult" to launch pedestrians across El Camino into a waiting net. Like the Circus Act: the Flying Walendas.



Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 20, 2023 at 5:09 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

David:

The market has decided. Developers are not clamoring to build multifamily in Menlo. The land is too expensive. The large multi-family that has been built has been mixed use, office space and some retail. Office space just draws more traffic and increases the need for parking.


Posted by Dawn1234
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 23, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Dawn1234 is a registered user.

Some of this car/parking thing is really a chicken/egg question. Many young people are in fact figuring out ways to thrive without owning a car. The thing that makes them feel like they need a car are the many many ways our city is not very bike/ped oriented. Look at the vigorous arguments against protected bike lanes (used heavily by our youngest riders) because "its fine the way it is and how will I get deliveries?" show that we value city resources for cars over those same resources benefiting many many other users. How many older drivers would like a viable way to stop driving because they don't feel as safe, but loathe giving up freedom? Cars may not be going away, but the way we use them and the frequency is definitely changing. Change is the only constant.


Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 23, 2023 at 2:44 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

David:

This is really a Bill McClure question, who was not only our former City Attorney, but also grew up in Menlo Park. He has the institutional, historic knowledge.

The one site I recall was reuse of a gas station on El camino.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2023 at 6:33 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Dawn1234:

Even if people are going to use cars less as you say, they will still need a place to park them when they're not using them.


Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 24, 2023 at 8:23 am

new guy is a registered user.

This is interesting that the arguments are mostly about parking. I think that this should be taken even further then. Since the people living in the parking lots will be given subsidies to afford the apartments, there should be additional restrictions on them. How about they are not allowed to own/lease any vehicle? This is all social engineering at some point.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2023 at 9:48 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

new guy:

my prediction if we were to go that route is that the city would approve the construction with that requirement. Construction would proceed and the buildings would be completed. And at some point after construction starts or when it is completed someone will file a lawsuit saying the city can't mandate that someone can't own a car. They will win and then the parking problem will be compounded not reduced. That's the way that kind of thing usually goes when the government tries to get into social engineering. They're not good at it.


Posted by Private citizen
a resident of Laurel School
on Jan 24, 2023 at 2:24 pm

Private citizen is a registered user.

Wow! Were there plans to build a walking and biking tunnel from Alma, under El Camino to the shopping center? Would that be instead of repairing the at-grade train tracks? Please tell me it’s not.




Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 24, 2023 at 3:56 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

As a prior council member taught, as city approves additional office space, housing demand increases.

I recall, once again, the former Menlo Park Redevelopment Agency's (RDA's) success in removing some blight, increasing housing and nearby amenities like pools. The RDA's were funded by bonds issued by the RDA (aka The City Council sitting with different hats. During a former national banking crisis, State Street Bank couldn't sell RDA bonds. The good state of California responded by taking Menlo Park's remaining RDA funds.

And that was that.
Now, the RDA voodoo was a long time ago.

File this under: "No good deed goes unpunished"

Prior council member: Do your recall the former governor under whose term the RDA's were terminated? And Party?







Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 24, 2023 at 4:03 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

To Private Citizen:

"Wow! Were there plans to build a walking and biking tunnel from Alma, under El Camino to the shopping center? Would that be instead of repairing the at-grade train tracks? Please tell me it’s not"

It was intended to connect Downtown Menlo Park to the Alma / Staples Shopping Center / MP Governmental facilities (Chambers, Library).


Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 24, 2023 at 4:49 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

To Private Citizen (Part 2)

"Wow! Were there plans to build a walking and biking tunnel from Alma, under El Camino to the shopping center? Would that be instead of repairing the at-grade train tracks? Please tell me it’s not".

The vision was for an over/under grade displacement to ease the project. Part of the reason this never happened are the myriad Caltrain crossing points.

And recall the fetid Prop 1A, High speed rail Bay to LA:

"Web Link

"The law allocates $9.95 billion to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Of that sum, $9 billion will be used to construct the core segments of the rail line from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area and the rest will be spent on improvements to local railroad systems that will connect locations away from the high-speed rail mainline to the high-speed system. The project also requires federal matching funds, since the $9.95 billion bond covers only part of the estimated cost of the initial core segment.[2] The money will be raised through general obligation bonds that are paid off over a period of 30 years"

Then they discovered that there was a mountain in between that they omitted from estimates.

You may ask where is the money now?




Posted by Stuart Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 24, 2023 at 5:11 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

David:

I grew up in NYC and availed myself of public transit that worked (I still do when I visit); that was frequent enough that you didn't need a schedule: I just walked to the nearest station and waited a bit. (Ignore the occasional puke on the subway car floor.) That's urban transit science. (We have more stories to tell.) On the peninsula, we are suburban, we share intersections with Caltrain Right-of-Way) barriers.


Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 25, 2023 at 9:05 am

PH is a registered user.

@Stu Soffer "...Do your recall the former governor under whose term the RDA's were terminated? And Party?"

Jerry Brown.

I have a different view of RDA's because during the initial dot com boom the Menlo Park RDA prospered and poured millions into Belle Haven infrastructure and amenities.

The RDA then encompassed what was Belle Haven (the triangular neighborhood) and "M2" the entire industrial area now called "Bayfront". It followed Willow west over 101 to include parcels along Willow in the Willows and southern Flood triangle.

Then, during the Dot Com boom, the Belle Haven neighborhood was very, very, very pro-development in "M2". Belle Haven opposed efforts in 2002 to downzone office FAR's in M2. Later, Belle Haven precincts voted for Bohannon's monster hotel/office project with over 80% of the vote.

The revisionist history now suggests that development in the Bayfront part of "District 1" is and was historically "unfair" to Belle Haven. But historically, Belle Haven was always heavily in favor of such development. Yes, it can change its collective mind but it cannot change its collective history.

Clearly Belle Haven then understood that the tax increment from commercial development in the RDA funded infrastructure and amenities in the Belle Haven neighborhood. Onetta Harris. Kelly Park. Streets. Sidewalks. etc.

The Menlo Park RDA did much good. East of 101 property value comps in Belle Haven v EPA is a good natural experiment to show this.

Menlo Park also used RDA funds to eminent domain parcels along Hamilton to build commercial amenities and later housing. And, yes, when the city builds something it's extraordinarily inefficient. Eminent domain is a racket where property owners and developers pocket much more than they would privately.

Here's an article from Forbes describing the demise: Web Link




Posted by Menlo Lifestyle
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jan 25, 2023 at 12:23 pm

Menlo Lifestyle is a registered user.

The sooner we turn over District 1 for more upscale housing the more desirable Menlo Park will become and all the homeowners win.

And I can’t wait to hear how all of the business owners in downtown will love it when their parking lots are converted to low income housing. I wonder how many of them vote or voted for the progressive Nash in the last election?


Posted by MP Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 25, 2023 at 1:02 pm

MP Mom is a registered user.

You just have to look at European multi level housing on their shopping areas. They have successfully incorporated retail, parking and housing into one building for years. It can be done!!!
Re: shopping, DRAEGERS isn’t the only grocery store within walking distance of downtown MP, you forget TRADER JOES and Safeway.


Posted by East of Middlefield Road
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jan 27, 2023 at 6:13 am

East of Middlefield Road is a registered user.

MP Father
Where are the city owned parcels of land near 101? I am familiar with the city owned lot at El Camino and Ravenswood with an office building on it.


Posted by MP Father
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2023 at 3:09 pm

MP Father is a registered user.

@East of Middlefield

Appendix 7-6 of the Draft Housing Element, link below.

Web Link

The larger parcels are parks, Bedwell and Kelly, so most likely not an option. We do have the large plots by Burgess and City Hall but I think the City Council or Planning Commission nixed that idea for some reason...


Posted by MP Father
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2023 at 3:11 pm

MP Father is a registered user.

Menlo Park's State/ABAG new housing requirement for 2023-2031 is 2,946 or an 8% increase in the city's current population. The City Council's current Housing Element draft is targeting 7,185 units WHICH IS ALMOST 2.5x MORE THAN THE STATE/ABAG REQUIREMENT. This amounts to a 20% increase in the population of Menlo Park. I don't believe these figures even account for the additional 1,512 units added through 2021.

The State/ABAG "affordable housing" requirement is 1,662 units (included in the 2,946 above). The Housing Element is targeting 3,518 units and aiming to place those units in the city's most valuable and expensive areas. The CITY COUNCIL'S CURRENT TARGET IS GREATER THAN 2x THE STATE/ABAG REQUIREMENT.

Moreover, NO FISCAL ANALYSIS was conducted for the Housing Element and no study to the impact to Police, Fire, traffic, or Schools.

The Housing Element is fiscally irresponsible, does not properly consider the long-term impacts to the city, and has not been properly communicated to current homeowners. We should not be attempting to more than double the new housing requirement and increase the population by 20%.


Posted by MP Father
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2023 at 11:51 am

MP Father is a registered user.

My percentages above are off, way off. Menlo Park's Required Housing Needs Allocation, RHNA, represents a 21% increase in the number of Menlo Park's housing units and the City Council's submission a whopping 50% increase!!!

Is the City Council advertising that they are committing the city to a 50% increase in our housing and thus population by 2031? This is beyond irresponsible.


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