Menlo Park may need to zone for 1,975 more housing units | May 23, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 23, 2012

Menlo Park may need to zone for 1,975 more housing units

• In settling lawsuit, city commits to finding sites for affordable housing.

by Sandy Brundage

Identifying sites for affordable housing just jumped to the top of Menlo Park's priority list, according to a lawsuit settlement agreement released Thursday, May 17. Three housing advocacy groups filed the suit the day before in San Mateo County Superior Court, alleging that the city has failed to comply with state-mandated housing laws.

According to the staff, the city may need to provide the zoning necessary to add sites for 1,975 housing units, both market-rate and affordable housing, to its current stock of 12,500. One of the first steps will be an inventory of local housing, existing capacity for additional homes within current zoning, and any new housing built since 1998, which could be deducted from the preliminary number.

"Unless compelled by this Court to perform those acts and duties and to refrain from acts as required by law, the City will continue to refuse to carry out those duties and will continue to violate the law, and Petitioners and lower-income persons and affordable housing developers and/or housing service providers will continue to be injured as a result," the lawsuit stated.

Every seven years, according to state law, cities must assess and plan to meet their fair share of regional housing needs, which includes affordable housing. Communities also must plan zoning so that it's possible to provide the right number of housing units, although the law doesn't require cities to actually build them.

The lawsuit —filed by Peninsula Interfaith Action, Urban Habitat, and Youth United for Community Action — points out that Menlo Park hasn't met the state requirements since 1992. Menlo Park must commit to finishing an update by March 2013 as part of the settlement.

"We're about 10 years behind," said Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre. "We should have taken care of the Housing Element Update before now but fell behind due to other priority planning projects. These planning projects could achieve a substantial portion of what is required to meet Housing Element law."

Mr. McIntyre explained that, in the absence of the negotiated settlement, the court could force the city to complete the update within 120 days. "The benefit of the settlement agreement is to allow the City additional time to incorporate a public outreach and participation process that would otherwise not be possible under a shorter court-ordered timeline."

Possible sanctions for not complying with the state housing laws include a moratorium on all non-residential building permits and the withholding of grant funding to maintain the local roadway network.

"The last thing the City of Menlo Park wants right now is to interfere with the progress of our local economy," Mr. McIntyre said.

As for why the housing advocacy groups filed the lawsuit despite knowing a settlement had been reached, City Attorney Bill McClure explained that it was a necessary step to ensure court supervision of the agreement and to prevent other third parties from filing their own suits.

The settlement states that Menlo Park will identify potential housing sites for affordable housing, create zoning that provides incentives for affordable housing production at those locations, and set aside a portion of local below-market-rate funds for nonprofit development of affordable housing on those sites.

The city will also form a housing element steering committee made up of two council members, two planning commissioners and two housing commissioners. The steering committee will first meet in June and will oversee public involvement in the process.

The settlement agreement goes before the City Council on Tuesday, May 22. The council will also be asked to approve plans to launch a housing element update process within the next few weeks, review a set of draft criteria for choosing specific sites for zoning changes, and appoint two members to the steering committee.

The city plans to hold a series of community workshops in July and August to get public input on the proposed changes in order to finish the update by next spring.

"We want and need the community's help in deciding how and where we can plan for additional and high density housing in Menlo Park. If we work together, we can come up with a plan tailored to our community that will meet our needs and comply with state law," Mayor Kirsten Keith said.

Go to review associated documents and the proposed process.


Posted by Affordable Housing MP, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 23, 2012 at 7:55 am

Why doesn't Menlo Park just take stock of the detached rear yard detached/secondary units of current homes/lots and make the ones built to code into "liveable" units that meet the affordable housing requirement criteria? Simple. Does Menlo Park really want 2,000 additional units in town adding to traffic, pollution, crowding, and crime, and burdening our already burdened school districts?

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2012 at 10:14 am

That is alot of units, how would you go about even planning for that many, let alone where to build them. Everywhere you turn Menlo Park is built on, you have buildings that would need to be pulled down. Idea start planning now, desgin for future growth. When planning keep in mind of keeping Menlo Park nice, small town feel, trees, nice friendly downtown area, bike friendly streets, good schools. I have lived in places that were the size of 2 car garage, but house was very nice, close to town, so close you didn't have to drive. Open Spaces was very close, was pretty quiet for being in a town center. At Night, during the day was different but you got use to it.

Posted by pragmatic, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

Simple. Build a 100-story apartment building on one of Stanford's old car lots. Vacant car lot gone, housing problem solved.

The state doesn't require us to zone for housing units that anyone will actually want to live in.

Posted by Menlo Park, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 23, 2012 at 11:35 am

"Does Menlo Park really want 2,000 additional units in town adding to traffic, pollution, crowding, and crime, and burdening our already burdened school districts?"

NO! We don't need them nor do we want them. Do we want Menlo Park to be just like every other over crowded city on the peninsula and in the Sant aClara Valley? NO!

Adding housing units does nothing but degrade our quality of life and drag down our property values.

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Maybe all of the naysayers should've paid more attention to the law and less attention to trying to create that bucolic small town feeling they're scared of losing. Why have you all let your city get away with not dealing with this outstanding issue while it grew worse and worse?

Posted by obsolete plans?, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm

for 5 years the staff and expensive consultants have created a plan for the core of Menlo Park that now is obsolete because they ignored keeping prior plans up to date.

what a colossal waste of money and trust in the process.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm

No one can say that Menlo park wasn't warned:

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2010 at 8:09 am
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

Updating a General Plan is hard work and may well be expensive but an out of date General Plan is, in my opinion, the fundamental problem in Menlo Park.

Here is the State guidance on General Plans:

" Keep in mind that while an area or community plan may provide greater detail to policies affecting development in a defined

area, adopting one or a series of such plans does not

substitute for regular updates to the general plan.

Many of the mandatory general plan issues are most

effectively addressed on a jurisdiction-wide basis that

ties together the policies of the individual area or

community plans."

"By statute, the housing element must be updated every five years."

"If the board or council finds itself making frequent

piecemeal amendments, major defects may exist in the

general plan. In these cases, the jurisdiction should consider

a plan update or a major plan revision to address

these issues."

The Council should get back to basics and start dealing with the underlying issue, the absence of a current General Plan, rather than chasing the symptoms. The General Planning process is well designed to identify and expose to debate the fundamental values and priorities of a community.

"Element consolidation is another

means to achieve internal consistency within the general

plan. Performing periodic comprehensive reviews

and updates of the general plan can help to identify

internal inconsistencies so that they may be corrected."

Posted by A good problem to have, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 24, 2012 at 5:52 am

Rentals in menlo park are snapped up the second they show up on craigslist because there are far more local jobs than apts to rent or buy. We are very lucky. Most of the country, even major parts of California have 20% unemployment and a very dismal housing/rental prices. Prices in MP are so high because of the silicon valley growth engine and Stanford complex, not because of the perceived "perfection" of our town. It could all go away, and will some day.

Every town has an equal obligation to build housing, if there is space available. And I would argue that the peninsula has zoned far more land "protected" than is necessary. No one is talking skyscrapers here, but MP has shirked its legal and appropriate obligation.

Posted by Sir Topham Hatt, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

There is plenty of affordable housing nearby. Zillow shows 110 homes for sale in East Palo Alto, almost all under $300K. Redwood City has 144 homes for sale under $400K. Not to mention the hundreds of apartments in these two towns. Depending on where you work those locations might be a shorter commute than some parts of Menlo Park.

This is not about housing; it is about jealous busybodies trying to cram unwanted development into towns they can't afford to live in.

Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Sir Topham Hatt--No, its about a city having such arrogance as to think it doesn't have to comply with the law just like its neighboring cities have done-as evidenced by your own arrogant post.

Posted by Sir Topham Hatt, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on May 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm

The thought of adding two thousand housing units while foreclosures 2-5 miles away sit empty not only defies economic logic but is a terrible waste of resources. Won't somebody think of the environment?

The mythical two thousand people "needing" Menlo Park housing should buy a place in Redwood City, a Caltrain pass and a bike.

Posted by obsolete plans?, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 25, 2012 at 10:48 am

Menlo Park keeps adding offices that just move jobs here from other places, and then gets "surprised" by the need to add housing. Carpenter is right, this is a failure of planning. The latest expensive attempt is no exception.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2012 at 10:22 am

People are funny when its comes time to purchase a home. Just because its for sale does not mean it will be sold, homebuyers have many needs and wants. Unless time, cost and the chance of NIMBY are you thing?

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

Oops. I meant "is your thing". Anyway plan and plan wisely.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I would MUCH rather see second units "sprinkled" throughout Menlo Park rather than large, offensive housing projects. Owners of such second units would keep tight control of their property allowing seniors to age in place, provide additional income for homeowners, and housing for those who work here. It is the only solution that makes sense. Non-conforming accessory structures should be grandfathered and allowed to convert to secondary dwellings.