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Menlo Park tackles tweaks to controversial duplex law

Original post made on Dec 16, 2021

A new statewide housing law that permits up to four housing units on single-family properties takes effect Jan. 1, and Menlo Park has joined the list of cities scrambling to figure out what local policies to put in place by then.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 16, 2021, 12:25 PM

Comments (27)

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 16, 2021 at 3:59 pm

PH is a registered user.

Jen Wolosin deserves the Karen-Of-The-Year award for her astonishing admission: "We can't have just a city of super, super, super wealthy people – our whole region isn't going to survive," There are families like [her relatives ] who might have been able to purchase a $2 million home in Menlo Park but not a $3.5 million one, she said.

Really!? SB-9 makes the world inclusive to the $2M home buyer? Is that what affordable housing advocates had in mind? Reduce the "super" requirement from three to two?

Among the woke chattering class, the subtext to SB9 and the "affordable" housing" debate is that Single Family Zoning ("R-1"), now called "exclusionary" zoning, is alleged to be racist and has been used historically to keep black people out of white neighborhoods.

c.f. "America’s racist housing rules really can be fixed" Web Link

This article is well researched and worth reading. It also notes that facially racist zoning was outlawed in 1917 by the Supreme Court in Buchanan v. Warley, with the court holding that zoning per se still had merit, a city might have a legitimate interest in the promotion of the public health, safety, and welfare.

Without going deeper into the debate, it's important to understand those who subscribe to this view believe that post 1917, R-1 zoning continued to be a deliberate and de facto tool of racial segregation. They also believed that SB9 style regulations would fix it, making housing "affordable" and neighborhoods inclusive.

Many of us who followed the SB9 debate, rolled our eyes watching housing advocates tilt at windmills. We knew full well that SB9 was yet another example of the kind of political theater where policies alleged to create affordable housing for low income families result in affordable housing for high-paid tech workers.

But none of us could ever have said it any better than Jen Wolosin.


Posted by Janet Chen
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 17, 2021 at 5:58 pm

Janet Chen is a registered user.

Sure, create more barriers and obstructions so that nothing gets built. Affordability mandates on a 4-plex is the ultimate sign that the intent is to make sure no new family moves in.

How about the city require that no one sells their home more than at the price they bought it at plus inflation. The difference goes into the city coffers to build housing. Deal?

No, that's not how it should work? Really.

Ah we get it.

Don't even bring up affordability at all because now we are talking from both sides of our mouths.

Also enough with the local control. The state needs to completely take over housing decisions from these cities. Period.


Posted by Misha
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 17, 2021 at 8:42 pm

Misha is a registered user.

My understanding is that council simply voted to keep SB-9 as-is for now, while preparing an official city wide ordinance. That doesn't sound like SB 9 on steroids. Adding an affordability requirement seems like obvious knee capping to me. If we're scared of market priced duplexes or fourplexes, then why are we allowing huge single family homes to be built, with giant basements as a loophole to square footage limitations?


Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 17, 2021 at 9:37 pm

Enough is a registered user.

Janet,

What a ridiculous comment. The state should not take over, this should be a local decision but more than that we need to take this out of the hands of a city council that is representing Menlo Together and put it back in the hands of the residents. I think the residents of Menlo Park should decide if they want to allow for this or join other cities in suing the state over SB9 and regaining control of our own housing. Menlo Park made huge mistakes in the past 20 years by allowing massive office buildings to be constructed without developing matching housing, it was a mistake and one by previous city councils, thought many people raised the alarm, they were ignored and now we are being made to pay the price.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 18, 2021 at 7:49 am

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

People need to wake up and realize that "affordable" in Menlo Park is a myth. "Affordable" means a property with a home that might sell for $5 million, is priced at $4 million. Put a duplex on that property and it will still sell for $4 million. Even if you have two lower income families trying to purchase that, it will never happen. $2 million is not "affordable" by any stretch of the imagination. Even if the city allows fourplexes, the cost to purchase land and build will mean that only those with a lot of money will be able to do so. Which means they'll buy, build and rent them out. The rents will be nothing approaching "affordable" either. "Affordable" housing in Menlo Park is a pipe dream of liberal progressives. Menlo Square was built many years ago with the requirement that four of the units be "affordable". Guess what? They weren't able to sell any of them and the developers ended up having to rent them out at below market rate. They couldn't sell them because of the "affordability" myth. The only way truly affordable housing is going to get built in this area is with a significant increase in density, aka high rises. We all know MP is never going to let that happen. So, why are you wasting your time arguing about "affordable" housing?


Posted by K in MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 18, 2021 at 8:15 am

K in MP is a registered user.

Why should the City or State be involved in how much you can sell your home for? We live in a free market society, and to artificially set home prices runs contrary to that.

I get that home prices are out of sight. But they keep selling, so someone can afford them. Only CEO’s? No - I don’t think so. Look at the families at the MPCSD schools - they are just normal folks and they are buying. They are Bay Area “middle-class” families that have figured it out.

Allow duplexes, allow speculation. But don’t put Deed restrictions on the land or otherwise try to control prices. The market will do that.

If a lack of hourly workers means the stores and businesses need to pay more to attract them, and have to raise prices to cover it, then so be it.


Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 22, 2021 at 6:49 am

pogo is a registered user.

Perhaps when Janet Chen sells HER home, she can donate those profits beyond what she paid (plus inflation, of course!) into the city's coffers.

Change starts with you, Janet.


Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 29, 2021 at 2:08 pm

PH is a registered user.

To Janet Chen's comments:

Affordability requirements to SB9 aren't cynical.

There are real gentrification impacts SB9 might have in Belle Haven that could, over time, replace lower income homeowners/renters with, say, higher income Facebook types.

The Terman Center ran per parcel computer analysis of quite literally every single family zoned property in California. For each lot, they examined 50 different SB9 compliant housing designs to see which lots might be feasible for conversion under SB9.

If the academics are doing this can developers be far behind?

Late night, I see a barrage of "John Buys Homes" TV commercials airing since SB9. "John" and others are willing to fix your fixer upper, so you don't have to, with a fair, all-cash offer today.

As a homeowner who still owns and rents our modest, eighty year old starter home, I get more than a solicitation a week, including texts by name to my phone, asking to buy the home.

The MP housing element Web Link p.86 makes clear that ~50% of the units in Belle Haven are in a state of disrepair. Is it the kind of disrepair that John is only too willing to fix. Is half of Belle Haven ripe for conversions.? If it is, who will buy the shiny new units? (Hint: highest bidder).

Other candidate neighborhoods are in East Palo Alto and Fair Oaks.
It would be sad and ironic if SB9 leads to gentrification of middle-income and minority single family neighborhoods.

(Note: I wrote this before reading this article about North Fair Oaks)

Web Link

It was and is reasonably foreseeable that much of the housing conversion will be driven by speculation, not by existing owners, and will target single family homes with lowest acquisition costs.)


Posted by Sunny Storm
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 29, 2021 at 3:51 pm

Sunny Storm is a registered user.

The cheapest home for sale in Menlo right now is 2.7 million. That requires a downpayment of 550k and monthly mortgage of 12,000 per month. One would need an income in the CEO range to buy here. How many current homeowners could buy in that scenario? We are already at a point where only the SUPER SUPER wealthy can buy here. Oligarchy. Redwood City and East anything is not much better.

Any yet every town is trying to figure out how to block the new housing laws which is despicable.. I agree they are not perfect, but the state has to do something severe to allow housing to get built in towns near to jobs, not in the middle of no-where.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2021 at 5:50 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

Sunny Storm:

Whether towns block this policy or not is immaterial. It will not benefit the people you want it to without a large infusion of cash from the taxpayers. Cost of construction in this area on the very low end is $500 to $600 per square foot. That means a simple 1500 sf house will cost $750,000 to $900,000 to construct, NOT the land it's sitting on. Do you honestly think there are burger slingers, nannies or house keepers out there that can afford that kind of house? That's exclusive of the land. Add the land and you can see how "affordable" is unaffordable. If tax payers don't subsidize these homes the people you want to put into them aren't going into them. All this policy does open up things for speculators and developers that will build properties that the people you want to help will never be able to afford to live in either.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 29, 2021 at 7:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Menlo Voter correctly states "The only way truly affordable housing is going to get built in this area is with a significant increase in density, aka high rises"

So let's update the General Plan to permit a specified number of high rises in EACH and Every area of Menlo Park.


Posted by MPCSD resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 1, 2022 at 11:24 pm

MPCSD resident is a registered user.

Peter Carpenter, since you moved to Menlo Park I don't know whether you once again own a single family home as I'm guessing you did when you lived in Atherton, but if you do would you be willing to have one of those high-rises, with the accompanying traffic and noise levels, next door to you or across the street from you or behind your backyard?

Did you randomly choose the suburbs of Atherton, and then M.P.,as your places of residence rather than a city such as S.F or S.J. , or did you choose them because you wanted peaceful tree-lined streets with some buffer space between you and your neighbors and views where you can see the sky? (Please don't say the only reason you choose to live in Atherton was because it was close to work. If you wanted to live in a city with high-rises I'm sure you could have found a job in a city.)

My family made trade-offs because we liked the quality of life here in the suburbs. We worked extremely hard for a number of years, both in school and in our professions so we could afford to buy in our current little neighborhood on the edge of M.P. to enjoy many of the qualities we were looking for - quiet (except for kids having fun in backyards ), tucked away from traffic, lots of foliage, no residences taller than 2 stories, the ability to see the sky changing colors at sunset, stars in the sky at night, and lots of nature as a result of low density. If we wanted to live in a high density area near high-rises we would have moved to S.F. We paid a significant premium to live where we do, making a conscious decision about the location, as I'm sure many M.P. residents have who currently live in single-family housing zones. Changing that zoning to 4-plexes is already problematic. Going a step further and plunking high-rises down in every neighborhood, instantly altering the quality of life and severely diminishing the value of people's homes is an awful, undemocratic proposal, which will result in numerous wasteful lawsuits.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 2, 2022 at 8:32 am

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

MPCSD Resident:

You're missing the point. The point being that if people actually want to build housing that is truly affordable to the teachers, the house keepers, the store clerks, etc, that can only be achieved through higher density. The kind that comes from high rises. I personally am not in favor of it, but many people in this town pay a lot of lip service to building "affordable" housing here. It isn't gong to happen without significant increases in density. If people don't want that, then they should just shut up about building "affordable" housing. It's just more BS virtue signaling from a bunch of limousine liberals. Until they are ready to put
THEIR neighborhoods where their mouths are they should just stop.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 2, 2022 at 9:06 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

MPCSD Resident - if you had bothered to look you would have seen that I live in Park Forest (townhouses with a common areas) which has one of the highest densities of housing per acre in all of Menlo Park. All of the units are considered by Menlo Park as non-conforming as they are denser (FAR) than Menlo Park allows - the area was developed under County rules before being incorporated by the City.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 2, 2022 at 6:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If even 25% of Menlo Park's R1 zoned properties were converted to the same density as that of Park Forest we would have a 50% increase in Menlo Park housing.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 2, 2022 at 8:46 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

But then what would happen to our "village character" Peter? <snort>


Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 3, 2022 at 12:10 pm

PH is a registered user.

Even at that density, the Forest Lane units are now valued in excess of $2M per unit.

It's not feasible to create units "affordable" to "workforce" salaries using market rate solutions, even using high rises. It's a policy myth circulating amongst the chattering class.

Inclusionary zoning and subsidies are the only way to do this.

Those who advocate more market rate housing units in Menlo Park should be more sober about the fact that this will not create "opportunities" for low and middle income earners, but will open up a few more "Class B" memberships into the already exclusive club.

You're not going to house teachers, you're going to house high salaried tech workers.


Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 3, 2022 at 12:21 pm

PH is a registered user.

BTW, just to put a point on my last comment. There was a pro forma project proposed in the recent past in Palo Alto, "2239 Wellesely". Web Link

The proposal was to demolish two single family homes and replace them with a 3-story apartment whose units the developer claimed were "affordable."

Without further scrutinizing what the developer meant by "affordable" and what the developer needed to do do guarantee it, the density was 70-units per acre. The average 1BR was 658 sf and the average studio was 380 sf. Average monthly break even rents were $2188.

I called them "Hong Kong mini towers" in an unpublished editorial. Here's the lede.


A Taste of Hong Kong in Palo Alto

The "Cato" project in Palo Alto shows that dense, small-unit housing projects cannot produce "affordable" market rate rents under the true legal meaning of the term. In expensive markets like Palo Alto, residential densities of one hundred units per acres ("R-100") or more would be required to make so-called "break-even" rents affordable, and only then if regional housing supply matched regional demand, meaning that literally thousands of these projects would need to be built to lower market rate rents to affordability. The proposed small, dense units are actually comparable in price and size to units in Hong Kong high rises and cannot realistically house "model" families of four.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2022 at 9:42 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

PH:

100 percent on point. This area simply will not support "affordable" housing. If we want to house people, we need to do something realistic about it. Trying to build affordable housing in this area isn't realistic. It never has been.


Posted by MPCSD resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:11 pm

MPCSD resident is a registered user.

@ Menlo Voter: I completely understood the point. The only way to achieve affordable housing for low income earners is through significantly increased density. And, my point is that this is not a reasonable approach to take in most neighborhoods in M.P.(or Atherton). I see you feel similarly.

However, I do hope we can find a few areas of M.P.that are already less expensive and more dense where some additional housing can be built & made available to middle-income wage earners such as teachers & police officers.

As a side point Menlo Voter, I imagine you know there'a a huge difference between what's affordable for teachers vs. what's affordable for most restaurant workers, house cleaners and nannies. You seemed to lump all those folks in the same category. Teachers in M.P., at least those in the MPCSD, who have been teaching a decade or so, can be earning in the 6 digits if they're also working summers AND due to generous health benefits and pensions, putting money aside for healthcare and retirement isn't the necessity it is for many others.


Posted by MPCSD resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:34 pm

MPCSD resident is a registered user.

In the US., the wealthiest nation on the planet, with all the taxes MOST of us faithfully pay, we should absolutely ensure we offer effective healthcare, safe high quality schools, & reasonable shelter for all children, caregivers, & working adults. But it's unclear to me why those rightly pushing to have more shelter constructed feel like every town & every neighborhood in the country should provide equal access to all levels of income. As someone in my 20's I certainly couldn't afford to live in many neighborhoods around here, nor did I feel like I should be entitled to. And there are still parts of town that are out of reach. That's fine. It's a function of living in a country based on capitalism. Again, that doesn't mean we shouldn't provide food & shelter for those in need, raise the min.wage & strive for an economy with livable wages for all, but I don't think we need to do the equivalent of providing housing for all on Rodeo Drive.

@ Peter Carpenter - If nothing else, you certainly are consistent with your style of selectively responding to minor portions of commentary and not addressing larger points that confound you. You're correct, I could have taken a moment to look at the neighborhood you're currently living in. But, you didn't at all address the points made. Do you want high-rises next-door to, behind, and across the street from your current dwelling AND, more relevant to many Menlo Park residents who have invested in single-family homes, would you have wanted those high-rises you propose next to your old single-family home in Lindenwood, hugely de-valuing your property value and significantly impacting your living style? If not, why are you tossing this out as a reasonable option?



Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Do you want high-rises next-door to, behind, and across the street from your current dwelling"

please look at the high rise Atherton Park Forest Apartments at the corner of Stone Pine and El Camino. I live next to them.

Please stop the ad hominem attacks and start dealing with facts.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 5, 2022 at 7:29 am

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

MPCSD Resident:

yes, there is a difference in earning for teachers, yet, as has repeatedly happened, when "affordable" housing units are built as part of a larger project, like Menlo Commons, even teachers can't afford this "affordable" housing.

The only place in town that the people living here are likely going to find acceptable for high rise housing is out in the industrial part of town where they have already built a high rise hotel and high rise office buildings. It will require rezoning or conditional use permits. I'm sure the usual no birds will still object to them being built there.

Just for reference though, there's already a high rise building at the corner of University and Valparaiso, so it's not unheard of in our residential neighborhoods.


Posted by Janet Chen
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 5, 2022 at 7:21 pm

Janet Chen is a registered user.

Other parts of the country would literally kill for the job-creating eco-system we have here. The folks lamenting the jobs vs. housing imbalance are the real problems.

If there are more jobs, add more housing. Very simple.

And single family zoning as a mandate is gone. No one is forcing you to change your home.

But don't tell me what I can or cannot do with my land, within reasons of course.

As much as I hate it, we have tried local control enough. It is time to get these selfishness out of the decision making process.

We need to live dense, in walkable bikeable communities where public-transit pencils out. That's great for our planet and for our economy.

The only people that this hurts are the ones who are profiting off of artificial scarcity and who have turned shelter into an investment. They don't pay their share of the taxes (prop 13 tax scam) but they also don't allow new construction that'll bring new tax revenues.

Build dense, build tall and built to a point where a Starbucks barista can afford a decent one-bed apt of her own.


Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:09 am

PH is a registered user.

@Peter Carpenter: "Menlo Voter correctly states "The only way truly affordable housing is going to get built in this area is with a significant increase in density, aka high rises" ... "Please stop the ad hominem attacks and start dealing with facts."

Peter, I've already posted actual dense-housing pro-formas and I'm happy to post another one from the Terman Center that shows basically, its simply not possible to build "affordable" units at *ANY* density in our area. Period. Full stop.

Can't be done.

You can build more units, but these will be affordable only to those with the highest incomes in our area.

I'm happy to go through and deconstruct, point by point, the factual and logical flaws to the belief that building at higher densities will significantly lower unit prices.

But if you are really advocating high density to produce "true affordability" then it is you (and Janet Chen) who seems to be ignoring the facts.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 8, 2022 at 1:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I have argued for increased density as the only way to increase the housing stock in Menlo Park.

I have also stated that affordable housing in Menlo Park will only be possible with significant subsidies.

Increased density and affordability are largely separate issues except that with increased density the land cost per unit is lower and, all other things being equal, denser units will be less expensive that less dense units. However in Menlo Park less expensive is still very expensive.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2022 at 5:53 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

"in Menlo Park less expensive is still very expensive."

Menlo Park-Affordable Housing is an oxymoron.


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