Town Square

Menlo Park: Proposal to ban development in parks falls short

Original post made on Sep 23, 2021

A proposal to ban development in city parks fell short Tuesday when a majority of Menlo Park's City Council members failed to coalesce around whether and how to ban future development in city parks.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 23, 2021, 10:44 AM


Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:26 am

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It seems like 3/5th of the city council does not care to protect our parks or care about the existing residents. They seem to care more about building housing for "future residents" than protecting the reason many of us chose to live here in the first place. It is a shame and one I think the voters of Menlo Park will likely remember come election time.

Posted by Native
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:45 am

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I'm confused. No one is talking seriously about developing parkland. I'm baffled as to why there's sudden hysteria around this, though it seems to be tied up in Ray Meuller's effort to get his brand name out there as he runs for supervisor and show that he's "saving the parks" (even though they're not threatened).

And parking lots would be well suited for redevelopment. Just today Palo Alto announced plans to submit bids to develop some of their parking lots into housing over parking. That seems … good? Why would we tie our hands, forever, to not be able to do something like that? It makes no sense.

Why are we suddenly hysterical about trying to prevent development on green space, which isn't going to happen and no one is suggesting? Right…I know the answer.

Posted by Misha
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 23, 2021 at 11:52 am

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I agree with Brittani, CM Nash, and others. This is a waste of time. Why are we focusing on banning development in certain places when instead the goal should be to build more housing and put together our housing element? I love our parks and our greenery but given how much money we just threw away on a recall, do we really need to throw away more money on pointless ballot measures too?

Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:09 pm

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Thank you Ray!

Posted by MP Reader
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:22 pm

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I'm glad we're having this community conversation about housing. We have a big lift ahead of us in planning for new homes, and the state is mandating that each district does its part to equitably distribute new housing throughout town. If we miss on our goal, we all pay some very hefty penalties for being out of compliance with the state. But at the moment, we're still in charge of our own destiny! Getting to our goal will require thoughtful, nuanced planning and I appreciate that many of our city leaders are demonstrating that they're wanting to fully understand the topic and laws at hand to create the right kind of plans and protections, versus rushing into broad, rash lawmaking in the heat of a moment (i.e. without a study session), which could result in unintended consequences.

I also noticed something in an earlier comment. I would say that new units aren't for "new residents" so much as they allow longtime residents to stay here. Those at the top of the income scale have been displacing our longtime residents and essential workers especially quickly over this past decade. More units help relieve some of the bidding war pressure and let more residents stay here.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:25 pm

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The three council members affiliated with Menlo Together aren't opposed to repurposing parks for housing. Almanac: this is your opportunity to do some investigative reporting. i can accept that those council members are ideologues who've glommed on to the virtue signaling. But who is behind this group? Someone is expecting to profit by strip-mining Menlo Park.

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 23, 2021 at 1:57 pm

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The easiest way for Menlo Park to meet its RHNA goals for BMR housing is to substantially raise the affordable housing impact fee on new office development. It's a policy Joe Simitian proposed for Stanford during its last go around with its GUP. He was right.

Cities set the housing impact fee at well below the actual market cost needed to fully mitigate the impact office has on affordable housing. Cities set rates at about $20sf where as something closer to $120sf or even higher is required according to AB1600 nexus studies.

Upping fees will create a much large pot of money for BMR housing to *PURCHASE* private land for affordable BMR housing as the city has done in the past, or to purchase new or existing MR units and convert them to BMR units.

Forcing office to fully mitigate its impact on affordable housing, makes office less profitable relative to housing. This will lower office demand and increase marginal MR housing projects, in areas zoned COMMERCIAL such as M-2. More MR housing projects will increase the number of inclusionary BMR units and converting COMMERCIAL parcels to housing will DECREASE the job density, thereby lowering affordable housing requirements under RHNA formulas.

Rezoning commercial lots for housing is a twofer.

The problem with housing is not single family zoning. When housing and office compete for the same parcels office is a superior economic use that crowds out housing opportunities. Housing gets pushed out to "cheaper" land sprawling to Gilroy or Tracy, which creates other problems.

If the RHNA policy makers wish to shoehorn less profitable uses, housing, into really profitable office markets they must use the right economic policies. Raising the impact fee on office is correct policy.

Another way to make housing more competitive relative to office is to zone two building envelopes for parcels, a much smaller one for office and a large one for housing.

Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 23, 2021 at 2:00 pm

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Why vote against this ordinance, if you really intend to protect parks?
This type of gaslighting by City Councilmembers makes me sad.

Blaming Councilmember Ray for responding to peoples concerns claiming other motives is political trolling. We don’t care about your smears. What matters is votes. What you say you as a Councilmember you should be willing to vote.

The City sent out a message in the mail saying the City was considering putting housing in parks.

The Commissioner said so in a meeting and wrote an article about it in this paper.

Thank you Ray for responding to this and representing people who care about parks.

Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 23, 2021 at 2:59 pm

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First of all, I sincerely hope, our leaders, elected-appointed-volunteer, etc. start using words correctly. We (the people and city government) are not required to build housing. The city government is required to "plan" for it, which means "zone" for it. This time around, there are new requirements to "realistically" "plan" for it. There was a line in a presentation from a city council member that stated, that even if "we = city planers" identified open land (I can only see a few places of open, non-park land on google maps) we = city planers/staff will have to contact owners and verify that there are plans to develop that property, otherwise this is labeled as not realistic and will not count. I believe the open land was in Seminary Oaks.

What faces we=all of current Menlo Park citizens, is a massive multiple constraint problem where any decision to alleviate a constraint effects the other constraints (all linked, and most alleviations for one, negatively effects the others), BUT, decision making authority is dispersed.

Also, back to using words. Equity is just a word. Yes it has a definition but it does not specifically state how to implement. The generally acceptable definition is "the quality of being fair or impartial". "Fair" in our our current country/society has decidedly different meanings. It is also, just a word: with multiple definitions, most appropriate to this discussion: marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Both words are adjectives (and I do not have space remaining here to explain what/how adjectives work. Equity/fairness as judged by individuals can vary.

No matter how nice it sounds to build housing so "our kids can live here, etc." the truth is building costs (hard costs) are currently $550-$650sq/ft. Soft costs are in the $125,000 to $160,000. You are looking at a million just to build. Unless the city has millions none of this is feasible. Constraints exist, sorry.

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 23, 2021 at 4:42 pm

PH is a registered user.

"the truth is building costs (hard costs) are currently $550-$650sq/ft. Soft costs are in the $125,000 to $160,000. You are looking at a million just to build. Unless the city has millions none of this is feasible."


Subsidies required per BMR unit are formidable, between $250-$500k. Menlo Park's 1000 unit RHNA problem might require subsidy pools of between $250M-$500M. (That's one reason why I advocate substantially increasing the affordable housing impact fee on new office development, and, no, that alone won't solve the BMR problem.)

The put-housing-on-park-land "solution" is political theater given the magnitude of the problem.

Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 23, 2021 at 5:14 pm

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Under a recent previous city council philanthropist John Arrillaga tentatively offered to rebuild the library and other Burgess buildings. Council member Keith supported a number of residents to add housing on top of a new library, leading even to an initial public design workshop. So residential housing in our parks is no ‘red herring’. The workshop ended in controversy.

Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 23, 2021 at 6:30 pm

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This one was easy to find! It was about 4 years ago. Arrillaga offered $20Mil, BUT only if MP city put up the rest and expedited building. City estimated what they wanted to build to cost $45Mil. FYI, the city did not and does not have $25Million waiting for "donors" to put up partial amounts in exchange for building naming rights.


Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 24, 2021 at 8:00 am

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The quickest and most long-lasting solution is to convert commercial properties to housing. That would do two things: provide land for housing and reduce demand for housing (fewer jobs in Menlo Park). This does require greatly slowing commercial growth potential. The council should rezone commercial properties to residential or mixed use and to reduce total commercial growth.

The suggestion by PH makes sense, too, to increase the BMR fees to help subsidize needed housing as well as to alter the economic desirability of building housing rather than commercial.

I am glad there is a conversation about parks. We already have a shortage. We need more. There are few opportunities to create more, but there are some such as the USGS and SRI sites. The quality of life for Menlo Park depends on creating plans that aren't narrowly focused on just one issue such as state housing mandate but more broadly on what is needed for a safe, healthy living environment for residents and our families.

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 24, 2021 at 1:07 pm

PH is a registered user.

"This does require greatly slowing commercial growth potential."

At certain rates, increasing the BMR fees toward full cost recovery will probably slow commercial growth.

Some fear it might stop office development completely. I don't agree, but if it did, cities can tinker with the rate to balance residential and commercial development rates.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 24, 2021 at 5:37 pm

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While it's unlikely work from home will be as prevalent in the future as it is today, workforce experts anticipate a significant reduction in full-time office workers going forward. This means less office space will be required since existing space will be shared among visiting staff.

Is it really true that office space that current exists, plus everything under construction, will be insufficient to meet future needs? Until the future of work becomes clearer, the city should look to converting existing office space to residential or mixed use through zoning changes. This could occur throughout the city.

In the future, if there is a need for more offices, the city can keep today's imbalance in mind before unleashing the tyrant of more and more offices that caused today's situation.

The city needs more housing, much of it affordable, but looking to build on every available parcel, such as rezoning single family neighborhoods or creeping into parks, is not planning in the city's best interests. At least some of the new housing should come from empty offices.

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 26, 2021 at 11:52 am

PH is a registered user.

"This means less office space will be required since existing space will be shared among visiting staff."

It means that the rate of *increase* for new office demand will either be slowed or change, it does not mean it will cease.

I think it might change but not be slowed. Why. Our local super corporations Apple, Google, Facebook, et al and our honorary super corporation, Stanford University, are firmly invested in physical plant here. They are not going to idle multi billion dollar facilities.

Silicon Valley office demand will not cease until there are more attractive global locations or until the market failures caused by subsidized office development (e.g. affordable housing*, traffic) get to be so bad, that companies can no longer attract workers to the area.

The easiest metric is to monitor office rents, particularly in the elite markets: SF, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, RWC are all in the US top 10.

Web Link

*[Here "affordable" means market rates affordable to tech workers not to income categories requiring BMR subsidization under RHNA mandates.]

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 26, 2021 at 12:50 pm

PH is a registered user.

A list of top ten US office rents is here, Web Link Five are local to us.

Lets do the math to see why we have a jobs housing imbalance.

From the list, assuming office rents of $100/sf in Menlo Park, and assuming tech companies employ at densities of 3-4 per 1000 sf, then $100k/month will employ 3-4 people.

Now let's house them. Assuming top dollar for rent (~$4/sf)and assuming they get about 800 sf each, then 3-4 employees will require 2500-3200 sf which will fetch $10-12k/month. [Apropos of nothing 7.5 employees (e.g. Facebook density) would produce $24k/month of residential rent.][1]

In short, Landlords/property owners get $100k/mo rent to employ or $10-12k to house.

You're a long time property owner of underused commercial land in Menlo Park's M-2 zone (area near Facebook) and you're getting offers from both commercial and residential developers.

Q1: Which will offer you more for your land?
Q2: Will you accept the higher or lower offer?
Q3: I.e. do land prices reflect commercial or residential rents?

That is why there is more office than housing. Office crowds out housing when competing for the same parcels.

Also, the zoning code sets the same building envelope for either. It's a 50 or 60 foot height limit, and the FAR (density) is the same regardless. Meaning, you can build a large rectangle of either office or housing, but the max rectangle is the same regardless. Lots are usually zoned commercial and require rezoning for residential.

IF office rents are 4-10x higher than residential rents, then residential height limits/densities must be 4-10x higher to generate competitive rents.

[1] Using the Facebook Campus FIA Web Link It seems to indicate ~9000 employees in 1.2M sf office and employment density at 7.5/sf. This would approximately double the residential rent for housing employees to about 24k.