In a split decision, the Menlo Park City School District Board of Trustees will take no position against a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative that seeks to remove the power of the Menlo Park City Council to rezone all properties that are currently zoned for single family housing.
Measure V, also known as the Menlo Balance initiative, is on the November 8 ballot. Proponents of the bill say it will protect streets from increased traffic and force developers to work with residents. Critics say the bill could significantly delay affordable housing development and prevent Menlo Park from meeting its state-mandated housing goals. This would set up roadblocks for future projects, in particular the renovations to Menlo Park Fire Protection District Station 1 on Middlefield Road and the development of the vacant Flood School Campus for housing of teachers and staff.
The majority of administrators said they feared alienating community members because of the controversial move, even though they are personally against the initiative. Board chairman Scott Saywell said there was “a politicization of school boards across the country and that’s not good.” With three of the five board members clearly against the idea of formally opposing Measure V, trustee Francesca Segrè withdrew a resolution that would have taken a stand against the initiative.
Administrator Stacey Jones said Measure V is “tricky and complicated” and the resolution risks “severe damage to our relationship with the community” and “pitting parents against parents”. Administrator Sherwin Chen agreed.
The proposed resolution urged Menlo Park voters “to reject any action that would seek to limit the ability of city planners and elected officials to expand access to affordable housing, thereby allowing Menlo Park to be a place where all members of our community are valued and can live, work and thrive.”
Administrator Dave Ackerman supported the resolution and said it’s important to remember that based on the Tinsley program, the district is obligated by court order to take reasonable and practicable steps to eliminate the effects of segregation.
The Tinsley program is the result of a 1976 lawsuit by parents in the Ravenswood City School District and surrounding districts. The lawsuit was settled in 1985 by requiring school districts on the Peninsula to transfer certain minority students from the Ravenswood District to their districts each year. Peninsula districts include Menlo Park, Las Lomitas, Woodside, Portola Valley, Palo Alto, Belmont-Redwood Shores, and San Carlos.
A July report from the city says that if passed, the ballot measure will put the most units in the most marginalized communities.
“Single-family neighborhoods are predominantly white, with the exception of the Belle Haven neighborhood,” according to the July report. “The ballot measure would effectively prohibit new affordable housing in single-family areas. Affordable housing would then have to be located elsewhere in the city, including the bayside area near Belle Haven, which has the largest housing capacity. affordable due to higher existing densities.
“Polling measurement can then be seen as continuing the same cycle of placing the highest densities and most affordable units in the area of the community that is predominantly low-income, marginalized, and communities of color,” says The report.
Segrè said the board “had a real opportunity in front of it last night – to implement our previous (anti-racist resolution) which said we wanted to take action to eliminate structural inequalities.”
“It’s a shame that together we haven’t been able to convert our own words into meaningful actions,” she said in an email from Friday, September 9. “We missed an opportunity to be brave and show our children the difference between spectators and spectators.”
Ackerman was more blunt: “The first time we had to resist something about race, we (the board) couldn’t,” he said.
District community members, passionate for and against the resolution, spoke at the meeting.
On Friday, 216 MPCSD parents, students and voters signed an online letter urging the MPCSD board to take a stand against Measure V.
Jennifer Schindler, a district parent and Menlo Park resident, said the council is fortunate to be “role models for our children, not bystanders.”
District Reading Specialist Jacqui Cebrian told council to rise above the fray and oppose Measure V.
Melissa Cole, a resident of the Suburban Park neighborhood, asked why the district got involved in issues other than raising children.
“Is it your role to worry about land use and rezoning? ” she asked.
Others urged the council to continue to focus on students, not land use planning.
The flooding school site has become a cornerstone of the struggle between supporters and opponents of Measure V, despite the bill’s citywide effects. There has been heated debate over a proposal by the Ravenswood City School District to build 90 affordable teacher housing units on the vacant campus, which is located in an area reserved for single-family homes and would be directly affected by the measure. The district is looking to lease the site to develop staff accommodation.
Opponents of the flood site project argue that the district did not explicitly state in its request for proposals that the proposed units would be designated for teachers and staff. The district said it had enough teachers and staff who wanted it to fill units, and that it wouldn’t make sense to leave units vacant if they didn’t fill homes with district staff.
The Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees passed a resolution in early August opposing Measure V.
“This council believes that this same initiative would run counter to the district’s anti-racism commitments because, as the unbiased analysis of this initiative notes, the initiative would continue “the same cycle of implementing the highest densities and most affordable units in the area of the community that is primarily made up of low-income, marginalized and communities of color, “especially in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park,” the resolution states.
A recent district survey showed that only a third of district staff say they have a “safe, secure and affordable housing option” and 43% plan to leave their district jobs because of their housing situation.
The Las Lomitas Elementary School District will consider a similar resolution at its Oct. 5 meeting.
At a meeting of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Sept. 7, trustees Heather Hopkins and Molly Finn expressed strong support for taking a stand against Measure V.
Hopkins said that since the Las Lomitas neighborhood is part of Menlo Park, city properties that might provide housing for teachers or staff members would be affected by the measure. For example, it might be much more difficult to develop housing on properties within district boundaries that are zoned for multi-family housing, such as St. Bede’s Episcopal or St. Denis Catholic Churches.
“Our number one resource in this school district is our staff and our number one issue is housing,” Hopkins said. “This measure would put another barrier to building multi-family housing. In my mind, you can’t separate housing and our housing shortage from what we’ve heard from our staff. The cost of living is so high that the staff have to live an hour or more away, often.”
Trustee Gautam Nadella said it was a bit awkward to take a stand on what a church might do with its property.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty about what we can actually do to address the (housing) issues, like providing a significant amount of housing,” he said.
Hopkins noted that the Ravenswood School Board has stepped outside its usual boundaries because it feels this issue is so important.
They asked staff to bring a resolution to council next month for consideration. Hopkins said waiting a month gives the community a chance to step in if it’s something the council should weigh in on.