On Monday, June 6, the Menlo Park Planning Commission will take up and discuss the Menlo Park Downtown Specific Plan Environmental Impact Report.
The document, hundreds of pages long, touches upon many issues, including but not limited to aesthetics, air quality, noise, population and housing, land use, and of particular note, traffic. For months the EIR has been the subject of much debate in the local papers, framing the discussion of whether the Plan should proceed. And while all of the issues covered in the EIR are relevant, and deserving of discussion, there is however one issue noticeably absent from the document:
What effect will the Downtown Specific Plan have on existing single family home property values in Menlo Park?
A word search reveals that the term “property value” appears only once in the EIR , while the term “property values” does not appear at all. This probably should not be surprising as the Downtown Specific Plan’s effect on existing single family home property values is an indirect effect not required to be covered in an EIR under CEQA laws.
Concerned whether the City was going to examine the issue, this week I contacted the City’s staff and inquired whether the issue would be covered in any future analysis of the Downtown Specific Plan. Staff informed me that while the City was also preparing a Fiscal Impact Report, to measure how the development would affect the City’s General Fund, that report would not incorporate an analysis of the Plan’s effect on existing home values.
Frankly, the City should reconsider examining this important issue. Those of us who are interested in City politics can argue amongst ourselves to our heart’s content about 13,000 new cars on the road, the importance of placing housing near transit, the benefits of mixed use zoning, etc. But at the end of the day there is a large majority of people in this City who are just plain busy, working hard to provide for their families, and struggling to hold on to what they have been able to build through this Great Recession. Many have refinanced or restructured mortgages. Others have found themselves forced to downsize their homes. A large number of families fear finding their homes underwater, in a stagnant housing market. That the process does not include an analysis, that considers the Downtown Specific Plan’s effect on existing single family homes property values, is misguided.
There are multiple academic studies that have been conducted with respect to the effect of mixed used zoning and high density housing development on existing single family home property values. As one might expect, different studies have reached different conclusions, depending on the development analyzed. There ought to be some component of our City’s process that includes a report containing a review isolating what factors, identified in academic studies, in high density developments contribute positively or negatively to existing home values. Thereafter an analysis should be conducted to determine how the Downtown Specific Plan measures up to what the latest research tell us. The Public, the Planning Commission, and City Council, can review the report to ensure it’s objectivity. The analysis obviously won’t resolve all politically charged issues like traffic, street configuration, noise, parking, land use, population growth etc. But at the end of the day, the conclusions reached in the analysis might bring us, as a community, a little bit closer to consensus, and decrease the possibility that the end result of the Downtown Specific Plan will negatively affect home values.