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Controversial Bridge Source of Redistricting Change?

Proposed congressional boundaries place East Menlo Park in a different congressional district than the rest of Menlo Park. Gerrymandering suspected after noticing that the boundary is drawn around the Ringwood Pedestrian Bridge.

The California Citizens Redistricting Committee has unfurled the latest draft of political boundary maps, which, despite ’ pleas, continue to divide Menlo Park into two congressional districts. 

But the boundaries have shifted slightly.

The new line of division mostly runs along the edge of highway 101, except where it swerves around a bicycle/pedestrian bridge that has been the source of debate for almost four years.

“The way it’s drawn, I would think that someone in Flood Triangle wants to maintain some kind of decision making over what happens over that pedestrian bridge,” said Matt Henry, Belle Haven Neighborhood Association President.

Belle Haven is composed of homes in East Menlo Park, while the Flood Triangle neighborhood is colloquially referred to as Central Menlo Park.

“And to not to make it seem so obvious, they took in another little section to distract from the obvious things that’s really the bridge,” Henry said.  

The proposed congressional boundary line swerves back to the border of 101 for a block and then loops up Menlo Oaks Drive; it runs down Newbridge Street, and back toward 101 on Almanor Ave before reconnecting with Highway 101. Henry said that about 90 percent of the homes in that block are rentals, which reduces the likelihood that residents will become emotionally invested in the policy decisions made about that part of town.

The bridge in question is known as the Ringwood Overcrossing.  It enables cyclists and pedestrians to cross over Highway 101 from West to East Menlo Park and vice versa.  Many students who attend classes at Menlo-Atherton High School use it to walk to school, according to the Cyclicious bicycle blog.

Gidget Navarro, Caltrans Spokesperson, said that the original bridge is slated for demolition in December as part of to 101 to ease congestion during rush hour. A new bridge will be built.

“There was a lot of controversy about that bridge,” Navarro said, "Residents were saying that a lot of unwanted people were coming from the other side.”

Residents collectively wrote to the city council with their objections to the bridge. Some said that the bridge fostered criminal activity by allowing residents from East Palo Alto to travel to Menlo Park. Others made a financial case for not rebuilding the bridge.

Menlo Park resident Cathy Tokic wrote a letter to the city council in March 2009 which said that rebuilding the bridge would be an unnecessary expenditure.

“A bit of history of the bridge tells us that this was originally privately funded to get wait staff from East to West Menlo Park,” Tokic said, “This funding was from Atherton private residents. This Ringwood crossing was not a city, state or Caltrans supported project and should remain that way.”  

Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to cross over 101 during construction; Granite Construction will be erecting a temporary bridge while the new one is being built.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission is tasked with creating new boundaries for political districts in California, shifting the lines to account for the population growth that has taken place in the past 10 years.

Henry suspects that placing the boundary on 101 has a lot to do with the de facto segregation that occurred after World War II, when people purchased homes in Menlo Park.

“This part of Menlo Park east of US 101 has historically been African American, and is now also the Latino neighborhood,” Henry writes in an August 8 letter to the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The 2010 U.S. Census data shows that 74.2 percent of the 32,026 people who live in Menlo Park self reported as white, while 4.8 percent checked the box next to African American. 18.4 percent claimed Hispanic or Latino heritage.

Henry said that he and his neighbors have always had to fight to get amenities that are commonplace in other parts of town, such as sidewalks and streetlights.  

“Aside from the offensive symbolism, being put into a different congressional district from the rest of the city means that in the future our concerns about national policies that affect Menlo Park would not be heard by the same people who represent the rest of Menlo Park.  The representative on the other side of town has no reason to care what we over here think unless we vote for him or her,” Henry writes. 

The new political boundaries place the responsibility of representing the west side of town’s interests in the hands of the U.S. Congressperson who will represent most of Santa Clara County in 2012, while east Menlo Park will be represented by whomever represents most of San Mateo County in 2012.

The 14-member Committee spent an extra week in June to create the 177 maps that will determine how many political representatives Menlo Park has. These latest rendition of the maps can be viewed online.

The final maps are scheduled to be adopted on August 15, 2011.

The decision to divide Menlo Park into two congressional districts came at the behest of Redistricting Commissioner Barabba, a Republican who lives in Capitola.

The full transcript of the meeting during which the decision was made can be read below. Sections of significance have been made bold.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Okay, so SNMSC. Are we straddling our teams here?

COMMISSIONER DAI: A little bit.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Maybe Commissioner Barabba can describe parts and Commissioner Dai can describe parts.  Part of this is also sort of Silicon Valley or it’s a strong Silicon Valley-based district.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: And in essence we’ve included the coast with the inner bay area, which I don’t think we had much of a choice on. And we did a pretty good job of keeping those communities – we split a couple, as I recall. What did we do with East Palo Alto and Menlo Park,  did we –

MS. ALON: Menlo Park and East Palo Alto are whole and they are with Redwood City.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Yeah, okay.

MS. ALON: Oh, sorry. Menlo Park has this odd little non-contiguous area which is not a part of the San Mateo District.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DAI: So this has Sunnyvale and Mountain View together and I guess most of Santa Clara, there is a part of the – along with Cupertino. So I think the closest that we come to keeping the west valley cities together.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Yep.

COMMISSIONER DAI: And we have most of the Stanford area together, although it is split from Menlo Park and  East Palo Alto. But the trade-off is that we are putting – we did get testimony about putting East Palo Alto with Redwood City. So in this incarnation we’re putting them  together there. But, again, around the Stanford area you have Woodside and Atherton together as well. Menlo Park  would be the missing city in that incarnation but it looks  like we – I seem to recall they were together before and that must have been at the Assembly level.

MS. ALON: They were together before but then I was directed to move East Palo Alto back with Redwood City even if it included Menlo Park.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Okay.

COMMISSIONER GALAMBOS-MALLOY: You mentioned a non-contiguous part of Menlo Park, I believe?

MS. ALON: Yes, see this little bubble right here? 

COMMISSIONER GALAMBOS-MALLOY: Is there significant population there?

MS. ALON: Let me check.
(Pause as Ms. Alon accesses database.) 
It’s 4200. So about 13 percent.

COMMISSIONER GALAMBOS-MALLOY: I don’t know that particular part of the Bay Area well so I would defer to Commissioners Dai and Ancheta, if you had any feedback  about that portion.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Well, I mean, I actually didn’t  think we gave that direction because I thought we had kept  it together in another incarnation. Menlo Park and  Stanford and Atherton are pretty tied together. The  problem is, you know, East Palo Alto is in there as well.  I thought we had a discussion last time that East Palo Alto also had a relationship with Palo Alto. So I actually thought we had left that.

MS. ALON: This was a revert to the first draft maps so anything that was given in instruction last week  kind of got erased with the revert. 

COMMISSIONER DAI: Okay. Because I would say that we have Emerald Lake Hills in there, that’s probably more affiliated with San Mateo but that’s not very many people  so I don’t know if that gets us much. North Fair Oaks, too, I think that’s considered more San Mateo.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: We could always split San Mateo, Menlo Park.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Yeah, it’s already split. How many people are in that kind of finger down from East?

MS. ALON: Roughly 4000.

COMMISSIONER DAI: So you could do an exchange with Emerald Lake?

MS. ALON: Well, West Menlo Park is here and that’s another 3600. So you would have to take Emerald Lake and split either Woodside or North Fair Oaks.

COMMISSIONER DAI: So just to be clear, the 4000, could you mark where the 4000 is?

MS. ALON: It’s right here.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Oh, it’s that part there.

MS. ALON: It’s separated by West Menlo Park.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Right. Menlo Park itself has 32,000 people. I was just wondering if you were to reduce the finger, the blue finger. Yeah, how many are in that  area?

CHAIR ANCHETA: I mean, do you see any division  between Menlo Park in terms of – obviously, East Palo Alto,  it’s a classic example of east of the freeway very different from west of the freeway. I don’t know Menlo Park as well. Is it similar in that sense? Is there a  divider there?

COMMISSIONER DAI: Well, I’m thinking about the part that’s close to Stanford. I mean, that part is very tightly aligned with Stanford and Atherton and Woodside.  To be honest, I don’t know much about Menlo Park that is east of the freeway. But I do think, you know, the  downtown area is where University Avenue is. So that’s kind of right now with East Palo Alto.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Commissioner Dai, would you consider using 101 as a split for Menlo Park then? 

COMMISSIONER DAI: Yes, that’s a possibility. What  I’m thinking also is that Emerald Lake Hills, I don’t believe that’s generally considered part of that community.  It probably would make more sense to put that as part of San Mateo. That’s four thousand-some people right there.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Well, it’s all San Mateo County.  Do you want more of the coastal rather than the –

COMMISSIONER DAI: I’m just saying it’s not really part of that kind of Stanford area, that’s a pretty tight community, that I’m aware of. I’m also not aware of North Fair Oaks being part of that. So I’m just thinking we might be able to put more of Menlo Park back with Stanford and Palo Alto.

COMMISSIONER GALAMBOS-MALLOY: I do think in a district of this size, a Congressional district, that the feedback we got from the public about having East Palo Alto linked with Redwood City, I think we should consider that just because parts of Redwood City and East Palo Alto are  so different than many other parts of the district. I would hate to isolate them.

COMMISSIONER DAI: I’m not suggesting putting East Palo Alto back, I’m suggesting putting Menlo Park back.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Okay, it seems like a – can we give a direction? Is there sufficient –

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: You can't put all of Menlo Park back –

COMMISSIONER DAI: No, you can't.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: - you have to cut it off. And I would suggest at the 101.

MS. ALON: Just this finger, putting this finger area back?

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Right.

CHAIR ANCHETA: If you can do a swap, I think.

COMMISSIONER DAI: And that’s at the 101.

COMMISSIONER YAO: I think 101 is about the midpoint of the finger there.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: No, it’s right about there.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Yeah, it’s right about there.

MS. ALON: 101 is up here.

COMMISSIONER YAO: Oh, is it? Okay.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER DAI: I think that’s a reasonable split.

MS. ALON: And where would you like to take population out from in the gray district?

COMMISSIONER DAI: Emerald Lake Hills and North Fair Oaks.

MS. ALON: Okay. I’m not sure exactly how much population is in this area right here. But I will take first Emerald Lake Hills and then North Fair Oaks if I need  more.

COMMISSIONER DAI: And is North Fair Oaks a census place or is it a city?

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: I think it’s a place.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Place.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: It’s not a city.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Do we know? It’s a census place, right?

MS. ALON: Yes, I believe it’s a census place.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Yep.

COMMISSIONER DAI: Yeah, because Menlo Park is a city and it’s a pretty small city.

CHAIR ANCHETA: Okay, do we have enough direction on that? Again, it’s not a large change to the district. Is that sufficient to go ahead with this district?

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Yep.

MS. ALON: Sorry, North Fair Oaks is a census place as is Emerald Lake Hills. And this area is 20,000 people so you would be taking North Fair Oaks, Emerald Lake Hills and probably some of this area in here.

COMMISSIONER BARABBA: Sounds good. 

COMMISSIONER DAI: Sounds good.

commuter August 09, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Isn't the bridge a done deal? Are the NIMBYs still trying to kill it? This is a critical transportation route for pedestrians and bicyclists, including employees commuting to the new Facebook campus.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) August 09, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Seems like it's a done deal. But when enough motivated people band together, anything is possible...Especially in Menlo Park. I'd really like to know the reasons why Barabba said, "You can't put all of Menlo Park back." Barabba, if you're reading this, call me back.
Enda August 12, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I would like to know what is in the background of Mr. Barabba's statement. Why not put all of Menlo Park back? Why does it have to be cut off? Menlo Park is one city. It seems that he's been directed to do so. Vanessa, thanks for the transcript (I appreciate your work, but am upset for reading this!!:)).

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