At the last Housing Element Steering Committee meeting I suggested that Menlo Park can lead the way to reducing auto emissions by requiring a new zoning classification that would make possible building small dwellings on all lots in Menlo Park. The key requirement of this new zoning is BIKES ONLY zoning, especially for substandard lots that do not meet the new threshold for easier approval of secondary dwellings. While it is an aggressive change, this idea is already supported by the Facebook trips limit and commuters from other communities up and down the peninsula using their own bicycles to get to and from work in combination with Caltrain and commuter buses.
Zipcars and Gocars are already gaining in popularity in many cities around the country making car ownership less necessary for young and old alike. As mass transit increases in availability, and the trend toward smaller households takes root, this manner of improving the jobs/housing ratio will become better understood and more widely embraced.
Menlo Park's new housing element can be a model for other cities facing similar conditions: projected population growth and no more available land.
While the solution to this dilemma is obvious, resistance due to traffic congestion is common. Economic realities require radical change, and on a recent tour of our neighborhoods I identified several substandard city owned lots that could easily accommodate small dwellings, as well as several underutilized privately owned properties that could be zoned in this innovative manner.
County leaders have expressed support for this concept, and architects and contractors have come forward offering to create experimental models. Residents can make a big difference by speaking out in favor of these innovative ideas.
Andy Cohen is a Menlo Park City Council Member who is also on the Housing Element Update Steering Committee.