With multiple large development agreements on the table, the city of Menlo Park is again discovering that it does not have enough affordable housing for low-wage employees.
“Menlo Park has one of the worst fits between jobs and housing in the entire Bay Area region,” said Richard A. Marcantonio, an attorney who brought to light deficiencies in Facebook’s environmental impact report.
“Only 17% of low-wage worker households can find housing affordable to them in the city,” Marcantonio said in a letter to Justin Murphy, city planner working on the Facebook project.
The city is negotiating an agreement with Facebook that would allow the company to bring a net of 5,800 new employees into the city, many of whom may be forced to live elsewhere on the Peninsula where housing is cheaper.
The Facebook project’s draft environmental impact report states that 254 housing units would need to be created in town by 2025 to satisfy a state housing law that requires the city to create housing to accommodate workforce growth associated with new businesses. It also estimates that demand for more than 3,000 housing units would be created.
Simultaneously, Menlo Park is struggling to create affordable housing within its borders, having failed to update its general plan for the past two planning periods. It has not done so since 1992, leaving an affordable housing deficiency of about 1,000 units, according to data from the Association of Bay Area Governments.
Affordable housing is defined as a home that takes 30 percent of a person’s annual income, according to the state’s health and safety code.
Problematically, it is unclear who would be in charge of managing the development of these domiciles in the area. The city will not have a housing department after July 2012, according to a “Housing Transition Plan” published on January 30. This fact is leaving many dissatisfied with the social disparity this could create in the city.
Anne Moser is a former chair of the Housing Commission and spoke to Patch as a private citizen of Menlo Park.
Moser said this issue has arisen multiple times in Council Chambers without inspiring action from City Council. She cited the Derry Project and the Bohannon Gateway Project as a few examples of large-scale developments which offered the city opportunities to address the city's affordable housing need. She is concerned that this will further exacerbate the perception that Menlo Park is a place where only wealthy people live.
Moser said some apartment complexes in Belle Haven have increased the rent by 20 percent in response to Facebook’s move to Menlo Park.
Facebook is working with a developer to create housing in the city, although plans have not been finalized.
City Attorney Bill McClure said that housing is not an environmental impact during the City Council's January 31st meeting. McClure said in terms of mitigation it is not a physical impact on the environment, therefore it is not something that can truly be required through the environmental impact review process.
City Council can, however, incorporate it into the conditional development agreement if it chooses to do so.
During Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Council meeting it was announced that former city manager David Boesch will be aiding in the process to address these issues.
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