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Public Comments for Item J1 of the Oct 6th Council mtg

From: domainremoved <HARRY>
Date: Tue, 6 Oct 2015 16:57:50 -0700

Dear City Council,

As a member of the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC), I have participated in a number of discussions regarding a future update to the City’s General Plan as it relates to the M-2 commercial district and its impact on the Belle Haven neighborhood. Below is a synopsis of my thoughts coming out of these discussions.

Regards,

Harry Bims
GPAC Committee Member

DIVERSITY

Within the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the ethnic diversity within the Belle Haven neighborhood. In fact, Belle Haven is clearly the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Menlo Park, and this gap versus the rest of the neighborhoods is widening every day. This is part of a larger trend towards diversity that is happening in cities throughout the state and across the country. In fact the most ethnically diverse city in the country is Oakland, with Sacramento ranked 3rd, Long Beach ranked 12th, and San Jose ranked 14th (https://wallethub.com/edu/cities-with-the-most-and-least-ethno-racial-and-linguistic-diversity/10264/#city-size). I think it is important to keep this perspective in mind as you deliberate tonight, because the Belle Haven of the future will not be so easily labeled by ethnicity or even income.

In fact, not only have we seen ethnic diversity in Belle Haven increase dramatically, but we have also seen an increased diversity in education levels from engineering PhDs to high school dropouts, as well as increased diversity in incomes from six figures to no figures. This is a big part of what gives Belle Haven its unique character; the blending together of all parts of society in one community that welcomes everybody, even as our home prices approach $1M for the typical house. Our only hope is that other neighborhoods would similarly embrace all parts of society by allowing, for example, BMR units to be developed.

Belle Haven is also unique in that it is surrounded by a vibrant M-2 commercial district that is home a growing diversity of successful businesses. These companies are supporting the City’s General Fund, and reaching out to the community, while also investing in the redevelopment of the M-2 area. Thus, as we plan for the future of the M2, and the associated community benefits in Belle Haven, we must make sure the City is also invested in Belle Haven, through staff involvement and financial commitments commensurate with what corporations are already doing.


LOW-INCOME HOUSING

During the GPAC meetings there have been multiple proposals to increase the availability of affordable and/or low-incoming housing, sometimes referred to as workforce housing. Some have even called for low-income rental units in addition to Below Market Rate units for sale.

Before we rush to a decision on these proposals, we should bear in mind that the Belle Haven neighborhood is already an affordable place to live for a low-income workforce. For example, many single-family dwellings in Belle Haven are home to half a dozen working adults who split the rent. Even though the rental price of a Belle Haven house may approach $3600 per month, when split six ways, it becomes $600/month for each person with a job.

We should carefully consider the monthly cost per person with a job to rent a dwelling unit in these “low-income housing” proposals, to see if they truly deliver on the promise of increasing affordability over what is already available.


RAIL TRANSPORTATION – Bart Station - Union City to Caltrain Station - Redwood City

The activation of light rail across the Dumbarton Bridge is critically needed to reduce vehicle miles traveled, alleviate regional traffic congestion, and improve the quality of life for Belle Haven residents. This will benefit workers at M-2 businesses as well, since there will be a rail option for their transportation needs to/from work.

Light rail would also connect local retail to a broader customer base that can ride the train from anywhere in the Bay to Shop Menlo along Willow Road. If you are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, and if you are concerned about our environment, light rail is a no brainer.

 

COMMUNITY BENEFITS

As I alluded to earlier, M-2 businesses are stepping up to fill the void created by the City when it comes to providing community benefits. From a police substation, to the realignment of a Chilco St. blind curve (in the wake of a motorist killing two people), to a farmers’ market, it has been companies and developers who have stepped up to make things happen. We even have Menlo Gateway proposing streetscape improvements on residential streets in the neighborhood, along with other ideas.

However, the City has simply not stepped up to respond to the residents request for equitable treatment when it comes to community benefits and support. We have even been denied a simple request for a financial report on the City’s expenditures on capital improvements and other community benefits that target Belle Haven. We are still waiting for that report.

Finally, I would note that under the proposed population increase for the Belle Haven neighborhood (which is already the most densely populated neighborhood in the City), almost 40% of the City would live in Belle Haven. When you combine that with the proposed increase in economic activity in the M-2 area, it becomes clear that the future of Menlo Park is connected to the future of Belle Haven and the M-2 district. As such, it is only a matter of time before the political winds shift to this side of the freeway. Now is your opportunity to be on the right side of history.

As part of your review and comment to staff on the Draft Land Use and Circulation Elements, I would encourage you to articulate clear commitments from the City on a range of topics from signage over the police substation, to streetscape improvements such as tree plantings and undergrounding of power lines, to a neighborhood grocery store that serves the changing demographics of Belle Haven, to quality restaurants, to a Dumbarton light rail service. These things and more should be part of our planning process as we move forward with the translation of the goals, policies, and programs of the General Plan update into land use and infrastructure improvements.
Received on Tue Oct 06 2015 - 16:58:58 PDT

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