Tentative Deal to Settle Menlo Park Housing Lawsuit Announced

Provides Increased Access to Quality Affordable Housing for Local Workers

MENLO PARK, CA—The City of Menlo Park today announced a tentative settlement with a coalition of community groups and affordable housing advocates to meet its share of future housing growth. The settlement will come before the Menlo Park City Council for approval at its Tuesday, May 22, meeting.

The agreement came in response to a lawsuit filed yesterday charging the city with failing to update its legally mandated housing element since 1992 and with failing to accommodate its share of the Bay Area’s affordable housing need. It paves the way for Menlo Park to meet its housing obligations and avoid costly litigation.

Key terms of the settlement include:

  • Adoption of an affordable housing plan (or “housing element”) by early 2013
  • Rezoning sites in and around downtown to promote the development of affordable housing near jobs and transit
  • Providing local funding for nonprofit housing developers

“We’re pleased that we were able to reach an agreement and urge city council members to unanimously approve this settlement so the city can move forward with its public process to prepare a housing element and select sites for rezoning,” said Vu-Bang Nguyen, land use program coordinator at Urban Habitat.

The lawsuit was filed by civil rights law firm Public Advocates Inc. and the Public Interest Law Project on behalf of Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA), Youth United for Community Action (YUCA) and Urban Habitat. The three groups are members of a coalition known as Envision-Transform-Build East Palo Alto.  

“City officials quickly recognized the opportunity to move forward on our issues in a constructive manner,” said Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney at Public Advocates. “By resolving the lawsuit through a negotiated settlement, Menlo Park is moving ahead on a path that will result in a stronger, more vibrant community.”

Only 17 percent of low-wage worker households in Menlo Park (those with family incomes below $88,800) can afford to live in the city, according to a recent report by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

“This agreement will help make sure that people who work in Menlo Park and the surrounding area are able to live in the community, rather than commute long distances to work,” said Isabel Annie Loya, YUCA’s executive director. “That’s good for families, good for the local economy and good for the environment.”

Under California law, a local government’s General Plan must include an affordable housing action plan. Known formally as the Housing Element of the General Plan, it requires cities and counties to make appropriate sites available to meet their share of the region’s need for new housing at each income level as identified in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). Menlo Park’s new Housing Element and subsequent rezoning will accommodate a need for roughly 1,000 homes affordable to very low, low and moderate income families. (In San Mateo County, a very low income family of four is one with a household income up to $55,500.)

In reaching the settlement, Menlo Park avoided the consequences faced by other cities that fought the issues in court. In Pleasanton, for example, a state court prohibited the city from approving any development until it met its obligation. The city ultimately paid nearly $2 million in legal fees as a result of a protracted fight.

“We applaud the city for making this courageous move to actively plan for the future of the city and the needs of its people,” said Diana Reddy, a leader with PIA. “Only through thoughtful, inclusive planning that takes into account the diversity in San Mateo County can we have a prosperous future for ourselves and our children.”

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