2023-2031 Housing Element Update

Environmental review

The California Environmental Quality Act generally requires state and local government agencies, such as the City of Menlo Park, to inform decision makers and the public about the potential environmental impacts of proposed projects, and to reduce those environmental impacts to the extent feasible.

The Housing Element Update is subject to CEQA and the City will be preparing a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report to the City's 2016 General Plan EIR. The EIR will evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the Housing Element Update project (i.e., Housing Element and Safety Element updates and a new Environmental Justice Element) and recommend mitigation measures for any significant impact, as required.

Notice of Preparation

On Dec. 23, 2021, the City released the Notice of Preparation to inform responsible and trustee agencies, as well as the public, that an EIR is being prepared, and to seek input on the scope and content of the EIR. The NOP provided a description of the Housing Element Update project, the location of the project, and its potential environmental effects. The EIR will address potential physical environmental effects of the project. The City requested comments on the scope and content of the EIR.

Environmental Impact Report scoping session

On Jan. 24, 2022, the Planning Commission held a public hearing for the Environmental Impact Report scoping session. The purpose of a public scoping meeting was to inform the public that the lead agency, City of Menlo Park, is evaluating the Housing Element Update project under CEQA and to request public comment regarding the type and extent of environmental analyses to be undertaken.

How to get involved

We want your input! Throughout the Housing Element Update process, the City will be seeking input through a variety of engagement opportunities to learn from the community about what matters to you.

Please join our email list to stay up to date on the project.

Project timeline

The Housing Element Update project will span approximately 18 months. The graphic below highlights major milestones.

Housing Element Update - major milestones

The chronology below highlights select events that have occurred, beginning with the most recent event.

On May 16, 2022, the Planning Commission and Housing Commission conducted a joint meeting to review and provide comments for the draft 2023-2031 Housing Element, in preparation for transmittal to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for required initial review of the draft Housing Element.

On May 11, 2022, the City released the draft 2023-2031 Housing Element(PDF, 20MB) in preparation for transmittal to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for their required initial review. The final Housing Element is anticipated to be reviewed by the City Council at the end of the year.

On May 3, 2022, the City held a community meeting to provide an opportunity to learn more about the former James Flood Elementary School site at 321 Sheridan Drive, which is currently identified as a potential housing opportunity site for the 2023-2031 Housing Element.

On Apr. 5, 2022, the City held a community meeting to provide an overview of the Environmental Justice Element preparation and Safety Element update. The community meeting presented Neighborhood Profiles that highlight local pollution burdens and population characteristics. An overview of the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, which assesses hazard vulnerabilities and ways to reduce potential risks, was also presented.

On Mar. 22, 2022, the City Council conducted a meeting and reviewed an amendment to the professional services agreement with the M-Group for the Housing Element Update project, including the addition of Climate Resilient Communities and ChangeLab Solutions to the project team for expanded community outreach for the Safety and Environmental Justice Elements.

On Mar. 1, 2022, the City Council conducted a meeting and adopted a resolution to disband the City's Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC).

On Feb. 12, 2022, the City held a community meeting to provide an overview of the land use strategies and potential housing opportunity sites, and focus on the housing goals and highlighted policy themes, which are the foundation of the Housing Element.

On Feb. 8, 2022, the City Council conducted a meeting and considered, 1) modifications to the composition and charge of the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee, and 2) the use of a community-based organization to supplement the Housing Element Update’s community outreach and engagement efforts.

On Jan. 24, 2022, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) scoping session for the Housing Element Update project. An EIR scoping session provides an opportunity early in the environmental review process for Planning Commissioners and the public to comment on specific topics that they believe should be addressed in the environmental analysis.

On Dec. 23, 2021, the City released the Notice of Preparation(PDF, 3MB), a required component of environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

On Dec. 8, 2021, the City Council conducted a meeting and reviewed and recommended the potential housing opportunity sites and land use strategies for initiating the environmental and fiscal reviews to meet the City’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) as part of the housing element for the planning period 2023-2031.

On Nov. 17, 2021, the Housing Commission conducted a meeting and reviewed and discussed affordable housing strategy options to meet the City’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) as part of the State-mandated Housing Element for further analysis and consideration.

On Nov. 16, 2021, the City Council received an informational item providing an update on Housing Element Update-related questions and comments received from City councilmembers following the Oct. 26, 2021 meeting.

On Nov. 4, 2021, the County of San Mateo and the City of Menlo Park held a webinar for homeowners interested in building an accessory dwelling unit (also known as an ADU or second unit). Staff from the County’s second unit resource center provided introductory information and resources. After that, homeowners were invited to join planning staff for a breakout session to learn more about accessory dwelling units in Menlo Park.

On Oct. 26, 2021, the City Council conducted a meeting and reviewed land use strategies to meet the Regional Housing Needs Allocation for the planning period 2023-2031 as part of the Housing Element Update.

On Oct. 4, 2021, the Planning Commission and Housing Commission conducted a joint meeting and reviewed and provided feedback on land use and site strategy options to meet the Regional Housing Need Allocation for the 2023-2031 planning period as part of the Housing Element Update.

On Sept. 23, 2021, the City held a community meeting to share information on preliminary strategies to meet housing needs in Menlo Park and provide opportunity to hear from the community on how and where new housing should be located. The input received will help shape land use alternatives/scenarios for future housing.

On Aug. 26, 2021, the City held a community meeting to share information about housing equity, environmental justice, and safety issues in Menlo Park and provide an opportunity to receive input from the public. The information provided and feedback received will help form policies for the Housing, Environmental Justice, and Safety Elements.

On Aug. 14, 2021, the City held a community meeting to provide an overview of preliminary land use strategies to implement the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, pronounced "Reena") and gain community feedback. The RHNA specifies the number of housing units at each income level category required to comply with State mandates. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce land use strategies to the public and to receive feedback. The information provided and feedback received will help develop the land use strategies to meet the RHNA.

On Aug. 12, 2021, the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) conducted a meeting and received an update on recent Housing Element Update community outreach activities and reviewed and provided feedback on upcoming Housing Element Update community outreach activities.

On Aug. 4, 2021, the Housing Commission conducted a meeting and reviewed and provided feedback on potential land use strategies to meet the Regional Housing Need Allocation for the 2023-2031 planning period as part of the Housing Element Update.

On July 15, 2021, the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) conducted a meeting and reviewed and provided feedback on the draft community survey.

On July 1, 2021, the City held a Housing Element Update Introduction Webinar to provide an overview of the Housing Element Update process, project components, and ways to be involved in the process.

On June 10, 2021, the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) conducted a meeting and continued discussion for the committee's roles and responsibilities and provided feedback on Housing Element focus groups, stakeholder interviews, and local community outreach partnerships.

On June 8, 2021, the City Council appointed 1 additional member (1 vacancy) to the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC).

On June 3, 2021, the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) conducted a meeting and reviewed and provided feedback on the draft community engagement and outreach plan.

On May 27, 2021, the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) conducted a meeting and reviewed the committee's roles and responsibilities and received an overview of the Housing Element Update project.

On May 25, 2021, the City Council received an overview of the Housing Element Update project and provided feedback on the goals and objectives, roles and responsibilities of the various reviewing and decision-making bodies, and the community engagement and outreach plan

On May 25, 2021, the City Council appointed 12 members (2 vacancies) to the Housing Element Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC).

On May 11, 2021, the City Council appointed Mayor Drew Combs and Councilmember Jen Wolosin to the Housing Element subcommittee.

On April 27, 2021, the City Council authorized the formation of the advisory Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) for the Housing Element Update project.

On March 23, 2021, the City Council authorized the City Manager to enter into a contract with M-Group planning consultants for the Housing Element Update project.

Frequently asked questions

What is a Housing Element?

A Housing Element is how local jurisdictions plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. At its core, a Housing Element is an opportunity to have a community conversation about how to address local housing challenges and find solutions. The Housing Element is one important part of a city or county’s General Plan, which serves as the blueprint for how a city or county will grow and address changing needs for development. Every eight years, every city, town and county must update their Housing Element and have it certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

A Housing Element is a local plan, adopted by a city, town or county that includes the goals, policies and programs that direct decision-making around housing. All jurisdictions in the Bay Area must update their Housing Element for the 2023-2031 planning period. Local jurisdictions look at housing trends, zoning and market constraints, and evaluate various approaches to meeting housing needs across income levels.

What are the components of a Housing Element?

The Housing Element typically includes the components listed below.

  • Housing Needs Assessment: Examine demographic, employment and housing trends and conditions that affect the housing needs of the community.
  • Evaluation of Past Performance: Review the prior Housing Element to measure progress in implementing policies and programs.
  • Housing Sites Inventory: Identify locations of available sites for housing development or redevelopment to ensure that there is adequate capacity to address the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).
  • Community Outreach and Engagement: Implement a robust community outreach and engagement program, with a particular focus on outreach to traditionally underrepresented groups.
  • Constraints Analysis: Analyze and recommend remedies for existing and potential governmental and non-governmental barriers to housing development.
  • Policies and Programs: Establish policies and programs to fulfill the identified housing needs.

What happens if a jurisdiction does not adopt a Housing Element?

If a city does not comply with State law, it can be sued. In addition to facing significant fines, a court may limit local land use decision-making authority until the jurisdiction brings its Housing Element into compliance. Additionally, local governments may lose the right to deny certain projects. These and other consequences are established in state law; Housing Elements are subject to regulatory oversight by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Who determines how many housing units are needed and how is the number calculated?

To figure out how many housing units a jurisdiction needs, the State of California first looks at several factors like how many jobs there are, how close people live to their place of work, and how many new jobs and new people we are expecting. After doing this, they assign each region a number called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation or RHNA (pronounced ‘ree-nah’).

It is then up to the region, and in our case the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), to decide how much each city is responsible for based on their size and how they are expected to grow by 2050, according to Plan Bay Area. Almost all cities in the Bay Area have a significantly higher target this RHNA cycle than in the past. More details about RHNA are available in ABAG's Final Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) Plan. All cities must develop a plan to meet or exceed this number of housing units in their Housing Element to comply with state law.

Why is the Housing Element Update important?

Why it matters

  • More and more, purchasing a home is out of reach for many while renters face rent prices that are just too high. Just about every city in the region needs more housing, of all types and sizes.
  • Teachers, firefighters, health care and other essential workers are traveling long distances to work or being forced to relocate to other cities.
  • Young adults and students - including your children and grandchildren - are unable to purchase homes or even live in the communities they grew up in once they leave their childhood homes.
  • Communities of color and non-English speakers – who make up the majority of our community members living in overcrowded and unsafe conditions – cannot afford to be near their jobs, school or families.

More housing and more diverse housing choices means

  • Young families can find an affordable starter home.
  • Young adults moving out of their childhood home and into the housing market can stay in the cities they grew up in.
  • Our aging population will have more options for retirement, including downsizing, providing housing for on-site health or home care, and staying in their communities.
  • Workers - teachers, firefighters, health care workers, essential workers - can find homes near job centers (which will reduce traffic!).
  • Your children and grandchildren can stay near you in the communities they feel a part of.
  • More people will have more opportunities, across incomes, to rent or own homes in the places they live, work and love.

Why update the Safety Element?

The Safety Element is another part of the General Plan and contains goals and policies to reduce the potential short and long-term risk of loss of life, personal injury, property damage and economic and social dislocation resulting from fire, floods, earthquakes and other hazards.

State law now includes climate risk in the Safety Element. We are updating the Safety Element to incorporate climate adaptation and resiliency strategies, and ways to reduce these risks.

The element will be updated for consistency with other local documents such as the Climate Action Plan and the County's Local Hazard Mitigation Plan.

What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.

Meaningful involvement means

  • People have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health.
  • The public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decision.
  • Community concerns will be considered in the decision making process.
  • Decision makers will seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.

What is Menlo Park's fair share?

The housing need for the Bay Area region for the current planning period (2023-2031) has been determined by the State of California to be 441,176 housing units. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has determined that San Mateo County's share of the regional housing need is 47,687 housing units and of that total, Menlo Park's fair share is 2,946 housing units (6.2% of San Mateo County's total). By comparison, Redwood City’s share is 4,588 units, San Mateo's share is 7,015 units, Burlingame’s share is 3,257 units, Daly City’s share is 4,838 units and Unincorporated San Mateo County’s share is 2,833 units.

Providing housing to meet the needs of all income levels is critical to the social and economic health of Menlo Park. The City of Menlo Park must plan for its income-based housing allocation to address its share of the Bay Area region’s housing needs. San Mateo County's 2021 Area Median Income (AMI) for a household of four persons is $149,600. Income groups include: “very low income” (less than 50% of AMI); “low income” (50-80% of AMI); “moderate income” (80-120% of AMI); and “above moderate income” (greater than 120% of AMI). Within the 2023-2031 Housing Element, Menlo Park is required to plan for its fair share allocation of housing units by income group as follows:

  • Very Low Income: 740 units (25% of total)
  • Low Income: 426 units (14% of total)
  • Moderate Income: 496 units (17% of total)
  • Above Moderate Income: 1,284 units (44% of total)

Approximately 40% of the allocation satisfies the housing needs of very low- and low-income households. In total, about 3,000 housing units are needed to accommodate Menlo Park's 2023-2031 growth for all income groups as estimated through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process.

What strategies for new housing are being considered?

Housing Element land use strategies selected

In December 2021, after five months of public meetings, community events, and discussions with residents and community partners, the Menlo Park City Council identified a land use strategy to study up to 4,000 new housing units for the environmental and fiscal impact reports as part of the City’s Housing Element Update. The potential for new housing would be created through a mix of strategies, including the following:

  • Reuse current Housing Element sites
    Sites from the current Housing Element that have not redeveloped for housing could be considered as part of this Housing Element Update. For residential projects on these sites that include at least 20% “affordable units,” developments would be allowed “by-right.” Affordable units are housing units that are estimated to be attainable by lower-income households based on area median income limits updated annually. By-right development means that projects can be approved if they meet zoning regulations and building codes without needing review and approval by appointed/elected officials.
  • Pipeline projects
    Proposed or pending projects, called pipeline projects, which have not yet started or are still under construction as of June 30, 2022, can count toward meeting the City’s RHNA. The City has approximately 3,650 units that could count toward the City’s Housing Element. However, the number of pipeline units itself does not automatically meet the City’s RHNA. The State requires us to provide for a variety of housing types suitable to all income categories and in all areas throughout the city.
  • Promote Accessory Dwelling Units
    Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), known as secondary dwelling units, in-law units or backyard cottages, are smaller independent living units on the same lot as a single home. ADUs are generally considered more affordable given their smaller size and placement with existing residences.
  • Increase residential densities in and around the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan area
    • The number of dwelling units allowed per acre would be increased to allow at least 30 dwelling units per acre at the base level of development and potentially higher densities for the bonus level of development. Bonus level development requires a developer to provide a public benefit bonus in exchange for larger development potential. The Specific Plan currently has a residential cap that allows a maximum of 680 dwelling units in downtown and along El Camino Real; this cap would be removed to allow for greater development potential.
    • Remove the 10,000 square-foot minimum lot size requirement for R-3-zoned properties located around downtown and allow those sites a residential density of up to 30 dwelling units per acre.
  • Modify the City’s Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) 
    An overlay is a set of zoning standards with special provisions that can be applied on top of the zoning for certain properties. The AHO provides density bonuses and other incentives to projects providing affordable housing. The City will be exploring modifications to the AHO, which could allow densities of up to 100 dwelling units per acre (du/ac) for 100% affordable housing developments (i.e., all units are affordable to low and very low-income residents), and to allow increased residential densities for mixed-income developments that offer more affordable housing than required by the City’s Below Market Rate (BMR) Housing Program. 
  • Modify retail and commercial zoning districts 
    Many zoning districts are currently limited to only office, retail and/or other non-residential uses and do not allow residential uses. The project team will be exploring modifications to certain zoning districts to allow new residential and mixed-use opportunities.

Housing Opportunity Sites

As part of the Housing Element, the City must identify land suitable for residential development. Approximately 70 sites across Menlo Park have been identified as potential “housing opportunity sites.” Potential housing opportunity sites are sites typically larger than half an acre and smaller than 10 acres that have potential for housing development (either existing potential or through rezoning to allow for residential uses) and address a variety of State criteria such as how near a site is to public transit, facilities and services. The identified housing opportunity sites primarily focus on sites within City Council Districts 2 through 5, including the areas along Sand Hill Road, the areas in and around the El Camino Real and Downtown Corridor (including the downtown public parking lots), commercial areas along Willow and Middlefield Roads and Bohannon Drive, select religious facilities with parking lots that could potentially be redeveloped, and other scattered sites around the city. The potential housing opportunity sites and highlighted land use strategy areas are shown in the map and could be further refined throughout the Housing Element Update.

Potential housing opportunity sites and land use strategies

View a map of potential housing opportunity sites and land use strategy areas(PDF, 470KB).

What do higher residential density developments look like?

One of the potential affordable housing strategies under consideration for the updated Housing Element is to increase residential densities up to 100 dwelling units per acre for 100% affordable developments (i.e., 100% of units are affordable to low and very low-income residents).

View some sample developments of around 100 dwelling units per acre(PDF, 2MB)  within Menlo Park and in nearby jurisdictions. These example developments are for illustrative purposes to show how higher density developments could potentially look, and do not represent actual developments proposed as part of the Housing Element Update.

Contact us

Deanna Chow
Assistant Community Development Director
Email

650-330-6733

Tom Smith
Acting Principal Planner
Email

650-330-6730

Calvin Chan

Senior Planner
Email

650-330-6763