Two reasons to vote against measure V are closely linked in a way that’s both subtle and telling, in terms of its real goals and results.
First, a vote against Measure V is a vote against the misleading statements of V-proponents. Make no mistake: Measure V is not about teacher housing at all. The word “teacher” does not appear in the text of the measure, which solely addresses the way in which Menlo Park’s residential zoning process could be changed, from its current, equitable, and consultative process.
Another deception: claims that Measure V will — somehow, without mentioning teachers at all — ensure that a housing development project in Flood Park would include teacher housing. In fact, there is no such project. Instead, the school district is exploring options for a future project, using the existing consultative process. Measure V proponents seem unsatisfied with their leverage in the existing process, and created Measure V as a way to dismantle that process.
Second, the hidden impetus behind Measure V includes reversing recent advances in our city government. Our current process can be equitable and consultative — led by city planners, with input from all stakeholders, and decisions being made by our elected representatives, the city council. It can be, that is, when the city council wants to be consultative, and account for the interests of all Menlo Park residents.
And, fortunately, our current city council is responsive in that way, even though past city councils have not been. One reason: that recent advance in our city government — electing each of the 5 members from one of 5 districts. Every voter in each district has a city council member accountable to them.
Why is this so important? Because Menlo Park is a majority-wealthy community. Historically, the majority of the voters could reliably elect at least 3 of 5 council members whose decisions about residential property use would be decisions that advantage the wealthy parts of the city and dis-advantage the less-wealthy voting minority of the city. With our new districted city council, such wealthy-majority-favoring decisions are harder to reach — by design, in districted local government.
Measure V proponents don’t like that change, so they have devised an end-run around it: Measure V would remove zoning control and decisions from the city council and instead require those decisions to be made at the ballot box. This is a return to city government that’s focused on the wealthy majority, and it seems “more democratic”.
But that’s another part of the deception: the idea that every single-family zoning change that the city council would decide, instead would be decided by popular vote. Not so. Measure V would also change the process of creating the change proposals that would be decided at the ballot box and also the limit the types of proposals that come forward. In practice, Measure V would give voters a vote yes-or-no vote on whatever proposals and projects could pay the high cost of going to the ballot. Residents would no longer have a consultative role in a public process to shape the proposals. Instead, developers would be able to devise their own proposals and projects outside of public review, and citizens’ only role is an up or down vote in a political campaign process.
What we have is not a perfect process. People have legitimate gripes, and get frustrated when they don’t get their way about changes in their neighborhoods. The city council and city planners have a tough job in doing transparent, consultative planning for how to meet the city’s obligations to increased housing, including below-market housing, including housing that is affordable to local teachers.
Let’s not throw away that process, as imperfect as it is, in favor of a political process that will be successfully gamed by those focused on profit, not progress. Voters who wish to support our entire community, would be wise to vote against Measure V, and leave control of residential property decision making right where it is today — with a city council designed for representation of all citizens, regardless of wealth.
John Sebes, Willows Resident, Menlo Park