By Rene Ciria-Cruz
Facebook’s decision last year to relocate its corporate headquarters from Palo Alto to Menlo Park gave social justice activists a welcome opportunity to challenge the affluent city’s long-standing neglect of affordable housing.
City officials were eager to accommodate the social networking behemoth because it promised jobs, prestige, and millions of dollars in capital projects and taxes to the city of 32,000. But affordable housing advocates said, “Not so fast!” Menlo Park many not proceed with new development initiatives until it had rectified years of violations around state housing laws. And city officials stopped and listened. What compelled them was the 2010 Superior Court decision in Urban Habitat et al., v. the City of Pleasanton et al. “We essentially shut down Pleasanton’s planning powers until they met their legally required obligation to plan for affordable housing,” explained Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for Public Advocates who represented the affordable housing coalition that took Pleasanton to court. Now Marcantonio was poised to take on Menlo Park on behalf of a Silicon Valley-based coalition. Refusal to Permit Affordable Housing Challenged Like Pleasanton, Menlo Park at the eastern edge of San Mateo County has long been noncompliant with state housing laws.
All local governments have to zone for their share of regional housing needs at each income level. The requirement, known as the Housing Element in the local General Plan for development, is called for by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).