BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
After an intense discussion, and a parent threatening that donations would be withheld from the school district, the Menlo Park City School Board decided it won’t oppose the divisive Measure V apartment ballot measure.
The board on Thursday (Sept. 8) was set to approve a resolution that urged a no vote. But leading up to the board’s discussion, it heard from many residents on both sides of the measure, which would require a vote if the city tries to rezone an area for single-family housing to apartments or anything else.
Proponents of Measure V said they didn’t want the board to take a side, saying the board was outside the role of a school board.
Kim Yaeger, a proponent of Measure V, said she is worried the board is being treated like a political pawn and said she’s aware of families who won’t donate to the district’s nonprofit arm if the board comes out against Measure V.
If approved, Measure V could delay or hurt the chances of the East Palo Alto-based Ravenswood School Distric building up to 90 units of housing for teachers and other school employees.
Some of Measure V’s proponents, such as Liz Hove and Carolina Whitty, called for the board to hold off on making any decision until getting written confirmation from Ravenswood that the units would go to teachers and district employees.
But opponents of the measure urged the board to take a stand, saying that ballot box zoning is bad policy and could hurt Menlo Park City schools in the future.
“At times it makes sense to be neutral. This is not one of them,” said Angie Evans, urging the board to take a stand and help their neighboring school district.
Even though the resolution was drafted after Superintendent Erik Burmeister and Public Information Officer Parke Treadway sat down individually with each board member to hear their thoughts on the measure, three board members backed down at Thursday’s meeting in face of the opposition.
Board members Sherwin Chen, Stacey Jones and Scott Saywell all said they didn’t want to take a position on the issue because they feared risking the board’s standing in the community.
The two board members who didn’t flip, Francesca Segre and David Ackerman, spoke passionately about opposing the measure.
At its Aug. 25 meeting, board members Francesca Segre, Sherwin Chen and David Ackerman appeared in favor of passing a resolution against the measure. But Chen said at the board’s Thursday night meeting that he felt conflicted as he feels the impacts of the measure on the district are indirect.
Chen also said that while he agrees with the ideas proposed in the resolution, he does not think the board needs to act on the issue in order to preserve its standing in the community.
Chen’s comments reflected what board member Jones said earlier in the meeting, harkening back to when district voters rejected two parcel taxes in 2016 and how the board had to build back the community’s trust.
Segre, who had initially requested the board discuss the measure and is against the measure, urged those upset with the council and its housing plans to instead run for election, pointing out that the school board and two out of three council seats were not competitive this year.
Segre also said taking a stance on Measure V shows the board’s values.
Jones said she was offended at Segre’s statement. Jones said the board has passed policies that have “shouted out our values time and time again.”
“Our stance on this resolution I don’t believe speaks to our values. It’s a zoning issue,” she said.
But Ackerman pointed to the Tinsley Court case, which is the desegregation ruling by the courts that allows for East Palo Alto students to attend schools in Menlo Park, Las Lomitas and Palo Alto school districts.
Ackerman said the Tinsley decision occurred because the previous school boards stood by as zoning decisions were made that created segregated school districts. He read from a city-funded study of Measure V that concluded if the measure passes, it will push more housing to the marginalized communities such as Belle Haven that have already been dealt the brunt of housing in town.
For his part, Saywell pointed out that Ravenswood’s initial request for proposals doesn’t mention teacher housing. He said he supports the district getting money for its unused school sites, but noted the neighbors want 60 units, not 90, and questioned how much difference it would make if Ravenswood built 60 units instead.
“I’m not saying I agree with this measure … I’ll vote how I want to. But this is not a school board issue,” Saywell said.
The Ravenswood School Board came out against the measure last month, with its board members pointing out the measure would keep the “same cycle” of putting dense housing in lower-income areas.
A majority of the Las Lomitas School Board on Wednesday asked Superintendent Beth Polito to present a resolution against the measure.