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Ravenswood school district staff make their case for workforce housing

Survey feedback offers insight as district proposes building residences on former Flood School site

The empty James Flood Magnet School property at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park in 2021. The Ravenswood City School District would like the site to be developed into workforce housing. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Gerardo Garcia's workday is not yet done after he shuts the door of his seventh grade science classroom at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto. For the last six years, he's spent two to three hours driving for Uber in the evenings.

Garcia, like many school staffers on the Peninsula, said he has to find alternative means to bring in extra cash to pay for the high cost of living in the Bay Area, exacerbated by the recent spike in inflation. A father of three, he has worked for the district for two decades and rents a house in Redwood Shores with his wife, who is also a teacher.

"We moved about a year and half ago because the rent price went up," he said, noting that his family's basic needs take up 80% of their combined incomes. He said driving for the ride-hailing company takes away quality time with his family. "Gas, food, rent, everything is going up. … It's very difficult and expensive to support our family."

Garcia's experience mirrors that of other staffers in the Ravenswood City School District, according to a survey of 89 of the district's 300 staff members this past May. Twenty percent said the cost of housing is causing them to consider quitting their job. Two percent said they do not have access to reliable housing, and only one-third of respondents reported having a "safe, secure, and affordable housing option."

The district gave teachers a 10% raise last year, bringing salaries on par with neighboring school districts, but the bump is not enough to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area, they said.

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Mario Zamora, an East Palo Alto native and athletic director at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School, said he is also struggling to make ends meet. He rents out his ponies on the weekends for birthday parties and runs a summer camp called Camp Doza, which offers lessons in basketball, soccer and farm culture at Ravenswood Ranch in East Palo Alto.

Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School Athletic Director Mario Zamora is photographed on the ranch where he runs Camp Doza in East Palo Alto on July 26, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In response to developers purchasing Ravenswood Ranch, Zamora is planning to buy 40 acres of land two hours away, near Jackson, California, in the coming years. He wants to build cabins and bus kids from East Palo Alto there for camps. He said he will probably eventually need to move out himself since he can't afford to buy a home.

"Our neighborhood is lacking community in the sense that people, when they get in the workforce, they can't afford to stay there; they leave," he said. "Outsiders come into our community to teach our kids. If they can't relate to the kids, they (kids) are never going to give them their full attention."

"East Palo Alto has always been a little city tucked in the corner," he said. "The people with the restaurant jobs, cleaning jobs lived there. They're being pushed out toward the (Central) Valley."

Zamora, who has two young children, said some of his colleagues spend three or four hours a day commuting, getting up at 3 a.m. just to drive to the Bay Area for work.

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"They're not going to be mentally healthy to do their job because they're worried about the commute or the rent," said Zamora, 37. "Housing is critical but at the same time my parents who did buy their house in '96 for dirt cheap — they deserve a good retirement. I'm happy he (my father) can sell his house for $1 million. It just sucks for us younger generation who are just never going to be able to afford to buy in their community."

Plan to turn Flood School site into residences meets pushback

Garcia and Zamora support the district's proposal to build up to 90 units of workforce housing at the 2.5-acre former James Flood Magnet School site in Belle Haven, close to U.S. Highway 101 next to Flood Park. The school operated from 1980 to 2011.

The plan has received pushback from nearby residents concerned about the project bringing traffic to their neighborhood. The site, at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park, is currently zoned for single-family homes (as of 1986). At the time, many of the neighbors felt that the residential designation was appropriate for the site given the surrounding area, and that doing so "provided control and protection from future use of the site," according to the city of Menlo Park.

"I like teaching there, however if this project can not be carried out, we will be forced to move to another area and leave everything behind," Garcia said. "Many of our colleagues are in the same situation."

Traffic from operating a school, the original use of the property, is much heavier than what would be generated by a housing development, a report from the city shows. The traffic impacts of a 90-unit residential development would create 400 new daily trips. By comparison, an elementary school with 275 students, the size of the Flood School before closure, would likely produce over 600 trips per day.

Menlo Park is currently facing a state mandate to zone for thousands of new homes, including plans to accommodate more than 1,000 units available for lower-income households. The Flood School project could help meet those affordable housing goals.

"There are certain stigmas or images that come to mind when it comes to affordable housing; racist tropes," said Chief Business Officer Will Eger. "It was personally powerful reading the responses of our staff (to the survey)."

'Outsiders come into our community to teach our kids. If they can't relate to the kids, they are never going to give them their full attention.'

-Mario Zamora, Ravenswood school athletic director

Ravenswood Teachers Association resident Ronda White, a reading specialist and instructional coach at Costaño School of the Arts, said she's lucky to live in the home she grew up in East Palo Alto with her two kids and mother.

White said she loves teaching in East Palo Alto, but knows that without affordable housing it's difficult for other teachers to live in the community they teach in.

"It was where I was born and raised," she said. "It's where I get my values and beliefs. … The location is beautiful and the soil grows everything. … change is necessary but it can be difficult. To the people who are nervous or confused (about developing the Flood site into housing), through this process, I hope they'll figure out a way to be a little more compassionate."

More on the survey

Other key findings in the survey showed:

• 43% of respondents are considering leaving the district because of the cost of housing or the length of their commute.

• Over 70% of respondents indicated an interest in workforce housing; over 60% of those responded that housing would make them "much more likely" to stay with the district.

• Another 38% said the length of the commute is causing them to consider quitting their job.

• 85% of respondents had incomes and household sizes that would make them eligible for affordable housing; of those, a further 85% are interested in workforce housing.

Feedback from staff members in the Ravenswood City School District on their housing situations. Courtesy Ravenswood City School District.

The survey also estimated that the district would need over 200 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of staff. Close to 75% of district faculty and staff rent.

Ravenswood school board member Ana Maria Pulido said the survey was very helpful for understanding the needs of the districts.

"I remember a few years ago when we considered workforce housing, the numbers weren't strong enough for us to move forward with the project at that time," she said. "It's reassuring us we're in the right direction in terms of that project is concerned."

In 2018, staff brought a proposal to build below-market-rate apartments at the Flood School site. But further analysis found that the project was not economically feasible, according to the city of Menlo Park. All of the bids assumed a higher level of density at the time.

The district last surveyed staff three years ago when it initially explored building workforce housing at the Flood site, Eger said. The district wanted to revisit and update the survey.

Watch a discussion on the staff housing survey at the Ravenswood board's June 23 meeting:

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Ravenswood school district staff make their case for workforce housing

Survey feedback offers insight as district proposes building residences on former Flood School site

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 3, 2022, 5:17 pm

Gerardo Garcia's workday is not yet done after he shuts the door of his seventh grade science classroom at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto. For the last six years, he's spent two to three hours driving for Uber in the evenings.

Garcia, like many school staffers on the Peninsula, said he has to find alternative means to bring in extra cash to pay for the high cost of living in the Bay Area, exacerbated by the recent spike in inflation. A father of three, he has worked for the district for two decades and rents a house in Redwood Shores with his wife, who is also a teacher.

"We moved about a year and half ago because the rent price went up," he said, noting that his family's basic needs take up 80% of their combined incomes. He said driving for the ride-hailing company takes away quality time with his family. "Gas, food, rent, everything is going up. … It's very difficult and expensive to support our family."

Garcia's experience mirrors that of other staffers in the Ravenswood City School District, according to a survey of 89 of the district's 300 staff members this past May. Twenty percent said the cost of housing is causing them to consider quitting their job. Two percent said they do not have access to reliable housing, and only one-third of respondents reported having a "safe, secure, and affordable housing option."

The district gave teachers a 10% raise last year, bringing salaries on par with neighboring school districts, but the bump is not enough to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area, they said.

Mario Zamora, an East Palo Alto native and athletic director at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School, said he is also struggling to make ends meet. He rents out his ponies on the weekends for birthday parties and runs a summer camp called Camp Doza, which offers lessons in basketball, soccer and farm culture at Ravenswood Ranch in East Palo Alto.

In response to developers purchasing Ravenswood Ranch, Zamora is planning to buy 40 acres of land two hours away, near Jackson, California, in the coming years. He wants to build cabins and bus kids from East Palo Alto there for camps. He said he will probably eventually need to move out himself since he can't afford to buy a home.

"Our neighborhood is lacking community in the sense that people, when they get in the workforce, they can't afford to stay there; they leave," he said. "Outsiders come into our community to teach our kids. If they can't relate to the kids, they (kids) are never going to give them their full attention."

"East Palo Alto has always been a little city tucked in the corner," he said. "The people with the restaurant jobs, cleaning jobs lived there. They're being pushed out toward the (Central) Valley."

Zamora, who has two young children, said some of his colleagues spend three or four hours a day commuting, getting up at 3 a.m. just to drive to the Bay Area for work.

"They're not going to be mentally healthy to do their job because they're worried about the commute or the rent," said Zamora, 37. "Housing is critical but at the same time my parents who did buy their house in '96 for dirt cheap — they deserve a good retirement. I'm happy he (my father) can sell his house for $1 million. It just sucks for us younger generation who are just never going to be able to afford to buy in their community."

Garcia and Zamora support the district's proposal to build up to 90 units of workforce housing at the 2.5-acre former James Flood Magnet School site in Belle Haven, close to U.S. Highway 101 next to Flood Park. The school operated from 1980 to 2011.

The plan has received pushback from nearby residents concerned about the project bringing traffic to their neighborhood. The site, at 321 Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park, is currently zoned for single-family homes (as of 1986). At the time, many of the neighbors felt that the residential designation was appropriate for the site given the surrounding area, and that doing so "provided control and protection from future use of the site," according to the city of Menlo Park.

"I like teaching there, however if this project can not be carried out, we will be forced to move to another area and leave everything behind," Garcia said. "Many of our colleagues are in the same situation."

Traffic from operating a school, the original use of the property, is much heavier than what would be generated by a housing development, a report from the city shows. The traffic impacts of a 90-unit residential development would create 400 new daily trips. By comparison, an elementary school with 275 students, the size of the Flood School before closure, would likely produce over 600 trips per day.

Menlo Park is currently facing a state mandate to zone for thousands of new homes, including plans to accommodate more than 1,000 units available for lower-income households. The Flood School project could help meet those affordable housing goals.

"There are certain stigmas or images that come to mind when it comes to affordable housing; racist tropes," said Chief Business Officer Will Eger. "It was personally powerful reading the responses of our staff (to the survey)."

Ravenswood Teachers Association resident Ronda White, a reading specialist and instructional coach at Costaño School of the Arts, said she's lucky to live in the home she grew up in East Palo Alto with her two kids and mother.

White said she loves teaching in East Palo Alto, but knows that without affordable housing it's difficult for other teachers to live in the community they teach in.

"It was where I was born and raised," she said. "It's where I get my values and beliefs. … The location is beautiful and the soil grows everything. … change is necessary but it can be difficult. To the people who are nervous or confused (about developing the Flood site into housing), through this process, I hope they'll figure out a way to be a little more compassionate."

Other key findings in the survey showed:

• 43% of respondents are considering leaving the district because of the cost of housing or the length of their commute.

• Over 70% of respondents indicated an interest in workforce housing; over 60% of those responded that housing would make them "much more likely" to stay with the district.

• Another 38% said the length of the commute is causing them to consider quitting their job.

• 85% of respondents had incomes and household sizes that would make them eligible for affordable housing; of those, a further 85% are interested in workforce housing.

The survey also estimated that the district would need over 200 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of staff. Close to 75% of district faculty and staff rent.

Ravenswood school board member Ana Maria Pulido said the survey was very helpful for understanding the needs of the districts.

"I remember a few years ago when we considered workforce housing, the numbers weren't strong enough for us to move forward with the project at that time," she said. "It's reassuring us we're in the right direction in terms of that project is concerned."

In 2018, staff brought a proposal to build below-market-rate apartments at the Flood School site. But further analysis found that the project was not economically feasible, according to the city of Menlo Park. All of the bids assumed a higher level of density at the time.

The district last surveyed staff three years ago when it initially explored building workforce housing at the Flood site, Eger said. The district wanted to revisit and update the survey.

Watch a discussion on the staff housing survey at the Ravenswood board's June 23 meeting:

Comments

MenloVoter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 4, 2022 at 5:24 pm
MenloVoter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 5:24 pm

“The survey also estimated that the district would need over 200 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of staff. Close to 75% of district faculty and staff rent.”

The Flood School project sets aside ZERO units for RCSD faculty and staff. In the proposal by RCSD they would be given “preference if available.” How many times have we all heard that?

If the RCSD is concerned about teacher families why aren’t they proposing homes they SELL to teachers at affordable rates? Clearly building wealth is an issue, but every proposal by RCSD is simply revenue generating for ther district.

Once again elected officials promise one thing, and deliver something that benefits them.


RP
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 5, 2022 at 8:05 am
RP, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2022 at 8:05 am

I have been a resident of Menlo Park for 11 years, and have volunteered in the Ravenswood School District, as a part of the non-profit organization Ravenswood Classroom Partners (previously known as All Students Matter.) It has been inspiring and heartwarming to work with the teachers and students of the Ravenswood School District. Just as there are a few teachers from MPCSD and MAHS that live among us, I would be delighted if teachers from RCSD would also be neighbors.

Regarding the former Flood School site and plans for its development, months after residents flagged traffic and emergency vehicle access issues as a concern, Menlo Park City Councilmember Ray Mueller has offered a potential solution: have an additional access road. (Web Link

This is what many of us have been urging in the first place. Additional access is essential, and the most obvious point of entry is the existing wide entry through Flood Park, which I understand used to be a point of entry for Flood School. This option is not mentioned in Councilmember Mueller’s proposal.

Councilmember Mueller’s proposal is creative, and would be a good option if implementation was guaranteed. Without an agreement in writing and commitment from the various stakeholders, it will remain what it currently is: an interesting idea. The Menlo Park City Council needs to secure this agreement in writing as soon as possible from Caltrans, from LifeMoves, RCSD, and from the builder/developer as needed.

Councilmember Mueller is a candidate for San Mateo County Supervisor in the upcoming November 2022 elections. Demonstrating that he is able to secure agreement among these disparate bodies would certainly be a feather in his cap as the campaign season heats up, and would likely secure him the goodwill and votes of many Menlo Park constituents.

I hope we can welcome RCSD teachers and staff to the vicinity before long.


Mel Chandler
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 6, 2022 at 2:26 pm
Mel Chandler, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2022 at 2:26 pm

“In your article you reference that the Flood site “could still be a school generating traffic.” I ask that you please don’t continue to use this false equivalency to residential traffic. Schools are only in operation at best for 9 months of the year. During the time they are in operation, traffic is concentrated to about 30 minutes before the start of the day and 30 minutes at the end of the day. Traffic impacts are minimal and concentrated, thus making it a very poor comparison to residential traffic. Secondly, when the Flood School was last in operation, the entrance to and from school was through Flood Park. There were signs on the fence in Suburban Park telling families it was not a drop off or pick up spot. It’s an apples to oranges comparison…”. Suburban Park did not ever experience increased traffic from the Flood School site… The suburban Park neighborhood only has two ingress/egress streets, and the impact of the proposed development will be substantial—including during years’ long construction [heavy vehicles, workers, etc].


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