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City of Menlo Park will search for community-based organization to help with public outreach

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Menlo Park City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to disband the housing plan’s Community Engagement and Outreach Committee (CEOC) and enlist a community-based organization to take over the group’s work, after several members resigned in frustration due to the limited scope and other dysfunctions of the committee.

City Manager Alex McIntyre explained that with a goal of 100 percent participation in Menlo Park’s new housing program, “there was no room for even one member who didn’t agree.” He said that extending an invitation would have been disingenuous.

“It’s time to look at the next step,” McIntyre said, calling for new leadership. “We go forward with new life.”

Members of CEOC had spent weeks on outreach activities before submitting ideas to the council, but their suggestions were soon thrown out by staff and council members who felt that they didn’t align with broader strategies. […]

When asked what community-based group would be best suited to fill the void, Councilman Ray Mueller responded: “I don’t know if there is one right answer.” He suggested bringing in several groups to present options during a work session so as not to waste any time.

Councilman Peter Ohtaki agreed that finding an organization would be key. “It’s important to establish some credibility,” he said.

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Councilwoman Catherine Carlton added that working with an organization would be “a new opportunity to get the right people at the table.” She suggested starting with Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation, which recently met with CEOC members about its joint project with College Preparatory School to host a speaker series on housing issues. […]

The city has been looking for ways to spread the word about its housing program since it was introduced last year, but efforts have been difficult because of both budgetary constraints and resistance from some community members. [ … because of…resistance.]

“It’s really sad because we want everyone in Menlo Park to understand what is going on so they can participate,” Mueller said. [ … participate.]

“The next outreach effort should be more inclusive,” he added, referring to the fact that CEOC was not open to all Menlo Park residents. [ … Menlo Park residents.]

Councilman Rich Cline agreed with Mueller and called for finding a volunteer group instead of an organization. “People don’t want to follow the lead of the city,” he said. […]

Community activist Ilyse Magy suggested working with Atherton, which has taken a different approach by hiring its own consultants and holding regular meetings about its housing element. She noted that most members of CEOC had worked on both elements; it would make sense for them to apply their knowledge in another capacity, such as finding a consultant to work with Menlo Park.

“At this point, we need something more cohesive and less divisive,” […] “It’s time to try something different.”

When it became clear that council members were committed to working with another organization, Magy asked whether they would be open to bringing CEOC back in the future if it wasn’t successful. Carlton responded: “I think I can speak for everyone here that we are willing to revisit this.” [ … willing.]

Councilwoman Kirstin Keith said she wouldn’t mind seeing Menlo Park Community Foundation step up as a coordinator between organizations that have been actively involved in housing issues. She noted that the city has an agreement with the foundation to consulting services on environmental impact reports. “We’ve reached out to them, but not in this matter,” she said.

One council member who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting was Ray Mueller, whose term will end on Dec. 31. Mueller had urged the council last month to allow CEOC to complete its work and inform residents of what has been accomplished so far. [Mueller urged…]

The city plans to spend approximately $2 million in a competitive bidding process with a community-based organization that would conduct outreach activities going forward. [ … going forward.] The City Council also wants an organization to provide support for Menlo Park’s ongoing effort to update the housing element of its General Plan, which was adopted in 1988 and is due for review by July 2017.

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