Publication Date: Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 & Friday,
Sept. 22, 2000
It's business as usual in most cities
It's business as usual in most cities (September 22, 2000)
Both Menlo Park and Los Altos are experiencing a surge in demolitions
but officials in two of Palo Alto's less affluent neighbors, Mountain
View and Redwood City, say the number of tear-downs in their cities will
remain--as they have for years--in the single digits.
Mountain View had only five demolition permits requested through August,
Principal Planner Michael Percy said. As in most local cities, however,
Mountain View homeowners are remodeling with greater frequency, Percy
"But we just haven't seen much activity in demolitions," he said.
He attributes that to several factors. He said Mountain View's housing
stock is newer than Palo Alto's, primarily built in the 1950s and 1960s,
and therefore is less likely to need complete replacement.
He also said Mountain View allows fewer square feet of housing to be
built on residential lots than Palo Alto, thereby discouraging the building
of so-called "monster homes."
"And then, of course, there's the financial aspect," Percy said. "Mountain
View property simply isn't as valuable. If you spend several million
dollars, you're much more likely to want your own house, rather than
Similarly, Redwood City has also seen only a trickle of recent home
demolitions. John LaTorra, the city's building and inspection manager,
said from July of last year through June of this year, only seven demolition
permits went through City Hall. As in Mountain View, however, LaTorra
said home remodeling has sharply increased--some of it extensive.
"What we're seeing is a lot of people applying for what amounts to
near-demolitions," he said.
LaTorra said he suspects Redwood City is being spared from the demolition
craze because it is one of the few cities on the Peninsula that still
has available property--Redwood Shores--for new single-family homes.
The Redwood Shores area, now with close to 5,000 residential lots, has
made it so homebuyers don't need to buy an existing home and tear it
In neighboring Menlo Park, however, home demolitions are running at
a steady clip, but far below those in Palo Alto.
Building Official Donald Johnson said 30 demolition permits were issued
from July 1 of last year to June 30 of this year. That compares to 21
in the same period the year before. Almost all the new construction
is east of El Camino--in West Menlo, Sharon Heights and Felton Gables.
"I'd say the homes that are replacing the ones torn down are 50 to
100 percent bigger," Johnson said.
Many homebuyers are also using an underground tactic to get more square
footage: They're building basements--most between 1,000 and 2,000 square
feet in size--that don't count against space limits.
"It makes for some very large homes," Johnson said.
In Los Altos, Acting Planning Director Jim Mackenzie said there has
been "a very substantial increase" in the number of home demolitions
and major remodels in the past two years. While he couldn't provide
statistics, Mackenzie said the demolition trend has become so pronounced
that it's not uncommon for homes that were remodeled as few as five
years ago to be torn down.
"The volume has become so great that the City Council gave the Planning
Department an extra, full-time staff position to handle the flow in
building activity," Mackenzie said, noting that the department previously
had only four positions.
Another sign that demolitions have reached a worrying level can be
seen in recent action by the Los Altos City Council. The council approved
a law allowing residents to petition the city if they want to ban second-story
homes in their neighborhoods.