Town Square

Remodeling gone overboard

Original post made by Remodeler on Nov 29, 2006

A letter in today's weekly mentions that a new neighbor on David is planning to tear down what has been a tastefully remodeled, well maintained home. As someone who is in the throws of a major re-model while still living in the home and trying to maintain my sanity amongst the extra headaches of remodeling while still living my life and that of a hectic family, I ask the question, Why? My eichler was still in the 1950s shape of the original owner's home and an update was in great demand. The original kitchen was not working and the original wiring, plumbing, etc. all below code. For this reason we had to remodel, although of course we could have demolished and started all over. But the above mentioned home does not sound the same at all.

As I plan my remodel and go through all the miniscule decisions it entails I ask myself how it would feel if for some reason in the next couple of years I had to move out and learnt that the whole thing was demolished. I would certainly feel heartache and perhaps betrayal. I expect my home to be mine for some time and I plan the details of the remodel accordingly, hoping that they will last for a great number of years. I expect the home owner on David did the same.

A home in Palo Alto is now apparently a throw away a commodity. The plot is more valuable than the house. The house is a house not a home. We all struggle to get the latest, best, most technically sound and forget that consumerism is taking over our lives. I truly hope that the owners of this house (not a home) knows what they are letting themselves in for. A remodel or rebuild is not an easy thing to go through. I would not recommend it to anyone. And once the bricks and mortar (or whatever) come down, the memories linger in the dust and the neighborhood is changed forever. Yes we do have to move with the times. But sometimes the move should be not yet.


Posted by You said what, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 29, 2006 at 7:01 pm

I disagree.
The guy on David has dreams. Life without dreams is nothing.

Posted by Andy, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 29, 2006 at 7:03 pm

Don't you have anything better to worry about in life beyond remodeling your Palo Alto house and what your neighbor is doing. 99.9% of the world can't afford your Eichler and could care less if your neighborhood ends up wall to wall mc mansions. Doesn't bother the rest of the world one bit.

Posted by Jerry, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2006 at 7:38 pm

I have live in Palo Alto for 26 years. Because of all the "teardowns", Palo Alto will be nothing but wall to wall 2-3 story homes on top of each other. Do I care- NO, because I will sell my "teardown" for a whole lot more than what I pay for and get out of dodge!

Posted by Get a life, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 29, 2006 at 7:41 pm

WEll, Remodler accurately sums up what many people in PA feel--that your private property, the home you own, is not really yours to do with what you please.
If it isn;t the "everything is historic and cannot be changed" crowd, it is the neighberhood busybodies and if not them, then the people who feel that they have the righ to nitpick their neogbors plans and decisions.

The guy on David owns the home--he is free to with it what he pleases. If Remodler and other's do not like it--then tough.

Remodler's last paragraph is laughable--with so many problems facing the city and the world, remodler is agonizing over a home that the owner does not like. Only in Palo alto

Posted by curious, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Alot of homes that were built in the 1950's don't fit the lifestyle of many today. Eichlers were built before energy conservation was an issue, modern day electrical wiring, the original Luann walls were a potential fire hazard, and the radiant heating system in many have failed.

Many people have remodelled their Eichlers keeping their original footprint and exterior walls, and more power to them - that's their choice. But others prefer houses of a different style, floorplan, etc. Many times it is cheaper & easier to tear down and start from scratch depending on how much remodelling needs to be done. That should be each owner's choice.

If someone wants to have all the houses in the neighborhood look alike one thing they should consider is going to live in a townhouse complex.

Posted by Ex-Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2006 at 4:45 am

Most midtown homes are in pathetic state. Most of midtown looks like run down and old. If it were'nt for the name "Palo Alto", the place is actually crummy and hopeless.
Please folks wake up and REMODEL.

Posted by Happy Remodeler, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 30, 2006 at 5:29 am

"If it isn't the "everything is historic and cannot be changed" crowd, it is the neighberhood busybodies and if not them, then the people who feel that they have the righ to nitpick their neogbors plans and decisions."

No kidding! We made extensive changes to our post war built home a number of years ago. Because of the scope of the job, we were required to get a variance. That meant we had to appear at a Planning Department hearing to both present our plans and be questioned by any member of the community that attended the hearing.

The first two were neighbors who either wanted to see the plans or had questions about windows facing their property. The third person, who turned out to be a former City Council member, was another case entirely.

He lived two blocks away from our home but still felt the need to rant and rave that we were ruining the flavor of Palo Alto. At one point he said, and I'll quote his exact statement, " All you're going to do is build this house and sell it to a bunch of God damn Indians!" That certainly got everyone's attention.

It turned out that he had had a long running feud with a Muslim family in the neighborhood who would use their large front yard for occasional family gatherings.

We got our variance and built our dream home that we lived in for fifteen years but that one incident sure tore the fašade off "Perfect Palo Alto."

Posted by No Place for the Old, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2006 at 5:58 am

Come take a walk down Parkinson Ave and see how this short little street has changed. Houses that are nicknamed The Kremlin are popping up. When I moved here over 20 years ago, there were cute little 1920's and 1930's cottages. Now, we have homes with full basements (for wine cellars, theaters) and 2 stories above the basement. This is necessary for the 3 people who live in these houses. Believe me, I'm too old to be jealous of these big ugly edificies.

Yeah, it's your property. But what about the waste? What about history? Most of the people who are building these edifices to their success don't think about that.

Posted by Get a life, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 30, 2006 at 7:29 am

So No Place for the Old does not feel that people should be allowed replace an older home with a more modern one? Maybe cute 1920's cottages do not meet todays standards and desires. Don't the property owners have any say in what kind of home they want? Or is it the PA way for everyone else to decide? Does it bother you that much that 3 people are living in a large home of their dreams?

Let's face it--there really is no history in Palo Alto--people here would like to have "historic" things--so they go out and try to make everything over 50 years old designated historic (remember that boondogle?).

Finally I have noticed a trend among the "enlightened" residents of Palo Alto--when they do not like something they give it a derogatory name--above it is "The Kremlin", in the past it was "Taco Bell Homes". It is okay for these people to use derogatory terms because they are "right"--but listen to those same people scream and yell when someone else uses a non-complementary word or phrase.

Posted by No Place for the Old, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2006 at 8:34 am

Getalife - you and I will never agree on this subject. But, I do want to ask you - what do you think about the wastefulness of tearing down a home? Does that concern you at all?

I'm a bit surprised about your statement, "there really is no history in Palo Alto--people here would like to have "historic" things--so they go out and try to make everything over 50 years old designated historic (remember that boondogle?)."

Why did Hewlett Packard just spend millions of dollars restoring their garage where it all happened and the house in front of it? And what about Kathleen Norris' Birge Clark home? Don't know Kathleen Norris? Perhaps you need to reserach the history of Palo Alto. She was as popular an author in her day as Danielle Steele is.

And I'm not even going to mention the Nobel Prize winners, entrepeneurs, Olympic athletes, who have lived in this town.

Palo Alto is a community - for those of us who love it and appreciate it. Our home is more than just a structure. It is alive with it's beautiful oak floors, its beadboard on the walls, it's little nooks & cranies; built with wood that can't even be purchased today without huge expense. Built by men's hands and probably not a lot of power tools. It has housed people who have left their imprint, their joys, their sorrows. All the people who have worked on this house, lived in this house, have left something of themselves here.

I don't expect you to understand that or even care about it. I don't expect you to ever understand what an old house can tell you. You see something different from me. That doesn't make you wrong and me right. But, just as you don't want me to shove something down your throat, I sure don't want you to shove your stuff down my throat.

Peace be with you.

Posted by Get a Life, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 30, 2006 at 8:42 am

Why is tearing down a house necessary wasteful? Aren't parts of it recycled? Should homes never be torn down becuase it is "wasteful"?
HWat aboutthe work that tearing down a home and building a new home provides for people?

Yes, maybe the HP house is historic and I do know who kathleen norris was. However comparing her to Danielle Steele is hardly a recommendation. Just becuase she lived in a home here, along with the other Nobel Prize winners, athletes etc. does not make their homes historic.

I am not trying to shove anything down your throat--I am not telling you to tear down your home and build something new. However it is not your or my place to tell someone else what he can or cannot do with his home. You see homes one way, which is your right--others view things differently. Thebottom line is that, within reason, the homeowner has the rightto decide what to do withhis property.

BTW, is your home the original structure on that location? If not why was the original structure torn down?

Posted by Remodler, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:01 am

I think this is a true reflection of how we all feel. My home is in its original 1950s condition and definitely needs to be remodeled. We are carefully living at home during the remodel and suffering, particularly at this time of year when it is dark and cold trying to use the grill outside, picnicking in the living room, begging an invitation from friends for Thanksgiving. Yes, it would probably have been better to move out, but we are living with our decision. I would not recommend taking on a remodel lightly, it is a lot of work and takes up 110% of one person's time which leaves little else for life. And the strain it puts on a marriage or family life is incredible. Don't choose to remodel because it seems easy. It is not.

No, my point is that homes in good condition, not very old, well maintained, are being torn down. I don't mind the old ugly eyesores being torn down. Neighborhoods change. Life goes on and change is inevitable, in fact necessary. I just wanted you to ponder on the old for a minute and wonder if all the change is always necessary. Some of the homes here are 50 years old and do need major updating. But I have heard of homes 10 years old or so being torn down and that seems upsetting. I also just ponder on the aspirations of the former owners and their longstanding neighbors. Their memories and past lives falling away with the walls and debris. I am not saying it shouldn't happen, just think about it. One of the popular threads on this site is about growing up around here. Look at the changes that have happened from their perspective. They are not mourning the change, just nostalgic about what they had.

Houses are homes where lives have been lived. It isn't only the owners who remember the memories there, but neighbors and passers by also. Just stop and think about the home that you grew up in and wonder what happened to it?

So my reason for this thread is two fold. Firstly, remodeling is a big undertaking and be prepared for a major change in your lifestyle while it is going on. Secondly, be nostalgic, just for a minute and remember the past before demolishing it and planning for the future.

Posted by Watching My Waste, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:05 am

Get a Life, I want to address your question: "Why is tearing down a house necessary [sic] wasteful?"

There are some houses that do need to come down for structural reasons, but typically here in Palo ALto, that's not the case. "According to the 2004 Statewide Waste Characterization Study, construction and demolition (C&D) materials account for almost 22 percent of the waste stream," says the main page of California's Integrated Waste Management Board (Web Link).

True, some small percentage of the materials do get recycled or, better yet, reused -- typically things like doors and fixtures. But think of all the raw materials that don't or can't get reused -- wood, plaster, steel, cement, concrete, glass, insulation materials. Now think of all the natural resources used to create those materials. Now think of all the energy (particularly including greenhouse-gas producing sources) used to manufacture those products. Now think of all the fossil fuels used to transport those materials and perform the construction -- and now the demolition. Now think of those materials taken to landfill, hermetically sealed in the ground, where they'll take up all that space for thousands of years.

Now think of all the new materials harvested, manufactured, and transported for the new house.

This is not a sustainable model. I hope that answers your question.

Posted by Getalife, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:07 am

Yup, our home is the original structure on this lot. It's not a home that anyone who is moving into this city would want. It's a prime candidate for a tear down. Way too small (1,000 sq. ft) It was farmland before that. And I guess in the late 1910's/early 1920's, the owner decided to sell of his property. If you go to the Main Library you can look up the information on your home and you can see who lived there. One of our neighbors (who's lived on the street over 60 years) says our home housed an explorer who traveled China a great deal.

Birge Clark's homes are stunning. If you've ever been in the Post Office on Hamilton that is one of Birge's structures. Check out the iron work in there. Kathleen Norris' home is one of the most beautiful in Palo Alto - Birge was a master at creating California homes in the 1930's with taste. Her home is on Cowper near Melville. If you don't think Kathleen Norris is worth mentioning - well, that is what history does, doesn't it? Wonder what people will be saying 70 years from now about your contemporaries?

I know that if you have a home de-structured the wood is re-sold (plenty of people want that old growth wood). What happens when it's bulldozed? I don't know. I tend to doubt that people will go to the dumps and try to pick that wood out.

Yes, people have the right to do what they want to their houses - but if I decide to make my house purple and orange and put storage sheds in the front yard, would that offend my neighbors? I'm fairly sure they would be. I think that I personally would be considerate of what I would build - to look at my property not alone but as part of the neighborhood. What you do and what I do does effect others. The ripple effect doesn't stop.

Posted by No Place for the Old, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:41 am

OOPS. Sorry, the comments about our house being the first to be built on its lot was written by me, No Place for the Old, rather than Get A Life.

Posted by Get a life, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:44 am

Watching My Waste and Getalife make some interesting points. However, th ebottom it is up to th eowner to decide what to do and as I stated previously it must be within reason.
Also a point that Getalife and others have made, many homes are too small, have outdated wiring and plumbing and are in bad shape. Should these homes be just "fixed"?
unfortunately in PA the questions of "reason" is the main issue. We have Happy Remodelers comments and also you may remember the saga of the Wong family from last year and their attempts to remodel their home. as one example. Their is too much nit-picking and sometimes outright bias by so-called neighbors.
I guess the question is how much input should neighbors have on a home re-model. Does buying a home guarantee you that you always and forever have quite, unobstructed sight lines and neighborhood homes to conform to your standards? It appears that people who have their "dream homes" seem to feel that others should not have their dream homes.

I also assume that you will oppose any rebuilding of the Mitchell Park Library since that will generate tons of waste for the landfill.

Posted by Remodler, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:53 am

From a pu'rely practical point of view, one thing that hasn't been mentioned here is that sometimes tearing down a home rather than remodeling is actually what the City wants, particularly for those of us living in the so called "flood plane". We wanted to do an addition to our property and we had the space to add on at the side of our house rather than the back (we live on that odd shaped space on a culdesac). However, the city said that to put on the addition we wanted we would have to raise the whole house 5' above ground level. Not on. So we had to change our original plans dramatically. That plus the wiring, plumbing, set backs, etc. etc. made the idea of tearing down the whole house a very viable option.

Posted by What the heck, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 30, 2006 at 12:18 pm


Posted by joyce, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 30, 2006 at 12:59 pm

This is a pretty sad thread. Hardly anyone posting gives a fig about the environment, and prefers conspicuous consumption and waste to living a lifestyle that our parents were perfectly comfortable with. These monster houses with no yard (bye bye birds, trees, etc.) with four people rattling around in 1000 sq. ft. apiece are a sad sight and trophies to tastelessness and lack of morality.

Posted by Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2006 at 1:14 pm

Folks, get used to this. Palo Alto is going to grow; large trophy homes are going to be a part of that growth. Also, we're going to see more density near transportation corridors, with smaller, cheaper units for middle and lower-middle income individuals to rent/buy.

For all those complaining about the influx of large trophy homes, what substitute for the % of property tax from those new homes would you suggest, to support the city services that we're accustomed to?

Posted by Get a life, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 30, 2006 at 1:34 pm

Well as i stated earlier--the "enlightened" PA residents like to use derogatory names for the homes they do not approve of--so we have a perfect example in Joyce's post above, where she uses the term "monster" home to label homes she does not approve of.
Her entire post is quite amusing in that she labels all of these "large" homes as tasteless and the people that live in them as immoral.
I guess anyone who dreams of having a large home better not try to live in Palo Alto--all residents must have small homes and live in spartan conditions as are parents did. It is too bad that some people just cannot let others lead their own lives--they feel the need to criticize and nit pick people's homes and then label them with derogatory names.

Posted by Craig, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2006 at 4:17 pm

I am one of the people affected by Remodeler's last post. I.e., I was perfectly happy to do a major remodel, not a tear down, but due to FEMA regs, the city wouldn't approve it unless the finished floor was above a certain point, making it an all or nothing affair. I chose "all."

When I tore down our old house I did pause to think about all the memories that other families had here. I understand remodeler's point about that. I personally think there is a value in keeping a house if possible. We should also be wary of spending too much energy judging others for living their lives the way they want.

Lets face it, life is fleeting, and we all want to get the most out of it that we can. Can a person make do and be flexible in making a tiny 1950's tract house into a warm and cozy home? Sure! But, many people want to spend their hard earned dollars to create their very own home from the ground up. I always wanted a big beautiful kitchen, and now I have the kitchen of my dreams. I'm very lucky, and I know many people don't have that luxury. I can't stop you from raining on my parade, but I will ask you as one human to another - just lighten up on me a little!

I don't see the need for using derrogatory terms to describe the new homes. People's tastes vary. I drive around and see some new homes and say, "yuck!" and others are really cool. I also see some great remodeling jobs that compliment some of the older homes, and some remodeling jobs that are pretty bad looking. Its just a matter of personal taste. Some people have the desire to make a home fit the character of their neighborhood more than others.

If there is one thing I think is sad about this thread its the way that some posters seem to judge the individuals living inside the homes based solely on the type of home they choose. If someone follows the zoning regulations, and chooses to fill up their lot with more house than yard, does that make them a less valuable human being? Some people aren't into backyard trees and birds. Maybe they are into books, or collecting things. As far as square footage goes, I think some people enjoy a tiny intimate house where they can feel close, and others want some breathing room.

Think the most offensive "McMansion" or "Taco Bell" house you've ever seen. Now imagine you could look in the window and in seconds see everything that happened in just one year to the people in that awful evil "trophy house." What would you see? Some guy resembling Thurston Howell III from "Gilligans Island" smoking a pipe and laughing at the misery of others? Well, its possible, but maybe you might see a kid's 3rd birthday party, or maybe a woman finding out she's pregnant, maybe someone getting a call that their dad had a heart attack, or someone relaxing on the couch watching their favorite show, or typing a post on the Palo Alto Online Town Hall. Maybe the people inside have fears, and dreams and things that make them angry or sad or happy. Maybe there were things they did that they could have done better, or maybe there were things they said that they wished they hadn't. Perhaps if you listened inside an egregious gigantic moster house that has a 4 square foot back yard, you'd hear people speaking a different language, but if you could magically understand what they said, might they be saying things like "I love you," or "be home later!" They'd probably be doing and saying the same things that people who live in 1950's Eichler knock-offs are saying.

Who knows, maybe they really are evil? I could be completely wrong.

Successfully being part of a community seems to involve caring about how your actions impact others around you, but it inevitably also involves tolerating the actions of others around you.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2006 at 6:36 pm

As someone who recently bought an Eichler in midtown I agree that most of them need remodeling. They weren't designed to last forever. Many things have failed and the houses aren't energy efficient. At some point it actually costs less per square foot to scrape and rebuild than to try to preserve their unique character. With rising sea levels, it also needs to be higher off the ground. While I have seen some "Tracy" style houses in the neighborhood, not all rebuilds are poorly designed.

Posted by Happy Remodeler, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 30, 2006 at 6:54 pm

"This is a pretty sad thread. Hardly anyone posting gives a fig about the environment, and prefers conspicuous consumption and waste to living a lifestyle that our parents were perfectly comfortable with. These monster houses with no yard (bye bye birds, trees, etc.) with four people rattling around in 1000 sq. ft. apiece are a sad sight and trophies to tastelessness and lack of morality."

I really really have to disagree with you joyce. When we got married, my wife had two children from a previous marriage. A two bedroom, one bath home was just not going to work. We expanded to a three bedroom, one office, three bath with a family room thinking it would be just the right size. Lucky we built the office because my wife became pregnant during construction and delivered out daughter a week after we moved back in.

We still had a nice yard and trees and were able to build a playhouse around an old redwood that became a place for all the neighborhood kids to play.

As for materials used, it really depends on where you live. I still laugh at the uninformed that derided houses with a stucco exterior by calling them "Taco Bells." A cement-based exterior will hold up much better than wood any day. In fact, where we live now, anyone who uses a wood exterior is called crazy due to the harsh environment.

My dream is to live in a John Lautner style home some day. He did very cool designs and knew how to use cement. Of course, that's merely my opinion and his designs would probably never be allowed in Palo Alto.

Posted by curious, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 30, 2006 at 9:38 pm

"This is a pretty sad thread. Hardly anyone posting gives a fig about the environment, and prefers conspicuous consumption and waste to living a lifestyle that our parents were perfectly comfortable with. These monster houses with no yard (bye bye birds, trees, etc.) with four people rattling around in 1000 sq. ft. apiece are a sad sight and trophies to tastelessness and lack of morality."

A house built from scratch could be more energy efficient than many of the houses built in the 1950's. Eichlers for example have no insulation, and those big glass single paned windows lose heat unlike double paned windows. A newly built house with a basement is a nice way to stay cool during the summer without air conditioning; that's hard to do with the concrete slab foundation. You get the idea. With many people doing more telecommuting, rather than driving and burning gas, it also calls for additional square footage devoted to home offices. Again, another way to reduce consumption.

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2006 at 7:35 am

Lets be clear on this. Any house built today is more energy efficient than a house built even 30 years ago. Eichlers lend themselves to energy efficiency by the use of good design (you can double pane the glass, control the valves in the radiant heating, easily add insulation to the roof etc). All this assumes that you do not lay carpet, properly maintain & repair the radiant heat, love the huge open windows that typify an Eichlher and like to live like this. Personally, I do. I love my Eichler and would not live in a new home (unless it was Modern).

Now, that said if someone builds a large two story house next to mine, I have lost my privacy. One of the things that I love is the huge windows, I chose that and that is why I bought my Eicher. I bought into a neighborhood that has low single story dwellings, I have an expectation of privacy based on those single story houses. I will fight will all I have to keep someone from bulding a two story house next to me.

Its also unreaslistic to expect that the way your house looks does not effect the value and esthetic of your neighbors house. That may be true where the lot sizes are a quarter acre but here where a lot size of 10, 000 sqft is huge, that is just not so. Our houses are just too close together. There is a visual sensibility that is distburbed when a row of like houses is interrupted by a very different kind of house. Its jarring and it is noticeable. If it is noticeable it will drive value.

Posted by John, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2006 at 7:55 am

Unless you bought into a community that has CC&R's or in a zone which prohibit 2 story houses, then you can't really prevent someone from building a 2 story home next to you. Legally speaking, the concept of "expectation of privacy" doesn't apply - that is a legal term used in 4th ammendment issues of wiretapping and police surveillance.

I agree it would be annoying if you bought your house because the neighborhood is all 1 story homes - I like 1 story neighborhoods, personally.

Consider this - how is the value of a neighborhood affected when potential buyers find out that they will be fought tooth and nail on the remodelling or tear-down projects? To me, if someone buys a lot, and they can't build what they want within zoning regulations then the city or neighbors have interferred with their "investment backed expectations," and the value of their property goes down significantly.

Posted by Anna, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2006 at 8:44 am

Re: Eichlers and energy efficiency. We installed double pane windows throughout our Eichler and still walk around with heavy sweaters on during the winter. Our radiant heat was broken when we moved in (many Eichlers do not have functioning radiant heat anymore) and we now have a few baseboard heaters and a heater that runs off our solar collector. While we keep the thermostat very low to conserve energy, the Eichler design does NOT help with energy efficiency. I love the sunlight pouring in during the Spring through these huge windows, but the trade-off is a bit of shivering in the cold season.

Posted by natasha, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 1, 2006 at 9:18 am

We have an Eichler that was remodeled before we bought it this summer (thank Heaven). It has double paned windows and double paned doors, a covered atrium and new radiant heat, as well as a reinforced roof and reinforced walls (an extra layer of drywall). The house cools down in summer because of its astoundingly efficient cross-ventilation design, and stays warm without much heating at all. So far we have been amazed at how energy efficient it is! We use less heat to warm it and used less energy (fans etc) to cool it than we did our 1937 bungalow that was less than half its size.

Don't get me wrong, I loved our little bungalow, but it was tiny and required a HUGE amount of upgrading and expensive expansion to make it liveable for our family of four (yes, families of 4 lived in 2 bedroom one bath houses way back when, but we DID need a home office and the place was just tiny for US). And we don't even require a lot of space to be happy. But it's nice to be in a renovated place that has been maintained and upgraded nicely and still retains the feel of the original modern design. Clearly, we are delighted with the look and feel of our Eichler.

But when you move into a neighborhood that has a certain character --of WHATEVER type -- it's nice to think about the overall neighborhood character when designing a house. You don't have to get obsessive about it (we laughed our heads off when we bought our very ordinary tract bungalow 9 years ago and the previous owner had tried to have it designated "historic"), but it's nice to take your neighbors into account. Seems like only common courtesy. The world is too small now for people to take the "I get my perfect dream house however it affects you" attitude. Likewise, if someone is being sensitive to the needs of the neighborhood, I think the neighbors ought to appreciate that and recognize it, and recognize that it IS, after all, that person's house to build and live in.

My 2 cents.

Posted by Why, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 1, 2006 at 5:23 pm

It is a no brainer that the Palo Alto Mediation Program was established for this town. The statements in all the emails reinforce the conflicts of the neighbors and the community.
Moral judgements and "hate crimes"- which are not necessarily racial or cultural-as the messages above reflect discord and hostility. Harmony is non existent as is the good neighbor policy. Where is the American values of -Live and let Live with the Freedom of Choice vs the Eye for an Eye Concept? The Planning and Development Center under the jursidiction of law enforcement- control all the situations we are enduring and have been busy being exposed and involved with all these issues. Perhaps it is time to reflect back on the postive impacts rather than all the negative karma that is being shared on these communications and back to creating a safer, enriching and more valued community environment.

Posted by Why, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 1, 2006 at 7:05 pm

FYI my family & friends have been victims of this type of hype from "the concerned interfering Neighbors of Palo Alto" therefore
recall and recognize the detrimental effects of this type of hurtful and selfish neighborhood concerns/actions.

Posted by Free Market Guy, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2006 at 9:01 pm

The underlying reason for all of this is that even a bare lot in Palo Alto costs $1M, so people buying at that price would prefer to have a nice home if they must spend that much. Any owner of a home could feasibly vote with their pocketbook by making a deed restriction upon sale to a new owner, limiting any remodel or prohibiting new construction or limiting maximum square feet, at the expense of market value. Would any of you complaining about people building new homes, which are allowed by city planning ordinances, walk away from a few hundred thousand dollars to preserve the cute little homes in the neighborhood you are leaving? I agree that many new homes, especially "spec" homes, are unappealing, but I believe we are fortunate to have very reasonable restrictions, particularly the daylight plane rules, which limit height near the property line. Many "monster" homes (you can only build about 2300 square feet on a typical 6500 square foot lot). We are also fortunate to have a mechanism by which a majority of residents in a single-story zone can choose to limit the building of second-stories, at the expense of their property values, by limiting maximum buildable square footage.

Re: building of "inexpensive" condos, most new condos in PA are selling for around $1M or more. Only through subsidies on the below-market condos are a subset of lower income people served, and at the expense of the "tweeners" who are then priced out of the units into which the subsidies are priced. Palo Alto should consider buying cheaper land in Mountain View, EPA, or Redwood City to build more affordable housing to meet (or apparently exceed) our housing goals.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2006 at 10:39 pm

Free Market Guy is right. The people who complain about all the monster houses, use the political process to second-guess and harass people remodelling their own homes, and generally contribute to the acrimony between old-timers and new residents do so only because it costs them nothing to do so. Remodeler and the other preservationists here have an easy way of putting their money where their mouth is: just put a deed restriction on your own houses so that another "Kremlin" can't be built in our city when you leave - and take the resulting financial hit when you sell. Anyone here have the courage of his convictions?

Posted by Happy Remodeler, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2006 at 7:08 pm

Free Market Guy and Chris are right. The nay sayers don't have any skin in the game. The only time they do is if they the appeal a decision made by the City and then it only costs them $100. If they want to play then they should be forced to post a bond for the full amount of the project and forfit it if they lose their appeal.

Posted by newhomeowner, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2006 at 1:21 am

Whew. I've spent 20 years in Palo Alto and just bought our (first) house. One of the problems with the monster houses--and, yes, most of them aren't done well enough to be attractive--is that they replace entry-level and affordable housing. Instead, we get homes that are out-of-scale for their lots and neighborhoods. They're a nuisance to have next door. Not only is there a loss of privacy, but also a loss of sunny garden space.

By the way, it's never as simple as being able to do what you want with your house. Part of the reason you all want to live here is because Palo Alto has a long history of community involvement--thus, the schools and amenities and neighbors who care about what the place looks like.

Posted by gordon, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2006 at 9:29 am

Here's an idea. If you don't want to live in an Eichler, don't buy one and turn it into some fake Tuscan Villa.

Buy a fake Tuscan Villa and live in it.

Posted by realistic, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2006 at 4:02 pm

What if you like the lot and the street? Why are glorified 50's tract homes that non-locals call "Brady Bunch" houses more valuable than a tuscan inspired villa? Personally, I like Eichlers, but they were just the cookie-cutter houses of their day. In fact, maybe we have Joe Eichler to thank for the tracts of Tuscan Villas! Have you ever seen the Capitol building? Isn't that just a fake ancient greek building? To newhomeowner - you are right, its never as simple as being able to do what you want with your house - have you ever tried dealing with the planning department??!!

Posted by newhomeowner, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2006 at 7:49 pm

The "glorified tract homes" are more aesthetically valuable than the "Tuscan villas" because they were designed to work with one another and as neighborhoods. Ever spent time in Greenmeadow? It has a great community feel--it was a real nice case of urban planning and design. The protected Eichler neighborhoods have a feeling of openness and harmony. They work aesthetically and socially in a way that oversized-for-the-lots McMansions don't. Eichlers aren't my dream homes either, but I admire the harmonious feel of their neighborhoods. (And the privacy).

Now, I like Tuscan villas--the real ones. That's not what's being built here. You don't see gigantic concrete pediments on the real thing. You don't see a pastiche of architectural styles that have nothing to do with the surrounding landscape, the climate or the history of the place. Let alone with one another. They're like mini-malls--you can go anywhere in the country and find the same thing. Well, okay, some of them veer into an overdone awfulness that go beyond most standard developments.

I mean, the one positive thing I can say for them is that they're weirdly entertaining/appalling.

Posted by Slick Rick, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2006 at 8:35 pm

So who gets to decide what conforms to the character of the community? To me this is all a matter of personal taste.

Posted by newhomeowner, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2006 at 1:19 am

Well, clearly it's a negotiation--between what the property owner wants, what the city allows and the concerns of the neighbors. In some cases, the standards are pretty clear--such as among the protected Eichlers.

To me, a lot of the problem is that Palo Alto was built over the years as a middle-class/working class community. In recent years, however, it's become very affluent and people want their houses to reflect their wealth. However, the lot sizes and street lay-outs don't lend themselves to such grandeur outside of areas like Crescent Park. Even there, the lot sizes are small compared to Los Altos Hills or Atherton which were pretty much always wealthy enclaves.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 6, 2006 at 5:53 pm

I like it that newhomeowner thinks it's a good idea for a property owner to negotiate with the neighbors about what kind of house he or she should live in. As Slick Rick points out, these things are a matter of taste, and by letting neighbors "negotiate" with the owners is something bound to increase the potential for conflict, rather than diminish it. (And anyone who's witnessed one of these controversies first hand knows just how acrimonious it can get.)

I don't like the kind of trees my neighbor has planted, nor do I like the kind of car he bought and parks in his driveway. Shouldn't I have a right to object? My taste is better than his.

Posted by Withheld, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2006 at 2:45 pm

As you all blather on and on about aesthetics in remodeling I have to say I'm a little taken a back over your lack of concern for safety. My daycare lady lives on a live inlet off of Arastradero behind what used to be the Carlsen dealership. There are FIVE homes on this street that are in various stages of MAJOR construction at the same time forcing this very small area to handle more traffic than it can. Two days a week I find myself trapped in her driveway by a huge truck or a vehicle of some sort. The house across the street has half demolished and will be rebuilt, the house next door and the house kitty corner to it have been knocked down altogether and are being built a new and two other homes have major remodels on them. If these crews don't manage to dump dirt on each as they fight for space on such a small street, they will certainly damage property or God forbid hurt someone. This is the kind of thing you should be concerned about not what the finished product looks like!

Posted by JIMBO, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2006 at 10:10 pm

Why anyone would pay over $800,000 for an Eichler is beyond me. Eichlers were originally developed to be a cheap to build, but hip house. Kind of like Ikea furniture. All you out of state, house market speculating, tech transplants need to get off your blackberries and learn what quality construction is.

Posted by Joan, a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2006 at 12:26 pm

McMansions anywhere are unsightly and inappropriate, unless the entire neighborhood goes that route! They dwarf existing homes and enroach on the space and light of the neighbors. They look foolish and are laughable. In Los Angeles and many other places there is outcry over this ridiculous overbuilding of "mansions" in cottage-size spaces.

Beyond that, and regardless of the size of the project, is the horrible, never ending mess: noise, dirt, obnoxious contractors, delays, delays, delays, street blockages, storage units, dumpsters, trash, encroaching onto neighbors' property, ad nauseum.

I am living next door to a project, to include new pool, new patio, bedroom addition, hardwood flooring refurbishment and two bathroom remodels. Do I have to tell you what this purported three month job has turned into? So far we are at SEVEN months and no end in sight. BAH HUMBUG.

My own lawn has been destroyed, the daily noise is horrific, the contractors are pigs, and dirt and other debris is everywhere, including dark cement spewed onto the side of MY house.

No attempt was made at mitigation; no chain link temporary fence covered with tarp was installed between the properties. MOST responsible owners/contractors see to this. I have had to speak to/yell at, their multitudes of day workers DOZENS of times since the start. Do I sound angry? Damned right I'm angry! The people who lived on the other side moved to their SECOND home for the duration to get away from the nightmare. I have no such opportunity.

I have no intention of ever speaking to remodelling fools again; and do I need to mention that a smaller version of this same nightmare took place two years ago when they remodeled the kitchen????? That was FIVE months of hell by itself!

Some people are never satisfied. And instead of just moving to what they deem appropriate, they feel entitled to inflict their project on the rest of us while they attempt to make themselves happy. What jackasses!

Posted by Withheld, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2006 at 4:16 pm

Dear Joan,

Time to Lawyer up, Baby!! First make sure you take your digital camera out and document the damage you listed. Tap their remodeling budget out by suing their pants off!!

Posted by Joan, a resident of another community
on Dec 19, 2006 at 12:25 pm

Thank you for the "lawyer up" advice, "Withheld"! I do have photos of the damages, and am comparing notes with the people on the other side of the remodellers (the couple who moved to their second home).

I'm sure their budget is shot to hell now -- they withdrew equity from their house (they've owned it for 17 years) but I can only imagine how the costs must've increased over time. Plus, there have been many missteps by the "architect" and contractors. Some work has already needed to be redone or repaired!

Anyhow, thanks for your support. I really appreciate it!

Posted by Withheld, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2006 at 6:30 am

Joan highlights nicely an issue I mentioned in an earlier post and was glossed over by a commentary about unsightly Mc Mansions. Safety and consideration for other residents in the neighborhood should be the greater consideration here.

My daycare lady lives on a tiny dead end inlet off Arasteradero near El Camino. There are FIVE major construction projects going on in there at the same time. The small street cannot handle all of the huge trucks and the crews in there are like keystone cops bumping into each other. It's an accident waiting to happen not to mention if you are one of the unluckily folks living at the dead end you have to contend with trying to get out. I have been pinned into my daycare lady's driveway five times in the last two weeks and made late for work while an investigation launches into whose truck it is, who parked it and how it should be moved. I'm sure that some supposed city planner rubber stamped all of these projects without it ever even registering in his or her head they were all for the same tiny street. It's unbelievable.

I also don't think that your homes all need to look alike either. A few have commented here that remodelers should try to fit into the neighborhood. As I was driving to Gamble Garden center on Waverly a couples ago I found the differences in the homes there amazing. Sprinkled among the old colonials and tudors there were these very modern looking homes that were very striking and stood out amongst the older styles of the homes near them --- I have to say the contrast was very interesting (not ugly, mind you!) to look at.

Palo Alto streets do not need to be made up of cookie cutter residences but, they do need to be safe places to live and travelt through if they are among the streets undergoing change.

Posted by Another POV, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2007 at 4:55 pm

Of course, there are times when it makes sense to pull down what is there and start again from scratch. Edgewood Plaza is definitely one of these situations.

Posted by jq public, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2007 at 9:07 pm

It's interesting that nobody seems to ever mention that Eichler originally wrote deed restrictions into his properties, limiting them to one story and a max sq feet. If folks really care, they could sue to enforce the already existing deed restrictions, but it seems as though most people that live in Eichler neighborhoods are unaware of what they purchased and agreed to.

Posted by 14k/yr, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 22, 2007 at 10:08 pm

There are huge questions as to whether or not the those covenants and restrictions are actually enforceable. Don't forget that many of those Eichler deeds also restricted the race of the owner. Ah yes, the 1950's my elderly neighbors remember so fondly.

Posted by jq public, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Maybe. I don't have my Fairmeadow CC&R's handy to be able to say definitively whether or not those restrictions were in place. I have to admit that I've never looked. An interesting question.

Joseph Eichler led the industry in removing race based restrictions from his deeds, doing so a decade before California law required it. By 1954 he had definitely eliminated any racial restrictions, which coincides with when Greeenmeadow was developed and sold. Fairmeadow was a few years earlier.

See this link for a more detailed discussion from a 1964 interview of Eichler's son.

Web Link

That said, I'm skeptical that an such illegal provision (but legal when the deed was written) would invalidate the entire set of CC&R's. I would think a larger legal challenge would come from the lack of CC&R enforcement that has occured over the last several decades.

Still, if you want to halt your neighbors developement in an Eichler neighborhood, you could use the CC&R's to your advantage for a good many years and many tens of thousands of dollars of legal wrangling.

Posted by renovator too, a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Some of you have made comments about the pains related to having to renovate or remodel your home. Here is something that may help: "The Happy Remodelers" book available at (I don't know why nobody wrote about this before)>