News

Resident aims to battle Palo Alto over 'privacy'

Alma Street resident accuses city planners of 'negligence' in approving building next door

Kathleen Jason-Moreau knows that in a dense city like Palo Alto total privacy is impossible to come by. But the Alma Street resident believes a mistake by city planners will force her family to live under a neighbor's constant gaze.

At issue is a new house whose plans the city approved last year and that is now under construction. Jason-Moreau is preparing for a legal battle with the city to protect her family and her neighbors.

City officials approved a two-story home adjacent to Jason-Moreau's in May 2009 but revisited it this year, after Jason-Moreau's neighbor, Anna Teeples, discovered the city erred in approving the plan with a 20-foot setback. The city's zoning ordinance requires buildings to be set back 24 feet from the property line in the area around Alma and Churchill Avenue.

City planners acknowledged the error and worked with the property owner, Lall Jain, to move the location of the new house by 4 feet and bring it into zoning compliance. The city approved the revised plans in early July.

Shortly after the city made the correction, construction began. In late August, builders installed second-floor framing for the development, which also features a separate studio. That's when Jason-Moreau said she realized the 4-foot correction brought the new home closer to hers. As a result, she said, she has "lost any and all privacy."

Jason-Moreau complained about the new building's mass and configuration in a letter to Planning Director Curtis Williams, City Manager James Keene and the City Council. The revision to plans, she wrote, "was granted without notice and a chance to be heard by the neighbor most impacted, which would be me." She told the Weekly the city's approval constitutes "gross negligence" and that she has hired a lawyer, David Lanferman of the San Francisco-based firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, to help her keep the project's impacts to a minimum.

Williams said the city and the property owner made a "good-faith effort" to address Jason-Moreau's concerns. A 4-foot-deep balcony that was previously planned for the property has been eliminated and replaced with a 1-foot-deep "decorative balcony." Williams said Jain had also agreed to build a "side wall" on the balcony and to use "obscure glass" windows in the home's bedroom. These windows would open away from Jason-Moreau's property.

Beyond these measures, Williams said, there is little the city can do. The building is consistent with the city's zoning code and with approved plans, Williams said.

"They haven't done anything wrong," Williams said. "They're building to the plan."

But Jason-Moreau said she's not satisfied with the city's response and may seek a court order to stop the construction.

"I look at this from my back door and ask, 'How did the city allow this to happen?'" she said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto process
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 13, 2010 at 5:52 pm

We should all be allowed to build 20 ft tall fences. I am surprised that in a city as technilogically advanced as palo alto, they havent yet invented tinted bubble domes to encase property.


Like this comment
Posted by appalled citizen
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I have experienced a lot in my vast experience in construction (over 2 decades and 2 dozen municipalities worked within), and I've never seen such a messed up system as that which exists in the City of Palo Alto's Development Center. Poor customer service, uncaring employees, unreasonable plan checkers, ridiculously unreasonable and unbendable inspectors, and ridiculous requirements, unlike any City anywhere. This City seems to actually have a mission of driving its citizens out of Palo Alto. It is the most broken system in the SF Bay Area, and I've seen many. I hope that someone teaches them a lesson.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

If they look in your yard, you look in their window - set up a camera, wave to them...
I believe the reason for 6 ft limit on fences is that much higher than 6 feet and the standard 4x4 posts on 8 ft centers is not enough to resist wind loads. I suspect you could get by with another 2 ft of trellis for screening plants - or, for a fee I will walk around nekid in your back yard and your neighbor will pay for the higher fence or board up his window.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm - to Walter
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Sheesh, to think that all this time I thought it was spelled "nekkid"!


Like this comment
Posted by resident of downtown north
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I am living in one story house, and it is right next to the 4 story condo. This condo was built at least 50 years ago. Their windows can look into my yard and the bed I sleep in at night which is located next to a french door. I literally woke up few times at night and noticed someone was standing by their windows and watching me. This condo is surrounded by one or two stories houses. There are so many buildings like this in downtown north. Can we sue?


Like this comment
Posted by Just-Leave-Me-Alone
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

For those cases where 2nd stories are going up so that people can see into their neighbors' back yards, adding trees that push the tree line (top of trees) to 15-20 feet provides a natural, and effective, visual buffer between properties.

Perhaps it makes sense to require that anyone who is adding a 2nd story to be required to pay for the planting of trees that will provide this buffer.

People's privacy is important. The City needs to begin to understand that. Given the never-ending complaints about the planning department here in Palo Alto, maybe it's time to take this matter up with our legislative representatives, and try to get some sort of state-wide law passed that requires people who are creating a problem (such as violating a neighbor's privacy) to be required to mitigate the problem as a part of the permitting process.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

When it is real cold it is spelled nek-k-k-kid.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Jeez,
Have you people never lived in a city? Back in Queens, we didn't need TV, we just watched our neighbors live their lives . . . Today we'd probably call that reality TV 1.0.
Sheesh, have you people never seen the Hitchcockian classic "Rear Window"?!?
If you want "privacy," move to Portola Valley and get yer friggin' acreage!


Like this comment
Posted by howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

In a developed city like Palo Alto, it is absurd and outlandish that anyone can feel entitled to be immune from the possibility that a neighbor might be able to look into a window or a back yard. The solution is curtains, trees, shrubs, or the like. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by voyer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm

seriously - screaming for privacy?
then forget about your neighbors and windows and fences and think about your facebook pages, twitters, 4square postings etc.


Like this comment
Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Sep 13, 2010 at 11:47 pm

+1 for Bob. Privacy doesn't exist anymore. Remember to wave at the Google cameras when you leave for work in the morning. Enjoy the fact that someone is even interested in watching you. LOL.


Like this comment
Posted by Annoyed
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2010 at 10:29 am

Get over it... or move to the country. Why you think any one of your neighbors cares what your doing is beyond me. You don't own the property around you and have no right to dictate what your neighbors do. Put up some blinds and get over yourself.


Like this comment
Posted by Jax Smith
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2010 at 10:46 am

Privacy is a myth. With social media, low-orbit satellites, online news, hackers and high density communities, there is NO SUCH THING even in WY. Live with it. And the invasion will continue, keep your nose clean and relax. This was in the news today (aggregation of Social Media) another example:
"Facebook’s growing dominance and Twitter’s expanding user base, hundreds of millions of people share every last detail about themselves openly on the Web. This of course changes everything. Going to a meeting is not what it used to be. The question “how will I recognize you in the crowd?” is no longer relevant. Before I meet anyone, I generally look them up on Facebook or Twitter to see who the person is and learn a little bit about them. Rapportive is an add on for Gmail that brings that information to your inbox."


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2010 at 11:20 am

"Beyond these measures, Williams said, there is little the city can do. The building is consistent with the city's zoning code and with approved plans", Williams said.

We need to put on the ballot a measure saying that the city's zoning code needs to be changed so that this situation can't happen. Let the voters decide this. The city prefers large houses - helping developers and disadvantaging residents.


Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2010 at 11:27 am

This person probably could have dealt directly with the neighbor - "how about we plant some trees" - instead of going the caseless legal route.


Like this comment
Posted by What situation?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2010 at 11:28 am

"so that this situation can't happen"
Which situation is that? A situation where a resident feels that PA should be frozen in time and nothing can ever change that may somehow alter their idea of what privacy is?


Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

by the way - this developer talk is nonsense - 99% of the houses built in PA are built by home owners, no developers.


Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2010 at 11:53 am

"... 99% of the houses built in PA are built by home owners, no developers."

Only 1% are Eichlers?


Like this comment
Posted by Tara
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I guess I just don't understand the fuss. Curtins were invented for privacy, where/when needed. I've lived in Manhattan where, it seems, most people don't seem to care even about closing their curtins; and Palo Alto is a small city--not the country where houses are quite a distance apart. I do, however, like the idea of requiring people remodeling their homes, or building new houses, to plant srubs/trees strategically to help with the privacy. Of course, that requires more water use initially to keep the plants/trees alive, so maybe that isn't such a great solution either.


Like this comment
Posted by Little House
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

We live is the only single story on the block. I figure the neighbors will eventually tire of looking into our backyard. We really aren't that intersting!


Like this comment
Posted by Yale-y
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Many interesting comments. I like the ones about getting out the camera and waving and looking back. About all you can do.

One of the problems is a lack of comprehensive planning and zoning regulations for streetscapes and neighborhoods. These items are called setbacks (making sure the street side setbacks for all houses on the street are the same as well as fire code requirements for lot lines etc), site coverage (making sure that there is a regulation about how much of the site can be covered with buildings and how much blank space needs to be maintained), mass and scale (goes hand in hand with site coverage but this item dictates height, bulk etc.) Some neighborhoods have planning and zoning overlays that regulate the above items. A few Eichler neighborhoods have overlays that regulate the height and site coverage to maintain the 1 story and open areas of the classic Eichler home and lot. College Terrace has some overlays regulating the small narrow lots that are historic that prevent people from tearing down the small "shotgun" type houses and building 3 story narrow houses in their place.

Unfortunately these rules and overlays and planning rules are over- ridden with variances, exceptions, set back changes, encroachments etc when a builder begs enough and the neighbors around the lot in question don't complain loudly enough. This seems to happen more frequently than it should.

And don't get started on historical preservation in Palo Alto - there is not enough protection in Palo Alto for the historic 100 year homes that are left in the city. It seems very easy to tear one down, build something else in its place and lose the opportunity to maintain the neighborhood streetscape that we should all be trying to maintain.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Interesting. I understand both sides of the argument. I think it's much harder when you lived somewhere for a long time & then suddenly things change, not for the better, in your opinion & there's not a lot you can do about it. I'm experiencing that in my neighborhood w/a bunch of new, super loud families moving in w/equally annoying yapping dogs that they never discipline.

For several years, I felt like I was surrounded by Disgusting Bodily Noisemakers. Next to me was some woman who must've had some medical issue w/swallowing, because she literally gagged & gacked w/each bite. Her kitchen faced mine. On my other side is a disgusting neighbor whose alcoholic belching & nostril emptying (sans hankie or tissues) was like something out of a bad movie, or your worst nightmare! Literally, you could hear it w/the windows closed. It was like being the middle of a disgusting, ongoing Bodily Functions Night Gallery episode. The only saving grace is that they couldn't watch me if I had the blinds closed.


Like this comment
Posted by What situation?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2010 at 12:41 pm

"there is not enough protection in Palo Alto for the historic 100 year homes that are left in the city."
You are confusing old with historic--there are many old homes in PA--for something to be historic, well how shall I put it-something historic has to be associated with it--or example the fact that an old priest named duryea lived in a house does not make it historic


Like this comment
Posted by Dawg Gonnit
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Why doesn't the city allow high rise condo and apartment towers to be built? That would provide the necessary supply of housing without replacing single-story homes. Three single-story homes with yards have been replaced by dual two-story condos with no yards whatsoever, and all in the last two years. A 3' x 5' patch of grass at the front does not count as a yard. Palo Alto is getting trashed and something needs to be done about it! We can't stop the increasing urbanization of our city, but we can get off our duffs and do some sound urban planning. Otherwise we risk going from best to worst, much like Naglee Park did in San Jose many years ago.


Like this comment
Posted by paresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Hi all,
Thank you for your interest! In partial, brief response: Yep, I did try many times to work cooperately PRIOR to hiring an attorney.

The builder, Mr. Lall Jain removed a small two story home which also had a seperate studio and is replacing such with two massive structures > within 12 inches of needing to have 4 permanent parking spaces on property (think apartment building).

So massive that I no longer have a place in my yard to place a chair and not be in direct line of view from at least 6 windows and the french doors and top story windows also look INTO my home.

You see, when they City granted the revision which pushed the main 70 foot long structure back 4 feet, logically, it re-aligned the windows causing direct line of sight privacy issues to the neighbors. It was at this time that we neighbors should have been notified and had an opportunity to exam what effect such would have on our property and be able to cooperatively work to minimize any issues.

I am aware how fortunate I have been to be able to raise my family in Palo Alto and to have a home here. I found the Mayor and several of the council members to be interested, caring and concerned but once the permit was issued, they are not in the position to assist.

I have asked that the windows that look directly into my home be opaque or placed higher to minimize the intrusion. I have also asked that the builder plant screening trees. [The builder was permitted to 'cut' about half of an old oak tree to be able to build the house under the tree and he removed all of the other vegetation except for one other oak].

Again, thank you for your interest.



Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

What situation,
old houses that may not be historic may nevertheless be SIGNIFICANT in preservation terms. That means that the house is a contributory factor for the general historic feeling of the NEIGHBORHOOD(not individual houses). Historic doesn't necessarily mean that some historic event is associated with a particular property, or a particular area. It means that a consistent style of urban development and housing refers to a particular time. Unhappily, west coasters are not used to and know very little about urban preservation and its value. It's painful that some want to make disappear what little there is of how Palo Alto developed throughout the times and eliminate vestiges of what makes us understand our common history. That history is specially important for a very young town, where most of its people have no roots in town.


Like this comment
Posted by gobosh
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm


Oh tell please do :) - is it indeed ok to walk around
nekkid (or 'nekid' ) in one's back-yard and thus get nosy
neighbors to keep from staring into my home all the time ??
Seriously, do tell ! :)

nekkid all , yay ! :)


Like this comment
Posted by old palo alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I drove by and saw the construction at 119 after reading the article in the Palo Alto Daily News. I agree with the comment submitted, another fiasco by City Planning.

Wonder how did the developer get permission to cut so much of the oak tree? Must have cut 30 feet of tree away to put the building under it. hmmmm


Like this comment
Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2010 at 7:28 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by High Rise Please
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I agree with Dawg Gonnit and would love to see Palo Alto approve a couple high condo buildings. By allowing a couple new towers downtown (preferably near the Caltrain station), they could avoid increasing density where it is considered undesirable. There are already a few high rises from the 70s and earlier, but I'd love to see something modern. The only condo high rises I can think of are Channing house (age restricted for retirees) and 101 Alma (I don't think they enforce age restrictions, but it is mostly retired folks). There is also an apartment (not condo) high rise on Forest (& Cowper, I think), and that big office building on University and Cowper.

Sorry this post is a little off topic, but I dream of living in a modern high rise in downtown Palo Alto. I'm not talking about 40 stories either--10 or 15 would be fine. I just want a nice view while still being able to walk to downtown.


Like this comment
Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Sep 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm

PARESIDENT, from the article it sounds like your problem arose from your other neighbor Anna Teeples. She forced the construction to be moved 4 feet back from the street. The builder is just trying to comply with the odd zoning that was initially overlooked by the planner. Seems like the City should have granted a waiver on the front setback instead of rushing the change through. Now nobody is really happy.

The current plan under construction complies with the zoning regulations. If I was on a jury, I would side with the builder.



Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Several years ago the City had a citizen's committee reevaluate building codes. It was then agreed that new two story homes could not have large windows on the side of their houses that looked over the neighbors.

Bathroom windows high up on the wall could be installed that people could not look out of. I think these rules are still part of our building code today.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2010 at 5:04 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Most of today's zoning problems are caused by yesterday's zoning decisions. A pity construction controls do not stick with public health and safety and leave aesthetics to the property owners.


Like this comment
Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

@narnia says "It means that a consistent style of urban development and housing refers to a particular time. "

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. " - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2010 at 8:06 am

Toady,

apparently, your ideas concerning urban preservation are nil and you resort to insults and quoted sentences. At the very least quote yourself, not others. As for me, being owner in one of the East Coast most notable historic areas and being a member of the local historical and preservation association gives me a perspective and a knowledge that, obviously, is not too present in Palo Alto (where I arrived almost 3 decades ago). But I am still right according to any standard of preservation. Historical..."It means... a consistent style of urban development and housing (that) refers to a particular time"
Incidently, my east Coast area (my house was built in the 70's, the grest majority much earlier) has been consistently voted in the best and more circulated magazines as "one of the ten best neighborhoods in America". The only problem I have with the neighborhood is that we have too many tourists wanting to see what successful preservation is.


Like this comment
Posted by What situation?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2010 at 8:15 am

Sounds to me like much of the problems that have arisen around this issue and the house on Lincoln (that was discussed in another thread) are due to glitches with the city and the planning department.
In the end this does not really cost the city anything but ends up costing the people in the neighborhood much money and plenty of headaches.


Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 15, 2010 at 8:22 am

Narnia, fwiw, you come across as so braggy that it is hard to take your comments seriously. It is hard to look at Palo Alto and see much worth "historical preservation," though you'll find someone somewhere who wants to preserve pretty much anything.


Like this comment
Posted by fair is fair
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2010 at 9:48 am

It appears the city is at fault... if they used old, outdated or simply the wrong code, it's them and if they allowed this new house to be built with no concern to the homes around it, they are still in the wrong... In my opinion, part of our very high property tax is for a preservation of the lifestyle our Palo Alto neighborhood affords... Is the woman who is losing what is dear to her going to have lower taxes or anything else to make up for her loss? I'd be very angry to find that no one in the city was looking out for me as they ok'd someone elses' dream home...


Like this comment
Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2010 at 10:47 am

We live in our neighborhoods, narnia. We don't need someone in a different city telling us what we should be "preserving," whether or not you've lived here before. Your credentials mean nothing to me other than a vain attempt to establish some sort of credibility on issues that don't directly impact you in Menlo Park.

And the last thing I think we want is for Palo Alto to become Disneyland in the way San Francisco or your east coast "urban ossification area" has become.

And, by the way, your continual use of phrase "urban preservation" in this suburban discussion is absolutely hilarious.


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

I agree that the fault lies with the City's Planning Department, but I disagree that the City will not end up paying if there is a lawsuit. At a minimum, the City (i.e., Palo Alto taxpayers) will pay for the time spent by city attorneys (and possibly outside attorneys). If the City loses the suit, PA taxpayers could also end up paying for court costs and even for the plaintiff's attorneys' fees (this could be a very large sum), in addition to any damages that may be awarded. It seems to me that Ms. Jason-Moreau could potentially be awarded damages for loss of property value. If there is a settlement, the City will pay according to the settlement terms.

Unfortunately, Planning Department staff seem to react in a knee-jerk fashion when they screw up (which happens a lot). Instead of following the individual review process requirements when the plans were revised to move the new construction 4-ft. closer to Ms. Jason-Moreau's property, Planning turned one mistake into another potentially bigger problem.

I'm not surprised, but I'm pretty disgusted. Planning staff probably wanted to rush through the changes to accommodate the applicant. The Planning staff is trained to treat applicants as "customers," and by extension, they see neighbors as "enemies" or "obstructions." The performance of the Planning Department is measured by the number of applications approved, and by how quickly they are approved, not based on quality of performance. (And this perspective has City Council's tacit approval, because they review this information every year).

It apears that, when Planning staff realized their mistake, they knee-jerk reacted and rushed through changes without due process for the neighbors. Planning staff probably were more concerned about complaints from the applicant, or being sued by the applicant. I can't recall prior lawsuits from neighbors on individual review issues, so I think Planning staff didn't even consider a potential lawsuit from an impacted neighbor. However, in this case, staff did not even follow the required process when the plans were drastically changed in a way that greatly impacted a neighbor. I think this is a valid basis for a lawsuit, and I support Ms. Jason-Moreau in exercising her right and undertaking the trouble and expense of filing a lawsuit. Perhaps in future, the Planning Department will be a little more attuned to following the code and the process and will give more thought to the impacts on neighbors. Maybe City Council will wake up to the one-sided approach the the Planning Department has taken to development in the community how this is adversely affecting all residents.

Too bad the Palo Alto taxpayer will have to foot the expense of a lawsuit because of the the Planning Department's apparent negligence.


Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2010 at 11:22 am

Hello fair is fair,
Thank you for your comments.

As you note, none of the families who have lost quiet enjoyment of their home and gardens and...to your point...loss considerable finanical value are compensated.


Like this comment
Posted by Stay allert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2010 at 11:54 am

I see that many bloggers are blaming the Planning Department, how about the Architectural Review Board who presumably looked at these plans and gave their approval.

I wonder also just how much time and interest Kathleen Moreau paid to this building project before any building took place. All tear downs are posted on the property. Did she go to the Planning Department and study the plans? Did she attend the Architectural Review Board's analysis of the project before any tear downs took place?

It always helps to participate at the planning stage rather than wait until construction begins. I know because a large home is being built on my street, as soon as I found out I contacted the owner, studied the plans in the Planning Department and attended the ARB approval process. All this information is available to the public; complaining after the event doesn't help.


Like this comment
Posted by more info and a reminder
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Hello,
In response to Stay Alert:

Neighbors certainly did pay attention to this building project BEFORE any building took place. Neighbors met - including Kathleen - BEFORE the hearing and we were in one voice - even an architect was hired to support the neighbors position back in 2009.

PLEASE REMEMBER, THE 70 FOOT BUILDING BEING PUSHED 4 FEET BACK ON THE LOT WHICH CAUSED REALIGNMENT OF THE WINDOWS AND DIRECT LINE OF VISION ISSUES HAPPENED WITHOUT THE CITY PROVIDING ANY NOTICE AND A CHANCE TO BE HEARD.

Additionally, the neighbors had NO NOTICE that the old oak tree which offered screening and some softening to two of the adjacent neighbors was going to be allowed to be trimmed so severly.


Like this comment
Posted by AmyD
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

One would think that the caliber of Palo Alto public officials generally would ensure a more informed, thoughtful review of requested permits to include the entire makeup of the neighborhood. A good checklist of issues, properly followed, could prevent the 119 Churchill type of fiasco from happening whenever an owner walks in with a permit request; other communities have checklists, for example (from a quickly Googled California city):

___________________________________________________________________
/Will the project be a good neighbor? It should not impair the use, enjoyment, value or orderly and attractive development of neighboring public and private property. A project should be designed to minimize interference with the privacy, quiet and view of its neighbors. The design also should minimize traffic problems and damage to the natural environment.
Overbuilding of a site is to be discouraged. Provisions of open areas with suitable landscaping complementary to the proposed design such as front set-backs, walls, courts, patios, planters, window boxes, etc., are elements that will contribute substantial economic benefits to the owner and enhance the beauty of the neighborhood. Are natural topography and trees retained?
________________________________________________________/


I hope the coming lawsuit is a wake-up call to the city planners who cavalierly ignore neighborhood harmony.


Like this comment
Posted by info and reminded
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm


Hi,

Neighbors had NO NOTICE that the City on July 2, 2010, granted the real estate developer a revision that realigned the 70 foot long, massive 2 story structure - so we had no chance to see how such would realignement would affect our homes.


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Except for two (somewhat rare) exceptions listed below, Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board (ARB)generally does not review single-family home projects.

Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 18.76.020 (b)(1)Exempt Projects. Single-family and two-family residences do not require architectural review, except as provided under subsections (2)(C) and (2)(D).

****

(2)(C) Construction of three or more adjacent single-family homes or duplexes;
(2)(D) In the Neighborhood Preservation Combining District (NP), properties on which two or more residential units are developed or modified, except when one of those units is a "second dwelling unit," as described in Section 18.10.140(d);


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Get used to the POP-TOPS and SCRAPE-OFFS that other SFBA communities have in Palo Alto if this lawsuit is dismissed.

The only way my parents mitigated this type of ABOMINATION is to allow considerable growth of an existing shade tree that was planted in their back yard....

While I just made sure that I have a residence on top of a hill with half an acre....and I can look down on the other houses if I wish. ( I don't )....

You should know about the conclusion of an experiment which found out what happens when you place too many rats in a box....

I think this neighborhood has reached the same tip-over point, along with the rest of Palo Alto....


Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

these kinds of issues were very visible when in 2009 I left Palo Alto temporarily.
As I see it, the city would do well to have a comprehensive preservation plan, neighborhood by neighborhood,street by street, house by house, instead of a fragmented and vague decision plan. That way everybody would know what they are getting into, respective to their own and their neighbors' properties. I don't think that the loss of privacy lawsuit is likely to succeed (unless it's done just for it's irritating characteristics). I can understand that it's distressing to imagine that neighbors can see us in our undies if we forget to close the curtains. Complains like Moreau's are likely to increase because without any firm ground rules, and population increases and patterns which demand different housing.


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Posted by Viper
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 16, 2010 at 5:49 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2010 at 1:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

One of the big problems in South Palo Alto is that many of the Eichler imitation homes were built in the 1950s on concrete slabs, with old fashioned radiant heating. They have no insulation and no way to install a modern heating system. It's time to tear them down and replace them with homes with up-to-date building materials.

My home isn't even attached to the concrete slab so it would slip right off it's foundation in an earthquake, so will many others.


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Sorry Grandma. According to some person living in a different city, these fire and earthquake hazards are worth preserving because they're old.

BTW, what's up with removing my posts?


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Posted by re the oak tree
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm

With respect to the excessively pruneing of the oak....it is not legal to "Excessively prune" a Regulated Tree, meaning to remove more than 25% of it OR TO UNBALANCE IT. See Palo Alto's Tree Technical Manual.Web Link


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Posted by in respect to trees and codes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2010 at 8:39 am

Palo Altos's Standards & Specifications - Palo Alto Municipal Code, Chapter 8.10.030 provides in part...

SECTION 1.00 DEFINITIONS - For the purposes of this Manual and interpretation of regulations, the following definitions shall apply:

15. Excessive Pruning means: "... Excessive pruning also includes removal of the leaf or stem area predominantly on one side, topping, or excessive tree canopy or crown raising."

"SECTION 5.10 PROHIBITED ACTS -
A. Excessive Pruning - Except for clearance pruning of utility lines, traffic or abating a Public Nuisance, excessive pruning (see Excessive Pruning, Section 1.15) shall be considered a prohibited act."

By the city's definitions and regulations, the mature oak tree was "excessively pruned" on one side. This was done so that roof of the 2 story house could fit under the tree.

Web Link


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Posted by so how did that happen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm

So, how did the developer get permission to violate Palo Alto Municipal Code, Chapter 8.10.030 ?


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Posted by answer the question
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Again, neighbors question who has the authority to grant permission to a developer to excessively prune the oak tree so that the tree is clearly 'unbalanced'. See Palo Altos's Standards & Specifications - Palo Alto Municipal Code, Chapter 8.10.030 provides in SECTION 1.00 DEFINITIONS - For the purposes of this Manual and interpretation of regulations, the following definitions shall apply:
15. Excessive Pruning means: "... Excessive pruning also includes removal of the leaf or stem area predominantly on one side, topping, or excessive tree canopy or crown raising."

"SECTION 5.10 PROHIBITED ACTS - A. Excessive Pruning - Except for clearance pruning of utility lines, traffic or abating a Public Nuisance, excessive pruning (see Excessive Pruning, Section 1.15) shall be considered a prohibited act."

By the city's definitions and regulations, the mature oak tree was "excessively pruned" on one side. This was done so that roof of the 2 story house could fit under the tree.

Technical Manual at Web Link

Web Link


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Posted by Neva Yarkin
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:23 pm

More than a year ago, May 2009, 2 house owners went before a planning hearing meeting (city, with Julie Caporgno) regarding the development of house 119 Churchill Ave. We complained about the house 119 Churchill not following the city guidelines and not fitting into the neighborhood. I live two houses away, and this 2-story house has a view into my computer room. We paid for an architect to analyze the building plans. I asked at that time if the property owner (Lall Jain) if he could put an opaque window in the second story bathroom window. He replied that I should put an opaque window in my computer room.

In my home on Churchill Ave. I don’t have one window that has any privacy. Two 2-story homes and two single houses surround me. My house has been here for 30 years and my parents have owned this property for over 50 years before all these other homes existed.

When will Palo Alto follow their single story guidelines and who will protect existing homes and neighborhoods, from SOME monstrosity homes being built today????


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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