News

Proposal to ban two-story houses splits Palo Alto neighbors

As opposition grows to planned 'single-story overlay,' City Council prepares to vote

What began as an effort to promote harmony and protect the privacy of Royal Manor residents has devolved into a full-fledged neighborhood battle over property rights, aesthetic preferences and the very nature of democracy.

The south Palo Alto neighborhood, which includes about 200 homes, is in the midst of applying for a "single-story overlay," a type of zoning that expressly bans new two-story homes and second-floor add-ons in neighborhoods dominated by houses developed by Joseph Eichler. In recent months, the City Council approved such restrictions in the Los Arboles and Greer Park North tracts. In each case, residents had submitted a petition signed by more than 70 percent of the homeowners, the minimum threshold necessary for the change. (In areas where two-story homes are restricted by deed, the threshold is 60 percent.)

Royal Manor, which includes Kenneth Drive, Thomas Drive, Janice Way and sections of Loma Verde Avenue, Louis Road, Greer Road and Stockton Place, was on its way to a similar change. In February, the Planning and Transportation Commission recommended moving ahead with the application despite opposition from a sizable minority of residents. The council will consider the application on Monday, April 18.

Since the February commission meeting, opposition to the zoning overlay has continued to swell, with 17 residents switching their votes from "yes" to "no." While in February, the level of support was at 70 percent, the recent defections have plunged it to about 63 percent.

Some of the residents now say that at the time they signed the petition, they weren't familiar with the issue and unaware that a signature solicited at a block party would effectively bar them from expanding their homes upward in the future. Others say they believed that their signature would make it possible for the neighborhood to place the issue on the ballot -- not that it would be interpreted as the ballot itself.

Some opponents have reported threats and insults from neighbors who support the zone change. They have also hired a lawyer and are looking into taking legal action against the city if the council approves the change despite the fading support and the "misinformation" that they believe they've been subjected to by overlay supporters.

For the majority's side, the case is simple: Eichler neighborhoods were designed as communities, with each home equipped with yard space and featuring glass walls that blend indoor and outdoor living. They point to instances in which an Eichler was torn down and replaced with a two-story home with windows that allowed intrusion into the privacy of the neighboring Eichlers, effectively nullifying the very thing that makes the homes special.

In presenting the overlay application to the planning commission, resident Richard Willits said that a "teardown, when it occurs, is a cataclysmic event in an Eichler neighborhood." Usually, he said, the house that ends up on the street is not in the same Midcentury Modern style. Willits said the Eichler neighborhood has a "sense of togetherness," with seniors, young families and multi-generational households. He feared that if two-story teardowns occur, current residents will move out.

"We don't want this for our neighborhood," Willits said.

Other supporters similarly frame the issue as a way to foster neighborhood harmony and cohesiveness. Diane Reklis, a Janice Way resident, wrote in a letter to the city that the houses in the neighborhood "were designed with lots of glass to allow the owners to enjoy the outdoors while privacy fences prevent invasive stares."

"If my neighbor's house was two stories high, the glass walls would be a nuisance rather than a blessing as others would suddenly have full view into my living spaces," Reklis wrote. "If I built a second story on my house, I might be able to sell it for more money, but at least six neighbors would be negatively impacted by the loss of privacy and daylight AND the value of their houses would likely be diminished, at least until they too built up. The single story overlay is essential to maintain our neighborhood."

But what some see as an instrument to promote harmony, others see as divisive, heavy-handed and unnecessary. Venkat Dokiparthi, who lives on Greer Road and who opposes the overlay, told the Weekly that the city's process has effectively "put neighbors against each other." Supporters of the overlay often characterize opponents as newcomers who come to Royal Manor so that they can "buy and flip the houses for profit." That, he said, is just wrong.

"Many of the people in the neighborhood are not like that," he said. "They came in with small children and they want to build their families here."

Dokiparthi said he bought his house 16 years ago, with the expectation of raising a family in a good school district. Though he hasn't expanded his house, he likes having the option of possibly doing so in the future.

Narayanan Murugesan and Sridevi Narayanan, who also live on Janice Way, are among the residents who are seeking to remove their signatures from the petition circulated last year at the block party. In a Feb. 28 letter to the city, they noted that they signed to "show our support for community sentiment to go to ballot ... (and certainly didn't think our signature would be wrongfully used in lieu of a legal ballot)."

"As recent residents with two young children and aging parents who moved here with a long-term mindset, we want to make sure that we have the flexibility to expand our home sufficiently in the coming years. Therefore, we would like to fully understand the ramifications of SSO (single-story overlay) for our particular lot and house before we make a decision," the letter stated.

Others offered similar sentiments. Beth Marer-Garcia wrote that she was led to believe from an informational letter that any signature on the petition would "simply serve as a basic show of support, and if at least 70 percent of the neighbors signed the petition only then could the second-story application process begin." The door-to-door collection of signatures, she wrote, is "subject to misrepresentation and misinformation by each party."

"For the council to actually rule on this critical matter without formal consideration seems irresponsible and could very well put the City of Palo Alto and our tax dollars at risk of litigation," Marer-Garcia said.

Zoe Danielson, who also lives in Royal Manor and opposes the overlay, called the process "a betrayal of democracy" and said the city is "lurching toward litigation." Danielson wrote in a letter to City Attorney Molly Stump that many residents were "victims of coercion" who were told, after the vote, that their signature was "irrevocable."

Amid this climate of acrimony, it will be up to the council to determine whether to proceed with the overlay proposal, as recommended by the planning commission; to halt the process; or to revise the boundaries of the proposed district to omit the peripheral sections where opposition runs deepest. In February, the planning commission included in its motion language strongly recommending that the council consider removing from the proposed overlay the segments of Stockton and Loma Verde that make up the edge of the tract, where support for the zone change is lower.

At the Feb. 10 meeting, residents on these streets talked about constraints that they already face on their properties. Some properties have small yards and special setback requirements that make additions on the first floor next to impossible. And are located in the flood zone, which means they cannot build basements.

These arguments are reiterated in a letter from Andrew Pierce, an attorney from the firm Pierce & Shearer, which is representing the residents.

"The city could end up freezing the properties with square footages that are far below those that families have been seeking in Palo Alto," Pierce wrote.

Pierce also pointed to an FAQ document that proponents of the overlay sent out during the signature-gathering process, which suggested that the signature would only be an initial step in the decision-making process. The FAQ noted that the city will "send postcards to all affected homeowners, asking if they support or oppose the single-story overlay."

"If someone doesn't return their card it counts as a No vote," the FAQ document stated.

Though a subsequent FAQ later corrected this information, Pierce argued in his letter that the residents "were led to believe that they were agreeing to put the issue to a neighborhood vote."

At least one planning commissioner sympathized with this view at the February meeting. Kate Downing took issue with a process in which residents can sign away their property rights by a neighborhood petition.

"I would not expect to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars by signing a petition that a random neighbor brings over to my house while I'm trying to cook dinner and feed my child," Downing said.

Related content:

Palo Alto's Eichler uprising: City looks for ways to promote architectural — and neighborhood — harmony

Palo Alto residents seek to keep their Eichler neighborhoods from growing — upward

Comments

35 people like this
Posted by Musicman
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 15, 2016 at 8:24 am

A lot of misinformation going around. The whole process overlay voting needs to be regulated instead of being done through a signature petition drive. A signature on a petition should never be treated as a official vote.


39 people like this
Posted by None of my business
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:16 am

As per my pseudonym above, this is none of my business. But it is a crazy idea that even a 70% vote could so severely burden someone's property in this manner. So-called "privacy" or "neighborhood compatibility" concerns pale in comparison to the right of a homeowner to improve their house in was that, in any sane neighborhood, would be routine.


31 people like this
Posted by thanks god it is friday
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:51 am

thanks god it is friday is a registered user.

so correct me if i am wrong but this law says if 70% of my neighbors sign a petition that I should give away 800,000 dollars worth of land, then it means I should give it away? doesn't look constitutional to me


29 people like this
Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:59 am

This is a ridiculously one-sided article. The process followed in Royal Manor is the one laid down by law and is the same one that has been followed in every other neighborhood asking for a single-story overlay.


11 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 15, 2016 at 10:55 am

Does anybody know whether the original Royal Manor Eichler CC&R's contained deed restrictions against building 2nd story homes? I believe not all of the Eichler neighborhood CC&R's are the same. For example, I believe that both the Greenmeadow and Fairmeadow CC&R's restrict building beyond the first floor whereas the Charleston Meadow CC&R's do not explicitly restrict building up but leave it to a neighborhood elected Architectural Change Committee.

Probably most Eichler homebuyers these are unaware that their neighborhood has CC&R's though the title company isn't doing their job if they don't provide a copy or list it on the prelim to the new owner.


31 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 11:21 am

I agree with the opponents. The SSO process is unconstitutional. It lacks due process. Without official ballot it is arbitrary and illegal. It looks like an exercise of eminent domain without just cause or fair compensation.


21 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 11:43 am

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

There is no statistical evidence that SSO hurts property values, and much evidence that it does not. Leading areas realtors agree with that - see the article in DeLeon Realty's March publication. Furthermore, City Councils have the right to rezone property, and that right has been affirmed by the courts.

A super-majority of our neighbors knowingly and willingly signed-on to protect their common interests by restricting second stories. Since then, our opponents, who are in the minority, have eroded some of our support by spreading FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. I am happy to say that some of those reversals have decided to un-reverse themselves and rejoin us supporters, after we clarified the facts and benefits of an SSO.


37 people like this
Posted by Smart People know Statistics Lies
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Single Story Overlay *might* be good for some neighborhoods. But tell me how can it be good for Royal Manor?

Showing statistics from Green Meadow to prove the SSO improves home values is just sophistry

In Green Meadow average lot size is 8000-9000 , those houses are not in Flood zone and can have a basement

In Royal Manor, lots are 6000 - 7000, no basement is allowed because of flood zone , you can not expand horizontally you can not build a second story

who is going to make an offer on a 60 year old 1600 sf house that can not grow in size AT ALL?

The number of offers defines house values , no one makes an offer your house value is zero


33 people like this
Posted by Altitude
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 1:12 pm

If I've paid close to $2M to buy my house, the last thing I need is a [portion remived] neighbor telling me what I can't do with it.

Don't like people looking down on you from their 2 story?

Get curtains.


21 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 15, 2016 at 1:22 pm

> If I've paid close to $2M to buy my house, the last thing I need is a fool neighbor telling me what I can't do with it.

The Eichler neighborhoods aren't like other neighborhoods. First, afaik, every single tract development from Eichler had a set of recorded CC&R's which limit the architecture of the neighborhood. So if you pay $2M for an Eichler in one of those neighborhoods with restrictive CC&R's in place, who's fault is that?

I'm surprised that Fairmeadow doesn't yet have a 1 story overlay as the neighborhood petition requirement is apparently lowered to 60% for those neighborhoods with 1-story restrictions in place in their CC&R's.

But beyond this Eichler neighborhoods aren't like other neighborhoods as the building techniques were explicitly designed to open up the interior of the house with glass to the enclosed backyard space. That's why Eichler required a review board even in the non-1-story restricted neighborhoods.

All of that was forgotten the instant that the Eichler corporation stopped directly selling into those neighborhoods but it's not like the recorded legal documents disappeared.


11 people like this
Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 1:59 pm

It's not true at all that you can't expand your house horizontally in Royal Manor. I live in an expanded Eichler, and there are many other examples of Eichlers that have been expanded to house large households on a single storey.


11 people like this
Posted by Palo Verde
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 2:28 pm

We have looked into this. If we expand our home more than a certain size, then the new part of the home has to be 6' or so above the level of the existing building. Likewise, if we level our home and start again, even with a single story, the home has to be 6' or so above the level it is now and the 1st floor would have to be 6' above the same level if we built a 2 story house. This is to do with the flood plain. This would mean that even with a significant addition, part of the house would tower above the rest and of course tower above the neighbors.


13 people like this
Posted by Supportive
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 2:28 pm

The table on allowances in the Palo Alto Municipal Code section 18.12 is online. It states that for (R-1), the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of a one-story home "cannot exceed 45% of first 5,000 of lot size plus 30% of square footage of lot size in excess of 5,000 feet".

That would mean:
--- 7,000 lot size could allow 2,850 square foot house. 2,850 = .45(5,000) + .30(2,000)
--- 6,000 lot size 2,550 =.45(5,000) + .30 (1,000)
etc.

I doubt Eichlers are structurally sound enough to build up and be within code so any upward expansion would be demo and start over, with extensive review from neighbors. Many people see the challenge and decide to stick w/ a single story.

Recently torn down Eichlers have resulted in a completely different style and size that is totally out of scale with the surrounding houses.


11 people like this
Posted by Supportive
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 2:37 pm

The lost value argument does not hold for Eichlers such as these that are within an Eichler neighborhood.

There are many real estate agents who will vouch that a whole host of home buyers are willing to pay top dollar for a good condition Eichler within a neighborhood of other Eichlers.

As pretentious as it sounds, they really are "special." They are a rarity and becoming more so every year. Read up if you care on eichlernetwork.com


26 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I think the issue here is not whether SSO is good for the neighborhood. The issue is procedural justice. You cannot cheat, coerce, or mislead people into a commitment. A petition by itself, which is obviously one-sided, and signed by people who won't have time to articulate its content on the spot, is not a legal instrument for procedural justice.

A ballot on the other hand is. It has its language articulated, and both pros and cons listed on the description as required by law. Both sides would be given ample time to campaign for the ballot. Citizens are given ample time to make their decisions. Therefore a vote on a ballot is the way to go, either approving or denying SSO for the neighborhood.


4 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

The whole point is in fact whether an SSO is good for a neighborhood and I believe that it is for very carefully defined neighborhoods, such as it has already been the case for Los Arboles and Greer Park North.
The point made by m2grs is an issue to be taken up by the council, not those requesting an SSO. Supporters of an SSO request are very precisely following a procedure created by and tracked by the city planning department. As long as that procedure is in place, and I believe its a very reasonable procedure, then following it is appropriate.
If you disagree with the procedure then you need to begin a process to have it changed. That would be fine with me although I would disagree with it.
You cannot seriously blame Palo Altans for following a policy laid out in detail by the city. It's exactly what they are supposed to do in these cases.


1 person likes this
Posted by doubter
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm

Half of those who rescinded their signatures did so with a form letter which said they were informed that the IR process is sufficient to protect Eichler neighborhoods. Any comments?


8 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2016 at 6:48 pm

It seems like an easy fix, if you want to live in a neighborhood with a strong homeowners association and CC&Rs, there are plenty available. Why try to impose them on a neighborhood that's not though? It seems this "neighborhood preservation" mindset only works certain ways...


9 people like this
Posted by RM SSO Committee
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 7:08 pm

The first FAQ, 95% of which never changed, was used to judge interest, not to get signatures. It had a disclaimer that the information had not yet been completely vetted by the city. 25% of our tract expressed interest within two weeks, 90% of it supportive of SSO. The other 75% did not respond.

We have meticulously followed the City's process, outlined in the 1993 ordinance. Response cards had been used in the process during previous SSOs. Until the Planning Department gave their markup of our initial draft, we did not know the City would use the cards to invite neighbors to a hearing. In fact the city invited the neighbors to two hearings, with complete reports, recommendations and collections of letters pro and con.

The finalized FAQ was distributed in the neighborhood before we started collecting signatures. This was the FAQ that people should have used to figure out their position. The FAQ is 4 pages, with 2 pages of introduction.

The document people signed simply states on every page:
We, the undersigned homeowners of the Royal Manor subdivision, Tract 1156, are applying for a zone change from R1 to R1(S) in accordance with the January 22, 2002 S-district Guidelines, Attachment C, Single-Story Height Combining District (S) Zone guidelines.

This clearly states the signers are applying for a zone change. The legal language should be enough to tell the signer this is important to read and understand.


3 people like this
Posted by RM SSO Committee
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 7:42 pm

The SSO was discussed at a block party. Individuals could take the opportunity to find a committee member and ask to sign. There was no coercion at block parties. Block parties are far more important than petitions.

One SSO committee member knocked at a house were a private party was taking place. There, the host expressed support for the SSO, and invited anyone who was ready to sign to do so. Some did. Three of those people have rescinded their signatures. No one has ever stopped or blocked anyone from reconsidering their signature.


3 people like this
Posted by Danielle
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Dear Supportive

The calculations you provided are not the correct ones for a single story - those are the numbers that would be allowed with a second story. Lot coverage is 35% of lot size including garage and porches. So a 7000 sq ft lot in a SSO has a max size of 2450 including the garage. A 6000 sq ft lot in a SSO has a max size of 2100 including garage.


9 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@Danielle -

What you say is correct for 2 story houses. For 1 story houses, the lot coverage limitation has been raised to the maximum allowable FAR. Thus, "Supportive" is correct, that a 7000 SF lot allows a 1 story home to be 2850 SF, and a 6000 SF lot allows a 1 story home to be 2550 SF.

This change was adopted around 15 years back by our City Council to give an incentive to stay 1 story, due to neighbor privacy concerns.


8 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Why not allow higher fences. If you can put up a 30' house, why can't I put up a 20' fence?


3 people like this
Posted by Royal pain
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2016 at 11:21 pm

Web Link

This whole issue is a ROYAL PAIN IN THE ______


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Triple El
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:30 am

We have a Single Story Overlay in our Eichler neighborhood and have an annual fall social with good participation. Our neighbors respect each other. People who oppose SSOs are complaining because they cannot afford a two-story so they are selfishly trying to force their way into getting what they want.


1 person likes this
Posted by Heavy Chevy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:19 am

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:23 am

Both parties are selfishly trying to get what they want. That is what people do. SSOs do limit property values going forward. Eichlers were built as temporary housing for returning veterans after WWII. They are cheaply made and not designed to last very long. It would be healthier for all concerned if rather than limit the entire neighborhood in this way, the neighbors agreed on a sane plan for allowing expansion of homes within a style that is compatible with, but not limited to, the original designs. Each lot has unique features, limitations and relationships with surrounding homes. The best way forward into the future would be more open and flexible. I would never buy a home in a neighborhood where I could never do the best thing for the location. Yes, Palo Alto has seen a lot of ugly homes go up that do not fit with the surrounding ones. But the future of this area includes economic pressure to house more people per square mile. How about we do it tastefully and without these draconian limitations?


2 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:56 am

Marie is a registered user.

If 60% is enough to qualify for an SSO, that implies the properties involved have deeds that restrict 2nd stories. If you bought a house with such a deed restriction, then why would it limit your options any further to have an explicit ban, unless you planned to violate your deed restrictions. The only difference is that the city will enforce the restriction rather than neighbors having to sue.

"I would never buy a home in a neighborhood where I could never do the best thing for the location"

If that is what you want, then there is no property in PA or indeed the Bay Area that would meet your qualifications. Every city and county has zoning and codes that restrict what you can build, not to mention deed restrictions as well. The only large city I know of without zoning is Houston - although even they probably have building codes and deed restrictions.


1 person likes this
Posted by My Fair Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:18 am

" If you can put up a 30' house, why can't I put up a 20' fence?"

best comment yet !!!
Thanks for the chuckle this morning.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Triple El
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:56 am

My Take's comment that the neighborhood should all agree on the house design is quite funny too. Imagine 200 people trying to decide on a design. I don't know of a more divisive and time consuming activity for a neighborhood. There is no shortage of buyers for these Eichlers - they sell after one weekend.


7 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:24 pm

@Resident

So what you're saying is you'd support imposing restrictions on neighbors who didn't agree to it?


24 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:54 pm

The people of Royal Manor should make this important decision for themselves through a legal and properly executed process. From the article it was obvious the process was executed with significant flaw. A decision based on this has no merit.


25 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Resident, Actually, many neighborhoods have these design guidelines in place with great outcomes. San Francisco neighborhoods have been doing this for years. Below is a quote from the guidelines from a San Francisco neighborhood.

The Residential Design Guidelines (Guidelines) articulate
expectations regarding the character of the built environment and are
intended to promote design that will protect neighborhood character,
enhancing the attractiveness and quality of life in the City. The
Guidelines address basic principles of urban design that will result
in residential development that maintains cohesive neighborhood
identity, preserve historic resources, and enhances the unique setting
and character of the City and its residential neighborhoods. The
Guidelines also suggest opportunities for residential designs to
further San Francisco’s goal of environmental sustainability.

[Portion removed.] Palo Alto homes are a huge investment, and forcing these limitations on homeowners without regard to this reality is stultifying, rather than encouraging reasonable, tasteful neighborhood development into the century before us.



1 person likes this
Posted by Mid Century
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Some folks here must prefer to live in a "stucco box" rather than an " architecturally significant" dwelling.Xour2B


9 people like this
Posted by NO CC&Rs
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

NO CC&Rs is a registered user.

There is no CC&R in RoyalManor and has never been.


13 people like this
Posted by Savetheview
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 16, 2016 at 3:57 pm

I have reviewed the documents prepared by the RoyalManor group leading this effort and agree they are compliant with the rules to initiate the SSO process. We hope to start a similar drive in our area. Nobody has any right to criticize this neighborhoods intentions. They are following a process and if majority of residents want it so be it! Our city is being over run by contractors and real estate who just want to sell it to the highest bidder and care nothing for long term community. A two story monster in a majority single story eichler neighborhood is selfish and offensive - people just simply do not need that type of imprint or they should move elsewhere! I would love to support the 20 fence initiative in our neighborhood - where 2 stories (regardless of style) tower over neighbors, blocking daylight and polluting views. Kudos to all the neighborhoods in Palo Alto who are fighting this trend and protecting the culture and architectural significance of these Eichlers


25 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2016 at 4:43 pm


It is a real shame that people, having invested in a home in Palo Alto, are not allowed to improve on their homes because of the whims and fancies of their neighbors. Not allowing a second story is ridiculous. No neighborhood is going to look worse because some homes have two stories. When I drive around some of these Eichler neighborhoods, including Royal Manor, there is nothing super special about what I see that would be impacted negatively by a two-story home. Most of these neighborhoods look pretty plain, and a nice new home would probably make the neighborhood more valuable.

The city should have a SIMPLE, FAIR, EASILY VERIFIABLE approach to remodels and construction:

1) Define the square footage, footprint on first floor, easements, etc. This is easy to do (and has been done already)
2) Allow two stories EVERYWHERE
3) Verify that (1) has been followed during the construction process
4) In Eichler neighborhoods, the most that is reasonable is to require that the new home be in the Eichler style (that allows two stories) - there is a beautiful new Eichler home opposite the Eichler club that is two stories and makes the other homes more valuable in my opinion.
5) Do away with vague guidelines that are verified these days by City consultants. What consultant worth his salt would pass a design on the first shot when he/she can use vague guidelines to fail a design. We went through this during our remodel, and were told that the design was "too massive". Such subjectiveness should be replaced by objective, verifiable measures.

Palo Alto wastes public and private money with their wrong-headed approach to remodels and constructions. We need to be smarter.


8 people like this
Posted by Heavy Chevy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2016 at 8:12 pm

Mr. "My Take"-

"Eichlers are poorly made with cheap materials"?

Think you need to do some research here and discover the facts about these homes since your comments indicate that you are very uninformed.

Detecting a bit of "Eichler envy" in your comment.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2016 at 8:51 pm

" there is a beautiful new Eichler home opposite the Eichler club that is two stories and makes the other homes more valuable in my opinion."

That house is a monstrosity and does not belong in that location.How much do you want to bet that this house will have a for sale sign, hanging in the front yard ,in the near future?


7 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 9:41 pm

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

The new 2 story house across from the Eichler Club is NOT and Eichler. An original Eichler was torn down and replaced by it.

That house was subjected to the Individual Review (IR) process, which is supposed to address neighbors' concerns over privacy, daylight, architectural compatibility, neighborhood character, etc. It can easily be seen how the IR process failed to do that. It was the destruction of this Eichler and approval of this house that triggered Royal Manor residents to seek an SSO. I recently learned that Eichler residents in the neighborhood adjoining that house are also seeking an SSO now.

Some anti-SSO folks say that you don't need SSO because we have the IR process. From the example of this house and many others that were approved after IR, those folks are very mistaken.


12 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:09 pm

"It can easily be seen how the IR process failed to do that."

Why can't we work together to improve the IR process so it does what it is supposed to do?

That way we do not have to go to the extreme to impose SSO on everyone.


4 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:00 pm

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@LoveRoyalManor -

The IR process was designed for custom homes in neighborhoods of custom homes. It doesn't work well for a custom home in a neighborhood of uniform homes, like an Eichler tract.

For Eichler tracts we need some sort of Eichler design guidelines or conservation district. Unfortunately, such an option does not exist today in Palo Alto, and our City Council would have to pass an ordinance that creates this option. The only option we have in Palo Alto that comes close to that is SSO, which, while not explicitly protecting Eichlers, has the demonstrated effect of discouraging tear-downs and thus protecting them.


Like this comment
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:15 pm

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@NO CC&Rs -

Regarding "There is no CC&R in RoyalManor and has never been."

That is not correct. Royal Manor, like many (all?) Eichler tracts, has CC&R's, but in the case of RM they don't restrict you to a single story. They do have a provision that allows them to be modified by a vote exceeding 50% of homeowners in the tract. Thus, 102 homeowners (of a total of 203) could vote to modify the CC&R's to add a 1-story restriction. That would lower the threshold for qualifying for a SSO to 60%.

Every buyer of a home in RM is bound by these CC&R's, including the provision where 50%+1 of their neighbors can vote to prevent them from erecting a 2nd story. At least that's my understanding. If anybody out there knows better, please comment.


6 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:19 pm

iSez is a registered user.

Why can't people just buy a 2-story? Oh, right, because they don't have the money to buy a 2-story. They'd rather anger a single-story neighborhood.


8 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:31 pm

@Ben Lerner

"Unfortunately, such an option does not exist today in Palo Alto, and our City Council would have to pass an ordinance that creates this option."

Why can't we all work all together to create an ordinance for Eichler design guidelines in Palo Alto that actually solves the problem you have?

Why instead doing SSO? The SSO application is NOT to protect Eichler by definition. It caused lots of collateral damage on people who also love Eichler.


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Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:34 pm

If the CC&R's for an Eichler community prohibit building a two-story home, does that have the legal force to block a two-story build?


2 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2016 at 12:35 am

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@Eichler owner

CC&R's are a contract between neighbors. The City won't enforce them. But if someone does something that violates the CC&R's, they can be sued by their neighbors for violating this contract. The court can order that the 2nd story not be built or be taken down. But this is an expensive and time-consuming process, and the neighbors have to pay for their own lawyers.

With an SSO, the City won't issue a building permit for a 2nd story if it isn't allowed. And the City can enforce compliance in the case of a rogue contractor or homeowner who tries to proceed with non-permitted construction.


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Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2016 at 12:49 am

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@LoveRoyalManor

Easier said than done. The political process in Palo Alto (or anywhere) does not move as fast as we Silicon Valley types are used to in the tech-corporate environment. In the meantime, lots of Eichlers and their neighborhoods can be destroyed. I agree the City should do this, but it takes time.


2 people like this
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 17, 2016 at 9:52 am

@Ben Lerner: Thanks for that information.

All: Are there any pending cases in Palo Alto, where an Eichler is being torn down and the owner is seeking to build a two-story home on the lot? I'd be interested in hearing how the tension (between preservationist Eichler owners and homeowners interested in maximizing floorspace or value) is being resolved.


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Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2016 at 1:03 pm


Some Eichler litigation history, no CC&R's, just a strict liability issue

Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by RMR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2016 at 7:38 pm

@fwiw: When we bought a house in Royal Manor, there was NO restriction for 2 story houses (CC&R or SSO). Now suddenly there might be because SSO may pass.

@JFP: Royal Manor has quite a few lots that are smaller AND have large set backs (e.g. along Loma Verde). With SSO you would effectively give up all of your yard to expand your living space. On top of that, you cannot add as many square feet which makes it impractical financially.


12 people like this
Posted by Give me a break
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 17, 2016 at 11:02 pm

@fwiw What do you mean by "Fairmeadow CC&R's restrict building beyond the first floor"?! Fairmeadow has no HOA, and I signed no CC&R when I bought my house in 2006. Just walk around the neighborhood and count the number of two-story homes. That's reality, not fiction.


15 people like this
Posted by Like thew new house
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2016 at 7:53 am

Eichler or not that new 2 story house across from the Eichler club is nicer than 95% of the Eichlers I have seen or been in. That house appears to be thoughtfully designed and it appears the owner took design of surrounding houses in to consideration.


2 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2016 at 9:20 am

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@Like thew new house -

The neighbors of that new house by the Eichler Club are so happy with what happened that they're now seeking their own SSO.


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Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2016 at 10:18 am

It's amazing to me that so many of the people who bought houses in these Eichler development don't seem to know that the CC&Rs existed. As Ben Lerner pointed out above, you are bound by the CC&R and the process to amend it whether you paid attention to it or not.


4 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2016 at 1:52 pm

The fundamental question - is Palo Alto supposed to be a real town or a Disney-fied version of the 1950's-70's?

Don't complain about the car traffic in Palo Alto, when you have people trying to restrict the amount of housing available in our city.

The neighborhoods around downtown and California Avenue should be furious with the Eichler-philes causing more traffic and parking in their neighborhoods because they want to restrict housing. They'd rather have them commute from Mountain View by car than live in Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by MD
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 18, 2016 at 2:36 pm

More Eichler hater posts-

Now being blamed for Downtown traffic and lack of housing. Quite a stretch. Sounds like developer and real estate speak.

Uh, where are the water allotments supposed to come from if dense-pack housing is built? Many proposed developments in the State have been shelved due to this issue.

If PA has become xB4tstoo much like Disneyland then we won't have to "commute" to Orange County. They have Eichlers there also.


4 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm

"Now being blamed for Downtown traffic and lack of housing. Quite a stretch. Sounds like developer and real estate speak."

As much as you would like to believe that your neighborhood is in its own little bubble, everything in this town is connected. Heck, everything in this region is connected.

Take some responsibility for your actions. As they say out in the real world - there's no free lunch. And the folks in Downtown North would probably like a word with you.


2 people like this
Posted by MD
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Now it's "no free lunch"

Another "stretch" with real estate and developer speak.

Next will be a proposal to tear down all Eichler neighborhoods and fill them with bland stucco boxes which have at least 6 gables.

Prefer the Disneyland model.


15 people like this
Posted by THE STRENGTH OF THIS COUNTRY
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2016 at 4:36 pm

The strength of this country is the fact that we have so much diversity

and I think we do better when we are a people who appreciate,

who love and respect people from all over the world

who bring their own values and traditions

and become part of the american experience.



*Things are changing in our wonderful town and Palo Alto we all need to embrace the changes and work together in a truly neighborly fashion (communicate, get to know one another, invite each other to our homes, learn about the culture of those who have lived in Palo Alto for many years, and those who are new, those who moved here from somewhere else in the USA and those who have moved here from other countries.
AND LET THE ARCHITECTURE REPRESENT OUR BEAUTIFUL AND DIVERSE COMMUNITY!
- protect INDIVIDUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS VOTE NO ON SSO.


2 people like this
Posted by MD
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 18, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Hey now that's a great way to let Architecture represent our community-by voting NO on SSO.

Plus adding more stucco boxes with lots of gables.

What a wonderful country-bring on the 2 stories maybe even 3-then maybe we can become an annex of Orange or LA counties.


15 people like this
Posted by guidelines are a great idea! That is my choice!
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2016 at 5:27 pm



I think setting up SUGGESTED (key word suggested) GUIDELINES FOR ALL NEW BUILDING (whether one or two story) is a great idea! That way I am ready to finally build a second story home (we have been waiting to be able to afford a second story home and we will probably be able to do it within 5 years and are very excited because we want our in-laws to be able to live with us etc.) Anyway, it would make things easier to hire an architect and plan a second story home that not only encompasses an Eichler architectural style and fits into the neighborhood- but also takes into consideration (because I am considerate) the needs of my neighbors; window placements, shading etc. Plus I would happily be sure to plant tall bushes etc. to improve my neighbors privacy.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2016 at 5:37 pm

There are many codes that are used elsewhere that could help keep privacy concerns with a second story.

For example, limit windows at the side of the second story and only allow "frosted" glass which allows light entering but inhibits vision. Also frosted glass on all bathroom windows on all new building and remodels. Another sensible code could be having the second story a much smaller size than the building footprint on the first floor.

In other words, limiting the size of a second story or limiting window visibility can help make a second story less of a problem to neighbors. Palo Alto should be bringing in these types of codes.


9 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2016 at 5:56 pm

More inlaws, more airbnbs, more water use, more garbage, more congestion, more cars parked on the street, the more the merrier. Like Edward G Robinson as Rocco in Key Largo: He knows what he wants. Yeah. That's it. More. That's right! I want more! Will you ever get enough? Will you, Rocco? Well, I never have. No, I guess I won't.

... break now for city council meeting ...


2 people like this
Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2016 at 6:44 pm

The commenter above who thinks they can considerately build a two story home is missing the point. Given that Royal Manor is in a flood zone, and the small lots, any two story house will be thirty feed tall, and extremely close to their neighbors. They could possibly give their neighbors some privacy by not having second story windows, but there's no way to avoid blocking their neighbors sunlight. That's not considerate at all.


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Posted by Flood Zone RULES did this
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Who's fault are the relatively NEW FLOOD ZONE building rules!? ALL of the 2-story (eclectic and some even eccentric) on our street were built 25-40 YEARS AGO and all easily withstood 1-2 "floods" - those restrictions turned out to possibly be overkill but none-the-less now WE ARE ALL IN THIS MESS.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2016 at 8:02 pm

@ME

"Take some responsibility for your actions. As they say out in the real world - there's no free lunch. And the folks in Downtown North would probably like a word with you."

Tell me again how it is South Palo Alto's fault for density and congestion in Downtown North?. Wow!!!


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Posted by Where is Scharff?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2016 at 10:15 pm

City council member Scharff was a no show for this important meeting. Maybe he will show up next week.


Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Apr 19, 2016 at 7:59 am


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Posted by MD
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 20, 2016 at 6:27 am

Sounds like Orange/LA County developer speak promoting "dense pack" housing for PA.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2016 at 9:20 pm

As someone pointed out, Eichler houses were cheaply designed and built in the 50s & 60's as temporary housing. They are not energy efficient due to large amount of windows and lack of insulation. Structurally, they are extremely weak with today's standards. Situation is even worse with Palo Alto's bad soil. Wait until the next major quake hits the Bay Area. Talking about preservation? Go figure.


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Posted by MD
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 9, 2016 at 11:41 am

"As someone pointed out"......... That certainly sounds credible.
"Structurally, they are extremely weak by today's standards"..........
Ah, has the City condemned any Eichlers,lately? There are many local Bay Area contractors/businesses that have provided upgrades to Eichlers - Foam roofs, Double pane windows, new radiant heat boilers, spray-on insulation, ductless air conditioning. These are all improvements and materials not available when these homes were built. But I guess some folks would rather have their super 2-story "boxes" sprayed with stucco.


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

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