News

Eichler showdown in Royal Manor heads toward May vote

As neighbors tussle over proposed ban on two-story homes, City Council defers action until May 2

A divided crowd of Royal Manor residents packed into Palo Alto City Hall on Monday night to argue for and against a proposed ban on two-story homes — a measure that many characterized as essential to protecting the Eichler character of the neighborhood and that many others panned as a heavy-handed assault on their property rights.

The issue, which is pitting neighbor against neighbor in the 203-home tract in the Palo Verde neighborhood, will reignite in two weeks, when the City Council concludes its public hearing and considers whether to approve Royal Manor's application for "single-story overlay."

The zone change, which is supported by more than 60 percent of the neighborhood, prohibits new two-story homes and second-story additions. If it wins approval, Royal Manor will become the third Eichler neighborhood in the past year to win the restriction, following in the footsteps of Los Arboles and Greer Park North.

Royal Manor's quest, however, has been complicated by an eroding level of support and more than a dozen homeowners requesting that their signatures on the application be revoked. The level of neighborhood support, which was right at the threshold of 70 percent when the Planning and Transportation Commission discussed the proposal in February, dipped to 64 percent by Monday night. The crowd of speakers prompted the City Council to defer any decisions until a second hearing on May 2.

Opponents of the overlay criticized the proposed zone change on philosophical, practical and procedural grounds. Some spoke out against the idea of having their property rights curtailed, particularly given that their homes are already in the flood zone, where basement construction is prohibited.

Others said they like having the option of expanding their homes to accommodate children or parents in the future. Still others objected to the way signatures were gathered for the petition process, and urged the council not to make a decision until it can more accurately gauge the level of neighborhood support.

Equipped with yellow posters and buttons that said, "SSO NO," opponents argued that the move would particularly hurt young families with small children and residents for whom sharing a home with an aged parent is a cultural norm.

Ze'ev Wurman, who lives on Stockton Place, said the zone change would encourage "geriatrification" in the neighborhood. Wurman said he himself added the second story to accommodate the growth of his family. The community, he said, "slowly develops and changes."

"It is not frozen in amber as some people would like it," Wurman said.

Others claimed that proponents of the overlay misled them with an inaccurate FAQ document, which suggested that a signature would only lead to a ballot vote (an amended FAQ, with a clarification, was mailed a month later).

Jing Chen, who lives on Thomas Drive, said the flier was misleading and the decision on two-story homes should be made through a "legal and properly executed process."

Zoe Danielson said signatures were collected "through pressure and misleading information."

"Many more would've revoked their signatures if there was comprehensive outreach to all 202 houses," Danielson said.

For the many supporters of the overlay, the key issue is privacy. A typical Eichler is a single-story building with ample windows and a glass wall facing the backyard. An adjacent two-story house, proponents argue, would enable those neighbors to see into others' back yards and through glass walls into living quarters.

David Hanzel, speaking on behalf of a group of overlay supporters, said that neighbors want the zoning change so that "the integrity of the neighborhood is protected."

"The essence of an Eichler is to move in and out — to seamlessly connect inside and out," Hanzel said. "We live in glass bowls."

Other residents told horror stories of "monster homes" going up near Eichlers. Jackie Angelo Geist said her family was negatively affected by a monster home that was built behind her house on Louis Road. And Olivier Matthey, a resident of Janice Way, wrote in an email to the council that he has seen first-hand "houses torn down to be replaced with out-of-place mansions, not by neighbors themselves, but by builders who put personal profit ahead of the harmony of our community."

"Apparently, existing protections have failed to discourage, let alone prevent, such harmful practices. This is why I feel that an SSO is needed, to protect what has made this neighborhood such a great place to live," Matthey wrote.

The council's decision on the single-story overlay could extend well beyond Royal Manor (which includes Kenneth Drive, Thomas Drive, Janice Way and sections of Loma Verde Avenue, Louis Road, Greer Road and Stockton Place). The controversy over signatures raised concerns from the Planning and Transportation Commission and from planning staff, which recommended in a new report taking a fresh look at the application process for single-story overlays

"If the city is to continue processing SSO applications, it is clear that the existing procedures established by the Code need to be examined and recommendations made for improving this process," according to the report. "An application such as this should be community building and reflect a significant percentage of like-minded owners interested in preserving their neighborhood in a defined manner."

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

28 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2016 at 8:41 am

This whole situation is very sad.

This entire issue has been created by frequent insensitivity to neighboring homes by oversized and out-of-character expansions around town and by the city's inability or unwillingness to address the disconnect between their loosely interpreted guidelines and what is actually built.

Property owners have rights, but so do their neighbors. This affects Eichlers more acutely due of the windows and entire layout of the homes which is not at all remedied by curtains or whatnot.

If the guidelines the city uses had some teeth, there could be harmony again. Unfortunately, fears on both sides have brought an otherwise cohesive and lovely neighborhood to this.


24 people like this
Posted by Maher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2016 at 10:23 am

[Portion removed.]

We Americans need to be more careful about our treasures... like the Eichler neighborhoods. They are unique and then deserve to be valued and protected.


20 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:02 am

LOVE our SSO. If the city weren't so quick to make exceptions to the zoning code, as I have seen in our own neighborhood, none of this would be so necessary. Trust me, even with the SSO, remodels push the zoning, if not downright ignoring it, with city approval. Why have zoning if your government ignores it anyhow?

You go, Royal Manor.


25 people like this
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:03 am

Is there some middle ground here? Permit second stories but allow only street-facing windows?


13 people like this
Posted by Etiquette is Extinct
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:31 am

Because they are lacking in finances to buy an existing 2-story house to tear down, they want to anger an entire neighborhood and do what they want? [Portion removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Fatherof3
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:32 am

Just a thought: If you put up a small solar system on your roof, you might be able to invoke the state of CA Solar Access Laws which may prohibit your neighbor from adding a second story that would block sunlight from falling on your solar panels. And you would be helping the environment in more ways than one. Here's a link: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by SEA_SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:53 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

I see great citizenship here. Families that love their homes and taking the positions they take.

All is good.

Let's respect people/community wish here.

I live in college terrace; happy here.

respectfully


26 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2016 at 12:16 pm

I have to concur with Sad. The reason people are so protective of their neighborhoods is because the city has betrayed them in the past by habitually ignoring their own guidelines. There's more to life than resale value.


26 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm

I agree with Sad.

Most families in Royal Manor love Eichler. Many families support the SSO because they thought it will protect Eichler. However SSO has nothing to do with preserving Eichler. If someone tear down an Eichler home and build the opposite of the Eichler in architecture. SSO will do nothing about it.

We should all work together to create a strict, effective ordinance for Eichler design guidelines in Palo Alto that actually preserve Eichler homes. SSO causes lots of collateral damage on families who also love Eichler.



46 people like this
Posted by Elsinore Drive past resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 19, 2016 at 5:50 pm

After owning our home on Elsinore Dr in the Triple El Neighborhood for 15 years, we moved in 2006. The SSO ruling broke our friendly neighborhood apart in 2003! Our family had outgrown our home, and unlike prior years it was not safe for our children to spend their free time outside. Our home had become the destination site for teenagers to congregate. We needed more room. The SSO supporters were predominantly retired and over 65; no children.

The documents say 70% supported the SSO in the neighborhood in 2003, but I heard it was 64%. Politics and friendships pushed the overlay through. Be careful and demand to make sure everyone who signed, teally did and weren't coerced or made to feel badly that they don't agree. Our neighbors of 13 years on one side of us stopped talking to us and became unfriendly. It was an aweful aweful experience.

Web Link


53 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2016 at 6:58 pm

You know the saying "they don't make them like they used to"? It is for good reason. Eichler's were low quality post war homes built cheaply for the masses. They were deathtraps in a fire before most were stripped of the highly combustible Luan interiors. They're ugly and horribly inefficient. Try getting a permit to build one under today's codes. Good luck when we get that significant seismic event we are overdue for. I have remodeled dozens of these homes and shook my head with everyone we did. Nothing like getting paid to put lipstick on a pig. No neighborhood should have special dispensation. Cities should be allowed to set standards but not on a street by street basis. I feel sorry for those who have spent their hard earned money to live in a decent neighborhood only to be shackled by the whining of the narrow minded. What's next? An HOA to further restrict your property rights? No street parking? Car too old? They don't like your landscaping? Careful what you wish for. If you like living in the past fine, but don't force it on everyone else.


27 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 8:54 pm

Eichler has nothing to do with single story. Using Eichler to promote SSO is an excuse. It will not stand legal challenge when someone wants to build a two-story Eichler.

But the bottom line is, to what extent does the city government have "police power" to enact ordinances regulating zoning and housing construction? For example if PA requires all houses painted white it probably will fail in court. Where is the boundary of municipal power?

My understanding is that the basis of municipal power is the mandate of protecting public safety and common property value. If a new house plan that is too tall, ugly, offensive, dense, etc., and therefore will substantially decrease property values of surrounding houses then the city should intervene and stop it. Of course the city should enact regulations in the first place so that such houses won't be contemplated to begin with. Privacy itself is not a mandate of city, as long as it does not involve safety or property value.

So the question is, will a new two-story building, conforming to current city guidelines, decrease the property values of neighboring Eichler houses built in the 50's? The answer is likely a NO. In fact it will probably increase, maybe even substantially, values of neighboring properties.

On the other hand SSO will, in the long run, substantially decrease the potential of property value appreciation for all neighbors, even those who don't agree with SSO. Those neighbors would have legal standing to challenge the city for abdicating its mandate of protecting values of their property.




2 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2016 at 10:34 pm

'to what extent does the city government have "police power" to enact ordinances regulating zoning and housing construction?'

Presumably to whatever can get 50%+1 votes; the people of Palo Alto wanted direct democracy and that's what they're getting.


22 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2016 at 7:49 am

To All Two story homeowners:

Your homes are not grandfathered under the proposed zoning change. If you or a new owner tear down your house, you cannot re-build a two story house, under the proposed change.
Isn't this Inverse Condemnation of your property and property value. Who is going to reimburse you for this decrease of your property value. Is it the City or the owners who voted for the proposed change?

Sounds like a massive court case here.


31 people like this
Posted by home values by another definition
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 20, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I love my eichler 100% and would love the neighborhood to stay the same!

HOWEVER, I would NEVER IMPOSE MY OPINIONS ONTO OTHERS WHO WITH THEIR HARD EARNED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS BOUGHT A HOME IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD and DREAM of adding a second story home for WHATEVER REASONS THEY WISH!!!!


BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER;

AND MOST PEOPLE BEHOLD THE SIGHT AND SOUNDS OF A HAPPY, HEALTHY, LOVING, SAFE AND SOUND FAMILY...AND THAT MIGHT INCLUDE HAVING A SECOND STORY HOME.


4 people like this
Posted by Fatherof3
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

To:home values by another definition: I think what you mean is that YOU WOULD NEVER IMPOSE YOUR OPINIONS ONTO OTHERS AND PREVENT THEM FROM HAVING THE HARD EARNED MILLIONS (THOSE "OTHERS" ACTUALLY EARNED, BORROWED, ABSCOUNDED WITH...) FLOW INTO THEIR BANK ACCOUNTS AS THEY SELL THEIR EICHLERS. OBVIOUSLY, IF THERE IS A 2ND STORY RESTRICTIION PUT INTO PLACE, YOUR EICHLER WILL NOT FETCH NEARLY AS MUCH FROM SOMEONE WHO WOULD LIKE TO TEAR IT DOWN AND BUILD A TWO-STORY HOME. Can we be a little more transparent in this conversation. BTW, I've seen some gorgeous, fairly roomy new homes replacing Eichlers that are one story tall. [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Etiquette is Extinct
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 20, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Per senor blogger's warning, I doubt a neighborhood would care if someone rebuilt an existing 2-story house. This issue is about building a 2-story where a single story existed.

This issue is much like the debate on vehicle dwelling, airbnb, etc. where people have their liberal "live and let live" opinions until it affects them.


2 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Am I Missing something here?? Why is the city council voting on this? It should be a vote of the residents of the area!


7 people like this
Posted by MD
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 20, 2016 at 7:04 pm

"Two story homes are what today's buyers want" - YIKES, what ever happened to creativity and functionality in architecture. "Single story overlay" may detrimentally affect the neighborhood? Sounds like real estate talk-check out today's "stucco box-2 story abominations". Beware folks-the San Fernando Valley-Southern California mentality will soon appear in your neighborhood!


19 people like this
Posted by BS
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 21, 2016 at 6:10 am

This whole SSO idea is such a load of bull. Imposing your whims across the property line on someone else's house is total nonsense. Even worse, imposing your whims on all future residents of the neighborhood.

Pure bull.


6 people like this
Posted by Fatherof3
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:49 am

Reply to BS: "Imposing your whims across the property line on someone else's house is total nonsense." If I've lived in my single story house for a number of years and now someone buys one next door and wants to put up a 2 story house (or add a 2nd story to an existing house) that blocks my sunlight and ruins my privacy (these lots are pretty small and the setback from the lot lines is fairly minimal), wouldn't that be imposing their whims on me?


32 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:06 am

@ Father: perhaps. But when you bought your home and when your neighbor bought his/her home, the zoning allowed for 2-stories to be built. It was/is an existing possibility...whether you consciously gambled or remotely considered whether a neighbor may choose to build a 2-story house, that's on you. Just because you thought it would never happen, doesn't mean it shouldn't.

IMHO, an SSO should only be enacted if 100% of the neighborhood agrees. Taking away the property rights of just one individual doesn't sit well with me.


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:13 am

The anti SSO logic suggests that Sky Posse people have no basis for their complaints.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2016 at 1:41 pm

We definitely need some middle ground and compromise here. I see valid arguments for both sides.

I still say that if we could allow a small percentage of the house footprint to be a second story, say enough for a mastersuite, or an office, with no windows allowed to overlook the side of the property apart from frosted bathroom windows to allow light, we might be able to get something workable that all will feel happy about.


Like this comment
Posted by Libertarian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2016 at 6:28 pm

"someone buys one next door and wants to put up a 2 story house (or add a 2nd story to an existing house) that blocks my sunlight and ruins my privacy (these lots are pretty small and the setback from the lot lines is fairly minimal), wouldn't that be imposing their whims on me?"

Whoever imposes first wins.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:25 pm

@Resident

If you're concerned about 2nd story additions I'm sure Libertarian and others would think its fine for the neighbor to sell you the view easement. The concern is when people who don't consent get those options taken from them.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident 2
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm

" still say that if we could allow a small percentage of the house footprint to be a second story, say enough for a master-suite, or an office, with no windows allowed to overlook the side of the property apart from frosted bathroom windows to allow light, we might be able to get something workable that all will feel happy about."

Sounds Great! The problem is; people that want to flip houses, want to bend the rules.


Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:39 pm

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2016 at 9:44 pm

@Crescent Park Dad

I can't agree more with you on this point. I wanted to talk about this point in the public hearing meeting but only 2 minutes were allowed.

SSO supporters keep saying anti-SSO neighbors take away their privacy right by building two-story house.

However the fact is the opposite.

When every family in this neighborhood bought the property, they knew for a fact that her neighbors have the right to build a two-story house. They accepted that and moved in.

SSO supporters, you NEVER had the privacy right you claimed. By SSO you are asking to take away your neighbors's lawful property right they had since all of you moved here.



7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 22, 2016 at 2:17 am

And I had the right to use a gasoline powered leaf blower. Where did that right go?


3 people like this
Posted by Well said
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:19 am

@Ze'ev Wurman, well said! Thank you!


5 people like this
Posted by Well said
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:23 am

@ LoveRoyalManor: Good points. Eichler homeowners who love privacy are welcome to buy blinds and curtains. Wouldn't that be easier than infringing on their neighbors' property rights?!


9 people like this
Posted by Something Stinks Here
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:35 am

If two-story houses are what most people want, why is it that large homes on a single level sell for so much more than two-story large homes of the same size? Even when the lots are the same size?


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 22, 2016 at 10:52 am

@Well said, and people who complain about noise can buy earplugs.


6 people like this
Posted by Voice in the wildnerness
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm

Congratulations to the gentleman who coined a new word - "geriatrify." There are many possibilities to expand here - "Kidify. " You get it. Cheap shot, sir.

Most lots around here can be remodeled and expanded beautifully on a one-level basis. Just try to avoid a fast-talking builder; but that'll be hard to find around here.

Although not on point, hodge-podge is one of the biggest problems in the city. A lack of compatible artchitectural integrity. This is especially true of the some of the neighborhoods south of Page Mill Road. Here, the mix of l-level and 2-level homes appear to have been thrown up recklessly, often without a concern about design - what's that? Architectural integrity....what's that?

I live in a SSO in southern Palo Alto. Thank gawd.





2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 24, 2016 at 10:34 pm

Every house that goes up for sale is updated throughout to meet current specifications. And some people noted above that they make a living out of doing that and yet are complaining about it - go figure that one out. I live in an Eichler and love the full glass view of the back yard and further view of the skyline-like today when all of the trees are blowing in the wind. I find that preferable to the type house I grew up in which was a Spanish type style.
Every house has failures due to age and every house has to be updated - and are. The whole point of living in an Eichler neighborhood is that you get to enjoy the view and you do have privacy if everyone is working with the same type house. If you moved into any development of newly build homes then the whole subdivision would be assembled to provide privacy.
A big problem of a neighbor building a second story is blocking out the sunlight on a smaller lot where you have existing plantings / trees that require sun. If the second story now creates a barrier to sun then that changes the whole impact to neighboring homes. That should be a reason to prevent any impact to your house which blocks the sun and changes your right to the view that you originally bought into.


8 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 25, 2016 at 1:31 pm

"Every house that goes up for sale is updated throughout to meet current specifications. "

I don't think so.

If you are an original Eichler owner who as only done cosmetic make-overs (paint, etc.), then your home still has old un-grounded wiring with circuits that cover multiple rooms and purposes.

As most people know, today's electrical standards require grounded wiring, GFI outlets in wet locations (kitchen, bath, exterior), heavier shielded wire, thicker gauge wiring, as well as dedicated circuits for each major appliance, bathroom, bedrooms, etc. Plus typically the service panel is only 80 or 100 amps (today's standard is at least 200 amps).

The original Eichler owner is not required to do any electrical upgrades in order to sell his/her house. Same goes for window upgrades (e.g., safety glass for sliding doors and/or large panes of floor to ceiling glass, dual-panel), insulation (Eichlers have zero wall insulation), energy efficient appliances (e.g., old radiant heat boilers are atrocious energy wasters)... and so on.

I am curious as to what or who told you that you have to update your Eichler's infrastructure before you can sell it?


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2016 at 6:59 pm

[Portion removed.] Why impose your ideas and opinion on other people's rights. It is like changing the rules in the middle of a game because you do not like the outcome. Change the rules to get what you want.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 26, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Comment on updating Eichlers - I am surrounded by Eichlers that have recently been on the market. All have updated wiring - new kitchens with new electrical systems, new bathrooms - new flooring, new landscaping. How do you think that those houses are selling for over 2M? People buying in today's market have checklists of what they want and the people helping you to sell your home are providing the right people to get the homes up to date. If you have any major activity going on at your house then you have to get a permit and the city comes out and inspects the work done.

My son lives in the Oakland Hills area and he has had to totally update his Spanish, tile roof house for all of the same type problems. Go over between Embarcadero and Oregon and there are streets full of construction activity in which older homes are being torn down and totally replaced.
Any house over 50 years old has problems that require fixing prior to sale if you want to get top dollar.
If someone sells "as is" then it is a house that is going to be torn down because the lot size is in the right place.

Please don't sanctify the non-Eichler home - I grew up in such a home and there was the same work to update all of the desired amenities that people want today. That is why you have shows on TV that show what has been done to homes to get them ready for sale.

My brother lives in Oregon - they just replaced their kitchen and bathrooms because they were rotting due to rainy weather - Oregon has a habit of doing that.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 26, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Comment on updating Eichlers - I am surrounded by Eichlers that have recently been on the market. All have updated wiring - new kitchens with new electrical systems, new bathrooms - new flooring, new landscaping. How do you think that those houses are selling for over 2M? People buying in today's market have checklists of what they want and the people helping you to sell your home are providing the right people to get the homes up to date. If you have any major activity going on at your house then you have to get a permit and the city comes out and inspects the work done.

My son lives in the Oakland Hills area and he has had to totally update his Spanish, tile roof house for all of the same type problems. Go over between Embarcadero and Oregon and there are streets full of construction activity in which older homes are being torn down and totally replaced.
Any house over 50 years old has problems that require fixing prior to sale if you want to get top dollar.
If someone sells "as is" then it is a house that is going to be torn down because the lot size is in the right place.

Please don't sanctify the non-Eichler home - I grew up in such a home and there was the same work to update all of the desired amenities that people want today. That is why you have shows on TV that show what has been done to homes to get them ready for sale.

My brother lives in Oregon - they just replaced their kitchen and bathrooms because they were rotting due to rainy weather - Oregon has a habit of doing that.


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

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