News

Editorial: The angst over second stories

Neighbors clash over privacy and property rights

When should the City of Palo Alto forbid the construction of second-story additions in a neighborhood dominated by single-story homes?

That question has become an increasingly emotional and divisive one in south Palo Alto, and on Monday the issue approached a boiling point as neighbors within the 203-home Royal Manor housing tract in the Palo Verde neighborhood squared off in the packed City Council chambers.

One group of neighbors, who had organized a petition to request a single-story "overlay" zone for the tract, argued that the restriction was necessary to protect the character of the Joseph Eichler-developed neighborhood and head off a progression of remodels that would intrude on neighbors' privacy.

Another group of residents, who expressed dismay and some anger about the petition process, said that limiting their ability to build a second floor that would otherwise conform to the area's zoning would be unfair and a violation of their property rights.

There were so many speakers that the council put off any decision until its May 2 meeting. The neighborhood division suggests, as does the city staff, that the process for bringing these proposals to the city needs to be reevaluated.

With unprecedented high local real-estate values, smaller single-story homes in south Palo Alto are among the more affordable in the city and are often purchased by buyers intending to increase the square footage by adding a second floor. Particularly in neighborhoods with Eichlers, which were designed with large floor-to-ceiling windows and extensive exposure to and from the outside, many longtime owners are utilizing city-established processes to seek approval of restrictive single-story overlay zones to block second-story additions or new two-story homes.

The process for establishing these single-story restrictions dates back to 1992 and has resulted in more than a dozen areas becoming restricted after petitioning by residents. Each brought some amount of controversy but none as intense or divisive as the current proposal.

The Royal Manor proposal, which initially achieved the required threshold of 70 percent approval of residents when submitted the application to the city, has seen a steady drop in support as homeowners have asked to be removed from the petition after learning more about the issue. Some who signed say they were misled by overlay proponents.

Apart from the neighborhood petition process, in Palo Alto any second-story addition or new home must currently go through what is called an "individual review" during which neighbors are given an opportunity to object to the architecture and the intrusion into their privacy. Ultimately, disagreements can go before the City Council on appeal.

Voluntary design guidelines, developed many years ago, are intended to assist homeowners and their architects to develop plans acceptable to neighbors, but a number of heated debates over individual home proposals have fueled neighborhood efforts to impose blanket restrictions through the overlay-zone process.

The City Council has been loath to go beyond voluntary design guidelines for second-story construction and has often struggled when considering applications for single-story overlay zones for entire neighborhoods.

By the May 2 council meeting it is likely that the desired neighborhood super-majority support for restrictions in Royal Manor will have dropped well below the 70 percent level and the council will deny the application. Under the current rules and guidelines, that's the correct outcome.

But the entire process needs to be re-evaluated. No one benefits from a system that pits groups of neighbors against each other and depends on a petition process vulnerable to misunderstandings. While the overlay-zone process can be improved and should still remain available in cases of near neighborhood consensus, what's needed is a tightening of the existing individual-review process required for all second-story additions or new homes, regardless of neighborhood.

Especially in vulnerable neighborhoods such as Eichler tracts, the voluntary guidelines need to be transformed into specific minimum requirements addressing setbacks, daylight plane, window glazing and neighborhood compatibility that go beyond current recommendations.

Last year, at the urging of councilmembers Tom DuBois and Karen Holman, the council voted to look at establishing specific districts that would be subject to specific architectural styles, but City Manager Jim Keene, stating that the planning staff already had too much on its plate, made clear nothing would be done anytime soon.

The council cannot let this problem fester. Like the community's reaction to commercial development, changes to neighborhood character is a looming political time bomb.

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Comments

45 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2016 at 8:35 am

Eichlers sell after one weekend. There is no need to allow more bidders with sights on building a second story - it just makes bidding wars more competitive so it prices-out prospective owners. People complain of lack of lower end housing and this will worsen it. People who want the square footage of a two-story can either buy a two-story or live where they can afford it. They shouldn't be able to ruin an entire neighborhood with their self-serving values.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2016 at 8:56 am

Both sides make good points. It is not an easy conundrum.

Instead of the present system, there could be some middle ground. A practice of allowing partial second stories, a partial size of the building footprint, to allow just a small second story with say a master suite or a bonus room that only has frosted windows at the sides so that it will allow light into a room without any visibility. After all, who wants to be in a bathroom that can be seen from the next door patio?

In fact, codes should be that all new and remodeled bathrooms should have frosted glass in the windows anyway!

As with all contentious problems, mediate and compromise can help make a difficult situation less imposing. Nobody wants to have angst between neighbors but it seems that we are becoming more contentious and less neighborly. It is time to stop this behavior and look for ways to get on better with neighbors who we may one day need to ask for help.


7 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:43 am

"...what's needed is a tightening of the existing individual-review process required for all second-story additions or new homes, regardless of neighborhood." If the process is discretionary, as it is today, it can easily be abused by the City's reviewer and by antagonistic neighbors. Many of us who've been through Individual Review (IR) would say that this problem already exists. Also, as a discretionary process, IR may trigger review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA review is appallingly difficult and expensive, so it's easily used as a tool to block any change (whether or not that change might be acceptable to most people now or in the long run).

"...the voluntary guidelines need to be transformed into specific minimum requirements addressing setbacks, daylight plane, window glazing and neighborhood compatibility..." Yes, to the extent this can be done without requiring discretionary review, it's the best answer. Things like setbacks and daylight plane are already in the zoning rules; glazing and privacy are currently in IR but could be converted to fixed rules like zoning. On the other hand, there will never be agreement on architectural style, so if you feel that's essential then you're stuck with subjective review and all its potential for conflict.

A friend of mine suggests that this problem should be solved by using the "Economic Fourier Transform": Convert it from a decision about values to a decision about pricing. How much is an owner willing to pay to get a second story? How much would his neighbors be willing to pay to prevent it? It's hard to do this in a way that doesn't give unfair advantage to wealthier residents, but I think it's worth considering. (Perhaps using pooled funds for a preservation account, or something like the Mills Act?) So long as there's a fundamental asymmetry in the process (e.g. building is expensive, blocking building is free; or approval for a new project is easy, but the property-value impact on adjacent houses isn't considered) then conflicts are inevitable. Pricing might help.

Changes in property values caused by restrictions like SSO are another interesting topic, and there's been some discussion about that in the context of historic districts, but it's too big an issue to cover here.


18 people like this
Posted by Watching the vote
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 11:59 am

Guidelines may be useful to architects who want to be neighbor-sensitive. But they are ignored by any architect who wants bigger and bigger, the heck with the neighbors. There is no penalty. Guidelines are toothless posturing.

It will be interesting to see whether the staunch development advocates on the council vote for residents or for the money interests. I mean Berman, Kniss, Wolbach and Scharff (often Burt) who talk real sweet, but vote for development.

>City Manager Jim Keene, stating that the planning staff already had too much on its plate, made clear nothing would be done anytime soon.<
I was amazed, I heard him say that. He made it clear, he is in charge.


31 people like this
Posted by Supportive
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Hopefully this editorial helps explain the reason neighborhoods have resorted to the SSO.

The IR guidelines do not work. Guidelines are just guidelines and often treated as suggestions that an informed developer can work around for his client. Spend time in an Eichler next door to a new large house and you might develop some sympathy.

Representatives from several Eichler neighborhoods have been asking Keene to strengthen the guidelines. He says they need more resources. Until the Planning Dept chooses to make the IR process a priority, the SSO is a stop-gap.

The SSO is a zone change. It is definitive. A developer cannot skirt it. Currently, it is the only tool in the shed.

The people working for an SSO are not selfish or racist or any of the things they have been called in Council mtgs or on line. They care about their neighborhood and neighbors. They have carefully researched this issue for two years and they have worked tirelessly for what they believe is right and is actually the only option besides waiting for the City to do nothing.

In return, they have been insulted quite heavily by detractors. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize. It is much harder and takes brave people to step up, go downtown and meet with City Leaders and put in hundreds of hours to understand the options.

I hope people can see this is a City management and planning problem and stop blaming their fellow citizens who are very invested in this community and in their neighbors.


16 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Given escalating prices for PA residences, newer owners of Eichlers are likely to be wealthier than long-time and currently often elderly owners, who purchased their homes at least in part because back-yard window walls admit light and openness to Nature, confer a sense of spaciousness to small quarters, and yet assure privacy and views that do NOT include a second story looming across or adjacent to backyard fences.

Eichler neighborhoods were carefully designed to bring these benefits to all, but they depend on single-story structures.

Unfortunately, construction of a two-story house can obliterate all these benefits for as many as five neighboring homes. While there may exist some sites, perhaps backing onto E. Meadow or E. Charleston, for which two stories would not prove calamitous to neighbors, one homeowner, often a newcomer, should not have the right to construct a two-story home that essentially ruins what long-term Eichler dwellers enjoy and, often, have enjoyed for decades. Originally, Eichler homeowners did NOT possess this right!

The City needs to make clear its policy, which should protect the values of existing Eichler dwellers, so that prospective buyers wanting two-story homes look elsewhere. If there can be exceptions, these exceptions need to be identified and made known to all those who could be affected. It is worth remembering that as no man is an island, so, too, does no home stand alone. It is part of a neighborhood, and neighborhood streetscape harmony, and, consequently, true value, is retained by retaining the benefits afforded by single-story elevation.

Almost five years ago, over 70% of Fairmeadow residents in an area identified by a City planner expressed in a resident-circulated survey their wish for a single-story overlay. The City decided to conduct its own survey, but NOT of the previously designated area but of the entirety of Fairmeadow. Fairmeadow SSO proponents asked to see the survey document, were denied that opportunity, and the survey circulated was judged by all so flawed as to be useless.


yet


18 people like this
Posted by JANE
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:28 pm

A possible solution for neighborhoods dominated by one story Eichlers would be to restrict second stories but allow more one story square footage extending to the rear. While making the backyard smaller, that might be a trade off
for owners who want to enlarge their homes. However, extra lot coverage should be restricted to only neighborhoods with a single story overlay.


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:48 pm

One-story homes already receive an allowance for greater lot coverage than what 2-story homes are allowed to have.


28 people like this
Posted by Up Up and Away
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Up Up and Away is a registered user.

Homeowners should be allowed to build a second story, at most at the cost of blinds or curtains to any neighbors who are all bent out of shape about their precious privacy.

Seriously, in this era of camera-carying drones, good luck assuming that you won't be seen through your glass walls.

Consider waving to your neighbors instead of whining.


23 people like this
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Up Up and Away misses the point: Most Eichler owners like their homes in part because they have VIEWS of their backyards, trees and flowers, and sky. So "giving" us blinds and curtains won't cut it: We don't want to have to draw curtains to shut out two-story homes!


11 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:26 pm

"The City needs to make clear its policy, which should protect the values of existing Eichler dwellers, so that prospective buyers wanting two-story homes look elsewhere."

Actually building restrictions like SSOs and historical designations that ossify design and architecture do the opposite - it reduces the value of their property dramatically.

Why do people in places like Palo Alto push for policies that go against their economic interests (ha!)


6 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 22, 2016 at 2:49 pm

@Me: "Actually building restrictions like SSOs and historical designations that ossify design and architecture do the opposite - it reduces the value of their property dramatically."

Those of us on the Professorville Design Guidelines Committee looked into this a few years ago. The reality seems to be complicated. Here's what little I remember about it.

If there's demand for larger or newer houses, then locking down a district tends to favor the newer or larger houses that already exist. Since the smaller/older houses can't be changed, there's less demand for them, so they lose value or increase at a lower rate than the larger/newer houses.

If the main reason for demand in a neighborhood is something unrelated to the houses (a specially desirable location, for example), then locking down the district might not have much effect either way. This situation is fairly common in Palo Alto because of the attractiveness of the school system, among other things.

If a major reason for demand is something else specifically related to the houses (historical or architectural significance, for example), then locking down the district can protect or increase property values. I don't think this applies to Professorville as a whole (too few of the houses are significant, and location is a more important factor), but I don't know if it applies to the Eichler neighborhoods. The question would be whether Eichler architecture trumps location for a large-enough number of people to have a material effect on bidding.


19 people like this
Posted by Watching the vote
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Me wonders
Q. "Why do people in places like Palo Alto push for policies that go against their economic interests (ha!)"

A. Because there are more important things than money in many of our lives. People who value money more than anything else have limited imaginations and restricted life experience. And, in my experience, they are boring.


18 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2016 at 3:05 pm

I can't believe people think building a house should be negotiable with the neighborhood. Everyone has different opinions on style. No means no. No noise disruption of building a two-story, no conflict within the the neighborhoods. One story houses sell! There is no overstock of houses without prospective owners. Palo Alto houses sell even when they are shacks that haven't been updated.


24 people like this
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 22, 2016 at 3:41 pm

"The question would be whether Eichler architecture trumps location for a large-enough number of people to have a material effect on bidding."

The above is A question. For most people living in Eichlers, it is not THE question.

Whose values should be prioritized: people planning to sell and leave their Eichlers? or people wanting to live in their Eichlers? Yes, a 2-story will generally sell for more than a l-story. But the existence of that 2-story will depress the sales potential of MANY of its neighboring 1-story homes. The three to five houses on either side or behind the 2-story that have ceased to boast the Eichler virtues arising from 1-story conformity will ALL be less attractive and command lower prices. Should the potential values of many homeowners be "trumped" by the value to be realized by a single home owner?

There's another--and existential--question: What constitutes value? the price to be realized by selling an Eichler or the quality of the experience of living in it?

Some people are indifferent to having backyard views of 2-story homes and/or keeping blinds or curtains drawn to prevent seeing 2-story houses and consequently foregoing natural light. Eichlers were not designed for those people. Allowing construction that compromises the Eichler experience for people who value it seems unjust. But people focused on price rather than value should feel reassured that, as previously correctly noted, when an Eichler comes on the market, thanks to Palo Alto prestige and schools, even 1-story homes fetch premium prices.


Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 22, 2016 at 4:36 pm

@Eichler owner wrote: "The above is A question. For most people living in Eichlers, it is not THE question."

It's actually a question about whether enough potential buyers would value the Eichler virtues to create a price premium, not about the effect on current residents of losing Eichler virtues. That doesn't detract from your point; I just wanted to be clear that it was about a much narrower issue.

By the way, there are a couple of two-story Eichlers here in Professorville. An architect friend tells me that they're among the few Eichler ever built in that form. If anyone can confirm that, I'd appreciate the information; it would be helpful for the design guidelines here.


8 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 4:43 pm

I can see both sides of the argument. We live on a street of single-story houses ... some houses are Eichlers, some not. If a neighbor were to build a two-story house next to us, my home would be irreparably diminished. It would be like losing an arm or leg. I go up on the roof to clean leaves off in the autumn ... you can see everything going on in the neighbors' yards and through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The yards and space between houses are very small. Living next to a 2-story house would be like living in a fish bowl. Yet I myself might want a second story home at some point so I can see why people aren't happy with single-story overlay restrictions being applied that weren't part of the package when they bought the house. The individual review guidelines are almost completely useless in resolving this conflict because there is nothing binding. We had a neighbor build a 2-story on a cul-de-sac behind us (fortunately far enough away that we could screen the impact with fast growing vegetation), and depending on who in the city building department is handling the case, concerns about privacy will not result in any real design changes. They have a plan for a 2nd floor balcony overlooking your living room? OK, they will change the proposed color of the railing and plant a small tree that will take 30 years to grow to resolve the problem. If the person building the 2-story is patient and makes a show of unrelated "concessions", the city will eventually approve the plans no matter how seriously it degrades the living experience of the neighbors. General rule is that building a 2-story house in a 1-story neighborhood is fine as long as you are the first.


30 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Home Owner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2016 at 8:02 am

I felt that some residents who lived in the neighborhood longer is bullying their neighbors. This problem of bullying is shown in the signature seeking process of SSO in Royal Manor.

People need to wake up to the idea that each home owner has the right to decide on home improvements for their own homes following city's guidelines, not the neighbors.

Eichler homes are small in size and not up to today's standards.


24 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:35 am

@Palo Alto Native

"People who want the square footage of a two-story can either buy a two-story or live where they can afford it. They shouldn't be able to ruin an entire neighborhood with their self-serving values."

Let us look at the baseline of this debate. When every family in this neighborhood bought the property, they all accepted the fact that her neighbors have the right to build a two-story house. There was no SSO.

"Ruin an entire neighborhood" is an indifferent statement to the hard-working families who love this neighbourhood and also have the real need to expend as her/his family grows. Asking your neighbour to move out of this neighbourhood is not the best way to solve this highly debated issue.


16 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:52 am

@ Supportive

"Until the Planning Dept chooses to make the IR process a priority, the SSO is a stop-gap."

SSO is NOT a stop-gap solution. As you said immediately in the same post, "SSO is a zone change. It is definitive". Once approved, it is almost impossible to be reverted for many years to come. This has a long, deep impact for the families hurted by SSO.

Since we all know what's the right thing to do, why can't we all work together to push an Eichler Design Guideline (IR with more teeth) a priority for the city?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Although this present debate is about an Eichler neighborhood, there are many other houses which are much more likely to be bought and torn down than Eichlers. As an example, Loma Verde is not really an Eichler neighborhood as there are many different styles along its full length. However, the majority of two story homes on that street were once other styles rather than Eichlers.

So is this move to be for Eichlers only or is it the same argument for a non Eichler home. Can any other style be knocked and rebuilt or will neighbors complain about that.

This is a big question in Palo Alto. It seems that not only are homes being knocked down and replaced with bigger ones, but there is a move to put two residences on one lot. There is a lot on Middlefield near the Unity church which is building two homes where before there was only a garage type of construction.

I know there are a lot of Eichler worshippers, but are they the only ones who will complain about a two story being built next door?


33 people like this
Posted by No to Royal Manor SSO
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2016 at 12:50 pm

No to Royal Manor SSO is a registered user.

We bought our Eichler because that was the only thing we could afford in Palo Alto. If our Eichler was next to railroad would we still buy it? NO

if it was in SSO zone would we still buy it? NO, Do Royal Manor Eichlers sell in a week ? No, open your redfin there is one sitting there for 23 days now.

Eichlers in Royal Manor are Eichlers for the poor families. If we were rich we would buy Greenmeadow Eichlers that have 9000 SF lot. We would buy in Old Palo Alto. We would buy in Midtown.

Those who think that new buyers in Royal Manor are rich, better know they are not. They are not the typical cash buyers you see in midtown. They are the hardworking couples who are sacrificing their life by working hard paying huge mortgages dreaming about a good life for their children. New buyers in Royal Manor are the poorest buyers who couldn't afford Greenmeadow, Leland Manor, Professorville, Midtown, and Old Palo Alto.

They are those who just cared so much for their children's education and bought the cheapest thing they could afford that would guarantee good education for their children.

Eichlers in Royal Manor are not the same as Eichlers in Greenmeadow. Stop generalizing the whole idea of SSO. would I oppose SSO if I lived in a 9000 SF lot where I could easily have a 2500 SF house + big backyard even with Single Story? probably not

The whole point is with a 6000 SF lot in Royal Manor you can never have an appropriate 2500 SF house, that fits your old parents, and your children without them fighting on who gets to have a room for himself, that fits properly on your land, and leaves a descent back yard for your children to play. The city law might allow SSO houses to build 5%-10% more than non-SSO one stories, but it all depends on your lot. in a 9000 SF lot without special setbacks or etc that might compensate for the owners' rights, but does that law add any value in a 6000 SF lot with multiple easements and setbacks? Does it compensate what the owner is losing? No of course not.


6 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 23, 2016 at 1:57 pm

@Dan: It's revealing to see how much Individual Review varies from project to project. IR does have teeth, if the City's IR consultant chooses to use them. The consultant on our project threw it out because a proposed exterior first-floor wall faced the corner instead of being parallel to the street (despite the existence of nearby houses with similar features). He also required us to enlarge (!) our front entrance. Not only was there a long list of privacy requirements involving glazing, exterior privacy walls, and plantings that our neighbors didn't want, but the City came back to us AFTER the building permit was issued to ask for more. We know of a case in Community Center in which permitted construction was halted because of this issue.

Objective requirements that aren't subject to the biases of the reviewer, like those in the code for zoning, are a better approach. It's not a large step from there to neighborhood-specific objective requirements.

SSOs are an important tool when nothing better is available, but I think objective neighborhood-specific requirements have a better chance to balance property owners' rights, their neighbors' environments, and the ability of neighborhoods as a whole to adapt to change around them.


3 people like this
Posted by JFP
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2016 at 5:13 pm

While I would support design guidelines that preserved the Eichler style and also did their best to preserve privacy, the characteristics of Royal Manor would make them totally ineffective. Royal Manor has small lots and is in a floodplain. Any new two story house has to be raised six feed above sea level. The result is that the house will be thirty feet high and loom over the neighbors destroying their privacy and sunlight. That's why an SSO is necessary.


6 people like this
Posted by voice in the wilderness
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Reaction to above comments.

We have a 9,000 sq. ft lot in southern PA, NOT in Greenmeadow, so don't generalize. You just have to look carefully at your lot plans BEFORE you buy. BTW, in our little SSO neighborhood, any home on the market goes FAST. I wonder why,

Second, you want to change the residence building/remodeling ground rules in PA? You will never, never, never hear the end of the brouha ha when that's on the drawing boards. The building variances for developers has gone unabated for years and years, and it will continue to go on; just think of the parallel when applied to private residences.

Finally, when Eichlers were built (and the other developers in that day) everyone had kids. Yes, KIDS, folks, KIDS. Many of them. They went to the same schools that yours are now ttending. It was kidsville. 1-2-3-4- kids per household. And, everyone lived in ONE STORY HOUSES. Get over it. Just because you paid every last penny Æ’or your houses does not mean that you get carte blanche to do anything you want with it. You could have bought in Mountain View?

Stop reading Architectural Digest with the fancy home plans and think small. Or, Design magazine, or whatever. Some day you'll be thankful.


3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:33 pm

@voice in the wilderness

Considering there isn't an SSO in the neighborhood in question, wouldn't your "Get over it" (more or less 'it is what it is') comment be an argument in favor of keeping things as they are? Or do zoning and overlays not fall into that nebulous "neighborhood character" thing that needs to be preserved?


8 people like this
Posted by LoveRoyalManor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2016 at 9:54 am

@voice in the wilderness

Thanks for the facts you provided. SSO might be the perfect choice for one neighborhood, but not ideal for others.

9,000 SF lot vs 6,000 SF lot makes a huge difference in this case. Most lots in Royal Manor is about 6000 SF. SSO makes these families impractical to expand at all, with setback and other restrictions.


4 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 24, 2016 at 3:25 pm

@voice in the wilderness wrote: "1-2-3-4- kids per household. And, everyone lived in ONE STORY HOUSES. Get over it."

Do you think some of them would have expanded their houses, or built houses with more space, if they could have afforded to? I see a lot of two-story houses in Palo Alto that were built before the Eichlers, and some are pretty large. Are people different now?

I don't know for sure that you intended it, but I think it's hard to make the argument that because people got by with smaller houses in the past no one should be allowed to build anything larger today. After all, the vast majority of the human population lives without as much space as a typical Palo Alto single-story single-family house, and without the nice features of Eichlers. Doesn't the argument lead to the conclusion that no single-family houses or houses with the features of Eichlers should be built? It's a race to the bottom.

Please note that I'm not arguing for unlimited building, just trying to understand the issues more clearly.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2016 at 4:29 pm

We're certainly expected to live without as much water, petroleum products, or non-green electricity as we used in the past, and to generate much less waste. Raising kids in a large house is poor preparation for the micro-apartments in their future.


3 people like this
Posted by bmr
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2016 at 5:57 pm

The city should enable these overlays. It has a responsibility to maintain housing affordability in the city. Allowing unrestrained building pushes up the house prices and makes these neighborhoods unaffordable.


6 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2016 at 6:41 pm

JFP @ Palo Verde mentions a key point for the Royal Manor subdivision - much if not all of it lies in a flood plane; the flood plane rules says remodeling beyond a certain percentage means the entire home has to be raised above the flood plane. So a single story expansion beyond a certain percentage (and that percentage is not a very big) means tearing down the entire house. You cannot have a basement if you are in the flood plane, so you expand downward either.

Building a 2 story can be less expensive than building a single story of equivalent square footage.

If the city approves an SSO, the city should look at changing some of zoning to allow more square footage, and reduce the front set backs to help compensate.

For those who are intending to live in their home until their passing, single story homes are actually a selling point - older people can have issues going up and down stairs.


Like this comment
Posted by KC Cullen
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 25, 2016 at 8:04 am

The truth is that homes in SSO neighborhoods are allowed the same FAR (square footage) at one story as would be allowed for a two story home in the same zone; and because there is no square footage dedicated to a stairway (which is counted as area on both floors) the SSO single story homes can be built with more usable space.


11 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2016 at 9:24 am

To me, this is what happens to a community in which you have some neighbors paying $3500 per year in taxes on their $3 million dollar homes living next to newcomers (infiltrators) who are paying $35,000 per year in taxes on a home of the same value. Prop 13 creates a great deal of inequity and divisiveness. Prop 13 has to go. And if you don't agree, and you're enjoying all the appreciation (financial) of the home you bought 8-20+ years ago, then find another form of appreciation (gratitude) and thank your lucky stars, move on, and find real problems to fix.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2016 at 9:38 am

To those who argue against Prop 13, please rethink. I agree it is not perfect, particularly when properties are housing businesses or rented out by the children of the original owners through inheritance, but I ask you.

Do you really think a senior who has lived in their home for 40+ years, maintaining it rather than updating it, has lifelong memories in Palo Alto and is well able to live well without help in their own home, should be paying $35,000 in property tax, just because their neighbor is? Yes the home is worth the same as the neighbor just because of the lot, but should they have to go into debt or move so that the neighbor feels life is fair?

Is this really fair?


4 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2016 at 10:37 am

"Allowing unrestrained building pushes up the house prices and makes these neighborhoods unaffordable."

I see some of us are from the David Campos School of Economics, which is working quite well for San Francisco (not). Restricting building (and therefore, supply) *increases* prices.

That's the main problem of the entire Bay Area, not just Palo Alto and San Francisco. You can't have both building restrictions *and* affordability in a time of economic growth.

It's illogical. And hoping for a slowdown in economic growth? Ask Detroit how that's working out for them.


6 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2016 at 10:40 am

"Is this really fair?"

Who is the arbiter of "fair?" Is it "fair" that the recently moved in residents are subsidizing government services for long-term residents? Why should a family of young kids pay more for police and fire services than a long time resident?

This "fairness" thing is hogwash.


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2016 at 11:55 am

"Do you really think a senior who has lived in their home for 40+ years, [snip], should be paying $35,000 in property tax, just because their neighbor is?"

You left out the fact that the $35,000 tax number is set by Prop 13. Absent P13, both parties would be paying a lower rate, which they could vote on in local elections. Prop 13 took taxing discretion away from local control and handed it to the state government--an example of Conservatives's basic fondness for big government.

Prop 13's objective is to cut taxes on commercial properties and transfer it to homeowners. It has succeeded spectacularly. The homeowner razzle dazzle was the bait to get it passed. A gullible population bought it, and many are still rapturously deluded.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 25, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Lost on the P13 whiners is that when the older PA residents bought their homes 10-20-30 years ago, they too were paying much higher property taxes (than long-term residents) at the time.

Hold onto your homes and you'll realize the same benefit down the line. In other words, it all evens out in the end.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2016 at 1:35 pm

The part that makes the $35,000 property tax fair is that when a family bought their home 40 years ago they were prepared for whatever they paid in property taxes then, just the same as a family buy their home today. They know (or should know) what their expenses will be in relation to that at the time of purchase. This is true for all homeowners. What wouldn't be fair is expecting a family to pay something they weren't expecting.

Our own property tax is not a static amount. It increases every year. Sometimes because of parcel taxes or bond measures, but also for other reasons. Our property taxes increase anyway, but what wouldn't be fair is increasing them because the supposed value of the home increases. The dollar value of a home to a 40+ resident has nothing to do with the possible sale price of the home if they are planning to remain in it. It only has a dollar value at the time it will be sold. Until then the fact that it is worth a great deal more than they paid for it doesn't help them pay their increased property tax.


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Posted by Eileen Wright
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 25, 2016 at 2:15 pm

"Lost on the P13 whiners is that when the older PA residents bought their homes 10-20-30 years ago, they too were paying much higher property taxes (than long-term residents) at the time."

That's right. I bought my home in 1976 and I paid lots less tax than any of them. Now I pay a lot, lot less.


5 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Still wondering if any of the houses in Royal Manor have deed restrictions that don't allow a second story. Many Eichler homes do. If so, then any objection to an SSO, which simply adds additional enforcement to an existing legal agreement is specious. If not, then this discussion makes sense. In particular, I hope we get an improved IR process out of this controversy as I am not impressed with the inconsistencies in the current process.

Personally, someone built a two story house behind me and it definitely reduces the privacy in my backyard. I wish I had been a little more assertive so at least the large window that looks directly into my backyard had been eliminated or otherwise obscured. The IR review didn't work in this case. At the same time, I would have been reluctant to object to the two story in general as the maximum size on that 6000 square foot lot, is only 2,400 sq. ft., which would have used up a lot of the backyard. I am sympathetic to wanting a larger play space for the kids, which is what this family wanted. And 2,400 sq. feet is not all that big in the first place. Fortunately, I'm not in a flood zone, so it isn't all that high. And thank heavens, it is occupied with a real family with real kids, not an Air bnb high tech dormitory or ghost house. I'm happy with a small house at my age, but I wasn't when I had kids at home.


19 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2016 at 7:08 pm

"Hold onto your homes and you'll realize the same benefit down the line. In other words, it all evens out in the end."

And in the meantime, completely ossifies neighborhoods and blocks the inflow of fresh faces into the neighborhood.

Or is that what everyone wants?

What's ironic is that in the effort to keep Palo Alto the way they remembered it when they moved in, they've put in motion all the frenzied activity by "foreign" buyers (not just the "dreaded Chinese," but non-locals in general), the people they want to keep out because of skyrocketing prices from limited supply.

Neighborhoods will change. That's just the way it is. However, if you try to hold down the change, the pressure will just blow everything up all at once with dramatic changes.

And that's what we're seeing right now.


3 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 25, 2016 at 11:13 pm

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

@No to Royal Manor SSO (scroll up...^^^) -

Regarding your comment: "if it was in SSO zone would we still buy it? NO, Do Royal Manor Eichlers sell in a week ? No, open your redfin there is one sitting there for 23 days now".

Would that be the house at the end of Loma Verde you're referring to? That house is not an Eichler, but ... drumroll ... it is a 2 STORY HOUSE!!! How can that be? That's the kind of house everybody wants to buy, right?

On the other hand, dear readers, a 1 story Eichler on Louis and another on Janice both sold recently, with multiple offers, in less that a week after being opened to buyers, for over the asking price. Go figure. :-)


13 people like this
Posted by SSO is a sham!
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:48 am

Here's what I find so fishy about this whole single story overlay issue. Before the fee for SSO application was removed I think there was an $8,000 fee to apply for the overlay. So lets say for Royal Manor there are 100 homes (according to the % signing the petition there should be more than this but use 100 for sake of argument) agreeing to the SSO. If the application fee were split amongst those homes it would be just $80 per household to apply. I know some of the neighborhoods that recently applied for SSO were smaller than Royal Manor but even in those cases the application fee if split among residents in favor of SSO would have been no more than $200 per house.

So all these when there was a fee for SSO application these neighborhoods did not think it was worht $80-200 per household to preserve their precious sunlight & privacy. The way the Eichler owners talk about these things you would think they cannot live without them. But still all those years when they would have had to pay for the SSO application it was not important enough to spend $80-200 per household to preserve these items.

Now that the fee has been waived and SSO application is free neighborhoods are coming out of the woodwork to apply and the homeowners cannot say enough about how important their sunlight and privacy is. [Portion removed.] Now that SSO application is FREE they are seizing this opportunity to interfere with their neighbor's property rights. If sunlight and privacy really is so important to them they should have been willing & able to collectively pay the $8K fee long ago and apply for the overlay!


1 person likes this
Posted by SSO neighbor
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm

SSO neighbor is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by None of my bizness...
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 26, 2016 at 6:39 pm

None of my bizness... is a registered user.

Web Link

49 days on Zillow


7 people like this
Posted by me2
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:59 pm

The two story house on Loma Verde Ave is already pending.

3449 Kenneth Dr is still on the market


16 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 7:31 am

Eichler designed and built two-story homes so the intention of these single story overlays isn't to retain the character of the neighborhood but to restrict development.


15 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 27, 2016 at 9:08 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If you built or bought a house in an area that was ALREADY zoned for two story residences how can you now justify now reducing the zoning for other people???


2 people like this
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 27, 2016 at 10:05 am

re-2-story Eichler claim above, this item comes from : Web Link

The salient consideration is, as article states, "connection to outdoor living."

Building two-story homes wasn’t something Joe Eichler undertook lightly. According to the late Kinji Imada, an architect and eventual partner with Claude Oakland Associates, one of the firms that designed for Eichler, two-story homes were built only when the site would not accommodate one-stories.

“The guiding principle was always to build a single-level house where possible because that was what an Eichler house was—easy connection to outdoor living,” he said in a 2003 interview.

“It’s always easier, cheaper, and quicker to build a single-story house.”

Eichler built two-story homes when sites were too steep to accommodate single-stories, or when the terrain, or the size, or shape of lots or setback requirements didn’t provide enough room.

“I would say that without exception, two-story houses came about because of lot limitations—that is, the building pad was too small to accommodate a one-story house, which was always the preference,” Imada said. “


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Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 27, 2016 at 10:47 am

@Eichler owner: Thanks for posting the link to the article on 2-story Eichlers. It answered my earlier question about the two in Professorville!

On the last page: "1958: Palo Alto. Claude Oakland designs while he was working for Anshen and Allen. Inspired his Los Arboles Eichler designs of the early ‘70s. Two houses side by side at the corner of Melville Avenue and Cowper Street."


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm

"If you built or bought a house in an area that was ALREADY zoned for two story residences how can you now justify now reducing the zoning for other people???"

Times change. Laws have to keep up.

Does Atherton have drone regulations yet?


Like this comment
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Curmudgeon argument is a great one for those we want to see PA downtown area developed and taking a rise. Right?


6 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2016 at 2:32 pm

I think the changes in the past 15 years to allow 1 story homes to have the same FAR as 2 story homes, and exempt them from design review, plus the option of a Single Story Overlay is a good plan for Palo Alto. Maybe the Royal Manor issue means that the petition gathering should be cleared up in the ordinance.

In general this system is giving residents democratic control over their neighborhoods.

This is not about Eichlers, it's about changing the character of adjacent properties when one-story homes are replaced with (big) 2-story structures. I wish my block were eligible for SSO zoning, but there are already too many 2-story homes on the block. My home would be significantly impacted should our south side neighbor build up, in fact, the new house 2 doors over impacts morning light in our dining room. It's that bulky, and that close. I'm jealous of my friends over in Greenmeadow.


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

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