News

Palo Alto cautious about encouraging second-dwelling units

Planning commissioners call for more study before relaxing any restrictions

For some in Palo Alto, "second-dwelling units" represent one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for addressing the city's affordable-housing crisis. But as the Planning and Transportation Commission considered on Wednesday ways to ease restrictions for these units, some members remained very concerned about the unintended consequences of any possible changes.

Most commissioners, much like the City Council, agreed that it would be beneficial to relax existing regulations on these dwellings, also known as "accessory-dwelling units" or "granny units."

For most homeowners these restrictions make the construction of such units effectively impossible, thanks to regulations that require homeowners to provide parking for these dwellings and minimum-lot-size requirements that make many properties simply ineligible for adding such units.

These days, as the city is looking to relax these rules and encourage more affordable housing, the main question that officials are struggling with is: Which of these regulations should be relaxed or eliminated?

The Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday struggled to answer this question and, despite general support for the idea of promoting more second-dwelling units, agreed that more information is needed. Specifically, commissioners worried about the prospect of people building these units and then, rather then renting them out, using them as home offices or startup spaces.

Commissioner Michael Alcheck said Wednesday that allowing office space in residential parcels would be "harmful to this discussion" and undermine public support.

"If the public walks away with the fear that neighbors are going to open up startups in ADUs (accessory-dwelling units), that's going to result in some political opposition to this notion of creating additional housing," Alcheck said.

That concerned was shared by Commissioner Asher Waldfogel, who said he would support encouraging such units, but only if the city can make sure they are used for actual housing and not short-term rentals.

"We want to know if we're going to accomplish the goals of creating affordable housing or whether we'll just create a lot of Airbnb opportunities," Waldfogel said.

The effort to encourage more second-dwelling units was prompted by an October 2015 memo from Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilmen Greg Schmid and Cory Wolbach, which made the case for encouraging more second-dwelling units while "minimizing impacts on community character." The memo also called for the city to consider ways to bring existing second-dwelling units into code compliance.

The memo notes that the city's "housing crisis and aging population have led many residents to call for a renewed discussion of this topic and timely, appropriate action" and cites to the fact that Palo Alto has, by some measures, the highest median rents in the country.

"ADUs present minimal impact to neighborhoods, retaining the physical character of a neighborhood while strengthening its social character," the memo stated.

In the past, however, efforts to ease restrictions on these units were met with criticism by neighbors who feared that allowing more second-dwelling units will only worsen traffic and parking congestion. The commission agreed Wednesday that it is critical for the city to be sensitive to these issues. To underscore that fact, the city plans to conduct two surveys to gauge community sentiment and raise awareness of this effort.

Some commissioners, including Alcheck, argued that the survey is unnecessary, given the council's direction and a desire to come up with a proposal by the end of this year. But Doria Summa, president of the College Terrace Residents Association, supported staff's approach and said that the survey would be a useful way to foster community outreach on this topic. She also warned against easing the regulations in a way that would have a negative effect on homes in the city's single-family zones (R-1).

"I think this is kind of a political issue of interest to neighbors," Summa said. "I do not believe relaxing standards for ADUs should be used as a workaround to diminish the quality of R-1 zoning."

The commission didn't take any actions Wednesday but requested more "sensitivity analysis" that would help determine the effects of possible changes to the zoning code. One rule that may be revised is the minimum-lot-size requirement. Currently, of the 15,108 low-density residentially zoned lots in Palo Alto, only 3,263 meet the eligibility requirement to build a second unit.

According to planning staff, this minimum-lot-size requirement is higher in Palo Alto than in surrounding jurisdictions. In R-1 zones, for example, lots need to be at least 8,100 square feet. By comparison, Santa Cruz has a minimum-lot-size requirement of 4,500 square feet (it was recently reduced from 5,000). In San Rafael, it's 5,000 square feet.

In requesting further analysis, commission Vice Chair Przemek Gardias argued that the ultimate goal of the effort is to have "no negative change to the neighborhoods."

"However we do it, whatever regulations we change, from the user's perspective, from the neighborhood's perspective and from the citizen's perspective, the change should not be negative," Gardias said. "Otherwise, it would backfire on all that staff work."

Related content:

Residents of in-law cottages in Palo Alto talk about the upsides of less space

While local residents turn backyards into rentals, city considers easing 'granny unit' requirements | October 2014

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Comments

43 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2016 at 10:30 am

There is a new development on Middlefield Road with 3 dwellings on one lot, sharing one driveway. The realtors described it as an Estate with 6 bedroom home, guest house and studio, but they were 3 separate dwellings which could house many people. However, there is not enough parking on site and even the realtors had valet parking for the Open House since there is no parking on Middlefield there.

Is this what we are becoming?


2 people like this
Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

enforced restrictions --- should not be used to generate income, I can see using it
and charging a reasonable below market rent for family, just as long as supposed family are not cousing 100times removed...LOL

with each renter you may see one extra car, then you would have some people trying to charge rent for as people as they can fit in that small unit and each person having their own car.


46 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:38 am

A neighbor in north midtown just remodeled their house (on the weekend) and converted it into two units just for this reason. I highly suspect this is not okay. There is no front door anymore to the house. There is a separate entrance of each side for the renters. Seems like a fire hazard.


38 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:39 am

Marie is a registered user.

The goal should not be converting all of Palo Alto's R1 zoning to R2, nor should it add office space.

Also, the revised ordinance should not worsen Palo Alto's parking deficit. The ordinance must require sufficient off street parking for the additional residents, even if the parking is not adjacent to the new accessory dwelling.

Required parking should be increased for any lot on a street with no parking on the street. Palo Alto is eliminating street parking on so many streets to facilitate biking - even on streets with low traffic suitable for sharing the streets. While I'm all in favor of improving streets for biking, it should not result in increasing Palo Alto's parking deficit.


35 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:41 am

Rules alone mean nothing without enforcement and some common courtesy amongst neighbors.


34 people like this
Posted by Phil Farrell
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:41 am

My wife and I grew our family here in Palo Alto, but now live by ourselves in our home that was sized for five. My lot is slightly bigger than normal (7600 square feet), but it is pie-shaped on a cul-de-sac, so there is no spot within side and back yard setbacks where a second unit could be located even if the minimum lot size requirement were reduced. I'd like to just stay in my home as I age, but there is a lot of space in the house that I don't use. I could rent out a room, but I like my privacy. Rather than just talk about building second units on the lot, I'd like to see an ordinance that allows people like me to convert part of the existing house into a second dwelling unit with its own bathroom, kitchen, and separate entrance, assuming, of course, that the existing house meets all zoning codes regarding standard lot size, maximum lot coverage, etc. I could even widen my driveway to create another parking spot.


8 people like this
Posted by Southgate resident
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

The rules are already totally relaxed and the city imposes no restrictions based on parking or whatever else is in the regulations. My neighbor built a granny unit and the city made no objection. Funny how a 'garage' now has no door in which to drive a car into. Granny units are not a solution. They simply provide opportunities for the homeowner to rent out the unit, typically to a student or, at best, a couple on a transitory basis. It provides no permanence - more like just an Air BnB opportunity for more cash to the homeowner, thereby further increasing the value of the property and adding to increased pricing for any one looking for a chance of at least a semi-permanent residence in out town.


21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Converting part of a home or remodeling to increase space for granny is a great idea in principle. However, what happens to that space when granny is no longer able to live there? The likelihood is that it will be rented out to a non-relative. Then of course, when that family decides to move out and sell the property, it will be deemed a two unit property.

Slippery Slope starts with a good idea that sours.


41 people like this
Posted by North Res
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 28, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Why hasn't the city opted to ban short-term rentals like Manhattan Beach has done, in an effort to preserve neighborhoods and affordable housing?


31 people like this
Posted by Illegal
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Frank
Report it to The City!


53 people like this
Posted by HowCanWeStopThis
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 28, 2016 at 1:13 pm

A couple in a house on our street moved away (temporarily?) and put their house up for rent. It is now being used by a start-up for software development. There are 6+ people there working 20+ hours a day. Not all are living there, if any; some may sleep there on occasion. But it is being used as an office.


44 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 28, 2016 at 1:16 pm

No.


This is an AirBnb disaster waiting to happen. There are currently no effective controls on AirBnb and this will be just another loophole.


44 people like this
Posted by sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm

sheri is a registered user.

We need to differentiate between units within the existing footprint of a dwelling (such as converting a bedroom or garage) and building a separate structure, especially on smaller lots (<7000 sf). In my neighborhood there are many 1000sf homes on 6000sf lots (entire families grew up in these in the 50s and 60s). The idea that an ADU could be up to this size and even 2 stories doesn't sound like a second unit to me; it's changing R-1 zoning to R-2.

We also need some serious Airbnb regulations, not to mention more code enforcement.


8 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm

I was lucky. It could have been fatal...reading the article before I took my HBP meds. But I'm still alive and able to write this post.

I've commented on this subject before. This time I'm even more bothered because of some of the wording in the article. Never link this idea to "the affordable housing crisis" solution. It's certainly not a solution for that and not even a viable solution for housing in general. "Most commissioners"? How many? Who were they? Can we get minutes of the meeting?

"For most homeowners these restrictions make the construction of such units effectively impossible, thanks to regulations that require homeowners to provide parking for these dwellings and minimum-lot-size requirements that make many properties simply ineligible for adding such units." The snarky word "thanks" was unnecessary and didn't belong in the article. Replace it with "because of" or "due to". It reveals your leanings.

I wonder if those councilmen regret drafting that letter? It has taken up so many hours of staff, committee, and commissioners time. Time wasted. They could be reviewing some really big projects for affordable housing and housing in general, if they would have been put forward. I don't think there was much thinking ahead before they drafted that letter, about all the consequences and problems that have been brought up by our online posters. Please, council members, think ahead before you draft letters like that to launch us off on these hopeless efforts.

"The effort to encourage more second-dwelling units was prompted by an October 2015 memo from Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilmen Greg Schmid and Cory Wolbach, which made the case for encouraging more second-dwelling units while "minimizing impacts on community character." The memo also called for the city to consider ways to bring existing second-dwelling units into code compliance." Come on guys, it's going to have an impact, and not minimal, (you didn't check that out did you?) and what is your idea on how to bring current units up to code compliance? You don't have one yet, right? Just pass that one down to committees and staff for further review...more wasted hours.

What was the impetus to bring it to the forefront of our attention in the first place? And a little history lesson thrown in, free of course. Yes, the name 'granny units' is familiar to me and in the 60's, 70's, and even into the 80's, it meant just that. Also for grampy's, which my grandkids refer to me as now. Not anymore. That term has been badly violated. Was there a groundswell of home owners who requested relaxation? I wouldn't want any of my R1 neighbors building one next to me and I know they wouldn't want me to build one either. We're just a bunch of NIMBY's enjoying life here in SPA.

The good news was about the 20 affordable units opening up at Hotel California. That alone is worth 5 years of building 'granny units'.

The honorable thing would be to retract the letter and save all the time and effort required to move this idea forward.

And don't load us down with what other cities have done. We don't know their codes so why try to compare? So much bad reporting in the article.

Let the survey happen. What questions will be asked? Neighborhood meetings that were so much talked about by prospective council members a couple years ago would also be good. I've done my venting so if I go take my blood pressure now it should be within limits, but don't wait for my report.


11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 28, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Would these backyard shacks be rented at market rates, which does nothing for overall affordability, or at prescribed fractional market prices which city hall would never trouble itself to enforce?


10 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2016 at 3:25 pm

@Curmudgeon

Your statement that ADU's do "nothing for overall affordability" is not based in fact or common sense, unless you somehow believe that people are going to pay the same amount, or more, to live in an ADU than they would their own house or apartment?


17 people like this
Posted by North Res
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm

@Curmudgeon
I would hope that an increase to the housing supply would help bring rates down due to market forces.


21 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2016 at 4:24 pm

I'd be for granny units if the city would put a lid on how many occupants can be in a house in R-1 zoning. Right now, you can cram as many tenants in your house as you'd like. And if those tenants have cars and park all over the street, well that's legal too. Code enforcement will tell you there is nothing they can do about it. Given how high rents are, this will continue to happen.


25 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 29, 2016 at 7:13 am

Close Charleston to through traffic at Alma, then discuss how many more vehicles we can absorbe...


52 people like this
Posted by TwoHundredaNight
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Absolutely need an enforceable short term rental ordinance before relaxing second unit regulations. The economics are just too compelling. Dropping in a garden shed and renting it by the night is way more lucrative then dealing with a long term tenant (Search airbnb - someone is renting a shed in Palo Alto).

If we're serious about addressing housing, we need to make sure changes enable housing - not hacker houses, not hotels in the middle of our neighborhoods and not just extra sq ft beyond the permitted amount.

Privacy, quiet, and nature will all be threatened if we don't consider the side effects.


26 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2016 at 9:07 am

@200a night -- You are so very right!

We have a problem neighbor renting out to multiple tenants, sometimes as many as 20, and code enforcement tells us that is OK. This house was never built for being a boarding house. No one can prove that there are short term tenants there. Neighbors know it because of the turnover, but code enforcement has no means to enforce the code you are not allowed to rent out for less than 30 days. Besides that, if the tenants rent for just a month, that is allowed, but that is not really compatible with R-1 housing. It is like an extended-stay motel dropped into the middle of our street. It changes the neighborhood with many more people/cars/visitors taking up parking in front of neighbors' houses and the coming and going of many more people.

There needs to be a cap on a the number of tenants in a boarding house business before we can allow granny units.

Hotels/motels have to abide by safety and health concerns, plus pay a tax. When a homeowner has a large boarding business going on it should be only with the approval of surrounding neighbors and it should be regulated.


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2016 at 1:10 pm

"@Curmudgeon I would hope that an increase to the housing supply would help bring rates down due to market forces."

The key word here is "hope." The naive view of the marketplace they teach in the schools applies loosely to corn and pork bellies, but housing is neither of those.

What we learn from history--at least, those of us who learn from history--is that housing prices follow an externally-driven boom and bust pattern. Consider Las Vegas, or Stockton, in 2007. They were building houses there by the thousands and their prices went nowhere but up and up again. Housing prices tumbled the following year after the Wall Street poofed.

Think of Silicon Valley housing prices in the late eighties during the first Silicon Valley slump.

So, if you want cheap housing, stick around until nobody needs housing here anymore.


31 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 31, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Long ago we lived in a town in Massachusetts which allowed for rental to no more than 3 non-family members and allowed a business to exist in a residential area as long as there was no more than 3 non-family members working on the premises. The use had to also be "clearly incidental and secondary to the use of the premises for dwelling purposes" which eliminates boarding houses and business such as start-ups in residential areas.


42 people like this
Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2016 at 4:16 pm


Great, a new cost-effective way to add more foreign students to the school system.


4 people like this
Posted by Granny Units-NO
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2016 at 6:43 am

So many of our Palo Alto homes have small back yards that abut another's yard. Additional housing built and additional people living in adjacent lots will completely change the peace and quiet we treasure in our small green spaces over the fence. Instead of abutting another yard, the new closer neighbors in a granny unit would drastically interfere with our quality of life. Those residents living in granny units come with the normal sounds and activity of living yet the new units are now just feet away from the abutting neighbor's fence. This would create a major change in the lifestyle of many single family residences. I dread the threat of having an additional housing unit directly behind the patio where my husband and I now quietly have dinner and relax.

Loosening laws on granny units is a misguided attempt to solve housing problems in Palo Alto. It will lower our quality of life and lower property values.The potential for abuse is also too high. This is a set up for airbnb's and other abuses. How many city employees will have to be hired to make sure occupancy rules are not broken? Please consider the existing residents of our community.


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 1, 2016 at 4:33 pm

@Granny Units-NO

You pretty much nailed it. You live in a different part of town but you describe homes in my neighborhood accurately...Brown and Kaufman tract homes built in the 50's on 6,000-7-000 sq ft lots with 6 foot fences. You described an abutting ADU and it's incumbent problems very well, and why I'm against any relaxation that would alter the peace and quiet that I have now. I would be against any proposal without major modification before it is brought back for council vote. The main points I took from your post was the possibility of abuse and the number of added staff to enforce a new ordinance. Let's not be so naive. There would be abuse and there will have to be more staff to enforce it. The drafters of the letter hadn't thought that far ahead. I'll have more to say in another post about the very biased front page headline article in Sunday's Mercury News. Later!


41 people like this
Posted by TOO Cautious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

We are a family of six living in a house that is now too small for us. We just want to add one bedroom and one bathroom over the garage, after reinforcing the garage roof.

But the city says our lot is too small. What does the lot size have to do with adding on to the second story? The size of the front, back and side yards will not change!


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2016 at 10:28 am

@ Too Cautious above.

Are you sure it was rejected because of the lot size?

We tried to do a partial second story several years ago and it was rejected because we are on a slab. It is nothing to do with lot size, but rather because the slab was not a deep enough foundation to hold a second story even with reinforcing the garage roof.

The more we investigated the process the more difficulties we discovered and many of the reasons made sense. If you are in a flood plane, that can mean that any additional square footage has to be at a different height to the rest of the ground floor plan too.

I suggest you go down to the Planning Department and talk to someone face to face. If someone does let you go ahead, take the name of the individual to make sure that you always get that person next time. There are so many rules that sometimes one individual will interpret something different from another, particularly on a 60 year old house which is already non-compliant to modern codes.


35 people like this
Posted by TOO Cautious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Actually, the house already has two bedrooms and one bath upstairs. We are on a wood foundation. The city refused the contractor a permit because they don't allow a house with four bedrooms and three baths in a lot less than 6,000 sf.

We have already replaced all th plumbing, all the wiring, remodeled the kitchen and the downstairs bath. The house is up to code as if this year!

Yet, three years ago a tract of three-story houses were built on 2200sf lots--on concrete foundations. Go figure


3 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2016 at 1:01 pm

@Too Cautious

While your house may be up to code in certain ways, there could be other areas where it is not up to current codes. For example, when we remodeled adding on a second floor (small area, only one bedroom) huge support beams had to be installed due to newer earth quake requirements. However, the rest of the house was built in the fifties and would not meet those new stringent codes. This goes for the foundation as well most likely.

Still, you could be right -- the city will not allow you to do more on your size lot. Maybe you could see what neighboring city codes allow, and if they do allow it, see if your could gain an exception in Palo Alto.

But to get back on to the topic of allowing granny units, I think the biggest problems are how this will affect the surrounding neighbors, and how many tenants can be allowed on a single property in R-1 housing. Right now, you can cram your house full with bunk beds. This needs to be changed before Palo Alto goes a step further with granny units.


15 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Too many cars being street parked because the driveways were for a single garage (Which like ours, has not seen a car in 40 years due to all that good stuff being stored). In times of old, Families had 1 car... Now 1 or more per PERSON.
Residents in the area frequently have the drive full, with additional cars on the street. (Speaking of enforcement, many cars do NOT ever move within 72 hours. Where are these high paid City folk? Losing that much REVENUE should be a Felony)

I walk by CPA Housing... see many cars parked on the street and then glance at empty carports. Is the rent extra?
No Granny units. We can't tolerate the additional vehicles.


4 people like this
Posted by Northern Girl
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2016 at 7:10 pm

We are lucky to have a lot that is more than 12,000 square feet. Our house is less than 3,000. I would love to have an ADU in my back yard. It would be nestled between large trees and almost invisible from the main house and from my neighbors. I would use it as a guest room for visiting family and friends. I could let an elderly relative move in who is approaching 90.

I would not rent it long term or short term. I would sign a pledge, or whatever was required. I would welcome the opportunity to build a small unit, little more than a bedroom and bathroom, and perhaps a sitting room. Sign me up.


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 3, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Hi, I'm back again to say more about this bad idea.

First, referring back to the original article..."For some in Palo Alto, "second-dwelling units" represent one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for addressing the city's affordable-housing crisis". Who are the some? The drafters of the letter? And easiest and cost-effective for whom? For the city 'yes', but not for home owners who might be thinking about it. They would have to pay for the construction or remodeling costs, additional property taxes, utility hookup costs, maybe additional liability insurance, etc. How does our council think they'll get homeowners excited about that possibility?

From the article..."Currently, of the 15,108 low-density residentially zoned lots in Palo Alto, only 3,263 meet the eligibility requirement to build a second unit." I'll accept that number without challenge, but I will ask how many of those 3,263, that are eligible, are willing or wanting to do it? I'm serious now. Please poll them for an answer...no guessing or estimating. Poll all of them and then let us know the answer. That should be a good basis for determining how popular this idea is and whether it's worth pursueing and moving forward at a cost of time from our public servants, paid and volunteers.

And now to the biased article in the Mercury News. When they feature a UC Professor who did it and spoke in favor of it, and another local couple in Menlo Park who did it, and for a very good reason, then you know you've only heard one side of the argument. So many numbers in the article were irrelevant or the math was so simplistically presented it wouldn't challenge a first grade student. "If 10% of the Bay Area's 15 million owners of single-family homes were to create granny flats for family members or other tenants, that would add 150,000 more units...most of them affordable...to the region's infamously tight housing supply." Duh!

"A recent poll showed that one-third of the regions residents are thinking of leaving because of housing costs and traffic congestion." Well, if just 10% of that number would stop thinking about it and actually do it, that would help alleviate our problem immensely, and immediately.

And there is already state legislation in process on this. Another good try at telling the utility companies they can't charge for hookups to separate ADU's. They need to just suck it up and take it out of their bottom line.

There was a small section written about the problems raised by opponents, but they were pretty much discarded by counter arguments of the unlikelihood they would ever happen. It would be nice to have balanced articles written on this subject.

And the Menlo Park couple's story was good and compelling. I liked it and it made sense for the reason they did it, just converting a garage into a living unit for their daughter. She's lucky to have such good parents. But they also mentioned "The fees were high...about $15,000...and the construction costs were "ridiculous", without mentioning that cost. With the minimum construction costs in PA in the $300-$400 per square foot range, it would behoove all homeowners that might be thinking about the ADU idea to reconsider, and the councilmen who drafted the letter to reconsider as well. Yes, some ideas lead to inventions, but this idea was never thought through before the letter was drafted, and will only lead to violations and a diminishing of the good quality of life we enjoy in our neighborhoods. End it now!


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 7, 2016 at 5:09 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Northern Girl
Start building, you don't need to sign up. With your lot size you can build under current ordinance rules.

Survey? Surveys? The article mentioned two in one place but then referred to a single survey after that. So, one or two, and who will be included? What will be the questions?


3 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2016 at 11:51 am

There is a caveat to adding a second dwelling unit -- currently you are required to add two new parking spaces. We have a large enough lot but there is no way for us to add parking spaces.

But that doesn't stop neighbors who want to rent out to multiple tenants. There is a neighbor on our the street who rents out to nearly 20 tenants which is allowed and those cars take up street parking which is also allowed.

One side of the city is too strict and the other too lax. But there really needs to be a lid on how many tenants you can rent out to in R-1 zones.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 8, 2016 at 12:10 pm

@pares, a very good point. I have the same situation with the rental house next door, but not nearly as bad as you describe. The ADU proponents pooh pooh the parking situation as a problem. Streets full of cars make it impossible for our city street sweepers to get up to the curbs and that's where most of the stuff resides that needs to be swept up.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 8, 2016 at 1:16 pm

First, a correction to one of my earlier posts. It should have read !.5 million single family homes in the Bay Area, not 15 million. Either nobody read my post carefully or they are not good at math. lol! Either way it was a meaningless input. What can we possibly do with that information?? Nothing!

I might have come down too hard on the three councilmen who drafted the letter, I know they are hard working servants for us residents, but I think whatever comes out of it and is drafted as a new ordinance needs to have many modifications and certain elements and details written into it.

And this might surprise a lot of you...but I am willing to soften my position on ADU's just a little bit. Here are my suggestions:

Relax building coverage for lots of 6000 sq ft so the total could be 37%. That would allow homeowners of smaller lots, with current home coverage in the 1400-1800 sq ft range, to add on an additional unit of 350-400 sq ft to the existing main house, i.e., an attached ADU. Again, and I repeat, no sheds, shacks,tents, or separate ADU's in the backyards.

Another requirement...the first tenant in the attached ADU must be a real 'granny' or a family member. After that, Katy bar the door, and that's when it will get sticky and the original intent will be lost. That's when AirBnB will take over. As long as 'granny' is living I don't see a need for an ADU. Just put her up in a bedroom in your main house. I did that for my wife, Garnet, with an around the clock caregiver in the bedroom next to her. I didn't need to build a separate unit for our caregiver. I treated her as part of the family and she had full use of our house except my bedroom, bathroom, and office/computer room. I did the same with my grandson and his lady friend. They had separate bedrooms but shared a bathroom and the kitchen, including the refrigerator. They had full use of my house, including the family room where my TV is located. It worked out beautifully and I hope to keep renting rooms to tenants...graduate students, resident doctors, under the same conditions w/o having to build a special unit for them.

In summary, I see so many more problems than fixes in the proposal.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2016 at 2:18 pm

As a child, my granny came to live with us due to death of grandfather who had been more mobile and she was not able to live on her own. It was a decision between our family with 2 children and an uncle with 3 children. In many respects the Uncle's family would have made more sense. Granny could have remained near where she lived before which would have meant she could continue with her familiar medical support group as well as friends and contacts. But since we were a smaller family unit with a little more space, the decision was made to uproot her from her familiar environment to live with us. She lived 14 years and during that time her mobility deteriorated considerably and the amount of care she needed increased considerably. It definitely strained my parents marriage - particularly after they were the only ones supporting her.

It would have been wonderful if she could have moved in with the uncle and family, if he had been able to purpose build a bed/bath with perhaps some sitting room space so that she could have kept her familiar supports. For her, losing her friends, her activities, her local neighborhood as well as the familiar medical support would have made her quality of life so much better. She never seemed to feel settled with us, a long way from all she had known most of her life.

Granny units being built to suit an aging granny are wonderful. But it does ask the question of what will become with them when granny is no longer in the home. A teen or even a young boomerang twentysomething may take on the space. But if the home is sold as it eventually will be, it may just be an added source of income to help pay for the mortgage.

I can't help feeling that allowing more of these units, particularly if it is actually encouraged to the general population, is just asking for more problems down the road.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 8, 2016 at 4:03 pm

For more information on the history of the problem 'google' "rules for adus in Palo Alto" then scroll down and click on the one titled '(pdf) Attachment E_Second Dwelling Regulations in Other Bay Area Communities-City of Palo Alto'
You can see the map of where the existing homes are located that are already eligible to add ADU's, the number of ADU's added each year over the last 10 years, and drawings of samples of what ADU's would look like in different configurations on lots...some just little boxes built above existing garages...ugly ugly ugly. Why would people with smaller lots, less than the current size requirement, be more incentivised to build separate ADUs than those that can do it now legally? The proponents of the idea must know something I don't know.

I also did a search on converting garages to living space or 'granny units'. I know there are many illegal ones in Palo Alto, most that were done many years ago. That's another story with its own set of problems when owners try to sell. They were probably done before the city had established any regulations on it. What will the city do now about those and granny units already built that don't meet code? Waive any and all penalties, just grandfather them in as scofflaws? Let's not make room for more scofflaws. Make any changes to the ordinances carefully and with the full understanding of resulting consequences. I am anxious to hear the results of the survey(s). I hope I have a chance of being one of those lucky ones to be surveyed. When is it scheduled to happen?


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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 9, 2016 at 3:44 pm

@Robert

They will have no choice but to pay as much or more for their own little house
in someone's backyard. The owners will have taken out a mortgage to build the ADU...$120-$150k to build... then add in the increased property taxes, liability insurance, utility hookup fees, and they have to recoup those costs some way, unless they are really benevolent citizens. I think a 400-450 sq ft separate unit would rent for $3500 per month at least, maybe $4000. So those people will have to make the decision on whether to rent an apartment or an ADU. Forget the idea of affordable. Our CC needs to attack that in a different way.


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