News

With new guidelines, city seeks to quell Eichler feuds

City Council adopts voluntary rules for expanding Eichlers; gives neighborhoods the option to add teeth

For some Palo Alto residents, a two-story Eichler home is a dream worth pursuing.

For others, it's an architectural abomination that should be banned.

On Monday night, the City Council found itself hearing from both camps as it considered -- and ultimately approved -- a new set of guidelines for Eichler neighborhoods. The 126-page document instructs readers on the finer points of expanding, renovating and enlarging the famously glassy, boxy, post-and-beam homes that were popularized by builder Joseph Eichler in the years after World War II.

The council voted 7-1, with Tom DuBois absent and Karen Holman dissenting, to adopt the guidelines. But while these guidelines will be voluntary, Eichler communities will have the option of adding some teeth to the new rulebook.

Neighborhoods that want increased protection will be able to designate themselves as "Eichler Zone Combining Districts" with a supermajority vote of residents. These districts would allow Eichler owners to build two-story homes, while ensuring that these homes are consistent with the new guidelines.

The council's adoption of the Eichler Neighborhood Design Guidelines was prompted by a series of squabbles in different Eichler neighborhoods, where some residents petitioned the city to prohibit new two-story homes and others blasted the proposed ban as an attack on their property rights.

Each side claimed some victories in 2016, when the City Council approved two single-story overlay districts (which explicitly ban two-story homes) in the Eichler enclaves of Los Arboles and Greer Park North but rejected the overlay districts in Royal Manor and Faircourt. In the two latter cases, the council reached its decision after emotionally charged public hearings, with some residents accusing their neighbors of misleading them with petitions and describing the new zones as an unnecessary overreach.

These philosophical differences have not gone away, though the Monday discussion suggested that the terms of the debate have shifted. Of the roughly 20 people who addressed the council on the subject, almost everyone found favored sections within the guidelines, which include rules on everything from roof alignment and landscaping to placement of windows and garages.

There was far less consensus on the biggest question facing the council Monday: Should these guidelines be voluntary?

For Roy Snyder, a resident of Royal Manor, the answer is clearly no. He wrote in a letter to the council that only seven of the 26 homes on his block actually appear to conform to the new guidelines. The rest, he said, have multiple non-conforming features.

"Adoption of these guidelines as a formal City of Palo Alto document -- when it is known that as many as three-quarters of the existing structures may not conform -- is simply poor public policy and governance. It will erode the credibility of past and certainly future City guides, codes, ordinances, etc.," Snyder wrote to the council.

Siamack Sammie, who also lives in Royal Manor and who is considering building a second story, also urged the council to keep the guidelines voluntary. Homeowners who are expanding their homes already have every incentive to be respectful of neighbors to maintain peace in the community, he said. Adding a slew of new rules to the city's design-review process (known as "Individual Review" when new two-story homes are involved) will only muddle the situation and make it hard for residents to understand exactly what they are allowed to build.

"If it goes through and becomes part of the IR (Individual Review), part of the overlay for the neighborhood, it will set the stage for more confrontation and conflict among neighbors," Sammie told the council Monday.

Others strongly disagreed. Ben Lerner, who helped lead a multi-neighborhood effort to establish "single-story overlay" districts in 2016, said he'd like to see the new guidelines integrated into the city's Individual Review process. Though the process considers such factors as mass and height, it doesn't regulate style -- a key consideration in Eichler neighborhoods, which were designed as communities.

The review process, Lerner said, is flawed when it comes to Eichlers and should be fixed so that it protects the rights of all homeowners in these neighborhoods, not just the person rebuilding or expanding a home.

Marilyn Bauriedel, who lives on South Court, argued that the new guidelines can be a great tool for achieving "thoughtful and spacious remodels" and "upgrades and replacement homes suitable for today's young families without destroying the character of the neighborhoods or causing residents' privacy to be destroyed."

"I believe they should be adopted and put into service and more than just suggestions to homeowners," Bauriedel wrote in an email to the council. "They belong as an integral part of design review standards and I hope you will adopt for not only two-story homes going into Eichler neighborhoods but for one-story remodels and new homes as well."

The council stopped short of integrating them into the review process. Instead, by directing staff to create the new Eichler district, it opted to let each neighborhood decide whether the new guidelines should have teeth or not. In the coming months, planning staff will conduct more outreach and return with an ordinance for the council to adopt.

The approach was proposed by Councilman Greg Scharff, who pointed out that each of the city's 31 Eichler tracts seems to have different characteristics. For that reason, he said he cannot support a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

After a lengthy discussion and comments from about 20 residents, the council voted to approve the voluntary guidelines and to give neighborhoods the option of going beyond voluntary. Holman, the sole dissenter, didn't have any broad objections to the guidelines but took issues with the resolution drafted by staff to adopt the guidelines.

She attempted to convince her colleagues to delete from the resolution a statement that Eichlers are "not considered historical resources" under existing law, unless they contribute to the significance of a district that is designated as historical on a state or federal registry (the finding, she said, is not supported by evidence). She also proposed giving Eichler neighborhoods the option of applying the guidelines to not just two-story homes but to single-story ones as well. After neither proposal won support from the majority, she dissented from the final vote.

"It's one of the purposes of this whole process to protect the Eichler character, the privacy issues and compatibility issues," Holman said. "That isn't necessarily accomplished with a two-story Eichler overlay."

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Comments

25 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 3, 2018 at 10:10 am

City should not get involved in the first place.

Just worry about code enforcement and architural review.

Worry about financial, traffic and safety first!!!


12 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2018 at 11:16 am

Annette is a registered user.

I watched most of the meeting; there were good points made by proponents of each approach. My concern is this: who, really, is tasked with paying attention to all the many guidelines and ordinances and their interplay? Future buyers could well be in for some sorry surprises if sellers and realtors don't disclose all the many ways that property ownership in Palo Alto can be impacted. Buyer beware: you need to ask questions that you cannot even imagine!

Relying on goodwill and people wanting good relations with their neighbors is naïve and hopeful. What does someone who owns a home but lives elsewhere (possibly even out of the country) care about neighborliness? And we don't have to look further than the recent manipulation of the system by Alcheck for a good example of personal gain trumping neighborhood goodwill. I like Eichlers and I hope the guidelines work, but at this point nothing will surprise me.


31 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 3, 2018 at 11:34 am

I'm glad that these guidelines are voluntary. If you want to preserve your Eichler, it's useful advice. And if you'd rather live in a $2 million property that looks like a $2 million property, instead of a clapboard starter home from the Fifties? That's also your right. If your neighbor wants to control your property, he can buy it from you.


15 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 3, 2018 at 11:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

When people don't comply with these guidelines then then, in true Palo Alto fashion, these voluntary guidelines WILL become mandatory - unless there is a citizen revolt.


5 people like this
Posted by YSK
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 3, 2018 at 1:07 pm

The back of Eichlers are pure glass. Don't want someone with a two story home looking into our yard. We have little enough privacy as it is!


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 3, 2018 at 1:37 pm

"The back of Eichlers are pure glass. Don't want someone with a two story home looking into our yard."

Fine. Buy a scenic easement from your neighbors that protects your property.


2 people like this
Posted by Donster
a resident of University South
on Apr 3, 2018 at 3:50 pm

Nothing looks worse than an Eichler disfigured with a poorly done addition. Any additions should maintain harmony with the original architecture.

Here's one solution to the development vs. Eichler architecture debate: Web Link.

It even comes with plenty of off-street parking. We could have plenty of development and new housing and preseve nearly all of these beautiful old Eichler homes.


7 people like this
Posted by What a farce
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2018 at 3:57 pm

Voluntary and little if any enforcement. Real estate lawyer Scharff and his development and construction supporters win again. Yhtr's money to be made here.

I suggest we make stopping at red lights voluntary. Those red lights are a real inconvenience. People who care about the community will stop anyway.


11 people like this
Posted by Lewis
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 3, 2018 at 5:15 pm

Love seeing this kind of collaboration amongst a usually divided council. I think the outcome is a fair one as well that will let residents decide their own 'Eichlerian' fate as opposed to imposing a one size fits all approach. Hats off to the council on this one.


6 people like this
Posted by Agree with Holman
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 3, 2018 at 5:47 pm

Agree with Holman is a registered user.

I agree with Karen Holman that restricting this to two-story structures seems to miss much of the point, as the integrity of the design of the (much more common) single-story residences matters as well.


7 people like this
Posted by dejiii
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2018 at 8:46 am

dejiii is a registered user.

Not in my backyard.... Same ole same ole...
Trust me. Its horrible when a 2 story MacMansion
pops up next to your home, and you have no rights to
30yrs of sunlight, no more privacy as can look down into your yard,
cut down almost any tree they want, and pay for it most of
the time now a days with OFF SHORE MONEY from OFF SHORE buyers.
Not to mention the 6 months of construction noise, dust, trash,
and 10 ton trucks coming up and down your street....
Nobody understands, until it is in your back yard...
III


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2018 at 9:06 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Dejii - what you describe is something being built in conformance with the existing zoning regulations by property owners that are exercising their right to build on their property.

Did you offer to purchase the second floor development rights from your neighbor?

If not, then why are you upset that your neighbor is building what they are building?

Did you expect to have the benefit of your previous privacy for free forever?


3 people like this
Posted by dejiii
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2018 at 11:54 am

dejiii is a registered user.

PC,
When you have the same situation, you then
will not cast stones....
Glad in your area homes are not next to one another.
As I said, if happens to you then you understand.
III


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

dejii - I lived in a residential neighborhood for years in a single story home that had two story homes on both sides and behind me - been then, done that.

I was also a Palo Alto Planning Commissioner for 4 1/2 years and am intimately familiar with the balance that must be achieved in any zonong ordinance between the competing rights of adjacent property owners.

You most likely bought your present home knowing full well that the zoning on your neighborhood permitted exactly what you are now complaining about. You have had a free ride until your neighbor elected to build/expand a home consistent with those rules.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2018 at 12:06 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Clarification:

dejii - I lived in a Palo Alto residential neighborhood for years in a single story home that had two story homes on both sides and behind me - been then, done that.


1 person likes this
Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2018 at 12:07 pm

Its Legal....
Fog forms over airport. Low flying planes shake your home for 6 hours.
Its Legal, I don't have to like it.
New home being McMansion Built for 4 months. Trucks thundering down
the street, banging going on 8am-6pm, Crows flying around to eat the
trash of workers left in back yard 24hrs per day for 4 months, dirt, dust,
trucks parked all around my house and in front of it for 4 months. Person moves in with 8-9 people living in the house and 5 cars now parked around the neighborhood and in front of my house 24/7. Build the McMansion and now blocks much of the sun I need for my garden on that side of the house.
ITS LEGAL and I do not have to like it...... I could go on and on. But the Crow/Raven, bet that never crossed your mind RC did it? Let them flock your yard because of trash being left by workers on new home in the back yard, eating your fruit trees, plants, local nesting animals. ON AND ON AND ON....
This started in past 10 years.... Until you live the situation and changes your life..... Affects your life, your family life. You will cast stones about how ok it is. Just like OK to own an assault rife, till someone shoots up your local schoo. Then you hop on board. I have been discussing the right to sunlight since Berkeley days 1977....


5 people like this
Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm

FREE RIDE, just like planning commish. Just words out of your mouth.
Move on. You NEVER LIVED IN A HOME WHERE 2 Multi Tier STORY BUILDINGS WERE BUILT UP AROUND YOU. Or you would not be so obtuse.
You are a typical talker, and not really a problem solver.... Its a mess in Palo Alto especially around single story homes in Midtown. Until you really live it, you simply are a talker
III


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" You NEVER LIVED IN A HOME WHERE 2 Multi Tier STORY BUILDINGS WERE BUILT UP AROUND YOU."

Note - I lived in a Palo Alto residential neighborhood for years in a single story home that had two story homes on both sides and behind me - been then, done that.


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 5, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Peter - if you don't mind answering, I am curious about what prompted you to leave Palo Alto and settle instead in Atherton. I know Atherton is a lovely community with numerous plusses, but I am curious if you, per chance, saw the density freight train coming to Palo Alto?


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2018 at 1:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I am curious about what prompted you to leave Palo Alto and settle instead in Atherton."

I married a wonderful Atherton resident who had a larger home that could accommodate our new family.


2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Congratulations! And thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 5, 2018 at 5:20 pm

Construction for four months....I wish! How about: more like, several years.
Sigh. It’s been awful, but some are just sooooo important and perfectionist that they must have construction for years. Neighbors are impacted bigtime. Nails in two tires of my brand-new car (1 total loss, 1 repaired), workers throw their ciggies in your bushes; zero parking availability when on occasion, friends or service vehicles need to access YOUR home. Frequent need to “request” their workers’ vehicles to move, since they are blocking YOUR driveway! Not to mention, endless noise and disruption. This has nothing to do with Eichlers.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2018 at 5:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Anonymous - the construction issues that you identified are TOTALLY under the control of your elected City Council.

Nothing makes a City Council move more quickly than a packed chamber of citizens who all speak out on the same issue.

Try it !!


Like this comment
Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Anonymous....
Yes was much longer than 6 months.....
You should see the 100 McMansion homes past 5 years
within a 12 block area.....
Well I see a similar concern with Eichlers.

PC, been there dun that. NO YOU HAVE NOT....
You are talking about oranges when I wrote about apples.
BUILT WHILE YOU LIVED THERE, not moved and were there first.

You remind me of mid 1990s, I went before traffic committee,
which is similar to planning commish you were on. Just all talk and no go.
I explained to them for almost 2 years about the increase speed and increase of traffic ON SIDE STREETS because traffic planning had put stop signs and red lights on most Oregon Expressway connected streets, and main arteries. So now 1000s were short cutting about 10 side streets Emerson to Greer area.
Well we have had no increase in accidents they cried.
That is our first event before we do anything.
FINALLY I DRAGGED 3 of the planners OUT TO OUR STREETS....
Asked them to bring a pet and a ball, or their child and a ball/toy.
Any hour they want, just pick it. LOL so they picked 4pm on a Friday.
No brainer for me LOL.....
OH MY GOD, was incredible response because now they really
HAD BEEN THERE DUN THAT.... Regular freeway that night.
Was talk talk talk prior.
PC you never BEEN THERE DUN THAT....
I said homes being built up around YOUR HOME.....
It completely changes everything. Right to light, parking, privacy,
CHANGES EVERYTHING. Not been there dun that where you moved in with large homes around your. WERE BUILT AFTER YOU LIVED THERE 15yrs.....
Otherwise YOU WOULD UNDERSTAND. Midtown homes are next to one another,
and the builders buying $2mm rat traps, putting up $5mm McMansions and selling them in a month is simply out of control......


1 person likes this
Posted by Watching and taking notes
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 8, 2018 at 1:15 pm

I am scratching my head because when the neighbor behind us put up their two-story home, they followed none of the privacy rules in the books, despite considerable and by-the-book protest and pointing out the exact example in the code of what not to do being done. The neighbors are not bad people and willing to work with those around them, but the planner had basically let things get so far there was no good answers for the neighbors. At no point in the process did we or the neighbors ever feel the City enforced even the smallest bit of the rules, and they were not ... um... accurate ... frequently.

Either there is a different standard for this part of town (and there is, watching, waiting, and taking notes) and Eichler owners can always look over here to demonstrate how loosely (i.e., not at all) the City enforces those rules that are supposed to protect residents, or, there is no double standard and Eichler owners will get the same treatment, i.e., the rules will be worth less than the paper on which they are composted.

Bottom line: too many outside agendas spoil the rulemaking process.
Corallary: staff agendas will make the rules meaningless a month from now, anyway. Democracy, schmocracy.
(Does anyone know if City Council are still allowed to take “finders fees” from developers and how is that legal?)


2 people like this
Posted by Donster
a resident of University South
on Apr 8, 2018 at 2:09 pm

"But the Crow/Raven, bet that never crossed your mind RC did it? Let them flock your yard because of trash being left by workers on new home in the back yard, eating your fruit trees, plants, local nesting animals. ON AND ON AND ON...."

The crows come with the territory.

Some people are unhappy about anything higher than a sand castle Downtown, and then let the outlying neighborhoods get trashed. Jeez that's stupid. Growth and development should be in high-rises near the train tracks and along San Antonio road, not in places with single story houses.

If your neighbor builds a privacy-ruining second story that looks down into your backyard, why not plant some giant timber bamboo along your side of the fence line? It can grow pretty quickly and should restore a good measure of privacy.

Web Link
Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Wayne Doiglass
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 11, 2018 at 7:41 pm

Another example of the city council becoming the moral equivalent of a condominium committee that broods over whether some neighbor who hangs the wash on a clothes line can do that without "cheapening" the overall look of the neighborhood. Zoning inspectors are little more than a career opportunity for people who enjoyed being hall monitors in high school, petty tyrants checking whether you're entitled to be out of study hall. The result: the decision that the Baptist church on California Avenue is not acting like a church and that Steve Young's daughters were not in a non-profit music school. As if the council would know what a church "should" be doing.


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