News

Council lauds rise of 'accessory dwelling units'

Palo Alto officials make more zoning revisions to encourage the suddenly popular housing type

Buoyed by a recent boom in accessory dwelling units, the Palo Alto City Council agreed on Monday to make further revisions to the city's zoning laws, with the goal of encouraging even more such units at a time when other housing types are in short supply.

Historically, the city has only received four permits per year for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as granny units or secondary units. But since the council passed a new law in May 2017 to relax its zoning standards for such units, the pace of construction has accelerated. Planner Clare Campbell told the council that since the change, the city has seen about four permit applications for ADUs per month, with a total of 64 going through the city's process since the zone revisions were made.

For the council, which is trying to raise the city's housing production, this is a rare bit of good news on the housing front. Councilman Greg Scharff observed that the number of new ADUs is higher than the total number of units that Palo Alto had approved in the prior year, before the zoning changes were made. And because these units are spread out in neighborhoods throughout the city, their traffic and parking impacts aren't focused in any particular area, he said.

"I haven't heard about complaints about neighborhoods being impacted," Scharff said. "Not a single person has written to me and said, 'I can't believe you allowed ADUs.'"

But while council members agreed that the city's ADU program is showing signs of success, they had different ideas about what the city should do to make it even more successful. While some called for making zoning laws even more permissive, others noted that the impacts of the new units haven't been fully felt yet (since many are still under constructions) and urged a more cautious approach.

As in prior discussions, the council's votes reflected the split. The most meaningful change that the council made was removing a "minimum lot size" provision, which limited ADUs to lots of 5,000 square feet or greater. That change was made by a 5-4 vote in which Councilman Tom DuBois joined the more growth-friendly colleagues Councilmen Adrian Fine, Greg Scharff, Greg Tanaka and Cory Wolbach.

The council also fell one vote shy, however, of making another significant change: removing a requirement in the existing ordinance that requires the homeowner to occupy either the main residence or the ADU. John Kelley, a housing advocate who said he is considering building an ADU, noted that situations may arise in which the homeowners want to get away for a year or downsize to a smaller place. Would the council, he asked, kick out the tenants in the ADU because of these circumstances?

The council struggled to reach an agreement on this issue. Scharff and others who wanted to eliminate the provision characterized it as an unnecessary barrier that discourages construction of ADUs. Vice Mayor Eric Filseth countered that without the owner-occupied provision, homes with ADUs "essentially become a purely financial instrument, an instrument for out-of-town investors."

He cited the example of a house near his, where the owner passed away and the property passed on to her relative, who now rents out the main house and the ADU separately. Each, he said, is very expensive, with the ADU rent at about $4,000 per month. Having the provision in place helps ensure that some of the units will go to caregivers, parents and children. Doing away with the provision, he said, will effectively create an incentive for these ADUs to "go to market rates and go to the highest bidders."

Filseth also argued that the owner-occupancy provision is what keeps management of these things local. It is also the only thing that keeps R-1 zones (which are designated for single-family residences) from becoming denser R-2 zones.

"I'm aware there are a number of people in town, and some regionally, who think R-1 zoning is an anachronism and we ought to get rid of it at this time because of housing pressures," Filseth said. "I don't think the majority of Palo Altans think that."

Scharff argued that such an argument is "hyperbolical" and suggested that Filseth is making it because he is running for re-election.

The move to kill the provision barely faltered when Councilman Cory Wolbach joined his four colleagues on the more slow-growth side – Filseth, DuBois, Karen Holman and Lydia Kou – to defeat the amendment. The council also opted not to allow ADUs to have basements that encroach into the rear yard setback of the neighboring home – a proposal that was supported by Councilman Greg Tanaka, Scharff and Fine.

The council was more united on several other issues, including the topic of waiving permit fees for new ADUs, which at times add up to nearly $10,000. Rather than making the change, however, the council directed staff to perform a financial analysis to better understand the impact of waiving fees, particularly for those homeowners who agree to rent out their ADUs at below-market rates (the council also specified that staff should consider an "opt-in" provision that would allow homeowners who no longer want to provide their units at affordable rates to pay the previously waived fees).

The council also agreed that the city should establish ADU template plans to provide homeowners with "off-the-shelf approvable projects" and to create a partnership program that would link homeowners with architects who specialize in ADUs.

All these reforms moved ahead by an 8-1 vote, with Councilwoman Lydia Kou dissenting. Kou strongly criticized the council for moving too aggressively on the new measures and for even considering policies like the removal of the owner-occupancy requirement – policies that she called "completely wrong." The city, she said, doesn't measure the traffic and parking impact of the new ADUs, some of which are not online. Nor does it have any safeguards for making sure they aren't used for Airbnb.

The policies, Kou argued, were "hastily made" and have no regard for preserving and protecting the characters of neighborhoods.

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Comments

34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2018 at 3:57 pm

So many questions still unanswered, or perhaps unanswerable.

How is parking taken into account on this. Will an extra driveway be added which will in effect wipe out at least one spot of on road parking space? Will front lawns be allowed to be removed to add additional parking space?

What about utilities, will additional trash carts with a second item on the utility bill? Will there be two separate utility bills for each unit? What about sewer and other charges, will they be doubled?

What about USPS deliveries? Will a second street address be given by the Post Office. Will a second mail box be allowed?

What happens when the main home is sold? Will the granny flat occupants have to leave, be evicted, have to arrange a new lease with new owner?

What happens if a new owner wants to return his back yard to its original purpose? Will razing the granny flat be problematic?


8 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 2, 2018 at 4:28 pm

jh is a registered user.

"permit fees for new ADUs, which at times add up to nearly $10,000"

A neighbor is building an ADU and so far the permit fees have added up to almost $35K, and it is only half finished!


42 people like this
Posted by Beware
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Adding to all the good questions that Resident brings up -- our city codes allow home owners to stuff as many tenants as they want in their residences! Multiple bunk beds, cots, sofas, floor mats, all allowed. And as many cars too -- we have a neighbor who does exactly that and believes that is a service to the city by providing low rent. Of course this is not what the R-1 housing zone were designed to include but the city looks the other way. And of course it impacts the neighborhood by changing it to a much higher density zone.


37 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Yes, believe it or not, various activists, academics, progressive Sacramento assembly members, and even some city council members believe that R-1 zoning is a racist plot to suppress the proletariat. See, for example, Web Link.
The ADU efforts are mild, back-door approach to realizing the goal of ending R-1.


48 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2018 at 5:04 pm

QUOTE: What happens when the main home is sold? Will the granny flat occupants have to leave, be evicted, have to arrange a new lease with new owner?

What happens if a new owner wants to return his back yard to its original purpose? Will razing the granny flat be problematic?


Granny flat residents receive a $25,000.00+ 'relocation fee' courtesy of the PACC.

If an actual Granny is residing there, she gets 'relocated' to an assisted-care facility.


21 people like this
Posted by Greg Scharff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2018 at 6:57 pm

I totally support Eric Filseth’s re-election to the Palo Alto City Council and think we are very lucky to have Eric on the City Council. He is very dedicated to the City, incredibly smart and a very genuine human being and I of course will be voting for Eric and I would urge everyone in Palo Alto to do the same.


10 people like this
Posted by Zhao
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 2, 2018 at 7:11 pm

Can metal tool shed be rented out as accessory dwelling unit if tenant allowed to use bathroom in house?


9 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2018 at 8:45 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Zhao, I hope you are just kidding.


7 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2018 at 9:36 pm

So I have an ADU and decided to downsize. I live in my ADU and rent the main house to a family. I have one car and park on the street. Next year I will be using my parking and rent half of the driveway. Two very small cars can fit in tandem or I will encourage tenants to consider one car.

Utilities are not split out so you would just agree how this is divided in the lease.

I forward my mail to the Post Office, which works great especially since you can now see what’s getting delivered to you online.


There should not be separate sewer bills unless you were charging every household in Palo Alto by numbers of occupants! We do pay for a medium garbage can - this used to be a small.


12 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2018 at 10:42 pm

QUOTE: Can metal tool shed be rented out as accessory dwelling unit if tenant allowed to use bathroom in house?

Does your tool shed have central air?

Metal tool sheds can get hotter than hell during the summer months and really cold during the winter. Insects can also pose problems.

BTW, how much are you charging for rent & is there a PACC relocation provision?


39 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 3, 2018 at 6:52 am

mauricio is a registered user.

ADUs were meant to eliminate R-1 zoning and this is exactly what is taking place. Why do it directly when you don't have to? There is more than one way to turn a leafy suburb into Hong Kong.


11 people like this
Posted by RV Landlord
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2018 at 8:53 am

>...our city codes allow home owners to stuff as many tenants as they want in their residences! Multiple bunk beds, cots, sofas, floor mats, all allowed. And as many cars too --

*What do people do if everyone has to use the toilet? Can an outhouse be installed in the backyard? My grandfather had one on his farm in Kansas. After it got filled-up, he simply dug a new hole and moved the outhouse. I suppose renting some porta-potties would work as well.

>>ADUs were meant to eliminate R-1 zoning and this is exactly what is taking place.

*The desire to reside in Palo Alto has really reached new heights. No wonder there are so many random RVs parked along the streets. BTW, is it OK to rent out one's RV as an ADU? We happen to own one and it's parked in our front driveway. Been thinking of unloading it but never considered the rental possibilities.

A acquaintance in San Jose rents out an old Airstream trailer to a couple of recovering alcoholic/meth addicts and his neighbors don't seem to mind. As I recall, the only problems that arose were some trash issues and a couple of urination in public complaints.

I imagine this arrangement might not be acceptable in some of the nicer parts of Palo Alto but if Barron Park can have a subsidized trailer park, renting out one's RV (on private property) shouldn't be that big of a deal.




11 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 3, 2018 at 9:10 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

@R. Davis, You are assuming that we still care about quality of life here in Palo Alto. A lawn sprinkler set atop the metal tool shed should be sufficient.


11 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: @R. Davis, You are assuming that we still care about quality of life here in Palo Alto. A lawn sprinkler set atop the metal tool shed should be sufficient.

I never thought of that! *L*

So what are your suggestions for safe (yet effective) heating during the winter months?


5 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2018 at 9:18 am

Marie is a registered user.

@Eileen . Zhao may be joking, but I suspect people do indeed rent out sheds. A house on Alma had two storage sheds (that did not comply with Palo Alto code), with an extension cord connecting them to the main house, behind a six foot nonconforming fence. It took numerous complaints and over a year before the code compliance officers were able to get them taken down. The fence, leaning precariously, remains.


13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2018 at 9:31 am

Parking.

Curiously, I see little mention of the P-word. It is speculated that everyone seems content because they haven't complained to the city council. LOL. Consider this a "complaint". Anonymous, to be sure.

Parking is an immediate problem whenever these garage units pop up. Every time. And, rightly so. The young working couples that I see move in usually have two cars, so that they can both get to work. Add that to the two+ cars that are already there. Not enough street parking. And, of course-- no garage-- its an apartment. Therefore, short at least one space immediately.

I am a very strong proponent of public transit. Here, public transit works if your destination is up/down Caltrain: SF or San Jose. But, most people drive to work in random locations from Mountain View to San Jose. For most, the only practical way to get to/from work is to drive. The people who are jumping on the R-2 bandwagon are living in a fantasyland where people don't drive to work, even though most do.

The -only- way I see this ADU/R-2 thing working is if there is some kind of enforceable agreement regarding the number of cars associated with the property.


11 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 3, 2018 at 9:32 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

@R.Davis, the same sprinkler is dual use. The city water would never get below freezing so the shed will remain above 32 degrees all winter.

Until I evicted them we had a family of skunks living under our tool shed out back. I could charge extra to leave them in place adding their body heat to the system.


17 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2018 at 10:05 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: @R.Davis, the same sprinkler is dual use. The city water would never get below freezing so the shed will remain above 32 degrees all winter.

Until I evicted them we had a family of skunks living under our tool shed out back. I could charge extra to leave them in place adding their body heat to the system.


Got it. And the key is to dress in layers during the winter months.

Looking back, we used to get small clusters of wasp (yellowjacket) nests beneath the roof of our metal shed from time to time. Could that be advertised as a home security system?


13 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 3, 2018 at 10:35 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

@R.Davis:

QUOTE: "Looking back, we used to get small clusters of wasp (yellowjacket) nests beneath the roof of our metal shed from time to time. Could that be advertised as a home security system?"

Absolutely! I can even imagine an enhanced security system that combines the skunks and wasps.


11 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2018 at 11:30 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

There is one more metric to consider but it is not part of Palo Alto's housing dashboard.

The number of ADUs is important as Scharf noted. Equally important is the number of bedrooms.

Although bedrooms can be randomly occupied or morphed into offices/dens/mancaves...the number of new bedrooms built is may be more important than the number of new ADUs.

A federal census is coming soon and it will shed light not only on housing but how many people are "housed" in Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by WOW ..
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 3, 2018 at 12:39 pm

What qualifies for ADU? Plot size?


23 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Perhaps I missed it, but I haven't seen anyone comment about actual homeowners here who may find a two-story ADU adjoining their property, and on a smaller sized lot than was intended when this first was passed.

I can see such an ADU completely shading my vegetable garden. And, even if there are no windows facing my yard, I would still feel invaded by such a structure. And all this so we can cram more people into a "prestigious" Palo Alto address. This "prestige" is rapidly diminishing.


15 people like this
Posted by nm
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2018 at 1:14 pm

I don't see where in the packet it says the council is going to be discussing eliminating the owner occupancy requirement. Is this another case of policy changes the public is not notified about? They send out public notice that council will discuss daylight plane encroachments and basement setbacks then they take the opportunity to rezone the city. Very dishonest. This ordinance was originally in an August council packet, there was more than enough time for every policy up for discussion to be listed and for the public to be properly notified.


23 people like this
Posted by Aspiring PA Landlord
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 3, 2018 at 1:44 pm

"What qualifies for ADU? Plot size?"

With the housing shortage in Palo Alto being what it is, it looks like anything goes.

As long as its got a roof, you can probably rent it out. Tool sheds, garages, tree-houses all seemingly qualify.

I've got a child's playhouse in the backyard that my daughter finally outgrew and I'm thinking of renting it out as well. It's got an Easybake stove, LED lighting and a beanbag chair. That's got to account for something.

Nevertheless, I am still concerned about PACC mandated relocation assistance.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of University South
on Oct 3, 2018 at 1:55 pm

Greg Scharff’s comment online is an interesting walk back from the personal attack on Filseth that he said at the council meeting. He seems to have a strong pattern of making personal and often demeaning attacks on colleagues who he disagrees with rather than arguing the issues.
We get enough of that approach from our current leadership in DC.


17 people like this
Posted by MJane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 3, 2018 at 1:59 pm

MJane is a registered user.

A decade ago my next door neighbor built a new home with four bedrooms, three of which they rented out, along with the basement apartment. Apart from one on-site parking spot (following final inspection the other required parking spaces were immediately enclosed as part of the yard) suddenly there were five extra cars parking on the street outside my home. Fortunately they didn't also rent out their new garden studio with a separate workshop!


14 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 3, 2018 at 2:19 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Watching Greg Scharff's personal attack on Eric Filseth during Monday's council meeting, even if Scharff tried to laugh it off when called on it, was a surprise because this is the first time I remember Filseth being the object of a demeaning comment.


28 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 3, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

A bad idea in the beginning and it's getting worse. The relaxation of the zoning laws back in 2017 gathered support and was sold with the idea that ADU's would honestly be lived in by 'grannies' or family members. Cory Wolbach championed that idea. A personal friend, he and I debated that fairly extensively. He said at the time that he didn't expect it would make much of a dent in the housing shortage. He was either naive or complicit in pushing it forward while minimizing the possible affects on neighborhoods and quality of life in them.

Now we're hearing how successful it has been and that it is now a major contributor to the increase in housing in our once great city. I question the thinking of many of our PACC members to let this happen and become a major source of housing. It sounds like they have failed in all other attempts and avenues available that would not disturb our R-1 zoned neighborhoods.

Eric Filseth is one of few that have their heads on straight on this issue.
I was a little surprised by Tom's vote on the minimum lot size, but he is such a solid thinker and critical researcher on almost every issue, so I'll give him a pass on this one.

Thanks also Lydia for taking your lonely stand on this issue. Heaven help us if CC can't get developers to build affordable housing...and I'm going deep into that definition by including low and very low income folks that serve us! Destroying our neighborhoods slowly, like a slow growing cancer, has already started.

We've already heard what ADU's are being used for...most not for 'grannies' or family members. You could probably count those legitimate uses with fingers on one hand. Market rate rents are being charged. Whatever the words say in the new law about benefits if units are rented at BMR rates...don't get excited that any of that is happening legitimately now. That can be, probably already has been, and will continue to be abused very easily, however...with total lack of enforcement.

And all those online 'what if?' questions haven't been and likely will never be adequately addressed. So, we slog on and watch the flags of success raised for ADU's. I'm not cheering! I have no flag to raise and if I did I wouldn't raise it.

Don't forget to vote. Your vote counts and is very important!


36 people like this
Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Sheri is a registered user.

Yet another example of the city caring more about the people who want to live here than the ones who actually do (and pay for their salaries).


35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 3, 2018 at 5:01 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Yes, for some reason, city government, be it council members or staff, believe that their mission is to work for everybody wanting to reside in Palo Alto, but not for the residents who already live in Palo Alto. They are like the lawyer who ignores his client and prefers to represent the other side while getting paid by the client he neglected betrayed.

I've been disabused many years ago of my naive notion that the city government is actually supposed to represent only city residents, and work, solely, to preserve and increase their quality of life and safety.


4 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 4, 2018 at 3:45 am

To hell with a building in my backyard. I bought two cheap RVs and now rent them out. I told my renters to park them across from a park in Mountain View. Their happy and Im happy... Happy happy!


20 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2018 at 10:13 am

I have to laugh at reading that Scharff called a comment by Filseth "hyperbolical". This from the same person who tells us:

"I haven't heard about complaints about neighborhoods being impacted," Scharff said. "Not a single person has written to me and said, 'I can't believe you allowed ADUs.'"

Well, duh. Why would a person w/a complaint about ADUs bring that complaint to Scharff? His position on the issue is well known, as is his propensity for listening well only to people who agree with him. Those who do not are treated dismissively (sometimes quite rudely).


21 people like this
Posted by All You Can Stomach
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 4, 2018 at 12:06 pm

>To hell with a building in my backyard. I bought two cheap RVs and now rent them out. I told my renters to park them across from a park in Mountain View.

As in the plethora of run-down looking RVs parked along Shoreline Boulevard near Eagle Park in Mountain View?

Mobile slumlords are contributing to this ongoing RV problem and should be cited along with the various RV inhabitants who overstay their parking on city streets.

This is akin to spraying a can of Lysol over a trash-filled garbage can. You don't get rid of the symptoms until you actually get rid of the trash.


5 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2018 at 2:08 pm

eileen is a registered user.

My husband and I are almost finished with a beautiful little ADU unattached from our 1893 historic home.
We are on a 8,500 sq ft lot so there is room for two parked cars onsite and street parking for the one other car.

We plan to downsize and live in the cottage while our daughter, husband and two grandchildren live in the bigger house. The ADU is truly a "granny unit". The construction is first rate and not cheaply made which I think makes is an asset to the neighbourhood. Palo Alto is where my children grew up and went to school and now we can raise our grandchildren here to.

Given all that, I do understand some people's concern over the increase in ADU's. I am also concerned. My biggest problem is allowing ADU's on small lots, less than 5,000 sq ft. What is the limit? I invision properties with no trees, landscaping and charm. Just mega houses with hardscape everywhere. Also the possibility of the property owner not living there. (opens up to investment properties) The other concern is the quality of the construction. Cheap construction for those renters. No worries, we will just charge the going market rate no matter how tacky the structure. Many of the property owners can afford to make their ADU's match the quality of the main house. I hope they do! Anyway, just my opinion.


16 people like this
Posted by Now You Can Be a Landlord
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2018 at 2:27 pm

An existing garage makes the most affordable ADU (from the standpoint of initial landlord outlay).

Just install 2-3 small walls, some conduit and a toilet/shower. No kitchen. What you end-up with is a small, non-cooking studio apartment you can easily rent for $2250+ per month. No closet(s) required as some shelves and a horizontal pole for hanging clothes covers those bases. Add a small fridge and microwave and you've got a PA rental unit.

An unattached garage works best. It ensures personal privacy as your home remains undisturbed by the tenant(s). And if the garage is large enough, you still might be able to park a car in there. Just make sure that the studio walls block out any carbon monoxide (although some landlords don't bother).


Like this comment
Posted by pares
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2018 at 4:47 pm

@Eileen, can you tell me how much per square foot your new ADU costs? I am wondering if it is something we could afford to do.


22 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 5, 2018 at 5:20 pm

Curious as to how many of the 'anti-development' PA residents are now considering an ADU as an addition to their existing home...for a non-descript 'Granny' or as rental income.

Ironic or hypocritical?


4 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2018 at 9:44 pm

eileen is a registered user.

I am developing an ADU and do not consider myself, anti-development. Why do you assume that? What I do do want is smart, thoughtful development. What does that mean? For me, its housing that is both functional and BEAUTIFUL. Unlike the generic, office buildings, tacky hotels, apartments and condos I see going up. Oh, and homes with no landscaping or trees! Really, is that the best we can do? Let's make sure if ADU's are built on Multi-Million dollar properties the owners make those ADU's blend in with the main house. I mean, the same QUALITY of construction! Please, no cheap, crappy construction for future renters. I hope we can keep Palo Alto the tree filled lovely place it has always been!


13 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 6, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Eileen - I fear your hope will remain just that. In their zeal to have an ADU ordinance that out-did even what the State promoted, our CC abandoned various sensible details such as design review, providing for parking, requiring that any privacy encroachment be to the detriment of the property owner/builder rather than the neighbor(s), and a reasonable setback from the property line (six feet is a tad cozy as it allows for hearing conversations, music, coughing, crying, flushing toilets, etc; it's close!). Reasonable people will build thoughtfully and in a manner that is respectful of the neighbors and neighborhood; others will do as they please. A good ordinance would have been helpful.


22 people like this
Posted by A Landlord for All Seasons
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2018 at 1:50 pm

> Curious as to how many of the 'anti-development' PA residents are now considering an ADU as an addition to their existing home...

It's all about money regardless of whether one is pro or anti-development. Most people are inherently greedy and all out for the mighty buck.

All things considered, a questionable-looking or makeshift ADU is no different than a crappy-looking RV parked on the street.

If someone claims to be adamantly against the proliferation of mixed-use condos and office buildings in Palo Alto yet goes so far as to build a granny-unit for rental purposes, they are no better than the developers & pro-development CC members they seemingly beg to differ with.

Besides, how many of these add-on units are really being used to house relatives?
Wiling to wager that the number is quite low. Most are just trying to tap into the lucrative student-tech worker housing market and this financial objective will clearly be reflected in their asking prices for monthly rents. Fat chance that any of them will be under $2000.00. After all, it's PA town.

On the other hand, if one is pro-development and opts to build an ADU, at least you are not being a hypocrite.









18 people like this
Posted by Why Not?
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2018 at 5:52 pm

Renting out an ADU is a good way to offset the property taxes on these overpriced PA homes especially if you are not covered under Proposition 13.

A $5M house carries about $50K in annual property taxes so if you rent out an ADU for around $3K per month, that's $36K. Why not?

Just send Granny to live with one of your other siblings. She can pay her share of the housing expenses with her Social Security.





Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 6, 2018 at 8:30 pm

^ another misunderstanding of prop 13. That $5M house is certainly covered. In 20 years they'll be paying $75K (2%/yr increase) while their new neighbors will be paying $500K. In 2038 dollars of course.


7 people like this
Posted by Why Not?
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2018 at 10:37 pm

^^^^ Which basically means that after coughing up a 20% down payment ($1M), enduring mortgage payments of $20K+ per month for over 25 years (along with the annual property taxes) you'll still be paying through the nose until the day you drop dead.

In other words, the escalating property taxes due each year will be like paying perpetual rent even though you hold the title deed. How depressing.

Time to go shopping for an RV.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 6, 2018 at 10:53 pm

^ call it "investment". Long-term you (or your heirs) cash out with a $50M gain.


25 people like this
Posted by Go Beyond an ADU
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 7, 2018 at 9:03 am

With the SF Bay Area housing crisis being what it is, I'm surprised that we haven't seen a resurgence of the old boarding house concept. It requires a large house (5-9 bedrooms with either shared or private bathrooms) + some staffing (housekeeper/cook). This housing option was very popular during the mid-19th century up to about WW2.

Boarders dined together with the landlord and the living room/den/parlor were used as communal sitting rooms. The concept is probably similar to folks sharing a rental house today except that certain household services are included with the lodging fee (meals, laundry, room servicing etc.).

I imagine that 'doing it on the cheap' would be the only way to stay out of the red if one were a proprietor (i.e. cutting down on food costs & utilities, staff salaries, site location etc.). Some of the more recent immigrants from overseas would probably be quite proficient at running such an operation being that many appear to be quite frugal + they could put their elders to work as housekeepers/cooks and serve traditional meals that require minimal meat.

The key of course would be the lodging rates as they would have to offer attractive pricing in relation to both the included services and the dwelling itself. Given the cost of living around here, it might not be practical either way...especially if one wanted to reside in some of the nicer neighborhoods on the midpeninsula.

If the room/board costs could be kept to around $75.00/day, it might prove to be a win-win for both proprietors and lodgers.















10 people like this
Posted by Goin' Back...
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Maybe we should take a trip in the way-back machine to solve our current housing problems.

Think communes. Shared rent, shared cooking, shared partners, shared pot, + the total sharing of one's personal belongings.

We have become way too materialistic and possessive. And where has it gotten us?
Is it time to lighten one's load?

The Woodstock Nation failed because the majority of its constituents sold out and became yuppies instead. Lots of status symbols but no soul.

So go ahead and build your ADU. Then rent it out for an exorbitant PA-inflated price. Whatever makes you HAPPY.


9 people like this
Posted by Lester
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2018 at 8:29 pm

Sorry, an 'ADU' with a basement is no longer an 'ADU', it's a second home in an R1 neighborhood, and a complete end run to destroy our R1 single family neighborhoods. City council members who think other wise are either dumb as a bag of rock, or, well, dumb as a bag of rocks.


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Posted by Bomb Shelter ADU
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2018 at 9:47 am

Though it is a throwback to the Cold war era, we have an old bomb shelter that came with the property when we purchased our house over 30 years ago.

There are some drainage problems and the entrance (a steel lid) is heavily rusted. Could this be used or rented out as a granny unit? It doesn't have any windows but I believe there is a generator (which will have to be replaced) to provide electricity. There is no plumbing and I believe bottled water was the intended alternative. A drainage hole for toilet usage is also integrated into the design.

It sleeps about four (two bunkbeds) so I imagine it might be suitable for a small family or for someone who values their privacy but wishes to have an occasional guest over from time to time.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2018 at 10:22 am

Posted by Bomb Shelter ADU, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Though it is a throwback to the Cold war era, we have an old bomb shelter that came with the property when we purchased our house over 30 years ago.

>> It sleeps about four (two bunkbeds) so I imagine it might be suitable for a small family

Bad idea for a family. But, I know a couple of young men who might as well live in a bomb shelter. Daytime indoor keyboarding, go outside mainly at night.

I'm curious about ventilation in the bombshelter. I would worry about asphyxiation. What in the bomb shelter design provides adequate outside air, while, presumably, protecting against a firestorm?


12 people like this
Posted by Barb
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2018 at 11:24 am

Is there anyway of identifying what % of the ADUs are only short term rentals for Air BNB rentals. Overall this has contributed to the problem of housing shortages of all types. Numerous new apartments, and condos have been bought and are owned as short term air bnb type rentals as this demands a higher rent.
There are even low income units which were purchased and are now on the short term rental market.

Who is policing the use of the ADUs post construction permit. No one really.
Parking is a problem, traffic is a huge problem.... city
.council seems to turn a deaf ear to it all!


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Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2018 at 3:34 pm

QUOTE: I'm curious about ventilation in the bombshelter. I would worry about asphyxiation. What in the bomb shelter design provides adequate outside air, while, presumably, protecting against a firestorm.

Filtered ventilation...via dual intake/exhaust pipes & driven by a pump (either electric or manual).

A childhood friend's family had one of these underground bomb shelters built on their property in LAH (near Gunn) during the early 60s. I've been inside & it looked like a very dreary, subteranean way to live while the world blew itself up.

I think it has been converted into a wine cellar.



23 people like this
Posted by Out of Towner
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2018 at 5:26 pm

Run-down looking RVs, doll houses, bomb shelters, tree houses, garages et al.

Will Palo Altans rent out anything for a quick buck?

What a classy town.


8 people like this
Posted by Rock
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 9, 2018 at 3:26 pm

ADUs, even fot “beautiful” ones, contribute to traffic and underparking. But let’s not worry too much, Scharff will soon have our open space zoned for more residences and office buildings.


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Posted by A Developer
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2018 at 7:26 pm

> Scharff will soon have our open space zoned for more residences and office buildings.

Would the city consider rezoning Palo Alto Foothills Park for development? My company envisions a rustic business community with office complexes and condominiums. By going with all redwood sidings or even glass and steel, the buildings would blend in nicely with the natural environment of the area and have a 'Scott's Valley' aura to it.

With convenient access to 280 already intact, an extensive widening of Old Page Mill Road into a medium-flow commuter expressway would complete the package and augment the needs for additional office space and housing in Palo Alto. Site studies indicate that there is also adequate acreage for a small shopping center and gas station as well.

My firm is based in Danville and we would be more than willing to explore this dynamic business and growth opportunity even further.









5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2018 at 9:55 pm

Posted by A Developer, a resident of another community

>> Would the city consider rezoning Palo Alto Foothills Park for development? My company envisions a rustic business community [...] all redwood sidings or even glass and steel, [...]

"Poe's law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the parodied views." Web Link

>> My firm is based in Danville
^^^^^^^^
Nice touch. You may have succeeded in creating a counterexample.




3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 10, 2018 at 12:28 am

^ Serious question regarding the immediately preceding comments: Would a 51% vote of Palo Alto citizens be sufficient to pass a city measure or proposition allowing rezoning of Foothills Park for development? (County, state and federal objections notwithstanding.)

Like everything else, all efforts toward conservation are only temporary.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2018 at 7:45 am

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde

>> allowing rezoning of Foothills Park for development? (County, state and federal objections notwithstanding.)

What a depressing midnight thought.

>> Like everything else, all efforts toward conservation are only temporary.

As are all efforts towards urbanization, if we wait long enough.


22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 10, 2018 at 11:04 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Sarcasm aside, if Greg Scharff has his way, Foothill Park would become an office park. Voting for him for the Open Space District would be akin to inviting the fox into the chicken coop.


2 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 10, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Interesting piece on the local news on channel 5 last night focusing on the number of RV's in Palo Alto that are rented out for four or five hundred dollars a month. And how these" landlords" are looking for RV's parked in driveways and offering to buy them to add to their rentals.


2 people like this
Posted by RV Landlord
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2018 at 2:37 pm

>>>>...the number of RV's in Palo Alto that are rented out for four or five hundred dollars a month.


And expect to see more as this is a growth industry that serves a vital need.

If you wish to see fewer RVs on the streets and in parking lots, lower your rental prices in PA. Simple as that.


14 people like this
Posted by Anything Goes in PA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2018 at 5:30 pm

> Would the city consider rezoning Palo Alto Foothills Park for development?

Might as well. Except for maybe the weekends, hardly anyone ever goes there anymore.

I think it could be accessed by Alpine Road as well if another road was cut through the eastern portion.

Another possibility. The Foothills Park could also be utilized as a clandestine homeless encampment/setting. Portola Park has some individuals who have managed to hide-out there as well. I've accidentally encountered a couple of them during day hikes and they are in full survivalist mode...eating and living off the land.
Best to avoid them as I suspect some have PTSD issues.



2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Posted by Anything Goes in PA, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Might as well. Except for maybe the weekends, hardly anyone ever goes there anymore.

Foothills Park is frequently quite busy. It was unusually quiet during the smokey weeks in August but has lots of visitors again. Los Trancos trail reopened now BTW.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 10, 2018 at 11:37 pm

>> "Los Trancos trail reopened now BTW."
Apparently as of yesterday according to the City website. Thanks for the timely heads-up.
I used to clip the overhanging poison oak, but learned my lesson.


8 people like this
Posted by Anything Goes in PA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2018 at 9:15 am

> I used to clip the overhanging poison oak, but learned my lesson.


Why would you do that?

Were you part of the trail maintenance crew or bringing home poison oak clippings for floral arrangements?


12 people like this
Posted by Deep in the Forests
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2018 at 3:45 pm

> Portola Park has some individuals who have managed to hide-out there as well. I've accidentally encountered a couple of them during day hikes and they are in full survivalist mode...eating and living off the land.

Best to avoid them as I suspect some have PTSD issues.


I've never encountered one in the park but crossed paths with an individual one evening at a Palo Alto bar who claimed he did just that. An Ex-Special Forces being treated at the VA. Claims he can eat off the land (plants, mushrooms, various wildlife) and remain sequestered there without being scene by others.

It sounded kind of Rambo-esque but judging by his overall appearance and demeanor, I suspect that he wasn't BS'ing me. Kind of a scary dude if crossed.


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Posted by @Lester
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2018 at 4:16 pm

It isn't worth pushing the millennial generation out of the middle class and creating a generation of permanent renters squeezing into whatever crawlspace is available just to preserve your R1 Neighborhood aesthetic. Palo Alto could have gone the Atherton route and kept itself a walled off enclave with no jobs, and this discussion wouldn't even be happening, but instead it's become a job hub. There are plenty of small towns in California that aren't job centers that you can move to if you really want to keep the R1 aesthetic.


17 people like this
Posted by A House Is Not a Home
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 11, 2018 at 6:47 pm

> It isn't worth pushing the millennial generation out of the middle class and creating a generation of permanent renters squeezing into whatever crawlspace is available just to preserve your R1 Neighborhood aesthetic.


Most millennials shouldn't even be thinking of owning a house in Palo Alto unless they either inherit one or create a new app that goes IPO.

Maybe we will see a new generation of modern-day livable RVs. Nice ones. Not the kind that are currently polluting the streets and parking lots along the peninsula.


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Posted by An Apartment Will Do
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2018 at 1:19 am

Don't need a house in Palo Alto, but an apartment will do just fine, walking distance from Caltrain.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 13, 2018 at 11:03 am

Posted by An Apartment Will Do, a resident of another community

>> Don't need a house in Palo Alto, but an apartment will do just fine, walking distance from Caltrain.

Apartment with no car? No problem. Apartment with 1 or 2 cars? Problem.


10 people like this
Posted by For a Few Dollars More
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 13, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Is it OK to rent out tent space in one's backyard?


Like this comment
Posted by @Anon
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Are you worried they're going to take the spots in your garage or your driveway, or are 4 parking spots just not enough for you?


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2018 at 6:59 am

Posted by @Anon, a resident of another community

>> Are you worried they're going to take the spots in your garage or your driveway, or are 4 parking spots just not enough for you?

You don't need 4 cars to have a problem. 2 cars are a problem if there is only one space. 1 car is a problem if there are 0 spaces.

We already have areas in the city that are packed with parking due to far more cars than parking spaces. Many people in congested areas already have trouble with parking for themselves, and, for visitors. Street parking is a form of "The Commons". Web Link Unlike some folks who post here, I would be OK with new higher-density housing being built, but:

I am opposed to housing being built without adequate parking, unless we have some kind of formal allocation of parking, including street parking, in the area. In urban Japan, parking is recognized as a resource and formally allocated. If we want high density in an area, we need to control street parking.

Since we are on the subject of high density, a lot of people have a fantasy that high-rises are cheap. They aren't. High-rise construction is expensive-- I've posted numbers and sources before. The most cost-effective density is usually around 30 units per acre, and, at that density, you can actually have (row/town/..) houses with separate entrances, and, stay under the 50-foot height limit.


6 people like this
Posted by Living In a Tent
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 14, 2018 at 2:48 pm

>> Is it OK to rent out tent space in one's backyard?

Why not? I've lived in a backyard tent although I wasn't renting space at the time.

My brother let me live in his backyard in Loyola Corners for awhile. I had a huge teepee and could even have a fire inside for added warmth during the winter months. A down sleeping bag was all I needed as I ate indoors with his family and had access to the house bathroom.

It was a small 2BR/1B house and since he had two kids, there wasn't enough bedroom space for me to live inside.

A tent community in one's backyard may raise some eyebrows but if you actually own the house, I imagine the neighbors would have little to say or complain about.


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