The city of Palo Alto has issued a notice of violation to a company connected to Google co-founder Larry Page in which it warned that a business should not be operating out of a house in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood.
The home, located at 2175 Bryant St., gained wide public attention after it caught fire on Sept. 14. It is one of the handful of Old Palo Alto homes owned by Page or limited liability corporations associated with him. LLC ownership allows for the owners to be hidden from the public record. Information about these properties' connections with Page are based on interviews with neighbors and on records that list representatives of Page.
In a notice of violation dated Sept. 29, city Code Enforcement noted the building was "red tagged" for safety concerns due to damage from the two-alarm blaze, which engulfed the back of the house. The residence was deemed to have substandard conditions as a result of the fire and was uninhabitable. Fire and water damage throughout the home were cited as the reasons.
In the notice of violation, however, the city also stated that it also "received a complaint regarding the property being used for business purposes."
"To avoid being in violation of the city of Palo Alto Home Occupation regulations please ensure you are not violating any of the rules below," the letter states, then enumerating Palo Alto Municipal Code 18.42.060:
• The home occupation (business) "shall be conducted in a manner that is compatible with residential uses permitted in the same district, and in a manner which does not change the character and appearance of the dwelling unit in which it is conducted."
• No person shall be employed on the site in connection with the home business except lawful occupants of the dwelling unit.
• No advertising is permitted on the site.
• Not more than 25% of the gross floor area of the dwelling unit, or 500 square feet of gross floor area on the site including accessory buildings, whichever is less, can be used for a home business.
• The home business cannot generate traffic, parking or deliveries substantially greater than what is customarily associated with residential occupancy of the dwelling unit.
• No mechanical, electrical, or other equipment shall be used, nor can a home business be conducted in any manner that is a nuisance or is noxious, offensive, or hazardous due to vehicular traffic, noise, electrical or magnetic interference, vibration, particulate matter, odor, heat, humidity, glare, refuse, radiation, or other objectionable emissions or effects.
• No outdoor storage of any material, equipment or goods is allowed in connection with any home business.
"We believe that most community preservation issues are simply oversights that can be quickly corrected," the city's letter states. "Please correct any violations. Furthermore, please be advised that failure to correct a violation can result in additional enforcement action being taken which may include: administrative citations, or other remedies provided by law. However, we trust based on your cooperation that this issue will be resolved, and further measures will not be required."
The Weekly made a California Public Records Act request for any written documentation regarding complaints about nonresidential uses at the home, but the city did not provide any documents under that request.
What the neighbors report
Alleged nonresidential uses of homes in R-1, or single-family, zones by Palo Alto's billionaires have raised the hackles of their neighbors. In correspondence with the city, some residents living near Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's home claim that he is using houses within his residential compound for nonresidential uses.
In Old Palo Alto, neighbors of the Page house at 2175 Bryant have reported seeing a daily flow of maids, nannies and possibly tech workers entering and leaving the house in addition to constant security presence on the block.
"Most of the people in the neighborhood know that it was not being used as a residence. It was used as a backup house," said one Bryant Street resident of more than 10 years. "There were industrial washers and dryers; there were nannies and housekeepers coming and going; and there were clearly tech guys coming and going."
The resident couldn't speak to the number of people who were entering and leaving the home but said that it took place daily. The resident never saw Page himself enter through the front door.
Several other neighbors on or near the Bryant Street block spoke with The Weekly on the condition of anonymity, emphasizing that they did not want to stir up controversy or appear to be complaining about their neighbor. The residents were unanimous in saying that the people at the 2175 house have been mostly quiet, though the visitors have added to the number of cars parked on the streets.
One Washington Avenue resident said that there would be a "bunch of cars and young dudes in their 20s, 30s" entering the house but not much activity beyond that.
Even a resident on North California Avenue, which is a half-block from the 2175 Bryant address, noticed vehicles on that street and people heading for the Bryant house.
Another longtime Bryant Street resident reported that another Page-associated home, 2140 Bryant, used to be used for nonresidential purposes. Before the house was demolished recently, it looked to be vacant and only used for Page's security as a lookout post or parking lot, according to the resident, who's lived on the street for more than 30 years. At one point, the neighbor noticed the door to the home was ajar and peeked inside; it appeared as if nobody lived there, the resident said.
"That place was a $7 million parking lot for security," said the resident, who interacted with Page's security on a few occasions. "Nobody lived there for years."
Residents largely had no complaints about the idea of having an office and staff center or even a pseudo parking lot next door. One resident admittedly said they liked having no neighbors. But some agree that it is, at the very least, different from having traditional neighbors and the community that comes along with them in Palo Alto.
"All of a sudden you don't have neighbors," said the resident who has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade. "It does create a different feeling."
Should businesses be allowed?
The idea of changing city policy to allow homes to be used for businesses — notably startups — has been raised over the years. Palo Alto City Council member Greg Tanaka, a tech entrepreneur, and former council member Adrian Fine, a proponent of city-growth policies, in 2017 proposed letting startups operate in homes in single-family residential neighborhoods. However, the council rejected the idea by a vote of 3-6.
Fine and Tanaka had noted that Hewlett-Packard started in a now-legendary backyard garage, a location that has now become a shrine to early tech history.
Council member Tom DuBois, now mayor, however, noted the city already has a housing shortage. Allowing people to rent out their homes or have them be used as offices would send "the wrong message," he said at the time.
In its Sept. 29 notice of violation, the city gave the owner, 2175 Bryant Street LLC, until Nov. 1 to apply for a building permit to bring the building up to code. Rather than being rebuilt, however, the house was demolished on Tuesday.
The Palo Alto Fire Department has not yet released a report stating a cause of the Sept. 14 fire.
2175 Bryant St. LLC shares the same address as Page's Carl Victor Page Memorial Foundation, according to public records. The Weekly reached out to 2175 Bryant Street LLC and Page for comment through the agents listed on state incorporation papers and city records and through a Google spokesperson, but they did not respond before the publication deadline.