News

Palo Alto looks to expand historic registry to prevent redevelopment

City eyes ways to make more properties ineligible for lot splits under Senate Bill 9

The property at 332 Forest Ave. is among those that a Palo Alto survey had deemed as eligible for the historical registry. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

Palo Alto is preparing to significantly expand its list of historic properties to shield them from redevelopment under Senate Bill 9, a state law that allows homeowners to split their lots and build up to four dwellings.

The city already has a list of 165 properties identified by a survey conducted more than 20 years ago as potentially eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The vast majority of these properties are in the north Palo Alto neighborhoods of Crescent Park, Downtown North and University South, areas that date back to the city's earliest days.

But the survey, which was conducted between 1997 and 2001 by the firm Dames & Moore, also includes properties farther south, including 2230 Amherst St. in College Terrace, which was developed in the former town of Mayfield as student housing in the first decade of the 20th century.

It also includes 960 Matadero Ave., which was developed in a rural and unincorporated area outside Palo Alto boundaries — what is now the Barron Park neighborhood — by Dr. William Carruth, who surveyed the land in in 1918 and deemed it suitable for development.

Many of the structures that were located at the properties have already been redeveloped or, in 11 cases, demolished, according to planning staff. To date, the vast majority had not come up in public hearings pertaining to city history.

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That, however, may soon change. The City Council is scheduled to discuss and possibly approve on Monday night funds for consultants to accelerate the city's effort to get these properties listed on the national registry. And the city's Historic Resources Board is planning to hold a series of public hearings to inform property owners about the effort and give them a chance to weigh in.

The main reason for the new sense of urgency is SB 9, which allows property owners in single-family zones to build up to four dwellings — including accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units — at sites where one home currently stands. The bill, which the council formally opposed before its adoption last year, explicitly excludes historic properties.

The council has already taken some steps in restricting development standards for SB 9 projects. Last December, the council approved an ordinance that creates new "objective standards" — rules that address details such as window placements, garage locations and roofline styles. At that time, some council members, including Tom DuBois, expressed support for also updating the city's historic registry.

"It's been 21 years and as buildings age, we now have a lot more potentially historic buildings, potentially from the beginning of Silicon Valley," DuBois said during the Dec. 6 meeting. "I would support us planning and budgeting for both the commercial and residential Historic Register update."

The council will have a chance to do just that on Monday, when it considers further changes to its SB 9 rules. It will discuss various proposed designs for lot splits — including side-by-side lots and flag lots — and consider adopting a preferred design. Other possible changes include a new provision that would empower Public Works staff discretion to create standards for curb cuts, roadways and other public improvements that are typically located adjacent to private properties.

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While these new rules could take effect soon after adoption, the update of the historic registry would take significantly longer. A property owner who wants to see their property nominated for the registry is currently required to contact city staff, submit forms to the state Department of Parks and Recreation, contribute fees, submit photos and receive recommendations from the Historic Resources Board and the council, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Development Services.

Efforts to protect historic properties have been in the works for several years. The city has been submitting forms for properties that had been determined to be eligible for historic status since 2017, when the city completed the update of its Comprehensive Plan, which includes the policy, "update and maintain the City's Historic Resource Inventory to include historic resources that are eligible for local, state, or federal listing."

'As buildings age, we now have a lot more potentially historic buildings, potentially from the beginning of Silicon Valley.'

-Tom DuBois, city council member, Palo Alto

These properties, however, are currently not listed on either the state or the national registry and are thus eligible for redevelopment.

"None of the properties found eligible (for historic status) are protected under the city's existing historic preservation ordinance, unless they are within a listed historic district," the report from the planning department states.

Planning staff acknowledged at a recent retreat of the Historic Resources Board that the city's policy of updating its historic registry has taken on more urgency in light of SB 9. Chief Planning Official Amy French said the effort will require more funding to hire consultants who would help conduct public hearings and notify property owners.

"I think we've been talking about how that's key — because of SB 9 — that we would put it in high priority or highest priority," French said at the March 10 retreat.

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

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Palo Alto looks to expand historic registry to prevent redevelopment

City eyes ways to make more properties ineligible for lot splits under Senate Bill 9

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Mar 17, 2022, 9:00 am

Palo Alto is preparing to significantly expand its list of historic properties to shield them from redevelopment under Senate Bill 9, a state law that allows homeowners to split their lots and build up to four dwellings.

The city already has a list of 165 properties identified by a survey conducted more than 20 years ago as potentially eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The vast majority of these properties are in the north Palo Alto neighborhoods of Crescent Park, Downtown North and University South, areas that date back to the city's earliest days.

But the survey, which was conducted between 1997 and 2001 by the firm Dames & Moore, also includes properties farther south, including 2230 Amherst St. in College Terrace, which was developed in the former town of Mayfield as student housing in the first decade of the 20th century.

It also includes 960 Matadero Ave., which was developed in a rural and unincorporated area outside Palo Alto boundaries — what is now the Barron Park neighborhood — by Dr. William Carruth, who surveyed the land in in 1918 and deemed it suitable for development.

Many of the structures that were located at the properties have already been redeveloped or, in 11 cases, demolished, according to planning staff. To date, the vast majority had not come up in public hearings pertaining to city history.

That, however, may soon change. The City Council is scheduled to discuss and possibly approve on Monday night funds for consultants to accelerate the city's effort to get these properties listed on the national registry. And the city's Historic Resources Board is planning to hold a series of public hearings to inform property owners about the effort and give them a chance to weigh in.

The main reason for the new sense of urgency is SB 9, which allows property owners in single-family zones to build up to four dwellings — including accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units — at sites where one home currently stands. The bill, which the council formally opposed before its adoption last year, explicitly excludes historic properties.

The council has already taken some steps in restricting development standards for SB 9 projects. Last December, the council approved an ordinance that creates new "objective standards" — rules that address details such as window placements, garage locations and roofline styles. At that time, some council members, including Tom DuBois, expressed support for also updating the city's historic registry.

"It's been 21 years and as buildings age, we now have a lot more potentially historic buildings, potentially from the beginning of Silicon Valley," DuBois said during the Dec. 6 meeting. "I would support us planning and budgeting for both the commercial and residential Historic Register update."

The council will have a chance to do just that on Monday, when it considers further changes to its SB 9 rules. It will discuss various proposed designs for lot splits — including side-by-side lots and flag lots — and consider adopting a preferred design. Other possible changes include a new provision that would empower Public Works staff discretion to create standards for curb cuts, roadways and other public improvements that are typically located adjacent to private properties.

While these new rules could take effect soon after adoption, the update of the historic registry would take significantly longer. A property owner who wants to see their property nominated for the registry is currently required to contact city staff, submit forms to the state Department of Parks and Recreation, contribute fees, submit photos and receive recommendations from the Historic Resources Board and the council, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Development Services.

Efforts to protect historic properties have been in the works for several years. The city has been submitting forms for properties that had been determined to be eligible for historic status since 2017, when the city completed the update of its Comprehensive Plan, which includes the policy, "update and maintain the City's Historic Resource Inventory to include historic resources that are eligible for local, state, or federal listing."

These properties, however, are currently not listed on either the state or the national registry and are thus eligible for redevelopment.

"None of the properties found eligible (for historic status) are protected under the city's existing historic preservation ordinance, unless they are within a listed historic district," the report from the planning department states.

Planning staff acknowledged at a recent retreat of the Historic Resources Board that the city's policy of updating its historic registry has taken on more urgency in light of SB 9. Chief Planning Official Amy French said the effort will require more funding to hire consultants who would help conduct public hearings and notify property owners.

"I think we've been talking about how that's key — because of SB 9 — that we would put it in high priority or highest priority," French said at the March 10 retreat.

Comments

Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Mar 17, 2022 at 11:03 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2022 at 11:03 am

Ah, the return of Measure G. The passage of SB9 reminded me of that. Apparently other people remembered, too.


Sunny Living
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 17, 2022 at 12:25 pm
Sunny Living, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2022 at 12:25 pm

This is ridiculous. They'll really do anything to avoid letting people build housing. Amy is an ultra-bureaucrat...wants the city to stay locked in time like a capsule.


Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2022 at 4:22 pm
Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2022 at 4:22 pm

@Sunny Living

Waaaay too late for that. In South PA construction proceeds non-stop. Developers are always out to make a buck here.


Allan
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2022 at 6:32 pm
Allan, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2022 at 6:32 pm

Does anyone know the link to the list of proposed historic homes now under consideration? It would be nice to have this link published along with this article.


Amy
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2022 at 10:02 pm
Amy , Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2022 at 10:02 pm

I get it that people pay zillions to buy homes in Crescent park and should be able to do as they please with their properties. At the same time I am watching one house after another get demolished and replaced with a house that is not built to the qualify standards of the older homes. Not all older homes were built well but many were that are from the 1930’s and so not only are we losing examples of stellar architecture but the personality of this old neighborhood. I don’t think people really want their homes tagged as historic because that comes with a bunch of restrictions many of which are impractical but at the same time I wish as a bare minimum there was a way to preserve the fabric of our neighborhood original architecture before it’s too late. There is a gorgeous old home on my block about to be demolished and replaced. It just makes me sad. I picked this neighborhood because of the traditional old aesthetic and that is being wiped out. It’s a tough situation and beauty is in the eye of the beholder but for those of us who intentionally chose an old neighborhood it’s a bummer.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2022 at 12:45 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 12:45 pm

The comment on South PA - yes many homes bought back when are now going on the market. And they go through a process by which all of the interior is replaced with new flooring, new bathrooms, new kitchens, new carpeting where needed, new exterior and gardens. The houses are brought up to current specifications, and they are going for many millions. Those numbers are reported in the papers as a matter of legal record.

I think a lot of homes in the older sections are passed on to the children when the olders move on so they are living in the homes they grew up in. Or the current batch of family is renting them out at a high rent value and living elsewhere. It is mixed bag and if someone would pulse the local management companies they would find out how the percentages fall out on family ownership of property. SU appears to buying a lot of home property at this time.

A mixed bag on intentions and goals. The goal of preserving the city view is important. That is a more common view on the east coast where there is great pride on how a city looks and functions. They pride themselves on historic looks and stories. Many cities work hard to preserve their historic locations.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2022 at 12:51 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 12:51 pm

It makes me sad. Seeing un-elected ABAG and the Attorney General crow about denying Pasadena's suit to protect its wonderful historic districts was absolutely infuriating to anyone who's seen the Greene & Greene homes, especially the Gamble House. Web Link

The state should eliminate its whole tourism budget with everything that it's destroying. Who in their right mind believes fire risks and drought should have no bearing on development permits?? Hello.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2022 at 3:32 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 3:32 pm

Someone needs to look at the ABAG people. [Portion removed.] We did not vote for them. Who do they report to? What is their budget? What authority is provided to their decisions?

[Portion removed.]

They appear to be working in direct contradiction to what the taxpayer's of this state want. We are now in "worse times" and their functions are tone deaf to what is going on in the world, what is going on in the US, and what is going on in this state. We have all type political groups who are paying big money to push their agendas. So where does ABAG fit into this whole mess?


Pat Markevitch
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 19, 2022 at 12:56 pm
Pat Markevitch, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2022 at 12:56 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows: In a way, we did vote for them because each City within the boundaries rotates an elected official to serve on ABAG. It used to be that you could see who the members of ABAG are but I'm having a difficult time finding the current list on their website and also from the Wayback machine because a lot of the pages are no longer available (maybe someone more computer savvy can do a better job). I did an analysis of the members years ago and was looking up their old election websites. At that time you could go to their election websites and see who donated money to their campaigns. It is becoming very difficult to find out this information. What are they hiding? The fact that they got elected off of the money donated by developers?


Ben Larraby
Registered user
another community
on Mar 19, 2022 at 1:04 pm
Ben Larraby, another community
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2022 at 1:04 pm

My father rented out two of his residential properties in South Palo Alto & I eventually inherited them but currently really side in SoCal.

That said, it really doesn't matter to me what happens to the land providing I get fair market value when disposing of the properties to whoever wants to buy them.

Many of the older homes in Palo Alto are better suited as 'tear downs' considering the costly expenses of re-wiring & re-plumbing the premises.

And just what constitutes a historical preservation... a trademark PA Eichler, a retro-Spanish design from the 1920s?

The family-owned properties I am speaking of are a small 2BR/1B bungalow & a 3BR/2.5B ranch-style home, both of which will win no beauty contest or a piece in Architectural Digest.

Better to tear them down & start anew as this is 2022 & not yesteryear.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 19, 2022 at 3:49 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2022 at 3:49 pm

""None of the properties found eligible (for historic status) are protected under the city's existing historic preservation ordinance, unless they are within a listed historic district," the report from the planning department states."

Where ARE the listed historic districts?


Paly Grad
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 19, 2022 at 4:19 pm
Paly Grad, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2022 at 4:19 pm

Palo Alto Historic Districts:

Web Link


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 19, 2022 at 8:56 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2022 at 8:56 pm

Paly Grad, Thanks. So I guess if you have a Birge Clark home outside of those historic districts the city won't consider it. Make sense.

@Pat Markevitch, it's becoming increasingly tough to find information like that. The new City Clerk has changed the whole format of the Council/Commission Agendas. They sent out a 258-page report on housing and advised you to check Appendix A for the 6,000 sites being considered for high-density.

Several of us wasted a huge amount of time trying to find the Appendix. We were also upset that the city's not sticking to the 10-day period for announcing agenda items etc.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Mar 20, 2022 at 2:15 am
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Mar 20, 2022 at 2:15 am

Greg Scharf, an attorney specializing in commercial real estate, was the council member representing Palo Alto on ABAG for a number of years.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2022 at 11:19 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 20, 2022 at 11:19 am

Thank you Pat. I am assuming that we have a person on ABAG, or someone does know who those names are. So let's demand full disclosure the next time someone uses ABAG as an excuse for how a decision is made. I think it is against the law for any fiduciary action in this state to go into hiding. They are like a kangaroo court. If they are making fiduciary decisions then there has to be full disclosure as to who they are, who they work for, and what type of funding is going into their decision process.

We can't have city officials throwing around ABAG in the future without full disclosure.


Paul Brophy
Registered user
Professorville
on Mar 21, 2022 at 11:28 am
Paul Brophy, Professorville
Registered user
on Mar 21, 2022 at 11:28 am

Efforts by certain council members and city staff to work around SB 9 by suddenly declaring dozens of residential structures as historically significant is typical of how clueless this community can be. Atty. General Bonta has already announced a task force of a dozen attorneys to enforce the ordinance. Does a city which has approved almost no new new housing units but had no problem approving the loss of 80 moderate priced apartments at the President Hotel think that this will avoid scrutiny? Does the City Attorney believe that the city has the slightest chance of defending this ever so clever tactic?

Lots of commenters here think that efforts to deal with the large and growing imbalance between jobs and housing on this side of the Bay are the fault of all powerful developers. The reality is that elected officials from East Bay and even Central Valley communities are tired of having to provide housing units and long commutes to jobs here. The major employers that do have lots of sway in Sacramento want the state to force housing built closer to where those companies want to build offices.

In an ideal world, the inevitable legislation that will force more housing on job surplus communities would be well designed and not be like the flawed SB 9. This will not be the case. In the meantime, the best we can do is to have a regulatory scheme that will encourage the development of significant amounts of housing in places and ways that minimize adverse effects on nearby residents. If we do that, the regulatory and judicial attacks on local zoning will be focused on other communities where leadership is too dumb and defiant to recognize the political facts of life.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 21, 2022 at 11:43 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 21, 2022 at 11:43 am

Attorney General Bonta also gleefully denied Pasadena's request to exempt its beautiful historic districts from soulless high-density development. I guess he hasn't heard what a huge portion of CA's income comes from tourism.

Of course he also hasn't heard of drought and fire risks at a time of historic commercial building that creates more jobs and increased population and does NOTHING to make housing more affordable. Just ignore all the fires at homeless encampments like today's near Lake Merritt.


Paly Grad
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 21, 2022 at 4:52 pm
Paly Grad, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Mar 21, 2022 at 4:52 pm

ABAG Executive Board Roster:

Web Link


hkatrs
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 21, 2022 at 9:00 pm
hkatrs, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Mar 21, 2022 at 9:00 pm

Thanks to everyone who has written a comment. I haven’t had a chance to give my opinion until now. I agree with so many of the opinions and am hopeful the best outcome for PA will prevail. Let’s reinvigorate the City of Palo Alto to “build back better” instead of it being compared to Beverly Hills and Cupertino, as well as being kept from managing progress for climate change and embrace the future of efficient residential and commercial buildings!

It is unprecedented that the PA City Council thinks they can protect a few land owner’s and their buildings by allowing their tear downs to become Historic Structures. PA City council members have been the developer’s and realtor’s puppets for so many years. They have created the lack of affordable housing for so many people in all financial brackets who ‘are’ the community for over thirty years! There has never been enough housing for medium income levels, single parents, teachers, city workers, fire fighters, police officers, librarians, seniors, college students and the service sector’s low income levels. PA has been going down hill for so many years instead of having leadership who cares about “a PA Culture” for the entire community.


Evergreen Park Observer
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 22, 2022 at 12:37 pm
Evergreen Park Observer, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 22, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Two facts. SB 9 specifically exempts historical properties from its provisions. This a strong signal that the framers of the (in my opinion, otherwise deeply flawed) law. Second, Palo Alto is not ‘suddenly’ declaring a residence historic. The list of properties would would qualify for historic status was created 20 years ago - not yesterday. The decision to actually designate the property as historic - once it has been qualified for that status - is left with the property owner. ABAG has mandated the creation of 6000 housing units. Historic sites are a tiny portion of Palo Alto housing.


Evergreen Park Observer
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:00 am
Evergreen Park Observer, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:00 am

The editors of the PA Weekly chose an intentionally inflamatory headline that implies that the only reason for preserving buildings of historical significance is to stymie SB 9. I thought that Mr. Sheyner is eporter, and not a columnist, and the PA Weekly should act like that. The headline could have simply been that the Council is reviewing and updating his historical residence listing. The consequences of this review include preserving some of our history as well as the impact of SB 9 on them. So tired of developers running the show around here and the either-or mentality about housing. We can provide more housing without destroying everything in sight. We need to work together on this and stop the name calling.


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