Palo Alto mulls ways to strengthen code enforcement | May 19, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 19, 2017

Palo Alto mulls ways to strengthen code enforcement

City auditor to review program as survey shows increasing citizen concern

by Gennady Sheyner

It's been a busy year in Palo Alto's planning department, which among other responsibilities is working on the update of the city's Comprehensive Plan, revamping downtown's parking policies and reviewing development proposals.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by Mom tired of gas blowers
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2017 at 5:26 pm

I hope that the city ups it's game on gas blowers. The landscapers seem so brazen and don't care about breaking the law by using gas blowers.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Gas leaf blowers and off leash dogs are the ones that people complain about most. But there are many others that should be enforced. What about parking on streets on street sweeping day. Or putting trash cans out of sight.

I think we should have a list of city ordinances that we might not be aware of and people are breaking them all the time.

Posted by Please Do
a resident of Professorville
on May 17, 2017 at 6:17 pm

Code enforcement is long overdue!!!!

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2017 at 6:24 pm

I view code enforcement in relation to maintaining the house location perimeter where the property meets the sidewalk and street. The street cleaner needs a 14 foot clearance to clean the curb and if tree branches are lower it will not clean under the limbs - where usually the leaves are sitting. Dead grass, dead bushes, stacking up leaves in the sidewalk, hedges that fall into the sidewalk blocking passage on the sidewalk. Lack of maintenance so that the house looks like it is unkempt. Many of these problems are related to fences in which the homeowner only cleans within the fence line and the area between the fence and sidewalk is untended - a mess.
So the neighbor only sees the mess part. There should be code enforcement for unsightly maintenance.

Posted by Way too loud
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 17, 2017 at 8:07 pm

What about noise pollution? Harley hogs revving up and down University Ave is deafening. Ten times louder than any of the airplane noise people complain about! What's up with that, Palo Alto?

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2017 at 9:10 pm

"The landscapers seem so brazen and don't care about breaking the law by using gas blowers."

Anybody who's watched a police car cruise through a cloud of dust from a clearly visible leaf blower knows these scofflaws have nothing to fear.

Posted by Enforce CUP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2017 at 10:03 pm

How about enforcing our conditional use permits at castileja and the baptist church on california ave? 2

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2017 at 11:13 pm

We used to have gardeners show up at our apartment by 7:00 AM with gas-powered leaf blowers. In the summer (when we used window fans in a couple of windows), the fumes actually set off our smoke/carbon monoxide detector! It is an frustrating way to be awakened.

One morning, my husband explained to them that the city restricts leaf blowers until after 9 AM and reminded them that gas-powered leaf blowers are illegal in residential neighborhoods. The gardeners would just shrug their shoulders, play dumb and return the next time at the exact same hour.

I realize that these workers might only be following the instructions of their supervisors. Thus, the companies should be fined. If they have already been given a warning, it is time to start levying the appropriate fines (at the company rather than the workers).

Posted by I agree, enforce the CUP
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2017 at 7:52 am

Enforce Castilleja's and the Baptist Church CUP

Posted by far below
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2017 at 7:58 am

Palo Alto is far below even the norm in the Bay Area in all aspects related to the visual environment across the entire spectrum of government functions. Period. Leaf blowing,like parking overflow into the neighborhoods is another aspect of the City's disregard to quality of life issues, safety in the neighborhoods, etc.

Posted by Ironic
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2017 at 8:12 am

the funny part is that the City of Palo Alto itself employs teams of landscapers who use gas powered leaf blowers. PA doesn't even follow its own rules. LOL.

Next time you walk past a crew working on the yard around a school (like JLS where I see this all the time), notice the crew, with its City of PA truck, unloading and using multiple gas powered blowers.

Irony aside, when I walk downtown from Fairmeadow I have a game I play - How many blocks can I walk before I have to pull my shirt up over my nose and mouth to avoid being assaulted by gas powered blowers filling the public space with a cloud of spores and leaf dust? Generally I get a maximum of 2 blocks.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 18, 2017 at 8:43 am

Common sense has to apply here. If you are on a large school property there is no way that you can have an electrical chord in a large area. Not possible or desirable. These people need to get in and do a quick job - fast in and fast out. Over complicating this total required effort with electrical chords that have to drag across large areas as well as simply raking the yard do not make sense.

Posted by FYI
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 18, 2017 at 8:49 am

Q. What kind of leaf blowers may be used and when?

Residential zones
Electric leaf blowers (no internal combustion engines) may be used only during the following hours:
Monday – Friday 9 am – 5 pm
Saturday 10 am – 4 pm
Sundays and Holidays not allowed* (see * below for list of holidays)
Non – residential zones
Electric and gas-powered blowers may be used only during the following hours:
Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm
Saturday 10 am – 4 pm
Sundays and Holidays not allowed*

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2017 at 10:48 am

Gas leaf blowers are outlawed but electric leaf blowers connected to gas generators are fine. Gas lawn mowers, gas trimmers, and other machines are also allowed. Why are gas leaf blowers any different than other noise source or pollution sources?

Posted by EllenU85
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2017 at 11:37 am

Responsibility for Comp Plan 2030 has moved on from the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Planning Commission.

The PTC needs citizen, staff and financial support to approve and enforce old and new programs on our journey to 2030.

I Support CUP for leaf blowers, parking and all programs current and future.

Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 18, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Too much "mulling", not enough action.
Did you know there was a sign ordinance? It's not enforced either.

Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Wow! So we have an understaffed Planning Department who will be keeping an eye on the proliferating basements being dug for the McMansions like the ones on my street. And these same overworked folks will be watchdogging the new "granny" units that will be cropping up in our neighborhoods like mushrooms after a rain storm.

Posted by Bike Commuter
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

I bike to work downtown. Everyday I have to brave through stretches filled with toxic fumes and dust because of rampant leaf blowing along Bryant St. If City is serious about promoting bike commute, restrict leaf blowing along bike routes.

Posted by Cassidy Kidd
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2017 at 12:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Annette is a registered user.

"We don't really know what it is that residents think is not good about code enforcement," Richardson said.

Aw, geez. The answer to that can be easily found in so many places: letters to Council, comments at Council meetings, letters to local newspapers, this forum. At present, the Castilleja CUP violation is arguably the single largest issue but the list includes parking, so-called community benefits, leaf blowers, signs . . .

We do need more enforcement but is it really necessary to add staff? Some things like parking and leaf-blowers we can self-enforce by being good citizens. But shouldn't the big issues be handled by the City Manager and his existing very large staff? Are we really asking so much of them that they cannot handle enforcement (or spokesperson responsibilities as an earlier news item suggested)? Sometimes adding to staff is the right move; but when a city's unfunded pension liability is what ours is, that should be a last consideration, not a default move.

Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm

The department has 3 code-enforcement positions. So the plan is to hire another code enforcement position so they can rely more on fines and fees to offset the costs of the position. On the gas blower issue, there were 7 citations issued in 2016. I wonder how many citations in other areas are issues (and what they are). Boy, they better pick up the pace, to offset the cost.

Posted by Fools Fools Fools
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Amazing that all you people can focus on is leaf blowers when there are bicyclists and automobile drivers running stop signs...
skateboarders going the wrong way on a street in the middle of the street...
parking and traffic issues...
Park Blvd is a mess with one lane use for bicycles,auto and pedestrians...
the Citizen's committee for the general plan wants to build over Palo Alto's parks because they want "housing"...
conditional use permits that are not enforced...
retail space approved for used for office space and Gitelman's department allows and issues the use and occupancy permit...
playing fields taken over by a company for over two weeks for their company affair...
the city manager employing these assistant people at $200K+ a pop with pensions...
school parcel tax that is not reducing number in classrooms...
Liz Kniss, Cory Wolbach, Adrian Fine and Greg Scharff insisting school enrollment is declining as if that is going to last for ever...
Last but not lease, there is the city manager busy collecting awards and recognitions so that he can add to his resume before he retires.

People! leaf blowers' nothing compared to what is going to be coming at you.

Posted by PAmom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2017 at 1:10 pm

My neighborhood is filled with older people who ignore the leaf blower ban. Two of them have confronted me in unpleasant, adversarial ways for complaining about it, so I keep a low profile in case they've given me a bad rep. I work at home and the noise can be constant up and down the street, day after day. I used to enjoy gardening, but don't enjoy being in my yard anymore because of the noise. The city used to be good about enforcement, but eliminated it during the recession. The article says enforcement is back, but I don't see how that can be when I see and hear rampant blowers in my and other neighborhoods I go through regularly. I'm no longer willing to risk the harassment I've endured from approaching neighbors directly. How are we supposed to report gas-powered leaf blower violations now that is effective? There used to be a phone number to call; what is the process for reporting now?

Posted by Walker
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Code violations I've seen numerous times include bikers riding on sidewalks or against the flow of traffic, cars parked facing against the flow of traffic, cars parked on sidewalks, and of course cars and biker's not coming to a full stop behind the white line before proceeding, trash bins out more than 24 hours or blocking travel on sidewalks. Also watching a 50's episode of Dragnet I understand it's against the law to park on the street blocking a driveway even if it's your own!

Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm

@ Fools Fools Fools

The Citizens Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan Update did not vote to put housing on parkland. There are those who might want to do that, but the Committee as a whole did not take that action.

The controversy is how much parkland Palo Alto needs to add as more housing gets built. I am in favor of adding parkland to keep up with housing growth. Others do not believe that more parkland is needed.

Single family houses have backyards (although some of them will be given to Accessory Dwelling Units, given the reduction in setbacks allowed). Multifamily dwelling units have much more limited private open space. Hence, I believe that there is even more need for parkland as the new denser housing is built.

Posted by Former CT Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2017 at 3:48 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by @Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Resident - The difference in a nutshell is...

Gas Leaf Blowers = Really Loud
Electric = Relatively Quiet

Gas Leaf Blowers = Toxic 2-stroke fuel exhaust
Electric = No exhaust

Posted by Stretch
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2017 at 5:45 pm

@Resident: Do you really think that people who flaunt the law care about the bad points of anything? It's the same with people who throw trash out of cars. They don't CARE.

Posted by just wondering
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Is the new code enforcement push going to start in Buena Vista?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 18, 2017 at 10:20 pm

@Arthur, we can add parkland by renaming our parking lots to the British term: Car Park.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2017 at 11:13 pm

I don't understand why gas leaf blowers are explicitly prohibited. If they are that loud, just pass a noise ordinance that prohibits *ANY* machine that loud. Who cares if it runs on gas, hydrogen, or bourbon? Just ban the loud ones and keep the quiet ones! I don't understand the micromanaging...

Posted by Jim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2017 at 2:45 pm

The City Council, in their annual retreat, took enforcement off of their priority list, claiming that Palo Alto now has a new enforcement officer. It was another Scharff/Wolbach/Keene love fest and last minute change that the new council is so well known for.

Meanwhile, Castilleja continues to violate their CUP for 16 years now, and they don't even get a phone call from Keene to politely ask them to report all of their events, or check in on other CUP matters. Castilleja does their own reporting, so it's all very cozy.

Castilleja holds more than 120 events per year, plus summer camp. They had two events yesterday. The maximum for any other local private school is 15 per year.

It's just such blatant favoritism. Public support is growing to get Castilleja to obey the law or move elsewhere as they learn more about the contempt they have shown for the law and for the neighbors. Now they want to dig an underground parking garage and empty it right into the neighborhood.

Decades of misinformation, mistrust, and blatant falsehoods. Should that be rewarded?

Posted by YIMBY2
a resident of Professorville
on May 19, 2017 at 3:01 pm


Meanwhile you continue to pay less than $6,000 in property taxes per year for a home worth well more than $3 million. Where do you suppose the City get the tax revenue to support additional Code Enforcement if you won't pay for it yourself? Maybe you can donate the rental revenue you get from renting your garage unit illegally. Also maybe move some of your 4+ cars off the street, neighbor.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 20, 2017 at 12:10 am

@YIMBY2, instead of selectively and repetitively picking on homeowners, how about also going after COMMERCIAL property owners who are profiting from their Prop 13 rates which they've held a lot longer than residential taxpayers.

Land-owning corporations rarely die so they can keep their low low tax rates while charging market rents or above, thus increasing their profits. . Unlike homeowners who tend to move after a few decades or die.

Posted by Barron Park Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2017 at 11:27 am

My funny story on code enforcement:

Lat year, the city did a nice job repairing my sidewalk. Thank you! In the process, my landscaping next to the sidewalk was disturbed a bit. My gardener repositioned things including pushing the rocks next to my trees.

In the middle of this, a gentlemen from the city drove by, stopped, and criticized my gardener for pushing the stones too close to the trees. The gardener and I were happy to comply.

What the code enforcement official failed to notice was the large, mutli-year construction project going on across the street - without the benefit of permit (according to the city website)!

I guess we see where the priorities are!

Posted by Bill Ross
a resident of College Terrace
on May 20, 2017 at 4:20 pm

re YIMBY2 It would be beneficial to have a fact based discussion.I have lived and owned single famil properly here for over 28 years. I pay over 6k in property taxes. I pay for bonded indebtedness, special assessments and an annual tax increment so that "property taxes" are in excess of 12k per year. I also...for 28 years have purchased 90 percent of my gasoline in Palo Alto which is subject to both sales tax and state gasoline tax. I have had numerous friends and business associates stay here over the years contributing both transient occupancy and sales tax to the City. Since 1991 regardless of how much property tax any owner paid between 12 to 17 percent of it (depending on what tax rate area the property was in) was transferred to the State by way of the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund from which PAUSD did not receive any kind of a proportional distribution. I have not referenced any revenue generated locally from my employees or the proportionate part of my rent which goes for property taxes. Of course my cars have also been registered here with a portion of the license fee coming back to the City. I haven't mentioned the disproportionate amount of state income tax that I pay. So I like other residents who own residential property in Palo Alto pay our way. So your point is?


Posted by Republicans-lite
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2017 at 6:23 pm

Jim wrote: The City Council, in their annual retreat, took enforcement off of their priority list, claiming that Palo Alto now has a new enforcement officer. It was another Scharff/Wolbach/Keene love fest and last minute change that the new council is so well known for.

The behavior of the local development advocates is hard to distinguish from the behavior of the national right wing.
Add Fine and Kniss for the complete cast of the would-be Republicans-lite (regardless of their formal registration.)

Posted by Republicans-lite
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2017 at 7:20 pm

City Auditor Richardson:
"We don't really know what it is that residents think is not good about code enforcement," Richardson said.

Wow. just wow.
Spoken like a Public Relations professional which seems to be a major part of that job.

Posted by Castilleja and Palantir rules don't apply
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2017 at 1:12 am

We have a city manager who bows to big businesses, maybe in hopes of future job opportunity after leaving "public service". Code enforcement does not seem to apply to Palantir, Castilleja, or any other Arrillaga project.

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on May 22, 2017 at 9:21 am

May be we can ask the City Council to do something about the large number of crows that seem to have daily noisy trade shows in the tall oak trees of our neighborhood...... :)

Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2017 at 10:37 am

leaf blowers....if the client is a home, talk to the homeowners and let them
know your concern so the gardner will only arrive during legal operating hours. If its a business/complex talk to bus/complex mgr/owner of same

trying to play devils advocate...the more clients they can do on a day, the more they make to survive on.

don't blame the labor, blame the person who hired them...they are the ones who need to talk to them about when the use their gas powered leaf blowers

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 23, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Note on street lights - I called the city and it turns out there are some problems in my general area being reported. Numerous reasons cited.

On my street they opened up a fuse box that is ground level and it had water in it - the fuses were below the water level. So that is being fixed. - Replace the fuses.

Other items noted are that people let their dogs pee on the bottoms on the street lights which causes rust damage. My street lights need to be repainted as the grey paint is coming off and the orange paint underneath is like a quilt. Disfigurement of public property.

People posting items on the street light cause the paint come off - eventually. Disfiguring public property.

Interesting fact - there are three levels of light - low, medium, and high. We are going to test the low level to see the affect.

Posted by Midtown man
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2017 at 3:21 pm

My beef about code enforcement concerns signage.

Aren't the size and number of signs supposed to be limited?

At the CVS driveway in Midtown, there are so many signs for jujitsu and hairdressers and cleaners and coffee shops and whatnot that it is almost impossible to see the traffic because of the forest of signs. It is problematic from a safety as well as aesthetic point of view. The clutter is obnoxious. Been that way for a decade at least.

The JCC on San Antonio Rd. has huge signage, advertisements for its fitness programs, that are the size of gigantic billboards covering up the huge facade. Surely too large to be legal.

On my street, cars park almost at the intersection (within 5 feet) obscuring the stop sign and hiding the fire hydrant.
One car was parked there for over two weeks. I finally called the tip line. Good thing there was no fire!

Downtown, you never see a cop on foot, though there are constant violations.

You would think the presumption is that we live in Palo Alto, a refined city where people are so law-abiding (or tolerant, or indifferent) that we don't need any enforcement. I WISH we were all grown-ups but good luck with that!

Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2017 at 6:38 pm

I'm all for city audits and citizen research, but really? Ms. Richardson wants to spend $20K to study "what it is that residents think is not good about code enforcement"?

What it is, that residents don't like, is that the city doesn't actually do any meaningful code enforcement.

The city doesn't even *pretend* to take code enforcement seriously.

A few months back, when the city council voted to ban smoking in multi-unit dwellings, City Manager Jim Keene made clear that the city would not enforce the ban but leave it up to county officials.

A few years back, when the city council discussed using cameras to catch red light runners, Pat Burt (whom I certainly miss these days) said he wouldn't support such a program if it generated revenue.

What is the point of the city passing ordinances they have no intention to enforce?

From my perspective, this is a no-brainer. Contract out code enforcement, so the violation fees pay for the labor and the city is not saddled with excessive salary, benefit, and pension costs.

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