Feeling Sacramento pressure, Palo Alto eases rules for new 'granny units' | Town Square | Palo Alto Online |

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Feeling Sacramento pressure, Palo Alto eases rules for new 'granny units'

Original post made on Jan 14, 2020

Prodded by new state laws, the Palo Alto City Council voted Monday to further relax local rules pertaining to accessory dwelling units, which are starting to proliferate around the city.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 14, 2020, 2:09 PM

Comments (33)

34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2020 at 3:29 pm

<<Councilwoman Liz Kniss, also a housing advocate, wondered why the city isn't seeing more applications. >> Perhaps the answer is that plenty of us do not want to build a granny flat in our backyard!

I can't believe the arrogance of this statement. Apart from all the obvious secondary problems of becoming landlords, having reduced recreational back yard space, possible light plane problems, parking problems, upsetting neighbors, potential noise problems, uncertainty about what to do with tenants when selling a problem, etc. etc. etc. The real problem of the statement is just because the Council suggests it as a solution to the supposed housing problem, residents will act like sheep and do it just because they say so.

A granny flat is most likely going to be used by a granny who is living elsewhere and is unable to live on her own and wants to be near family. Her moving into her children's backyard for her final years, is unlikely to help any shortfall in homes for low income families.


16 people like this
Posted by Crime & Punishment
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2020 at 3:36 pm

>> A granny flat is most likely going to be used by a granny who is living elsewhere and is unable to live on her own and wants to be near family. Her moving into her children's backyard for her final years, is unlikely to help any shortfall in homes for low income families.

^^^The harsh reality is that the 'granny unit' is actually rental property.

More than likely, 'granny' has been tossed into an RCFE (retirement Community for the Elderly) aka rest/old people's home by her children who are now controlling her trust assets or may even have sought a conservatorship of person & estate to really 'seal the deal'.


32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 14, 2020 at 4:02 pm

"In adopting the new rules, council members recognized that their recent efforts to encourage the small dwellings are lagging behind those of the state. Mayor Adrian Fine, who has championed relaxing zoning rules to encourage more housing, said the new state mandates offer the council a lesson about keeping local regulations simple."

Maybe because Palo Alto's already much more dense than the rest of the state where they have bigger lots and more space?

"Councilwoman Liz Kniss, also a housing advocate, wondered why the city isn't seeing more applications. Even with the uptick in requests, Kniss said the city is "not steaming ahead with our ADUs" and suggested that the city's complex permitting process may be to blame.

"Is the issue that the people are thinking about it and deciding not to do it? Are they coming to us and deciding it's such a complicated process and they're not going to do it?" Kniss asked. "It seems as though this is really few for something that we really did a big, concerted effort to present to the public."

Maybe because existing homeowners don't want to see their tax bills skyrocket when they're reassessed, maybe because they don't like the way the city assumes the sane rental income for poor granny as from a high-paying tenant and maybe because the ADU rents would have to be absurdly high to ever break even on the increased taxes and PA's record-breaking per sq ft construction costs?

And maybe because residents are smart enough to follow the real estate market and see 2 years worth of price declines due to various factors including the $10,000 cap of SALT, foreign currency controls and falling resident satisfaction due to over-crowding, gridlock etc. that have made Palo Alto LESS desirable.


13 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2020 at 4:18 pm

@Online Name

> Maybe because Palo Alto's already much more dense than the rest of the state where they have bigger lots and more space?

This is a weird interpretation of population density. Of course the central valley is less dense. No one wants to live there compared to the Bay Area.

For a better apples to apples comparison:

- Mountain View has 2.5x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto.
- Sunnyvale has 2.5x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto.
- San Jose has 2x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto.
- Cupertino has 1.9x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto.
- Menlo Park has 1.25x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto.
- Atherton has 0.5x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto.

Palo Alto is lagging behind other Bay Area cities. We shouldn't be trending towards Atherton. We should be heading towards Mountain View.


23 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 14, 2020 at 4:38 pm

@George: "Mountain View has 2.5x as many people per square mile as Palo Alto."

When you computed this, did you remember to eliminate Foothills Park and the Baylands from the inhabitable area of Palo Alto?


24 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 14, 2020 at 4:50 pm

George, do those numbers also account for Foothill Park and Stanford?

"Of course the central valley is less dense. No one wants to live there compared to the Bay Area."

There's no shortage of great places outside the Bay Area that are less dense, more affordable, more pleasant areas and that are now housing FORMER Palo Alto residents -- Carmel Highlands, San Luis Obispo, Felton, Aptos, Healdsburg, Sea Ranch, Grass Valley, Mendocino -- to name just a few of the places where personal friends have recently moved.

As per ABAG and state mandates, the Bay Area is due to absorb another 3,000,000 more people in the next few years, I doubt this will make Pslo Alto more attractive.


6 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2020 at 5:53 pm

@Allen Akin: I did not explicitly exclude them, but I did use water-free land area figures. (Palo Alto = 23.86 sq mi land, 1.91 sq mi of water excluded, 25.77 sq mi total). I also did not exclude any other parks or areas from other towns. If you'd like to go through each of those towns and list land areas to exclude, I'd happily re-calculate to provide another reference.

@George: Stanford is not part of Palo Alto, so of course it's not included. See above for Foothills Park. Using the same source for Stanford numbers, Stanford has about 1.8x density as Palo Alto (but unfortunately, the latest population number for Stanford is 2010, whereas all of the other towns I used above were 2018 estimates).

I'm also glad to hear that there are a number of attractive areas outside of Palo Alto to consider living. Unfortunately, I prefer to stay in Palo Alto, and I'd also prefer affordable housing, so I will continue to lobby the city council for more density to help bring down market prices. The city can certainly afford to have a few more duplexes in most neighborhoods, and some higher buildings in the downtown Cal Ave areas.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 14, 2020 at 6:15 pm

George, hearing about attractive areas outside of Palo Alto is one of the common topics of discussion as people become less satisfied. Of course affordable housing would be special; I hate seeing friends being priced out or forced out due to unemployment and other factors,

Much has been written about how increased density increases prices. NYC, Vancouver and Shanghai cost more than Widespot, Arkansas and most of the US where the national average is $250,000.

SB50 won't bring down price; only 20% of the units have to be "affordable" and we're seeing new ways developers are getting around that. Throw in the 3,000,000 new people competing for those units and you've got a real estate bonanza.


29 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 14, 2020 at 7:09 pm

I consistently oppose local, regional, and state measures that eliminate parking requirements. It is clever to degrade neighborhoods by placing the burden of one property’s vehicles upon the neighbors. If you’re going to build an ADU - for whatever usage - it needs to come with a parking slot.
Already some rentals cause us homeowners great difficulty as, typically, tenants without investment here or any care flagrantly overpark multiple vehicles on the street. They take advantage of our goodwill and neighborliness. Our patience has run thin, based on past experiences. Without expanding taxpayer paid bureaucracy, IF it can be confirmed ADUs are for elderly non driving family members, then I’m ok with it! IF these are AirBNBs or high cost rentals, why should the nearby neighborhood be turned into a stressful parking lot.


4 people like this
Posted by Meh
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 14, 2020 at 7:24 pm

> As per ABAG and state mandates, the Bay Area is due to absorb another 3,000,000 more people in the next few years, I doubt this will make Pslo Alto more attractive.

I don't know what you mean by "attractive", but if you mean price/house, then 3M more people will definitely make Palo Alto houses worth more.


12 people like this
Posted by Stormy
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 14, 2020 at 7:29 pm

Having recently been through the process of getting building permits, it's a nightmare and there's simply no feedback mechanism to add balance to the time and hassle -- we talked with city council members who wouldn't touch this. I don't even want to get into what crazy things they did/got wrong because it would identify me and they can so easily get revenge.

Can we at least switch our pension system to 401Ks? So, at least we'll know what we are really paying for this mess.


24 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 14, 2020 at 8:04 pm

@George: From measuring a map, the portion of Palo Alto where development of any kind is permitted is about 8.6 sq mi. That's where all the residents are required to live, so it determines the relevant population density. The Census says the 2018 population is 66666 (!), so the density is roughly 7800 residents/sq mi.

In Mountain View, the corresponding area is about 9.3 sq mi and the 2018 population is 83377, so the density is roughly 9000 residents/sq mi.

So, Mountain View is about 15% more dense than Palo Alto. Neither of the density measures take commercial space or parks into account, so this is a very rough estimate, but I think it's sufficient to show that the difference between the two cities is already small.

If you'd like to do the other cities, feel free, but since the original Palo Alto density estimate was off by a factor of more than 2, I believe it's safe to predict that they'll all come down substantially. By intuition I would expect to learn that Palo Alto is more dense than Menlo Park or Cupertino, and maybe comparable to San José.


2 people like this
Posted by Link Please
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2020 at 8:11 pm

Is there a link in the article to what the City actually decided and what the new regulations are? Or does anyone have it, thank you!


12 people like this
Posted by Amy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2020 at 10:15 pm

Even if someone wants to build an ADU it is hard to find a good contractor who will take on a “small” job, and it is really expensive to build a nice quality ADU! It’s definitely an investment.


11 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 15, 2020 at 2:19 am

> Bay Area is due to absorb another 3,000,000 more people in the next few years

That scales to planet Earth absorbing another 3,000,000,000 people. Good luck.


20 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 15, 2020 at 8:46 am


I don’t see why Palo Alto has to increase its density to what Mountain View or any other city’s density.

Palo Alto is Palo Alto, one day the other cities will envy that Palo Alto has fought to keep its density lower and embrace ground level open spaces for kids and pets to play at their homes.

It’s so stupid to say everything should be alike or even stupider to say Palo Alto should do its share when State and MTC/ABAG is pushing Plan Bay Area 2050 based on an aggressive growth projection using “national” data. That’s wrong baseline and the plan is flawed from the start.






14 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2020 at 9:15 am

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

>> As per ABAG and state mandates, the Bay Area is due to absorb another 3,000,000 more people in the next few years, I doubt this will make Pslo Alto more attractive.

There is plenty of room for 3M more people. There isn't room for another car, let alone the 2.2M cars that 3M people will bring with them. That is, at California car ownership rates. If they move here from Montana, then, make that 4.7M cars. We don't have room for the cars we have now, let alone another 2.2M. So, the question is, how to get these 3M people to not drive. The SB50 sponsors think that if we just put them in apartments along ECR, they will just ride the 22 bus everywhere.


20 people like this
Posted by Tired of the absurdity
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 15, 2020 at 12:00 pm

"We shouldn't be trending towards Atherton. We should be heading towards Mountain View."

No George ... We should be trending towards Atherton, Portola Valley, and Los Altos Hills. There.


31 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 15, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Had we known several years ago that one of our neighbors, a developer, who requested our signatures for two large garages in the back of his property, planned to use them as rentals, we would not have approved.

The home has become extremely large (15+ years of development, divided apparently over three approval processes in order to make it easier to get the City Planning approval), and, yes, the garages are rented, plus there are three more rentals on the property.

Since the family has three cars of their own, and the five renters have five, we are talking about eight cars designated to one house in an R1 district and on a small block.

They make a tremendous amount of money from these rentals at the disadvantage of homeowners on this block who do not have renters. For me, it does not pass the smell test.


6 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 15, 2020 at 2:07 pm

@ Online Name and Musical

"> Bay Area is due to absorb another 3,000,000 more people in the next few years

That scales to planet Earth absorbing another 3,000,000,000 people. Good luck."


Does anyone reasonably expect the Bay Area population to add 3 million people, and grow over 40% in the next few years?

For perspective, the Bay area has added about 1 million people (a growth rate of 14%) in the last 2 *decades*

(As for the world going from 7 billion to 10 billion, demographers expect that to happen by about 2050 (plus or minus a decade) -- reaching peak population, and then dropping.)


4 people like this
Posted by Link
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 15, 2020 at 2:08 pm

@Link Please: Web Link


21 people like this
Posted by No more growth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 15, 2020 at 11:24 pm

Elections for city council seats are coming up this November. Remember who the "growthers" are: Fine, Tanaka, Cormack and Kniss (who will thankfully be termed out). Try to vote in people who understand that this ridiculously unbalance growth spree is destroying the environment and ruining any quality of life in this area. We need to fight the growth on all fronts by electing representatives who will carry this message and implement it and take the state and growthers to court.


14 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2020 at 10:41 am

Thank you, No More Growth.
In addition, please discuss with a busy neighbor the illogical, unfair, damaging proposals at the state level. Voters should contact their state level representatives to state they see through pretend “pro-housing” proposals, like SB50, which are giveaways to powerful interests and unfairly damaging to local municipalities like Palo Alto. Tell our state representatives NO on Senate Bill 50. Understand the state level power grab takes away local zoning controls - this is a very big deal.


18 people like this
Posted by Confusing permit process
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 16, 2020 at 11:33 am

ADUs are expensive to build. The city permit process is a nightmare. The city is unreasonable in their building requirements which makes building an ADU not worth the money and hassle. I was quoted $200,000 to convert my existing 2 car detached garage into an ADU. If I charged a renter $2500 per month, it would take about 7 years to recoup my investment. That doesn’t factor in increased taxes, either. The city only caters to commercial developers.


13 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2020 at 3:29 pm

I am currently building a modest ADU (2 BR/1B, less than 900 sf). Current costs: Construction is $400/sf, architect is $15,000, City costs are $15-40k, depending on water, electrical, environmental issues. Bottom line is at least $400k for a less than 900 sf unit...then increased taxes. I will need to charge at least $3,000/month to make it pencil. There is no such thing as low cost housing in PA.


8 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2020 at 9:56 pm

Jane, you are 100% right.

My husband and I just finished a 775 sq ft ADU and it cost almost $500,000.00.
We built it for my husband and me. Our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren live in the main house.

So, yes, building an ADU is an investment and very expensive!


5 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 17, 2020 at 12:10 pm

There is no escaping the high cost of housing on the peninsula. Demand is too high. Price controlling is so easy for some (most) politicians in California with universal rent (price) controls. Price control and first you bankrupt your suppliers: on and on in basic economics. College prep econ in high school and 101 in college. Economics 101: government is stupid. Lenders won't lend, investors won't invest: the California state march. Here comes rent control in Mountain View, the Super Tuesday election. Palo Alto has a ring side seat.

George Drysdale social studies teacher


5 people like this
Posted by Voices heard!
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 17, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Make your voices heard. If you don’t take action then you are to blame for the over-development. GET INVOLVED. Get your neighbors involved!

Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Voices heard!
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 17, 2020 at 1:13 pm

If you’re not comfortable clicking on a web link then just search up Livable California, they are an organization that is doing a great job pushing back on SB50 (and other housing bills)


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 17, 2020 at 3:09 pm

^ Off-topic, my browser shows me where a link points before I click on it. But realize it might be a good idea to explicitly add this info in your text if you post a link. I also warn of big files like (65MB) as when I link to any big report on the City of Palo Alto website.


1 person likes this
Posted by NatureLover
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 20, 2020 at 8:31 pm

The congestion is becoming unbearable. City must require minimum two car garage plus 2 parking spaces (i.e. double driveway) like all neighboring cities instead of taking away the garge in lieu of yet another two-3 cars the tenants are going to through up on the already narrow streets. This is so supid! They want our cities to look like third world country slums AND they want us to pay higher taxes for that? Really?. Thinking to moving where lots are bigger and people don't live 5-6 cars to a house.
And by the way, if you are not a citizen you should not be able to own property here and putting both the main house and the adu on airb&b.
Next time you go to vote, vote for quality of life not greed!


Like this comment
Posted by NatureLover
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 20, 2020 at 8:33 pm

The congestion is becoming unbearable. City must require minimum two car garage plus 2 parking spaces (i.e. double driveway) like all neighboring cities instead of taking away the garge in lieu of yet another two-3 cars the tenants are going to through up on the already narrow streets. This is so supid! They want our cities to look like third world country slums AND they want us to pay higher taxes for that? Really?. Thinking to moving where lots are bigger and people don't live 5-6 cars to a house.
And by the way, if you are not a citizen you should not be able to own property here and putting both the main house and the adu on airb&b.


Like this comment
Posted by NatureLover
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 20, 2020 at 8:35 pm

The congestion on the already narrow streets is becoming unbearable. These streets are not designed for every lot having 5-6 drivers. City must require minimum two car garage plus 2 parking spaces (i.e. double driveway) like all neighboring cities instead of taking away the garge in lieu of yet another 2 cars the tenants are going to through up on the already narrow streets. They want our cities to look like third world country slums AND they want us to pay higher taxes for that? Really?.
Thinking to moving where lots are bigger and people don't live 5-6 cars to a house.


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