Palo Alto to consider encouraging more granny units | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto to consider encouraging more granny units

Small structures seen as partial solution for city's gaping housing problem

They are small, relatively affordable and can be built without zone changes or public hearings.

Now, Palo Alto officials are preparing to take a closer look at in-law apartments -- often known as "granny units," "secondary units" or "accessory-dwelling units" -- as a partial solution for the city's colossal housing shortage.

In a new memo, Vice Mayor Greg Schmid and City Councilmen Greg Scharff and Cory Wolbach are recommending that the city's planning staff and Planning and Transportation Commission launch a revision of the city's laws on granny units. The goal is to both encourage the addition of these units and ensure that these structures are sensitive to a neighborhood's character.

The idea of encouraging more granny units has become increasingly urgent as local rents have soared to new heights and the prospect of building large-scale affordable-housing developments looks shaky at best. In November 2013, voters overturned a council-approved housing development on Maybell Avenue that would have included 60 apartments for low-income seniors. And a tool that many affordable-housing developers have relied on in the past -- "planned community" zoning -- has been suspended by the council.

Earlier this month, the council heard testimony from nearly two dozen residents, most of whom lamented the sky-high cost of living in Palo Alto. The speakers included seniors, housing advocates, professionals and members of the millennial generation, many of whom grew up in Palo Alto and can no longer afford to live here despite college degrees and stable jobs.

Former councilwoman Gail Price, who was one of the speakers, said she was concerned that "construction costs and zoning constraints will continue to limit our ability to create more and greater housing options." Jeralyn Moran, a Gunn High School graduate who left Palo Alto and recently returned to take care of her 90-year-old mother, said the city is facing a "housing crisis."

"My mom is not in a position to find housing that's smaller from her original home here in Palo Alto," Moran said. "My children are millennials and they can't even consider living here now because of the expense."

In lieu of big affordable-housing projects, some residents urged the council to consider nimble, smaller-scale solutions like granny units. In the new memo, which the council is set to consider on Oct. 19, the three council members concur.

"We have high demand for housing at a variety of income-levels, with limited supply," the memo states. Accessory-dwelling units, the council members argue, would provide homeowners with supplemental income while also offering Stanford University students or Palo Alto employees with a local place to live.

The discussion about granny units comes exactly a decade after the city rejected a prior proposal to make these apartments easier to develop. In 2005, the council considered allowing single-family home owners with lots 7,000 square feet or larger to build 450-square-foot granny units on their properties, with a cap on 15 such units per year. That proposal fizzled on a 5-4 vote after council members bowed down to concerns from residents about the new units adding noise and traffic to their neighborhoods.

Under existing zoning rules, a property in a standard R-1 zoning district (single-family homes) has to have an area of at least 8,100 square feet for a secondary unit to be permitted (it's a 9,720 square feet requirement for properties that are flag lots). Local law also caps the floor area of a secondary unit at 450 feet, sets a 17-foot height limit for these structures and requires them to be "architecturally compatible with the main residence, with respect to style, roof pitch, color and materials."

As part of the new look at granny units, city staff would be directed to evaluate existing granny units and consider ways to bring non-compliant ones into compliance. Staff and planning commissioners would also offer recommendations to limit "impacts on community character and design standards."

The request is consistent with the city's recently adopted Housing Element, which plans out how the city can add housing between 2014 and 2023. The document states that the city approves an average of four such units per year. It therefore anticipates 32 such units to be created during the eight-year planning period. The document also includes as one of its programs a modification of the city's standards for secondary units, with particular focus on encouraging production of second units for very low-, low- or moderate-income individuals. It commits to the city studying the issue within three years of the document's November 2014 adoption to "assess the potential for additional secondary units with modifications to the development standards."

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26 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 9:15 am

When we looked into building a granny unit on our property, we were told it was allowed, but we needed to pay a project fee of thousands of dollars to just get the permit. On top of that, we would be required to add two new off street parking spaces! Given the trees we have, and how our house is situated, that would be a difficult requirement for us to meet. We gave up.

BUT there is a double standard. A neighbor on our block rents out to multiple tenants, sometimes as many as twenty. His tenants park in front of our house, often taking both spaces in front of our house. And there are no fees required by the city to turn your house into a big boarding house business. His boarding house does impact our neighborhood negatively. But what we would like to do, i.e., rent a granny unit in our backyard to one or two people, would hardly be noticed.

It is good to hear that the "Staff and planning commissioners would also offer recommendations to limit "impacts on community character and design standards."

There should be a capacity limit for safety/health reasons in homes that were never intended to house a large number of people, particularly as a business.

And allowing low impact granny units makes sense.

8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:25 am

So these units can be built and rented out to whoever? Or is this supposed to be a method of allowing grown children or imported inlaws have homes of their own. Will they have separate utility bills, or will they still be classed as a single family home in this assessment.

I am concerned that these could be built in residential areas without any consideration to the amount of people who will now be living on "a single family home" sized plot.

As the above poster mentioned, some homes already have large numbers of adults and large numbers of cars. Will that increase this phenomenon?

8 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:33 am

How are those who want to build granny units any better than those awful developers, bent on destroying Palo Alto's quality of life in order to make a dollar?

12 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 8:14 am

We are just under the cap, and having a granny unit would allow us to have our parents live here when they need medical care. I would definitely be interested in renting to Standord students, it's an easy bike ride - kids from Stanford bike to school here in the opposite direction.

That said, Maybell was about the City shoehorning in a large development where it presented especially negative impacts, and they ignored how that violated all planning principles and even safety evaluations. The article ignores that no one protested the going up of an already planned major affordable housing development near college terrace, even though it's having a huge impact on school enrollment decisions. (Other development there is too, not singling them out, just pointing out that it's not necessarily true that you cant build large affordable housing projects. In fact, if those developing Maybell had been willing to pay the same cost per unit as at 801 Alma, they could have built something acceptable on Maybell that the community would have appreciated.) I suspect there are many locations, even for sale like at Compdres, where an application to exceed zoning would be acceptable to the community for affordable housing.

Another thing the City should start looking at is BMR stock, especially the less desirable units that have been hard to fill, and look at multigenerational housing. This has huge potential upsides for both the young and old, though needs to be undertaken carefully.

I would be interested in a granny unit if the lot size were lowered. What about even 7500 sq ft?? The first thing I would do is have family here for the holidays. We dont have space and in recent years the hotels have become outrageous, no one can afford to visit. (A cautionary tale about "new" trumping supply when it comes to market pricing In a very desirable place.) if I rented a place to students, I would look only for bikers.

17 people like this
Posted by A name
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 8:30 am

C'mon! Get real. These units aren't for granny, family members, or even students. They are for millenial tech workers.

6 people like this
Posted by diputs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2015 at 9:17 am

Please no. This is just going to be a way for non Palo Alto resident investors to increase the number of available rental rooms and thus increase profits. We just read a story about renters living 5 people to a property. This isn't going to alleviate that, it's just going to turn it into 6, 7, or 8 renters to a property. Increasing rental housing availability is a good thing, but this is not the place to do it. Multiple parties living in multiple structures on one piece of land doesn't fit the nature of R-1 single-family home neighborhoods.

I'm sure there will be some innocent cases where people will really have family using it, but with the way the market is, and the actions some landlords have already taken (renting out sheds in their backyards), innocent uses will likely not be the norm.

22 people like this
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2015 at 10:20 am

Palo Alto does have a housing shortage but this should not be solved by allowing Granny Units.This would drastically negatively impact the quality of life in Palo Alto.

We live in a suburban/Urban environment with small backyards and a few trees to divide our houses from each other. Our peace and harmony is dependent on the kindness and respect of our neighbors and how many feet their home is from our little deck or patio. Granny units come with real live people living a full life in them, noise, social life, their friends visiting, air conditioning units and all. These units can be build abutting the next yard by just a few feet. When choosing to build the original home owner will place them as far away from their own home as possible to retain their remaining yard space (therefor closer to the neighbor). There goes the serenity found in these affected neighbors small yards. There goes the property value of that neighbors home.

Granny unit is a misnomer. Thank goodness even grannies are more active and more social then they used to be-bringing more noise to these housing units build just feet away from a neighbors home. Granny Units are now rental property, increased profit for home flipping realtors and contractors who have no regard for the impact on a neighbor, Vacation Rentals By Owner(VRBO), AirB&B--a DISASTER!

Allowing Granny Units can create a huge change in our residential community. Do not quickly respond to the loud complaints of a few. Please consider all the ramifications carefully and get input from all property owners who might be affected.

12 people like this
Posted by How about
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2015 at 10:55 am

How about we just be honest about it and stop calling them "granny units". They are proposing small rental units. Calling them Granny units is a marketing technique to make them more palatable to the neighbors. How could anyone say no to allowing someone house their grandmother in their backyard. I'm not necessarily against small rental units if the infrastructure can support them, but lets call them what they are and stop manipulating the conversation with this misleading terminology.

14 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2015 at 11:50 am

I can understand the above commenters who are against granny units, especially if they impacted the neighborhood. But did you know that your neighbor can rent out his/her house to as many tenants as they want to? You can rent out sofas, cots, bunk beds, the floor, for that matter. And if that generates 20 extra cars for that one house, that's allowed! Of course it impacts the neighborhood negatively.

We had to jump though hoops when we added on, with extra requirements to make sure we met fire and safety regulations.

You would think that turning a house into a big boarding house business would generate the same oversight and requirements. But it doesn't.

I agree that granny units should not impact the neighborhood. But if a neighbor determines it just is too expensive to add a unit or to make parking spaces, then that neighbor is able to just add tenants to the house.

There should be limits on neighbors running big boarding houses.

8 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2015 at 11:56 am


The city should have some kind of limit on the number of people living in a house, a lot of people are running boarding houses like you mentioned as well as people living with huge extended families.

29 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Oct 17, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Grumpy Old Guy is a registered user.

San Francisco had the same idea of allowing affordable rooms/housing for 'Granny' At the time, it was a good idea.

One need only look at their results to decide whether or not it would work here in Palo Alto. I observed the following circumstances in San Francisco:

1. Reduction of available street parking and increases in neighborhood disputes over parking;

2. Property owners and absentee investors saw the profit potential and rented out their homes AND the Granny Unit for profit regardless of the effect upon the neighborhood; Even with the additional housing, rents in SF are still sky high. And when more housing is built, rents will still remain high;

3. Destroyed neighborhood unity as tenants have different neighborhood values than live-in homeowners; Added burden onto schools with additional children - there are a lot of families who have no problem moving into a small Granny Unit;

4. Added voters to the pool of tenants versus property owners resulting in Rent Stabilation (otherwise known as Rent Control) now enshrined into the 'entitlement mentality' of tenants in San Francisco;

5. Reduction of 'green space' (paving over front lawns or back open space to create extra parking;

6. No continued regulation or inspection of the 'granny units' as to being built out minimally to code; Thus once approved, landlords would remodel the units or subdivide them further adding to parking congestion because the money is 'good';

7. Tenant complaints about substandard units resulted in the City pursuing homeowners to bring them up to code, but forbidding the homeowners to evict the tenant; or required landlords to pay re-location fees and other compensation for 'dislocating them during remodeling';

8. Homeowners are also required to register and pay business license taxes for renting out Granny Units and pay an annual rent control board fee for their units.
City also mandates periodic inspections of rental properties and identifies rental properties as sources of extra revenue (in addition to property taxes) for fire, police and public safety fees.

8. Granny units also triggered rent control protection for Granny Units resulting in hundreds of stories of 'horror' tenants harassing the homeowners; The city provides grants to non-profits organizations so they can provide free tenant legal services against evictions and rent increases. A tenant lawyer once bragged that given the legal protections for tenants, they can get several months of free rent out of the landlord before a tenant is evicted (and raise the legal costs for the landlord). There is no equivalent public funding for landlords to protect them against tenants who abuse their units or refuse to pay rent.

9. As mentioned before, Grannies are entitled to all eviction rights and re-location fees of (FMV rent less base rent for several years as condition of eviction; this was struck down by the court twice. The SF Board of Supervisors are seeking a third law which increases relocation costs to stem evictions).

10. There can be an argument that the property be subject to reassessment for property taxes advanced by government that the property is more valuable. Polls show that the public supports a 'split-roll' (FMV for commercial properties versus Prop 13 values for homes). So how would a home that is part commercial (granny unit) and part residential be taxed under the split roll? They won't answer or clearly define this type of 'hybrid' building. (If you were the government official wanting funds for another program, how would you decide?)

I would conclude that authorizing Granny units would speed the decline of public services and the character of Palo Alto. As for the families who wish to provide a place for their loved ones to live, what's wrong with sharing your home, kitchen and bathroom with them as it is now?

18 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Oct 17, 2015 at 1:05 pm

These alleged rental units were mandated on the old clinic site in my neighborhood under the SOFA Coordinated Plan. Their owners tell me they love them. They are a wonderful option for a workshop, studio, guesthouse, a place to exile the kids, etc.

4 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Please read @No Granny Units' post above - This poster knows what's happening and describes the problems/issues involved.
This idea needs really serious vetting before city officials "encourage" so called granny units.

On a related note, I am struck by the level of bureaucracy indicated in the article - very involved for the small city of Palo Alto to take this step: regulating, collecting fees, etc. of such units - sounds like a headache and costly.
Keep looking for ideas and solutions to the housing shortage, fine, but it isn't all on the necks of Palo Alto residents (or shouldn't be). This seems to be the case with many things that are implemented - look how complicated our garbage and recycling are now - difficult to explain to visitors, for example....

3 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2015 at 2:58 pm

It's an interesting idea, but of course, the devil is in the details. The success would depend on how the ordinance is crafted.

The article suggests the city would allow four such secondary units per year, so no particular neighborhood would have a sudden influx of new residents.

The idea that these secondary units would go to people with lower incomes does not seem realistic.

If city leaders are determined to increase housing stock, the neighborhoods should expect to share the burden.

5 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Article: "In November 2013, voters overturned a council-approved housing development on Maybell Avenue that would have included 60 apartments for low-income seniors."

This "misrepresentation" of the Maybell issue is a prime example of why the housing issue is so contentious. One side is persistently and vocally contemptuous of the perspective and position of others. If they are so unwilling to be honest about the positions of others, why should anyone expect that they are being honest about their own claims?

10 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 5:53 pm

"One side is persistently and vocally contemptuous of the perspective and position of others."

We may be in agreement here, maybe not. Which side did you have in mind?

25 people like this
Posted by abag
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2015 at 6:43 pm

We need to build ~2000 new units of housing to satisfy ABAG. Adding "in law" units to existing homes is a comparatively painless way to add 100s of new "units" to our total.

13 people like this
Posted by Opted for 2nd Story
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2015 at 6:54 pm

We added a second story designed to be an independent unit accessed from the outside and separated from the first story via a lock on the stairs. We did this for the future of our family, Granny, Grandpa, and kids included. Why not also encourage second stories with similar designs?

8 people like this
Posted by Basements?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 6:56 pm

How about many houses out of flood zone by fixing the creek flooding, and encourage basements that can also be used as secondary units?

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Just look at it this way. A happy family decides the build a granny unit for granny who is getting old and wants to be near grandchildren. Granny sells her place and puts the money into helping to pay for the new add on. Five years later, Granny is unable to look after herself for health reasons, needs to be placed in a home as she needs more care than the family can provide. This home is expensive but no worry, her new unit can be rented out to a nice young couple to pay for the expenses. A few years later, Granny dies.

A What happens to the Granny Unit?

B What happens when the happy family turns into a couple of empty nesters who decide to move somewhere cheaper?

C What happens when that home with a Granny unit is subsequently sold?

10 people like this
Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 17, 2015 at 11:11 pm

We have a duplex, which was legal and conforming when built.
It is now considered nonconforming because the lot isn't 10,000 ft^2.
We are disallowed to put a basement in because of the granny unit rules, even though we were planning on leaving everything above-ground (which is a single structure which often gets compliments) exactly as it is.

... but, we could tear out the other kitchen and increase the number of bedrooms and and then put in the basement.

The existing 'granny unit' rules do little do change the number or amount of rentals, and can in fact increase the amount. They increase the chance that we will move out and rent out everything instead of living here, since we're disallowed to put a basement in under current rules. If we did convert to a single unit, much of the property value would be re-appraised, and we'd end up paying much more in property tax, making the house much less affordable.

17 people like this
Posted by Rules follower
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 17, 2015 at 11:19 pm

I think that, so long as the house isn't too big, people should be able to have a couple of units.

14 people like this
Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 17, 2015 at 11:24 pm


Our "granny" unit is built into our house, which conforms in basically every way with any of the other single-family houses. It isn't nearer than any other house, there isn't any more A/C noise, has parking and garages for everyone, the same green space as other houses, and receives compliments about curb appeal.

And yet, we're punished for having the second unit (basically just a kitchen) since we're disallowed to put in a basement. If we convert the kitchen to a bedroom, then we can put the basement in.

How would this be better?

10 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2015 at 10:26 am

@Grumpy Old Guy, great write-up. Massive number of granny units rented out to transient residents will fundamentally change the character of Palo Alto, for worse.

@abag, I don't understand this. What is this requirement? Why it does not apply to Atherton, Los Altos Hills or Woodside? Did Palo Alto signed up for it, because our city government is so far left of the spectrum?

45 people like this
Posted by housing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 18, 2015 at 11:51 am

Palo Alto desperately needs more housing. Seriously guys, median house here costs $2 million dollars, that puts it out of reach of even very well educated couples who have masters degrees and PhDs or are doctors or lawyers. Rent for a 2 bedroom for a family is close to $4k a month. If we want this city to be anything other than a de facto retirement community for long time residents and wealthy older executives then we need a change.

My husband and I spent time in both Sunnyvale and Redwood City this weekend and we were struck by how many awesome things these cities have added within the last 5 years. Both have reawakened their downtowns. For the first time we're actually seeing people walking around at 11pm and things are still open. And of course, they've both added housing to make that happen. Palo Alto on the other hand has remained almost exactly the same. Yeah, we added a building here or there, but the experience of Palo Alto itself hasn't changed and to the extent it has, it's changed for the worse. Everything is so expensive that we lost the cool things we once had here. No more places to dances, no art sotre. It's all just the sort of thing that brings in high margins and can support our rents. But we haven't expanded our downtown cores and Cal Ave is still pretty much as depressing as ever, with the exception of one new wine bar.

Palo Alto isn't an exciting place to be anymore. Given how quickly everyone says no to everything, I can't imagine us ever doing anything interesting here in the near future. Rooftop bar? I'm sure neighbors will kill that right quick. Late night lounge? Nothing after 11! Music venue? Hah- they couldn't afford to be here.

So that's what we're left with, a community that's becoming more boring and more homogenous and more expensive by the day. It will truly be a husk of its former self when finally all the young people leave and you're left with just a big dead retirement village.

31 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2015 at 12:28 pm

[Portion removed.]

Most people didn't work their way up to move to Palo Alto after decades for rooftop dancing. They can go to SF for that. Palo Alto has changed a lot in recent years, mostly to add high density housing for people then clamoring for us to add more of it at the expense of everyone else's quality of life. At the expense of the quality of life others sacrificed a long time for. We, for one, did not find being able to take the family to the bowling alley (now gone), or to see the hills and sunsets (now obscured), or to make our way around town easily (now congested and noisy) boring. Palo Alto should stop building more office space. There is no need for more housing. Because if Prop 13, building new stock only drives up the average price. In a global marketplace, in a desirable area, you cannot build your way to affordability. In fact, favoring such development only accelerates the negative impacts on existing residents like the residents of Buena Vista mobile home park.

We went through this same thing in the '80s with the yuppy movement. Yours is the battle cry of the NeoYuppies. The yuppies back then grew up and moved to Los Altos, where they could get boring (i.e., family-oriented) places to live. The secret is that you [portion removed] just get into the housing market where you can - East Palo Alto is still a relative bargain and almost as safe as Mountain View these days - then you can move up the next time there is a boom. There are also busts, and the extra capacity will mean housing will be a relative bargain. Even now there have been older apartments for lease near us this whole time, at a relatively reasonable price. Just not the lifestyle you'd like, I guess.

27 people like this
Posted by choices
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2015 at 1:12 pm


Different people want different things and there is no perfect city that can please everyone, so we're lucky we have the freedom to choose the environment in which we live. When you buy a house, you should look at the culture of the neighborhood and the atmosphere of the community you are moving into. Just like if you wanted Manhattan nightlife you wouldn’t buy a cattle ranch in Wyoming, if you want rooftop bars and night lounges I don't see why you would go house hunting in Palo Alto. Some people enjoy the late night scenes of Redwood City, some people like a quiet "boring" place like Palo Alto and don't want people walking up and down the street at 1am. Neither option is right or wrong, it's just different lifestyles for different types of people. You'll be much happier moving into a community that suits your lifestyle than moving into one that doesn't and expecting 60,000 people to change for you.

27 people like this
Posted by housing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 18, 2015 at 2:39 pm

I think there's something extremely troubling in assuming that people who are now half your age have the same needs, preferences and expectations that you did decades ago. I won't speak about you personally, but the 1980s and well before that were a time when suburbs were king. People associated cities with poor people and minorities and they viewed the suburbs as a symbol of success. They viewed public transportation as something for the poor and believed that they should be able to drive absolutely everywhere. The further one's house was from anything remotely useful, the more luxurious it was.

Now you've got a generation that's not getting married until their late 20s, not having kids until their early to mid thirties. A generation which pays a premium to live in bikable and walkable areas and that views luxury as being able to walk to dinner and the neighborhood pub. Fewer and fewer of us have drivers licenses and even when we have cars, we often prefer to take public transit and read a book instead. We also don't think that our lives are over after we have kids and that we have no business dancing anymore.

Your argument seems to be that just because you wanted and expected certain things decades ago, that that means that what people should want now and that's what this city should cater to - only people who wanted exactly what you wanted decades ago - with zero consideration for the actual real needs and preferences of those with young families TODAY.

You say this place is ok to be boring because it's family oriented but I think that's a complete lie. We've got not a single arcade, roller skating rink, put put golf, laser tag, bowling alley or anything else like that in the entire city. NOT ONE. What the hell are kids supposed to do around here? We've got some parks but I don't think that's unique to PA, every place up and down the Peninsula and including SF and SJ has parks - that alone doesn't make us family-oriented. We've got a school system that despite how expensive it is to live here, still relies on millions of dollars of private donations every year to keep chugging along. Our high schools are filled with Ritalin junkies and kids with anxiety disorders. We have an unheard of number of student suicides. And again, what young family moves in to a $2M house??? who?? Who are these people? No one, that's who. I'd wager to say that the majority of elementary school aged kids live in rentals because normal parents in their 30s cannot even remotely afford a home here.

You want this place to cater to people who don't exist anymore. So yeah, I stand by my argument that this place will and is becoming a retirement village. Go look at the demographics for yourself, the 18-44 crowd is an endangered species around here.

Lastly, your arguments about economics could not possibly be more wrong. Both DC and Austin have seen prices decline because they've built out plentiful housing. [Portion removed.] Even NYC is now cheaper than Palo Alto because their jobs-housing ratio isn't so far out of whack as ours. [Portion removed.] As for your argument that people should just move to East Palo Alto - it really undermines your other statement that development is bad for the existing residents. We can all most to East PaloAlto, but then we'll be displacing and pricing out people in East Palo Alto. You seem to care about the people in BV but you don't care about the people in EPA?? And in any case, EPA houses aren't cheap either - $600k now, again out of reach of many many people. This isn't just a Palo Alto issue, every city up and down the peninsula is becoming too expensive for middle class people to buy houses in them. Real estate agents will candidly tell you that there's no such thing as a "starter" house anymore - there are few houses that any middle class couple could afford - no matter how crappy.

It's so odd to see people so fervently attached to a world that doesn't exist anymore and who so very much want to put a blindfold on with respect to what's actually happening around them [portion removed.]

30 people like this
Posted by housing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 18, 2015 at 2:48 pm


[Portion removed.]

The vast majority of the people I know (who are in their 30s and 40s) moved to Palo Alto because 1) it was close to work and 2) it was the most urban place between SF and SJ.

Those are the factors that have been making this place more expensive than others. The people buying in today are paying a premium for the urban parts of PA, not the suburban since the suburbs in PA really ain't that different from the suburbs in the rest of the Peninsula.

We have a downtown now that's being strangled by how expensive it is here. We've got a downtown now that increasingly geared to people with lots of money. Very little of it is cheap or quirky or interesting or appealing to kids or teens anymore. That wasn't always the case. So I'm not sure why the people you claim to represent can keep strangling our downtown and telling everyone else to move, when those of us who moved here for the vibrancy of this community could instead tell you to move to Atherton or Woodside.

[Portion removed.]

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Posted by testing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2015 at 11:15 am

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2015 at 11:39 am

You mean Air BnB units?

15 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2015 at 11:59 am

I sent this message to the City Council regarding this issue.

1. To maintain the character of existing neighborhoods, any Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) should fit within the existing limits on Floor Area. Existing rules on setbacks, heights, etc., should also continue to be enforced.

2. Accessory Dwelling Units should not be allowed to exacerbate parking problems in neighborhoods with impacted parking conditions. Both day and night conditions need to be considered as to whether a neighborhood has a parking problem. Therefore, ADUs should not be allowed if there is an existing parking problem on that block (or perhaps adjacent blocks).

3. While some residents of an ADU might not have a car, an ADU may be added to a property that is sold. Also renters move out and are replaced by others.. A new resident may have a vehicle. Therefore, reductions in parking requirements for an ADU is likely to be problematic over time.

4. An ADU may be added as a separate structure. However, we should consider whether the existing house may be modified to create an ADU. In this latter case, the ADU should not be allowed in any basement.

5. An ADU should not be allowed in any substandard lot (e.g., a lot less than minimum width or minimum square footage required by zoning).

6. The ADU must remaining under the same ownership as the rest of the lot. Condominiums or tenants-in-common ownership are not allowed. Air rights may not be sold where there is an ADU.

7. An ADU may be added only to lots in R-1, RE, and OS zones, not in RMD or other multifamily zoning or mixed use or PCs. RMD or other multifamily zoning or mixed use or PCs should conform to their own respective rules. In particular, an existing condominium may not be subdivided to create an ADU.

8. ADUs should not be allowed in second story overlay restriction districts that are within special flood hazard zones (e.g., for creek or tidal flooding) if the finished floor needs to be more than three feet higher than existing grade to be above base flood elevation.

9. ADUs should be separately metered for utilities if they are separate structures or additions to existing structures.

33 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Telling people who have sacrificed to be here and worked many years for it that you deserve things your way/now/for nothing and then dismissing their input when they suggest how you could do the same without running roughshod over everyone else is unhelpful.

Your assessment of what Palo Alto used to be is also laughable -- just plain wrong. We ve heard all this before from the yuppies. Same exact whining. Really. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I agree with you that we need more family friendly activities like you mentioned. We lost a lot of the family friendliness, like the bowling alley, and the nearest putt putt golf, to development, mostly HIGH DENSITY HOUSING.

And yes, Prop 13 has everything to do with this because people who have owned for a long time, who rent out the older housing stock, can afford to rent out for less, and this often happens. New housing has to get top dollar, and often does, raising average prices. As I mentioned, there are older apartments near me that frequently have openings, currently have openings, and are relatively affordable. Guess they cramp someone s style because people seem to want to change Palo Alto instead of living in what s available.

Not that I would recommend renting forever if you want to put down roots here. If you want to live here a long time, you have to buy. Eventually you can move up. Friends I convinced of this long ago have significant equity and choices. They paid their dues, and eventually it gets easier. Friends who did not, are still up to their chins or long since moved away. The world is only getting more crowded and this place is desirable. Expect significant pushback by people who made the hard choices and sacrificed to be here.

That s quite a snobby cop out about East Palo Alto. I have friends who live there longterm and from recently, and friends who bought starter homes there many years ago when it wasn t considered safe. It didn t displace all the residents. You have complained about the shortage, and yet there is housing in EPA that is far more affordable than almost anywhere in the area, and it s near PA downtown. Have you tried to find housing there? I don t think so, or you would have found about as affordable as anywhere. If it s still unaffordable, get a roommate, that s what people usually do. We did, too, both to afford rentals here, then to get into a home. Problem solved.

The Neoyuppies, just like the yuppies, will eventually move on, leaving their selfish mess behind. Once the natural environment is paved over, it s permanent. We have a good train system and lots of affordable housing in places like Milpitas right on the rail line. You can take rail to work in Palo Alto and in the other direction for San Jose nightlife which gets better by the day. Problem solved again.

Your post only underscores why we should stop building office space here.

5 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2015 at 3:56 pm

A little explanation on my points above.

Regarding point 4, ADUs are touted as lower priced housing. We should not relegate lower income residents in Palo Alto to living in basements.

Regarding point 9, data show that receiving utility bills with usage rates lowers utility usage compared with flat rate bills (or inclusion in the rent payments).

2 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 19, 2015 at 9:55 pm

If Palo Alto allows these, will it police them to ensure they are actually rented out? Most likely not. As Michael points out, they are very likely to be wind up as extensions of the house.

On the other hand, if they hoodwink and satisfy ABAG, well ... .

6 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Palo Alto and other communities should agitate to count retention of existing low-income units/residents double for ABAG. Avoiding the displacement of existing low-income residents in the community and loss of low-income existing housing stock is far more important than compromising quality of life to get some disingenuous "affordable" below market rate housing that no one displaced could afford anyway, even if they were somehow able to stay. Units and people are not the same thing. Evicting low-income people because a high-density law provides financial incentives to raze the existing housing for short-term profit and a handful of BMR units is the height of hypocrisy. The human toll is incalculable.

While I d love to see the floor on granny units dropped a bit, they will in no way solve that problem.

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Posted by testing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Weekly - the problem of posts disappearing because of apostrophe s continues...

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2015 at 2:49 am

@Arthur - how do you feel about ADUs used for short term rentals like AirBnB?

6 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2015 at 8:46 am

"And of course, they ve both added housing to make that happen. "

That is the most wrongheaded contention of all. Redwood City and Sunnyvale have for decades been the bedroom communities for the young. Apartmentvilles. The majority of people I know who came to Silicon Valley and stayed, landed first in Sunnyvale apartments. Sunnyvale and Redwood City got renovated downtowns when they made a commitment to renovated downtowns. Sunnyvale in particular had lots of problems because of poor circulation. It took lots of planning for years and funding. For most of the last several decades, they were THE place young people went to get apartments. Redwood City in particular got a lot of families in their single family homes because they were relatively affordable, and this strengthened community, that drove lots of civic improvement. They more recently are getting high density development, probably because they got PA planning people.

4 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2015 at 9:28 am

@Anonymous - AirBnB is a larger issue than ADUs. One can rent rooms, apartments, entire houses. Other cities have adopted regulations for AirBnB, including levying the Transient Occupancy Tax that applies to all short term rentals including hotels.

There are also concerns with other commercial uses of residential property, including when a company occupies a house. Note that is distinct from a home office occupation (like a form of telecommuting) or when a virtual company has its headquarters at the house of one of the principals. The former impacts the neighbors, while the latter typically does not.

Also, I have not stated a position in favor of or opposed to additional ADUs. Rather, I stated regulations that I think should apply to ADUs if they apply to more properties than currently.

4 people like this
Posted by Hadleyburg
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2015 at 10:23 am

It would be foolish not to add granny units. I am sure I can rent them to at least 4 foreign students who want a place at Gunn. I should be able to get 5K per month per student if I am willing to cook. Given my 4K per year property tax, this is a sweet deal. Sign me up.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2015 at 2:09 pm

@Arthur - understand you're not taking a position on ADUs and agree AirBnB and commercial uses are bigger quality of life issues that need to be tackled.

ADUs as "granny units" are being pitched as a solution for affordable housing. That may be true. It may also be true that allowing more square feet on R1 parcels reduces affordability. It may be true that ADUs as short-term rentals have a different effect on a neighborhood than someone's mother-in-law riding the shuttle bus.

If the goal is stable, long-term affordable, low neighborhood impact housing: how can we ensure that's the result?

4 people like this
Posted by low-income grannys
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Sadly, $60k is low income here.

So who, exactly, will be living in these granny units? Surely not grannys...

These units will simply add to the problem as they will neither be affordable nor really help people in need.

14 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2015 at 11:44 pm

My husband and I rented a house in College Terrace for seven years before buying our first house in East Palo Alto in 1981. We live in that home for five years and finally bought a house back in College Terrace in 1987. We were in our late 30's by then with two children.

We had to worked our butts off with two jobs and all the demands of a busy life with high interest rates
and a huge mortgage. It was not easy back then in the 80's either. No going out to eat, fancy vacations, etc..Palo Alto has ALWAYS been a struggle to live in! Maybe buying in East Palo Alto first might be a way into this market? Just a suggestion.

I would love to be able to have my daughter take over our house and my husband and I live in a "Granny Unit" out back so we can take care of our grandchild. Lets make that happen so younger families like my daughter's can live in palo Alto!

21 people like this
Posted by Ditto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Our story is similar to Eileen's. Ideally, we would like to buy a large house elsewhere so my son and his family could live with us, but the capital gains and property tax situations have made that impossible. We would have a huge mortgage with huge payments due to a 30% loss of profit/down payment. At our age we would prefer a very small mortgage we could pay off quickly, < ten years.

We looked into building a granny unit, which we could move i to, but still share meals with the family in the big house, which our son's family would occupy.

BUT NOOOOOOO, the city refused us a permit, saying our lot is too small ( it is a small two-story house on 5,000 SF). Nor would they grant us a permit for an additional bedroom and bathroom on the second floor, even if we rebuild and reinforce the garage they would be built above. The lot is still to small for a house that size, the city says. Why???? The lower level would still take up the same square footage. Oh, but it's a substandard sized lot, they say.

I call BS!

Meanwhile, we are stuck in a city we no longer like, and our son and his wife, who work here, cannot afford to live in ( they are in their mid-thirties).

[Portion removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

@ditto -- The irony here is that the planning dept is too strict and the code enforcers too lax. We want to add a granny unit to rent out to one or two people and would allow one car to park in front of our house. BUT the permit requirements are too strict -- for one, it costs thousands to just get the permit started, and for two, we are required to add TWO off street parking spaces. Very difficult for us to do that!

BUT our neighbor can rent out to as many tenants as he can get in there, and their cars take up all the parking in front of our house and also other neighbors' houses. So much a big boarding house (that wasn't built for that) having to meet fire/safety/capacity regulations.

I think the city council needs to show some leadership on this. I am for granny units, but not if they are allowed to impact the neighbors with too many people/cars. Since motels/hotels/theaters/childcare, etc., are regulated, so should too the business of renting out to many tenants.

That would also address the concerns of those who don't want granny units to impact the neighborhood, which I agree with.

1 person likes this
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:37 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Any loosening of our current ordinances governing second dwelling units needs to cover rules for AirBNB and short term rentals FIRST. Otherwise, one can easily envision a startup providing turnkey pre-fab second units - drop it in your backyard and generate $200/night in hotel fees.

It will be interesting to see if our PTC picks up on this issue because it is critical to fully vetting the idea of additional housing in family neighborhoods

Airbnb and other short term rental platforms are removing affordable housing from the market in a big way.

Los Angeles - estimated to remove 11 units of housing a day!
Web Link

It's illuminating to see what other cities are doing to deal with Airbnb

SF - Prop F is on the ballot this fall would restrict all such private rentals to 75 nights per year and impose provisions designed to ensure such private rentals are paying hotel taxes and following city code. It would also require guest and revenue reports from rental hosts and "hosting platforms" every three months. Moreover, Proposition F was designed to prohibit the use of "in-law" units for short-term rentals and enact regulations concerning privacy, peace and quiet. Proposition F would allow enforcement of its provisions by the city, as well as authorizing private action lawsuits by "interested parties"—defined as anyone living within 100 feet—against those suspected of violating the law.[1]

LA - Must pay hotel tax, must have business license. Very broad definition of hotel. “Hotel” is defined to be any structure in the unincorporated area of the County which is occupied, or intended for occupancy by a transient guest. This includes hotel, inn, tourist home or house, motel, studio hotel, bachelor hotel, lodging house, rooming house, apartment house, dormitory, public or private club, mobile home or house trailer, at a fixed location, or any similar type of structure. As you can see – this definition is very broad and can very possibly categorize your rented condo or unit as a ‘hotel.’
Web Link

Santa Monica - No rentals shorter than 30 days
Web Link

San Francisco -
Owners who wish to use short term rentals must be permanent San Francisco residents (275 days in SF in any given calendar year) with a multi-family of at least 2 units. If you are absent from the specific unit, you can only rent out the unit 90 days out of the year. If you are renting short-term while you are living in the unit, you can rent for unlimited days. Only possible to register ONE unit.
Property owners must register units for short rentals with the city.
Obtain a business license from the Treasurer and Tax Collector Service.
Obtain liability insurance of at least $500,000, or higher as required in renting platforms. Signed affidavit agreeing to all laws and regulations with the residential rental ordinances. Proof of residency. Pay the transient occupancy tax – 14% in San Francisco.

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Posted by Greg_H
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 10:40 pm

Greg_H is a registered user.

Sounds like a great idea - no short-term rental of in-law units/secondary units as suggested in Prop. F.

I also think it shouldn't be on the property line of your neighbors - attach it to the main house and must meet the total square foot area requirement for the lot size

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Bad idea! Don't change anything. Leave it alone. It certainly isn't a way to have any impact on the housing problem anyway, maybe .1 % of the housing needs, at most, would be served. I leave the calculations up to the CC members who are experts on doing that. CC, attack the real challenge with vigor, getting owners, developers, and builders to build major housing projects, yes, including affordable units...a nebulous term in PA these days, that will seriously deal with the housing problem, but keep it in those much talked about areas near the transit hubs/centers. Now that makes sense, and I am in favor of relaxing the current regulations/codes, including the height limit, in those areas. Don't spend any more time on the ADU's. You're just wasting staff and PTC's time studying this. Move on to the more critical issues in PA, and I know you know we have many.

And being a details and numbers guy, when I see the word 'many' thrown out I just ignore it, and throw it out. It shows up a lot in the memos on the subject. Give me numbers please. 'Many' is not a number. 'How many'? is. Same goes with 'minimal impact'. Who will get to decide what is minimal?

The study shouldn't just be for our snapshot of time for our needs. Consider the future impact when properties are sold. Think about new owners that want to have a nice backyard and patio, and here is this big 450 sq ft cottage out there. They either won't buy or they'll buy and tear down.

Re the two dozen resident speakers at the CC meeting. Were any of them home owners demanding the changes so they could build an ADU on their property, or were they just people wanting us home owners to help them out by building an ADU for them. And how would this serve the very low, low, and moderate income people?

I don't plan to, but if I did build your hypothetical 450 sq ft unit in my back yard, believe me, I would charge top dollar for rent and if I asked for $3500 a month and could get, then that's what I'd do. Now, how does that fit in with your plan to solve the other problem, housing for very low, low, and moderate income folks. Doesn't at all! I know it and you should know it.

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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 3, 2016 at 6:49 pm

"...affordable units...a nebulous term in PA these days, that will seriously deal with the housing problem, but keep it in those much talked about areas near the transit hubs/centers."

Of course, never in the advocate's own backyard.

There is no advantage to building housing near transit. Only 5% of the current residents of such housing use transit, so there is no reason to expect anything but intense gridlock from dense pack cars resulting from dense pack housing.

The most workable solution is to dilute the traffic congestion and its accompanying pollution by building dense housing blocks in our R-1 neighborhoods. This solution will much more efficiently utilize our land than that extravagant, obsolete development model.

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2016 at 12:57 am

Yes for real granny units ... but you wouldn't charge rent to your granny, so condition of permit approval should be that they can NOT be rented out. Someone other than your family member(s) living there and you can be prosecuted. Allowing AirBnB units / non-conforming uses to be added throughout residential neighborhoods isn't what we moved here for. There shouldn't be multiple families living on ~ 6-8k sq ft lots in residential neighborhoods except where apartments/condos/townhomes are permitted by the existing zoning.

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 4, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I agree with Dan...make sure they are really for granny, or a family member, just the way it has been for years. Don't open it up to others for profiteering
at the expense of changing our neighborhoods.

Confused by Curmudgeon's comments. They may have been tongue in cheek...not sure. Where did the 5% come from? The proposed housing would move people close to their work place so there wouldn't be as much need for transit or to own and drive a car. That's what it's all about. But transit is still needed for those who live far away from here and still can't afford or don't want to live here. Perish the thought...everybody should want to live in PA, right?

1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2016 at 11:00 pm

"Confused by Curmudgeon's comments. They may have been tongue in cheek...not sure."

The tongue is safely inside the dental arch.

"Where did the 5% come from?"

A resident's survey in the large condo complex by the CalAve CalTrain station. We must rely on private efforts like this because city hall will not do a comprehensive survey, do doubt fearing an outcome contradicting its pro-development doctrine.

"The proposed housing would move people close to their work place so there wouldn't be as much need for transit or to own and drive a car."

Fantasy, untempered by reality. Over half of our working population commutes to jobs outside Palo Alto. And the major local jobs concentration in the Stanford Industrial Park, for example, is neither adjacent to or served by public transit.

"That's what it's all about."

That's what some people wishfully think. Yet reality is obdurately reality.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2016 at 9:48 am

When I was a grad student in the 1970's, lots of grad students rented granny units or rooms in houses. I never understood why Palo Alto zoned these out. Of course, with current rents, very few grad students could afford to rent a granny unit in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2016 at 3:46 pm


Tongue in cheek because you stated "never in the advocate's backyard"... when they are quite literally advocating it for their own back yards.

1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 5, 2016 at 5:41 pm

"Tongue in cheek because you stated "never in the advocate's backyard"... when they are quite literally advocating it for their own back yards."

True if referring to the advocates of backyard auxiliary living units (aka studios, home offices, guest quarters, home theaters, etc.). But my posting referred to the dense housing near transit away from my own neighborhood cliche.

1 person likes this
Posted by Merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 5, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Not everyone gets to live in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 5, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Now I'm even more puzzled. A resident's s survey in one large condo complex is not a comprehensive survey. Were all condo residents included in the survey? "half of our working population commutes to jobs outside PA"? Please cite the source of that number. The housing the city is considering is primarily for tech and office workers in the Cal Ave and downtown areas who currently commute by car or train.

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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 5, 2016 at 11:38 pm

"Now I'm even more puzzled. A resident's s survey in one large condo complex is not a comprehensive survey."

Totally agree, but it's all we got.

Our department of community planning (oddly named, as we shall soon see) and environment refuses to do a comprehensive survey because it claims the available sample size is too small to achieve a precise statistical outcome*. In other words, city hall prefers to "plan" development based on no data at all if it cannot have a solid 24 karat database. Go figure.

Or, if you don't want the answer, don't ask the question.

* Per our former director of community planning and environment, responding to a city councilmember's question.

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 6, 2016 at 11:41 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I went back and reread Grumpy Old Guy's and Arthur Keller's posts. Please...staff, committees, and CC...learn lessons from the experience of other cities on this issue and from Arthur's knowledge. Don't assume we're smarter here in PA and can draft the perfect ordinance. In another online article on ADU's, someone, I think it was 'ugh', listed links that showed what ADU's look like. Very nice looking units. I was impressed. I was also impressed by the huge lots they were on, obviously compliant with current ordinance requirement...8100 sq ft lot size. Let those continue to be built, but don't change a thing that would allow ADU's to be built on smaller lots or by relaxing the 35% FAR maximum requirement.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Community Center

on Sep 26, 2017 at 10:47 am

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