Palo Alto set to restrict two-story homes at Los Arboles


For residents of the Los Arboles, the squat and glass-doored Eichler isn't just the architectural norm – it's a symbol of the neighborhood's identity.

On Nov. 9, they will appeal to the Palo Alto City Council to help them preserve the distinct Eichler character of the neighborhood by granting them a zone change that would ban new two-story homes.

The hearing will be the City Council's first in a decade on a zone change known as a "single-story overlay." It will also likely be the first in a string of similar requests from other Eichler-style neighborhoods. Greer Park North recently applied for a similar zone change and is scheduled to go to the City Council later this year. The Royal Manor tract, which lies along Louis Road, between Loma Verde Avenue and East Meadow Drive, followed suit with its own application in late October, according to city planners.

The grassroots movement was sparked by resident anxieties about new two-story homes looming over fences, violating the privacy of neighbors and degrading the character of the community. It was further enabled by the council's decision in June to formally waive the roughly $8,000 fee that historically accompanied these requests.

Though the city typically treated past applications as ones initiated by the planning commission and waived the fee, the fee's very existence served as a deterrent to neighborhood groups looking to pursue the zoning restriction, various neighborhood leaders told the council in June.

Now, with the fee waived and the first batch of applications submitted, Los Arobles is looking to become the first in a wave of Eichler tracts seeking a single-story overlay. The neighborhood includes 83 homes, of which 79 are original single-story Eichlers and the remainder are original homes with small second-story additions. According to surveys, 80 percent of the property owners in the tract have voiced support for the zone change – 10 percent higher than the city's threshold for approving a single-story overlay.

The neighborhood is located just south of Loma Verde, between Middlefield and Ross roads. It includes Holly Oak Drive, Ames Avenue and Cork Oak Way. The application for the zone change notes that the neighborhood is diverse when it comes to years of home ownership and ethnic backgrounds. Within this diversity, the application states, "we share in the appreciation of our Eichler homes and a commitment to maintain our privacy and daylight as well as the unique design and character of our historical neighborhood."

If the council gives the application the green light, the single-story overlay at Los Arboles will be the first approved by the council since 2004, when Allen Court in Midtown won the zone change. At that time, only 12 or the 22 homes favored the change.

In Los Arboles, this division does not exist. Given the high level of support, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission swiftly threw its support behind the Los Arobles proposal in September and recommended that the council approve the new zoning district.

"This is a community that voted in unison, according to the parameters we set up," Commissioer Michael Alcheck said at the Sept. 9 meeting. "They met the standard, they are entirely entitled to pursue the application and I support their vision."

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


37 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:10 am

I grew up in an Eichler in south Palo Alto where virtually all the homes are Eichlers built in the mid-fifties housing boom. These tract neighborhoods invoke the architectural and cultural sign of their times and I feel it is important to continue that thought by retaining the single level look of those homes. The two story stucco homes invading these areas are nothing but ugly monoliths that not only have no character, they invade the privacy of the neighbors because they virtually fill the lot they are on. I say YES to keeping these wonderful Eichler neighborhoods as they were met to be; single story only!

26 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Triple El
on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:20 am

Agree with dennis. We have a single-story overlay in our neighborhood of Eichlers off of Louis Rd/Oregon Ex, in North Palo Alto. Our lots are too small for 2-story houses. The only worry now is that prospective house buyers are told of the overlay prior to the bidding wars. Best of luck to Los Arboles!

27 people like this
Posted by Samia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:22 am

Props to all involved! Wish this would be done in more neighborhoods.

13 people like this
Posted by Julie
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:38 am

If the residents of these neighborhoods want "single-story overlay" so be it. However, if the property bubble bursts and there is a surplus of houses on the market in Palo Alto, new homeowners will want to buy where it is possible to build two story homes.

Eichlers are a generational thing and the younger generation together with our multi-cultural community like more up-to-date homes with front entrances that look welcoming.

In the long run the single-story restriction could affect property values. I'm glad my neighborhood rejected a petition that was circulated some years ago.

8 people like this
Posted by NIMBY
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 4, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I don't mind high density and large apartments being built as long as it stays away from Greenmeadow. We only allow single story. I like it that way. The rest of Palo Alto can build build build.

15 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

If your "up-to-date" homes are the same as the "ugly monoliths", they evoke the 1920s and 1930s to me. Nothing up to date about them.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Triple El
on Nov 4, 2015 at 12:29 pm

@Julie: I don't think the property bubble will ever burst in Palo Alto because its location is just too desireable.

22 people like this
Posted by rebugging
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 4, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Eichler owners have great pride in their distinctive style. Do not call these houses "squat" or imply that they are not welcoming. Good for them. I find the enormous two-story homes filling the lots in parts of Palo Alto to be monsters.

20 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2015 at 1:37 pm

I think Eichlers are nice, I rented one for a while and could see potential
in buying one, but did not.

The original ones are falling apart. Most of the slab foundations are cracked
and broken. The one I rented had water rushing up from underneath it in the
flood of the late 90's soaking the carpet.

The point is that if you like it and want to renovate, remodel or rebuild it,
great, but I really think at the prices and low density of today's Silicon
Valley this is a temporary, unfair and foolish decision to force restrictions
on people which remove their choice and lessen the value of their property.

One one board we talk about the low density of people and high cost of
housing in Palo Alto and surrounds, and this is just one small refusal to
take that seriously that also selfishly restricts some people's property rights.

It's not that big a deal and I understand wanting to maintain the character
of a neighborhood you have lived in all your life, but this just seems wrong

22 people like this
Posted by Community
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 4, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Eichlers form a community. If everyone plays nice, those who live in them enjoy lovely canopy views and privacy. Joe Eichler never intended them to be interleaved with tradition 2-story homes. These owners are just codifying what makes good sense.
Sheyner cracks me up with he calls them "squat" houses with "glass doors". Eichlers often have 10 foot ceilings, and whole walls of glass!
Los Arboles is a jewel of beautiful houses. I am glad they will be protected.
BTW, there are fewer and fewer Eichlers in bad shape. Young folks have been buying them up and renovating them, Mad Men style, for the last 2 decades. Get 'em while they are hot, and make sure yours is protected.

25 people like this
Posted by EichlerOwner
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2015 at 3:51 pm

I am sorry but I am not in favor of restricting choices for a homeowner. This is a classic case of a vocal minority of older people with free-time, overruling a majority of busy people, who do not want to get involved in these discussions.

Making a one story zone restricts the property values of the entire neighborhood. If they are so desirable, how come one level homes (and Eichlers in particular) are the least expensive properties? Some one please answer that.

I agree with Julie and Steve, that one level houses (not just Eichlers) aren't as popular, and if homeowner wants to build a two level house he should NOT be restricted.

Anything you do to your house that potentially increases the property values should be encouraged, and anything opposite should be discouraged. Its as simple as that. One floor zoning is similar to not mowing your lawn. Both decrease property values and should be discouraged.

The fact that neighborhood looks ugly/nice is individual opinions, and the easiest way to get a majority opinion is by property values, not by a vocal minority whose views are antiquated and warped from present reality. If they want to be stuck in a period of history, they can live in Los Arboles tract homes, where i can guarantee, the prices will remain the lowest in Palo Alto. Nothing against them. Not everyone is rushing into that neighborhood.

If people want to live in a neighborhood where prices follow rest of Palo Alto, then allow them to make a unique custom house (single, double, stucco, new glass modern architecture, or whatever...), not just a run-of-the-mill tract homes.

4 people like this
Posted by GM Eichler homeowner
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 4, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Eichler Owner,
In the past, I would have agreed with you. I grew up in a neighborhood of very mixed and differing architectural styles, from traditional to French provincial to Cape Cod to Deco to Spanish and even Craftsman. This was in New Orleans. Lots were usually 50 feet wide. Post-Katrina, there are now open spaces as well as monstrously huge homes on 100 foot wide lots, raised up 10 feet (to sea level) and two stories on top of the raised piers, immediately next to "squat" litle 50's (mid century) single story, modest brick ranch homes that were renovated instead of bulldozed. It looks bizarre. It's the scale of the homes in a neighborhood as much as the style.

13 people like this
Posted by Check your data
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 4, 2015 at 5:55 pm

A quick look at Redfin reveals that Eichlers in south Palo Alto are selling for more per square foot than the Palo Alto average, and at least as much or more per square foot than houses in Duveneck/St. Francis area.

15 people like this
Posted by Squat and Unwelcoming
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2015 at 7:01 pm

"If people want to live in a neighborhood where prices follow rest of Palo Alto, then allow them to make a unique custom house (single, double, stucco, new glass modern architecture, or whatever...), not just a run-of-the-mill tract homes."

Go do this in Sunnyvale, go nuts.

Also, increasing the square footage of a single family home does nothing to create more housing density.

The big ol' two story house that just went up behind me is proof of that. The 4 member family has spectacular view of my entire back yard and into my house through the windows.

Bravo to Palo Alto for removing the $8k fee for the zone change proposal.

6 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Check Your Data:
> A quick look at Redfin reveals that Eichlers in south Palo Alto are selling for
> more per square foot than the Palo Alto average, and at least as much or
> more per square foot than houses in Duveneck/St. Francis area.

First, why do you restrict your sample to South Palo Alto, and then compare
it with Palo Alto in general?

But this is because you are looking at square foot of house area and not
square foot of lot area. Most of the cost of a property is going to be the lot
so a house with less square footage is going to calculate out to be more
expensive per square foot of living space in most cases.

I'd bet if you found two houses in the same general place with the same
lot size the Eichler since if it had fewer bedrooms or was smaller in living
space would work out to be worth less. If the houses are in general

The whole argument here is exactly this ... that you are paying a premium
for land, and you are unable to make use of it. If this is priced into the cost
of the house the Eichlers would be priced less per square foot of lot area.

Comments from any realtors?

1 person likes this
Posted by S. Marinos
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2015 at 10:19 am

I live in Greer Park North Amarillo Ave location. I have lived here for over 25 years and love my eichlar however, my neighborhood is a mixed bag of homes not unique in design of eichlar only. I can understand how certain neighborhoods that are exclusively eichlar and their desire to preserve their look in their cul de sacs. If I wanted restrictions on my residence I would have purchased a condo or townhouse. The selfish instigator of the petition for Moffet and Metro Circle, should b able to have their unique neighborhoods, but not invade or intrude the surrounding neighborhood. My house is located in the lowest point below sea level and 1998 flood was devastating I had 3 feet of silt water like a river running through. This I will never forget! If this occurs again this El Niño year, I am much older and do not know if I could further live through, and if I have to re-
Build, I do not want restrictions placed on me, as I will have to raise up as much as needed. Let the cul de sacs have their unique neighborhoods. I only see that my neighborhood is different , this will devalue this already lower valued area, by restricting future buyers from buying at all. I hope the city planners and counsel see that some neighborhoods are not unique and others are.

9 people like this
Posted by Tom Tudor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2015 at 12:09 pm

The single story overlay does nothing to "preserve the distinct Eichler character of the neighborhood." All it does is prevents new two story homes from being built. There is nothing to prevent every single Eichler home in the Single Story overlay from being demolished and being replace with single story Mediterranean, craftsman, modern style, etc. new homes.

1 person likes this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2015 at 11:47 am

Now can we ban basements?

Posted by Play Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Nov 6, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Why is it becoming increasingly impossible to open a restaurant on the Peninsula?
By Elena Kadvany | 27 comments | 5,099 views

Firing Judge Persky as a tennis coach was a big mistake
By Diana Diamond | 23 comments | 2,830 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 2,185 views

It just takes time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 563 views

Helping Partners Become Couples (vs. Helping Couples Become Partners)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 463 views



On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now