December 13, 2017

In this issue:

  • ADUs Revisited: First look at potential future amendments to the Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance.
  • Get up to speed: Sustainability; Dewatering regulations; History museum; Permit parking.
  • Looking ahead: RPPs; New Mayor; Council priorities for 2018; National Citizens Survey; Stanford GUP.

At the close of this action packed and tumultuous year, Palo Alto ends up right back where it started – debating ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) policies. Though City Council has finished its work for the year, the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) will get a first look at possible revisions to the 2017 ADU ordinance tonight.

Also over the break, resident and business stakeholders will get a chance to weigh in on a proposal to add more business parking to the nascent Evergreen Park-Mayfield and Southgate permit programs on December 20. And it’s not too late to offer suggestions about what priorities City Council should adopt for 2018. Feedback will be accepted throughout December and most of January. You can see what other Palo Altans suggested and submit your own comments here.

ADUs Revisited

In a controversial April decision, City Council voted 7-2 (Holman, Kou dissenting) to exceed new State requirements in loosening zoning rules (set-backs, parking, lot size, design standards, etc) to encourage more accessory dwelling units (ADUs or “granny units”) in residential neighborhoods. In a nod to community concerns, Council directed staff to provide a quarterly report and hold a study session with the PTC to analyze implementation of the new rules.

In addition to providing a brief summary of ADU permit activity under the new ordinance, staff will seek input from the PTC on potential future amendments at tonight’s study session (click here for staff report). The issues teed up for discussion are based on unanticipated implementation challenges raised by staff and applicants as well as staff’s initial thinking about how to make ADUs affordable for moderate- and low-income residents, and to make existing illegal ADUs code compliant.

Absent from the staff report are strategies to address outstanding community concerns such as monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to prevent use of ADUs for vacation rentals; management of on-street parking demand, including in permit zones; and a registry to track ADU impacts on housing supply.

This is just the beginning of the process to consider potential amendments. Staff will return to the PTC in Spring 2018 with a draft ordinance for review and recommendations to Council. Don’t be caught by surprise. If you want the recommendations to reflect your views, take advantage of the next few months to let the PTC and City Council know what you think. (Note: your email will become a public record.)

Key Issues for discussion tonight:

Owner occupancy requirement. In order to ensure landlord accountability with increased rental activity in residential neighborhoods, the 2017 ordinance requires (via deed restriction) that where an ADU is added, the owner must occupy one of the dwellings on the property. Should that requirement be eliminated in order to expand ADU construction to properties currently only occupied by renters?

Basements in detached ADUs. The 2017 ordinance allows conversion of existing basements to attached ADU’s, but does not address basements in detached ADUs. In single family (R1) zones, basements are generally not counted toward floor area limits, so basements can significantly increase the size of ADUs.

Staff recommends allowing basements in both attached and detached ADUs. However, because detached ADUs need only be set back six feet from property lines, allowing construction of basements in detached units would introduce basements into side yards – something that is NOT allowed for primary single family residences. Furthermore, encouraging/allowing additional underground construction on most residential lots may raise community concern about groundwater impacts.

Grandfathered code deficiencies for rebuilt accessory structures. If an existing accessory unit is structurally unsound, it must be rebuilt in order to serve as an ADU. Current law would require that the newly built structure be code compliant. Should the ordinance be amended to create exemptions that would effectively “grandfather” non-compliance when an accessory structure is converted to an ADU?

Decommissioned ADUs. If a property owner takes advantage of ADU exceptions (extra square footage, extra lot coverage, reduced parking requirements, etc), can they get rid of the ADU in the future and still keep those bonuses?

ADUs in front yards. The 2017 ordinance implies that ADUs should be visually subordinate to the primary dwelling, but does not specifically address whether ADUs can be placed in front of the existing dwelling. Should ADUs be allowed in front yards?


  • ADUs that cover more than 50 percent of a rear yard.

  • Parking in the streetside setback for corner lots, with Planning Director discretion to reduce required parking stall dimensions.

  • Should properties with existing ADUs get square footage bonuses and parking exemptions and/or be subject to deed restrictions?

  • Allow ADUs in Planned Community (PC) Zones where single family homes are allowed and minimum lot size is 5,000 sf?

Get up to speed

On December 11, before a packed audience once again, City Council voted 8-0 (Fine absent) to:

  • Sustainability: Approve a Sustainability Implementation Plan (SIP) with key actions in the areas of energy, electric vehicles, mobility, and water, and call for a discussion in early 2018 about fossil fuel divestment.
  • History Museum: Approve a one-year extension of a lease option agreement with the Palo Alto History Museum to renovate and occupy the historic Roth building in Downtown Palo Alto. However, if the Museum fails to reach a $1.75 million fundraising target by November 2018, the City will consider leasing the building to other organizations.
  • Groundwater: Approve a 2018 update to dewatering rules for underground construction. With limited data on the impacts of the 2017 ordinance, changes were modest and leave significant discretion to the City Engineer. While all speakers supported the update, many called for more transparent guidelines, including metrics, to inform decision-making, and for specific requirements to be applied to large commercial projects. It is anticipated that the rules will be further refined next year.

Permit Parking: Due to numerous complaints about proposed changes to the Evergreen-Mayfield and Southgate RPPs (Residential Permit Parking programs) staff asked for continuation of that consent calendar item to allow time for public outreach. The proposed changes would add 41 business parking permits to the Evergreen and Southgate RPPs and impose 2 hour parking limits on nearby segments of El Camino Real and Churchill Avenue. Staff will meet with resident and business stakeholders on December 20 and January 10, 2018 (see calendar below for more info).

Notable upcoming action

Postponed items

Railway Grade Separations: The City will host a Community Roundtable to discuss Trench and Tunnel alternatives for grade separations, November 30, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm (City Hall)Postponed to future date, TBD, early 2018. Click here for more info.

Additional business permits for Evergreen and Southgate Residential Permit Parking Programs (RPP): Staff proposes adding 41 business parking permits to the Evergreen and Southgate RPPs and imposing 2 hour parking limits on nearby segments of El Camino Real and Churchill Avenue. December 11, at 6:00 pm (City Hall)Postponed to a future date, TBD, to allow for public outreach. Click here for staff report.

December 13 2017

New State housing laws: The Planning and Transportation Commission will discuss 15 new housing mandates that will become effective January 1, 2018 (repeat of December 4 presentation to City Council). December 13, beginning at 6:00 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Updates to new ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) ordinance: The Planning and Transportation Commission will hold a study session to review implementation of the new rules (effective June, 2017) and consider potential amendments. December 13, meeting begins at 6:00 pm, ADU item will follow presentation on new State housing laws (City Hall)Click here for staff report.

December 20, 2017

Evergreen Park-Mayfield and Southgate RPP (Residential Preferential Parking) Programs:  City staff will meet with resident and business stakeholders from both districts to discuss implementation of the programs and the proposed addition of extra employee parking permits. December 20, 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Staff has requested postponement of this topic from City Council’s December 11, 2017 agenda to a future date, TBD. Click here for original staff report.

January 8, 2018

City Council Reorganization: Council will elect a Mayor and Vice-Mayor for 2018. January 8, beginning at 6:00 pm (City Hall).

January 10, 2018

Evergreen Park-Mayfield and Southgate RPP (Residential Preferential Parking) Programs:  City staff will meet with resident and business stakeholders from both districts to discuss implementation of the programs and the proposed addition of extra employee parking permits. January 10, 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Staff has requested postponement of this topic from City Council’s December 11, 2017 agenda to a future date, TBD. Click here for original staff report.

Late January 2018

Release of Palo Alto’s 2018 National Citizens Survey and adoption of City Council’s 2018 Priorities at annual Council retreat.

February 2, 2018

Stanford GUP: Final deadline to submit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for Stanford’s proposed expansion. Comments can be submitted via phone, letter or email:

County of Santa Clara
Department of Planning and Development
Attention: David Rader
County Government Center
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110
Phone: (408) 299-5779
Email: David Rader