Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Letter to Palo Alto City Council on house size limits in Foothills

(We wrote the letter below urging the City to adopt maximum house size limits to control monster mansions in the foothills.  Unfortunately the City declined to do so after some landowners called for time for "present restrictions to work."  We'll have to give it a little time, and then try again.  -Brian)

September 29, 2010

Palo Alto City Council

Dear Mayor Burt and City Council Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills regrets that the Palo Alto Planning Commission, in our opinion, failed to follow City Council direction to provide real options on house size limits.  Instead the Commission returned to the Council a simplified recommendation that provided fewer options than what the Council originally had, when it directed to the Planning Commission to research this issue.  We accordingly recommend that City Council take no final action on this issue at the Monday meeting, and instead direct staff to create a range of house size options and provide them to the City Council at a later date.

Please see the attached letter from Committee for Green Foothills dated February 18, 2010 that explains the appropriate reasons for house size limits and our suggestion of how they could be done.

In its simplest form, the question is whether the Buckingham Palace should be considered a single family residence for an elderly couple.  If you agree that is an inappropriate designation, then we need to work on specifics, and these were not given to the City Council.  The "one size fits all" category of 12,000 square feet with additional loopholes fails to provide a range of real options, as well as being so loose as to be nearly meaningless.

The one idea not mentioned in our February 18 letter is to encourage the City Council to direct staff to provide an open-ended exemption.  Let an applicant demonstrate through the applicant's own creativity and diligence that the proposal exceeds the environmental value of a smaller project, and it could be approved.

Finally, if the City decides not to impose realistic limits, we request that you direct staff to consider development restrictions that encompass the many environmental parameters that are not addressed under current development standards, like the carbon footprint from increased transportation for the staff needed to service monster mansions, the increased habitat loss from the need to construct a defensible fire perimeter around large structures with large perimeters, and changed hydrology from increased impervious surface area relative to smaller structures.

We encourage you to consider the specifics listed in our letters, and ask that you direct staff to return to you with additional ideas.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

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