City gets first application for a multi-home development under SB9

Daily Post Staff Writer

Wasting no time, an architect has applied to build four homes on a single-family lot in Palo Alto.

The development falls under Senate Bill 9, a state law that requires cities to let property owners split a single-family lot and build two homes on each new property, going from one to four homes.

Randy Popp, a former member of the city’s Architectural Review Board, filed the city’s first application, and possibly the first in California, on Monday, the first business day since the law took effect on Jan. 1.

If the project moves forward, a house at 940 Matadero Ave. would be demolished, and the property would be split into two. The new lot on the street would be developed with a two-story house and a smaller home, and the back lot would have two one-story houses, Popp told the city.

Palo Alto City Council has written letters against SB9, arguing that it takes away local control and will disturb low-density neighborhoods. But the city’s hands are tied. If the project checks all of the boxes, then the city is required to issue a building permit.

SB9 requires owners to sign an affidavit saying that he or she intends to live on the property for three years.

It wasn’t clear yesterday who the property owner is, and Popp couldn’t be reached for comment.

Assistant City Attorney Albert Yang told the council in November that verifying and enforcing someone’s “intent” would be a challenge.

Cities across the mid-Peninsula have been scrambling for the past three months to create new rules governing SB9 projects. Palo Alto is scheduled to approve interim rules at their meeting on Monday and then spend the year working on more permanent rules.

The rules must be specific about what is and isn’t allowed. So instead of saying the design must fit in with the neighborhood character, the standards must say which materials can be used for siding, where the windows must be placed and how blank walls must be decorated.

SB9 projects can’t demolish rent-controlled housing or homes that have been rented out in the past three years. Properties can’t be in a historic district, a 100-year flood zone or a high fire-threat area. They must be within one-half mile walking distance of public transit.


  1. I hope the Council fights this with everything they’ve got, because if they don’t, we’ll see homes squeezed into every neighborhood in town. A court challenge is necessary. If it can happen in Barron Park, it can happen anywhere, even Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto.

  2. Not sure the headline is correct. Vice Mayor Kou sold her Barron Park home during the summer of 2020.

    Editor’s note: Thanks for pointing that out. We were going by voter registration information, which still had her at the address on Matadero. But since you posted this, we checked the property records which, in fact, show she and her husband sold their house on that street.

  3. Did the neighbors get any warning? The frightening thing about SB 9 is that once a person applies for these special privileges, you can’t stop them.

  4. Looks like 940 Matadero is on a 1 acre lot. Many suburban lots are 50′ x 100′, which is .115 acre. One could put 8 houses on a 1 acre lot and still not be at common suburban density. I don’t understand what the big deal is putting 4 houses on a 1 acre lot. And no, I’m not the owner of the property in question.

    • I agree that this is a big lot, and could support four homes without squeezing them. Each home would have about a 5000sq.ft lot.

      Would be interesting to interview all the neighbors in this small area and get their feedback.

  5. Good for Mr. Popp! Small scale infill rental housing does not pencil out in the Bay Area with the very high cost of lots/ homes and construction. If one can get the land cost down by fitting four homes on one existing parcel it will lead to more people to do infill projects like this and create much needed housing.

  6. Braden, it is incorrect to say that properties can’t be in a high fire-threat area. There are two reasons. First, within local responsibility areas (i.e. incorporated cities like Palo Alto), SB9’s text calls for an exemption only for the very-high-fire risk areas, which are different from high-fire-risk areas. The neighborhoods of Santa Rosa that were destroyed by the 2017 Wine Country Fires wouldn’t have qualified, for example. Second, the next sentence in SB 9 says that this exemption doesn’t apply if a builder implements “mitigations” against fire risk. Any new development contains “mitigations”, just by meeting ordinary building codes. My clarification here is irrelevant to the development discussed by your article, but elsewhere the fire risk posed by SB 9 is substantial.

  7. ADUs could be built in addition to the 4 houses, leading to 6 or possibly even 8 units where only one existed. Yes, more housing is good, but how many of those 4 new homes will be affordable to any but the wealthy?

  8. An error in the article says the SB9 homes need to be within a 1/2 mile of public transit. That’s not so. The SB9 provision says no city can require any of the homes to have more than 1 parking spot off-street. Won’t be an issue for this property where I bet each home has at least 2 parking spots outside and 2 in a garage. But since the property is within 1/2 mile of public transit, the city can’t require ANY on-site parking. Again, it won’t apply to these homes.

  9. Is or isn’t there a “being able to walk to public transit within a half mile requirement” ?
    If there is, I don’t get where that is here. This site is way up the hill near the dead end of the street. I know the property and can’t ID any such transport within half mile walking in any direction.
    Also, the owner is identified as William Wu , a developer, who says he’s going to do more SB9 projects in the Valley. So how is he going to live in them all to fulfill the 3 year requirement?
    What a train wreak.

  10. Stay within your land and stop dictating what your neighbors vlcan do with their land.

    You bought a home. You didn’t buy the city.

    Or about this. We repeal your prop 13 tax subsidy of a scam and you can keep your segregated neighborhood character in place.

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