City takes an historic approach to dealing with new housing law

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council voted tonight (March 21) to have the Historic Resources Board consider listing about 130 homes on a historic register, protecting them from development.

These properties could be listed — and therefore barred from renovations that would compromise their historic integrity — over the objections of property owners, Planning Director Jonathan Lait said.

The city is updating the historic register in light of Senate Bill 9, a state bill that allows property owners to split their single-home lots and put two homes on each new lot. Cities are required to approve these SB9 projects as of Jan. 1, but not if the property is on a state or national historic register.

The city did a survey in 2000 and identified about 130 single-home properties that may be eligible for a register, Lait said. Now, the Historic Resources Board will hold hearings on these properties and make a recommendation, and City Council will make the ultimate decision.

Before council’s action tonight, the city only had properties listed if the property owner asked for it.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack was concerned that Lait didn’t provide a list of the homes that were potentially eligible.

“It’s possible that people who live in these homes are unaware of what we’re contemplating, and that’s just not a comfortable place to be,” she said.

But overall, council members were in favor of protecting these properties for their cultural value. Mayor Pat Burt said SB9 had a carve-out for historic properties for a reason, and Palo Alto shouldn’t ignore it.

Councilman Greer Stone contrasted Palo Alto from Pasadena, which was put on notice by Attorney General Rob Bonta last week for declaring large parts of the city as “landmark districts” to get around SB9.

While Pasadena is trying a blunt tool, Palo Alto is using surgical precision, Stone said. The 130 properties that could be listed account for .9% of singe-home properties in Palo Alto.

Vice Mayor Lydia Kou, who is also a real estate agent, said people will still be able to renovate the inside of their houses, and many buyers would pay a premium for a historic home. Lait added that the outside of a historic house could be renovated as long as it follows the rules.

Before the discussion, a few public speakers asked council not to move forward. Resident Liz Gardner said she worked with her landlord to apply for double-paned windows at her historic house, and the application was rejected by the city because the home was historic. The city lost out on a sustainable project, she said.


  1. This is a thinly disguised effort to defeat SB9. Palo Alto can anticipate years of expensive litigation that they are likely to lose. You can expect that the comments now being made by officials will be offered as evidence of the city’s actual intentions.

  2. A simple summary of SB 9 is that it removes local agency personal and subjective criteria from the process and requires that denials be based on objective standards that are uniformly verifiable. There are some limitations on setback requirements that could lead to slightly higher density, but the Architectural Review Board and Planning Department are fighting SB9 to maintain their kingdoms. They want to make personal and arbitrary decisions.

  3. Typical California stupidity. Instead of encouraging growth in areas with lower costs and high levels of poverty (pretty much the entire state outside of the Bay Area, Sacramento, and portions of Southern California, it’s oppressive government passes a law that strips local governments of their ability to manage themselves, packs more people into already overstuffed regions, and makes an already ruined quality of life exponentially worse with even more traffic and congestion.

    Best of all, there is absolutely zero proof that this strategy of forcibly subdividing single family home lots up for the construction of hamster boxes will actually reduce the cost of housing for the working class and poor.

    What’s the argument the loud mouthed crazies always use every time a road needs to be widened to increase throughput? Don’t build it because all it will do is encourage more people to drive and make things worse. Yet when it comes to this awful piece of legislation their attitude is it’s a great idea.

    Just wait until this takes off. Just wait until houses are built on top of each other. Just wait until side streets and schools are overloaded. Just wait until everybody is outbid for single family homes by investment groups ready to carve them up into seven figure flop houses with no taste, no yard, and stuffed full of tech workers with zero social skills as Google, Apple, and Facebook bring more and more of them in at the expense of those who grew up here. Just wait until everybody who moves in hops in their cars at rush hour because even the people who blather on and on about mass transit corridors can’t be bothered to take the bus to work because it’s so inconvenient, miserable, and slow.

    For as smart as Californians think they are — they sure elect really dumb people who push really dumb ideas.

    The Bay Area is full. Modesto, Chico, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Riverside are not. Steer growth there.

  4. SB 9 has the potential to create much-needed housing options in Palo Alto and cities across the state–if local leaders choose to work with the new law rather than against it. It’s really disheartening to see the lengths cities are going to in order to prevent SB 9 development. There’s so much fear-mongering and misinformation around SB 9 that many people don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. This blog post has some good talking points for setting the record straight:

  5. Attorney and Assemblyman Marc Berman was one of the architects of SB9 and now he pretends he didn’t know what was in it when he voted for it. I will never vote for him again, even if I have to cross the aisle.

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