Write a Letter to the Los Altos City Council

Write to the Los Altos City Council!
Council members and the staff at Los Altos City Hall are responsive to cards, letters and emails. Don’t hesitate to write them.
Send an email addressed to council@losaltosca.gov. Often council members will write back. If you prefer writing in a more classic fashion, just send your cards or letters to: the Los Altos City Council, City Hall, 1 N San Antonio Rd, Los Altos, CA 94022.

The California Density Bonus Law and a Local Ordinance to Match

The long-awaited Density Bonus Ordinance draft was presented to the Planning and Transportation Commission June 1, 2017. This draft proposes incentives for developers and is a critical piece of decisionmaking about changes to the CT zone and to downtown visioning.  The proposed menu of incentives for developers includes:

a. Yard/Setback. Up to 20 percent decrease in the required width or depth of any individual yard or setback except along any property line that abuts an R1 or more restrictively zoned property. 

b. Lot Coverage. Up to 20 percent increase in lot coverage limits. 

c. Lot Width. Up to 20 percent decrease from a lot width requirement. 

d. Floor Area Ratio. A percentage increase in the allowable Floor Area Ratio equal to the percentage of Density Bonus for which the Housing Development Project is eligible, not to exceed 35 percent. 

e. Height. In any zone in which the height or number of stories is limited, a maximum of 11 additional feet or one additional story may be added to the underlying base height. 

f. Yard/Setback. Up to 20 percent decrease in the required width or depth of any individual yard or setback except along any property line that abuts a single-family R1 zoned property. 

g. Open Space. Up to 20 percent decrease from an open space requirement, provided that the landscaping for the Housing Development Project is sufficient to qualify for the number of landscape points equivalent to 10 percent more than otherwise required by Chapter 12.40 (Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings) and Landscape Ordinance Guidelines "O."

How do you feel about this? Los Altos residents do have a say. Contact your City Council at: council@losaltosca.gov. You can make a difference.

Accessory Dwelling Units–Also Known as “Granny Units”–And What They Mean

If all of the houses in Los Altos added a “Granny Unit” and leased it out to two people, it could just about double our population. But these rentals, while increasing housing in our city, would not increase our revenue base. Who would pay for the increase in needed services?
Among the major topics on Affordable Housing are the lack of an ordinance for “Accessory Dwelling Units” (also called ADUs and”Granny Units”) and one to fully implement the California Density Bonus law. For accessory dwelling units, new state law made existing zoning and development requirements null and void as of mid-January 2017. A revised ordinance to comply with state law has been reviewed by the Design Review Commission and the Planning and Transportation Commission. As proposed, accessory units (attached or detached) would be allowed on lots of 10,000 square feet or greater. Additional changes allow conversions/additions to garages and conversions of existing detached units (pool houses for example) in some circumstances.  The staff report with the proposed ordinance changes as of May 9 can be found here. The petition below is circulating that calls for implementing “Granny Units” in a sensible manner.

Use Discretion in approving Granny Units

Recent changes to California law require our city council to modify the current codes for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, sometimes called “granny units”). Mandatory changes reduce barriers, streamline approval and expand capacity for ADU development. Council retains some discretion in how the new laws are implemented.

We urge Council to use that discretion to make prudent modifications that allow residents to build ADUs while respecting the sense of openness and privacy that our residents value.

We urge Council to:

 Say YES to allowing ADUs within or attached to a home on lots of 10,000 square feet or more, provided those units meet our current code requirements for floor area, lot coverage and setbacks. (Current zoning allows these on lots of at least 13,000 square feet.)

 Say YES to allowing detached ADUs on parcels of 12,000 square feet or more, provided those units meet our current code requirements for floor area, lot coverage and setbacks. (Current zoning allows these on lots of at least 15,000 square feet.)

 Say NO to building any ADUs – within, attached or detached – larger than 800 square feet on any sized lot.

 Say NO to converting existing “accessory structures” ( pool houses, garages, sheds, etc.) that

- do not meet our current code requirements for floor area and lot coverage and

- do not meet the legal setbacks for the main house. Current zoning specifies very narrow setbacks for accessory structures, e.g., as little as 2.5 feet from a property line. An ADU that close to neighbors’ property would significantly intrude on their privacy.

If state law compels the city to allow some such conversions within the setbacks, limit such conversions to the largest lots (15,000 square feet).

**your signature**

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Another means to influence city government is to write an email to the City Council at council@losaltosca.gov.  Specific language can be “I support the ADU petition calling for implementing ADUs with discretion and with common sense setbacks and urge you not to support converting existing accessory structures like pool houses and sheds that have virtually no setbacks. I urge the council to keep detached ADU’s on parcels of at least 12,000 square feet or more to prevent high density in our neighborhoods.”

Loyola Corners

Loyola Corners History In the early twentieth century, the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to build a new rail line down the right-of-way that is now Foothill Expressway, to connect the Peninsula with San Francisco. Los Altos had a main station on First (now the home of Voyageur du Temps restaurant) and another stop near the present Rancho Shopping Center. SP also built a small depot at Loyola Corners–so named because the Jesuits (founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola) originally planned to build a college nearby. Though the plan was scrapped, the “Loyola” name stuck.

These businesses in Loyola Corners have made history part of their brand, through their signage.
The little station helped turn Loyola Corners into a bustling shopping area. By the 1950s the district had three barbershops, two beauty salons, five gas stations and three or four restaurants, including the much loved Echo, where, for six decades, commuters liked to stop for a spot of “refueling” at the end of the day.
The mural at Tom’s Depot, a popular Loyola Corners restaurant, captures a time when the district had a little railway station.
Specific Plan Loyola Corners was never a planned development. Some residents find its historic and quirky layout to be part of its charm. Others think it could use an update. In the 1990s the City of Los Altos created  a Loyola Corners Specific Plan and this year sought some significant changes to that plan. Residents weren’t sold, and in a study session, April 20, 2017, the Los Altos City Council recommended a narrowing of the scope of proposed changes. What does that mean? Review the minutes for details by clicking here. Want to share your views with the Council? Contact them at council@losaltosca.gov.

El Camino CT Zoning

City Council approves large outsized buildings on El Camino.

  • The City council on Tuesday Sept 26th approved a modified CT Zone Amendment and Density Bonus Ordinances, effectively allowing more large residential buildings on El Camino.
    • Bruins: YES, Prochnow: YES, Eng: Abstain, Pepper: YES*, Mordo: YES*

* Voiced strong reservations and verbal commitment to bring the housing reform package back to council in a staged approach later. 

Approved plans for 4880 El Camino where Hunan Homes restaurant used to be. The structure will be 5 stories tall and 69 feet in height. This will become the tallest building in Los Altos by a wide margin.
  • Effectively, the City Council received conservative, and some would say incomplete, legal and planning guidance that the package proposal as we the residents endorsed had legal risks. The city staff did not provide any alternative options as we the residents have been asking for and even providing detailed suggestions to consider. The city attorney Chris Diaz acknowledged that his job is to describe worse case scenarios, and Jon Biggs our community planning director described a phone conversation with the state Housing Authority that warned that some elements of the package of changes that limit heights to 45′ could cause either a delay or risk a housing certification status. None of this was documented, just described as a spoken phone call, a very poor process of transaction especially in inter-governmental deliberations.
  • A handful of projects will now be approved: a prominant one – where Mohr’s Clocks was – is double the size and equal in height to 4880 El Camino, so we may now have 2 adjoining outsized luxury condo buildings.

A small ray of hope

  • 3 City Council members verbally committed to pushing a phased implementation of the housing reform package as proposed.

Co-sign a letter to City Council: BE BRAVE and support the residents

To: Los Altos City Council:
From: Concerned Residents of Los Altos
Re: El Camino, CT Zone oversized luxury buildings

Dear Council Members:

We appeal to you to BE BRAVE and assert our cities right to incorporate state mandates for affordable housing in the way WE AS A CITY SEE FIT, not as determined by a state agency.

Lets ask ourselves: What are we afraid of, some potential legal fees in a fight with a developer? We understand the risks for adopting this package today if we arent properly prepared with a legitimate process that is making steady progress, and if a developer decided it wanted to place their energy instead of building, into a legal fight with the small city of Los Altos. At the same time, the city is flush with cash and is budgeting tens of millions dollars for a new Hillview Center among a number of other new and increased budget items: why not allocate a fairly well bounded sum that may never be spent, based on other california cities experience, and support the residents? Arent we a good value?

Adopt the package of housing reforms as was proposed by Council members Pepper and Lee Eng and conceptually agreed to by Vice Mayor Mordo in the next few weeks and have the PTC expedite a review process before mid November.

Undersigned, [concerned reidents].

**your signature**

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Highlights from the past few months:

  • 119 residents co-signed a letter supporting Jan Pepper’s and Lynette Lee Eng’s package proposal to keep heights on El Camino to 4 stories and 45′ max, and to offset this with increases in density (number of units in a development) and increased levels of affordable housing units. These resident signatures were collected remarkably fast, over a long weekend.
  • Our Preserve El Camino Neighborhood Petition calling for 45′ maximum has 365 resident signatures.
  • On Sept 12th,and 26th the City council heard you. The chambers were full of supporting residents, and more than a dozen speakers protested the controversial proposal to put into our CT Zone code that future developments like 4880 El Camino are ok!

The resident initiated petition below is circulating to facilitate voices being heard in this process. If you wish to support this, please sign the petition here, and we’ll add your name to the list of resident supporters.

Preserve the Neighborhood Character for the El Camino Corridor

We, the residents in and surrounding the El Camino (CT) zone request that the Los Altos City Council and PTC implement these into the CT Commercial Thoroughfare Zone District:
1. Reject developments that exceed a maximum height of 45’. Retain the 45’ height criteria in the CT zone as a “maximum total height”. Redefine the CT zone height to 34’ and incentive structure with the maximum affordable housing units so that the height of 45’ is never exceeded.
2. Maintain the neighborhood character for retail businesses. Require retail businesses that are neighborhood supporting in future developments. Set design criteria to promote neighborhood supporting service businesses, such as eliminating the requirement for minimum retail ceiling height of 12’. Adopt the recommended exception for new retail development in the affordable housing linkage fees schedule.
3. Provide for safe and walkable streets. To compensate increased development density in the CT zone, define these public benefits: Wider sidewalks, increased visibility at cross walks on El Camino with better lighting and crosswalk visibility signage, speed mitigation measures and safe walking paths or new sidewalks on side streets. Tie costs for these to developer fees as deemed appropriate.
4. Provide for adequate setbacks and privacy screening for residences adjacent to multistory developments. Define increased side yard setbacks that face adjacent R1 and R3 zones for those portions of development above 2 stories. Implement design requirements for at least a 4 foot minimum window height requirement above 2nd floor windows that face adjacent R1 and R3 zones.
5. Define Public Benefits and Concessions pertaining to the California Density Bonus Law. Define an ordinance with specific developer benefits and concessions that may include public benefits in addition to affordable housing units. Public benefits may include: wide sidewalks on El Camino, cross walk visibility measures along El Camino, traffic mitigation measures and safe walking paths or sidewalks on high traffic side streets, and measures to promote neighborhood supporting businesses.

**your signature**

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Want to share your views with the Council? Attend the city meetings as we communicate then, and contact the City Council with an email at council@losaltosca.gov that says you support preserving the neighborhood character in and around the El Camino neighborhood and having transparent processes for determining zone regulation maximum limits in the CT Zone.


More Background on the CT Zone zoning and the Density Bonus Ordinance:

Following the surprises associated with the 4880 El Camino Real project which exposed the failure of the city to have an ordinance addressing the California Affordable Housing Density Bonus law, the council imposed a building moratorium on the CT zone (which expires in Nov), the neighborhood adjacent to El Camino from Los Altos Avenue to Rengstorff. The City Council directed staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission to review all related zoning requirements for possible updating. During the moratorium, the Council expects to amend parts of the CT zoning code and to approve a new ordinance implementing state law on density bonus requirements and incentives, which will apply city-wide.  This ordinance, in addition to getting residents voices heard, is a critical piece of decision making about changes to the CT zone.

  • The CT Zoning building moratorium was put in place a few months ago because of the fiasco with the development at 4880 El Camino, the location where Hunan Homes restaurant was located, next to Jack in the Box.
  • A fiasco was created because the city was caught unprepared for the first time that a developer (for 4880 El Camino) requested a height exception based on the California Density Bonus Law. The law basically says if you put in a certain amount of below market units, you can ignore one or more of the zoning regulations, such as height. The problem was that the city had not thought through and had no set limits on how much added height (or other zone limits) the developer can get.
  • An uproar from the residents was caused by the City Council negotiating with this developer for a 58′ height building plus an 11′ elevator structure above that, for a total of 69′ —  when in fact the 45 foot height limit was just put in place. The city was governing by exception, again!!  As a result a building moratorium was put in place for the El Camino (CT) zone.
  • To remedy this, the Planning Commission was tasked with creating a city Ordinance that defines what developers can get (for example for height) if they put in below market rate affordable housing, per the state law the Density Bonus law. The first draft was developed and reviewed June 1 and while helpful it allows building heights to go an additional 11′ above the current zoned height. Similar concerns exist for setbacks.
  • This new ordinance and the accompanying ZT zone new regulation limits are being drafted NOW by the city staff, and will be reviewed on Aug 3, and Sept 12.

_________________

Text of the Petition to Preserve the Neighborhood Character of El Camino in Los Altos:

  1. Reject developments that exceed a maximum height of 45’. Retain the 45’ height criteria in the CT zone as a “maximum total height”. Redefine the CT zone height to 34’ and incentive structure with maximum affordable housing units so that the total height of 45’ is never exceeded.
  2. Maintain the neighborhood character for retail businesses.  Require retail businesses that are neighborhood supporting in future developments. Set design criteria to promote neighborhood supporting service businesses, such as eliminating the requirement for minimum retail ceiling height of 12’.  Adopt the recommended exception for new retail development in the affordable housing linkage fees schedule.
  3. Provide for safe and walkable streets. To compensate increased development density in the CT zone, define these public benefits: Wider sidewalks, increased visibility at cross walks on El Camino with better lighting and crosswalk visibility signage, speed mitigation measures and safe walking paths or new sidewalkson side streets. Tie costs for these to developer fees as deemed appropriate.
  4. Provide for adequate setbacks and privacy screening for residences adjacent to multistory developments. Define increased side yard setbacks that face adjacent R1 and R3 zones for those portions of development above 2 stories.  Implement design requirements for at least 4 feet minimum window height requirement above 2nd floor windows that face adjacent R1 and R3 zones.
  5. Define Public Benefits and Concessions pertaining to the California Density Bonus Law. Define an ordinance with specific developer benefits and concessions that may include public benefits in addition to affordable housing units. Public benefits may include: wide sidewalks on El Camino, cross walk visibility measures along El Camino, traffic mitigation measures and safe walking paths or sidewalks on high traffic side streets, and measures to promote neighborhood supporting businesses.