City of Palo Alto CA Planning Department Advice on New Custom Home Design and Approval Process

In this webinar, Jodie Gerhardt, Manager of Current Planning City of Palo Alto, CA talks about the Approval Cycle Process for designing and building a New House and ADU.

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Jodie Gerhardt


Emily Foley: I can hear you.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. Thank you again for taking the time to jump on. Oh, and we got Sam joining, perfect. All right, we'll get it kick started here in maybe just one more minute. Let everybody have the opportunity to settle back in front of their computers and we'll get started. Sam, are you lucky enough to be working out of the office?

Samuel Gutierrez: No.

Rob Dowling: Okay. The background fooled me. I thought you might be.

Samuel Gutierrez: That's my background, yeah. It's a good scale, it works. But yeah, if you see my hands, they kind of start to give it away.

Rob Dowling: You had me fooled.

Jodie Gerhardt: There we go. I've got my El Palo Alto background now. I had lost it.

Rob Dowling: Oh, there you go. I have to upgrade my laptop in order to allow me to use the fake backgrounds. My laptop doesn't support those fancy backgrounds. With all the virtual meetings I'm doing these days, it might be a worthwhile investment. Well, we're just about one minute past the hour, so we will jump into it. First of all, I just want to thank everybody for taking the time to join us for this lunch hour. Hopefully, if this is your first time joining us for this webinar series, ultimately, the goal is to educate and inform potential clients, buyers, current customers of ours, or anybody in the public in of different topics that are critical to going through and completing your new home project.

In this case, we're really fortunate to be presented with city of Palo Alto to walk us through their planning approval process. A couple weeks back in case you weren't able to join us for that one, we were able to speak to the town of Los Altos Hills. So, there may be some similarities through the planning process. However, I will say that Palo Alto, having more zoning districts than just maybe purely residential use, I think there will be quite a bit of differences here that I think hopefully, will be beneficial for all the folks who are joining us and listening to us today.

Again, just as a reminder, there's the option to write your question in the Q&A section, just clicking the button up there at the top, and you can type that. If you're like me and forget your questions throughout the presentation, that's a great way to do it. Otherwise, at the end of the presentation, we're going to have about 10 minutes at the end, where we'll give folks the opportunity to also virtually be called on, and in that instance, you'll have the opportunity. You probably won't have any questions for me because I'll be the least educated person in the room, but likely directing it towards one of one of the folks from the city of Palo Alto staff who we're lucky enough to have joined us today.

With that said, we will jump into it. As a start, we'll go into just talking a little bit about the format of today's presentation, which we're going to be going through. We'll do a very brief introduction about us. We'll let the city of Palo Alto introduce themselves. And we'll let Emily, Jodie, and Sam talk a little bit about their background, how long they've been there. We'll talk briefly about the goals of city of Palo Alto planning staff, do a brief overview of the process in general, and then we'll jump into a few of the important topics that might be there, including single story homes, two story homes, and ADUs. And then hopefully, we'll leave some time there at the end for some Q&A.

It's certainly a lot to cover in an hour, so we'll try to keep it moving, keep it brief. I would encourage anybody who does have a question, if you can please keep it relevant to the group as a whole. If you ask a question pertaining to your particular property, I may not be able to ask that or get addressed in this exact forum. But we will have the contact information for the city of Palo Alto planning staff and the planner on duty for any questions you might have.

And throughout the presentation, Jodie, you had a great suggestion of including QR codes for access to documents throughout the presentation. So, as I go through, in case I forget to mention it, you will see a QR code in multiple slides of ours for today. And that is an awesome resource. The city of Palo Alto, of all the cities we work with has some of the best online presentation material that really helps guide in much more detail than we'll cover just today, since there's a lot, has some great online resources to really dive into the minute details of everything there is to know about it.

And yeah, with that said, for anybody who hasn't joined us, I mentioned that our webinar series has been going on for about, I think this is about week number eight or so. Ultimately, the goal is to inform our clients and inform future clients of ours all there is to know about building a new custom single-family home throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. We make it happen kind of in a business model. We have an office in Los Altos, we have an office in India, and ultimately, we're able to provide a really vertically integrated project delivery method that ultimately, we feel like is a huge benefit to our client base. And we wouldn't be able to do it without the awesome team that we have supporting us. Huge shout out to them. I'm a very small piece of the whole puzzle that makes it happen. With that said, we'll jump right into it. Jodie, Sam, Emily, if you wouldn't mind, just taking a minute to introduce yourself. I'll pass the mic off and then we'll go from there.

Jodie Gerhardt: All right. Thank you very much, Rob. My name is Jodie Gerhardt. I am the manager of Current Planning. My team processes all current planning applications that come through the city. I've been with Palo Alto going on 10 years now. Worked my way up through the system. Before that, I was with the City of San Jose, where I'd worked for about 14 years. So, fair amount of experience at this point. But I also have a great team supporting me. You'll see two of them today. Samuel Gutierrez, and Emily Foley. I'll let them introduce themselves some more. Sam?

Samuel Gutierrez: I'll go next.  Samuel Gutierrez, a planner with the city of Palo Alto. I've been with Palo Alto going on six years, starting at the counter and moving my way up to more complex projects and being promoted into the department. So, almost like I said six years of being involved with different types of projects in the city. And yeah, I think that kind of covers it for me.

Emily Foley: Hi, my name is Emily Foley. I'm an associate planner and the IR liaison. So, I'm the point person for any of these questions relating to building two-story single-family houses, which we'll get into later. I've been in this role since fall of 2019. But prior to that, I worked for M-Group, which is a consulting company and so I have a total of about five years of experience working on IR projects. Thanks.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. And I again, I mean, enough, can't be said for thanking Jodie, Sam, Emily, for volunteering your time to help lead hopefully, what will be really educational and informative presentation for folks who may live in Palo Alto, I would imagine the majority of our viewers maybe, but also anybody who might be outside of Palo Alto. There's definitely will be some crossover planning department to planning department, but certainly this whole presentation will be catered around specific to Palo Alto. But hopefully, it will give everybody a really educational experience on what it will take to build your new home. I don't necessarily have a particular order of going about it, but Jodie, it would be great if you could at a high level, just explain to everybody what are the goals of the planning department? And what role do you play within the system as a whole?

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes, so thank you. Generally, all cities either have a comprehensive plan or a general plan depending what you can call it either thing. But that starts to lay out where the city would like to see housing happen, where they'd like to see offices happening, sort of at that high level. That's the general plan or the core plan. And then you roll down to the zoning ordinance, which gets into more details about setbacks and heights limits and those sorts of things and what specific uses are allowed in different zoning districts. And out of those two documents, kind of come these goals that starts to talk about what do we want the city to look like? We do want it to preserve the unique character. We do have some Eichler neighborhoods, we do have some historic neighborhoods, we'd like to preserve those as much as possible.

We certainly allow new construction, but any of that new construction needs to sort of fit in with the existing neighborhood. Sometimes that means if you have a single-story neighbor, your new two-story house might need to be a little bit smaller to fit in with a single-story neighborhood. You're still allowed to stories but you just need to fit in. We want to respect the surrounding context, that's kind of what I talked about. We want to foster neighborhood inputs. So, as part of the two-story process, we do send notices out to neighbors, we do put a poster sign on the property, those sorts of things so that neighbors can let us know what they're thinking. We can sort of work through, the city can be a mediator to some degree and see where we can come to a compromise.

Again, I have to balance that every day though, because there are property owner rights and there's neighbor rights and it's all a balance and we just try and find a good compromise. You know, there are going to be new patterns, so we just we try and work with that. We don't want to stifle. You know, especially, the best place of Silicon Valley, we don't want to stifle new innovative design and so we do try and accommodate that where we can. And you'll see further in the slides, we do very much have a different process for single story homes versus two story homes and so we'll talk about that some more.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. I think that's one thing, having worked in a lot of different cities, I think one thing that Palo Alto does really, really well is you drive through the neighborhoods in Palo Alto and there's a lot of different architectural styles. So, you're not necessarily handcuffing architectural, I guess, innovative ideas as you brought it up, Jodie, but also setting the guidelines to make sure that it's appropriate in context to the surrounding neighborhood. That's one thing that's great. It gives I think all the owners there the opportunity to kind of choose their architectural desire but within kind of the constraints of what planning has set out. So that's fantastic.

And yeah, we'll definitely dive more into the IR guidelines and some of those kind of guidance that are put together to ensure that does in fact stay and maintain throughout the course of the design process. There's a lot. Palo Alto unlike the Los Altos. The town of Los Altos Hills webinar we did the other day has a lot of different zoning districts. For today's webinar, we'll be focusing really only on the R1 district. Jodie, I don't know if you want to elaborate any further on kind of the three bullet points that I have. But they're pretty brief.

Jodie Gerhardt: We do have the R1 district. There are some sub districts that mainly talk about lot size though. There are sometimes some slightly different setbacks. You may have a six-foot side setback versus on a larger lot you might have an eight-foot side setback. So, things of that nature. But those things are easier to talk about as we know an individual address. And as far as the single-story combining district, the same as we have some historic districts, we also have some areas where only single stories are allowed that that is written into the zoning code. But those become very obvious when you look at a piece of property and you see this sort of R1S or whenever you see that S then when you talk to us, we will let you know that that is for single stories only.

Rob Dowling: And Jodie, there is a QR code here for looking at the Palo Alto parcel reports. How might somebody come to find their particular zoning district and where they fall?

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes. And so, use that QR code to get to our parcel reports. You can just plug in an address and it will give you the zoning, your flood zone, your historic status, all those sorts of high-level answers it will give you. And so, it's really best for anyone to first take a look at that and then if you have questions, certainly give us a call. We do have planners on duty every day that you can give a call to.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. You touched on a couple of the key terms and concepts there as you were explaining what information might be found within that parcel report. It's a good segue into maybe some of the terms that might come up throughout the presentation that hopefully will help give everybody a little bit of context to understand some of these concepts a little bit better. But Jodie, if you wouldn't mind kind of walking us through what some of these important topics are. And some of them are a little bit more particular to Palo Alto, but again, hopefully everybody finds it helpful.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes, so there's another QR code here for our technical manual. Basically, that's a graphic representation of our R1 code. So, I would also encourage people to look through that because it'll tell you... The code always is the legal document, but this technical manual will give you images just to help you understand what we mean by lot size and lot coverage. I mean, we generally allow like a 35% lot coverage and a 45% gross floor area. But then for gross floor area, if you have a larger lot, we might allow some additional square footage. So, it really is best to take a look at that manual to see those sorts of things.

As far as flood plain, we are now requiring houses to be one foot above the flood plain level. That's for insurance reasons to make sure everyone's insurance stays at a reasonable rate. We do have height and daylight planes, so there will be a maximum height, but then there's also the daylight planes on either sides that you need to adhere to. Floor area ratio is a big deal for us. We have a very educated community who is watchful over these permits. And so, they will sometimes be interested in making sure that we calculate all of these things correctly. And floor area ratio is one of those and so, if you get detailed comments back from us, it's because that's what the community desires.

Massing, you know, the height than the daylight plane kind of controls the massing. For the two-story homes, we have a little bit more about massing that we'll talk about later. Basements generally do not count against your floor area ratio, I think unless if they're less than three feet above grade, they would not count. And so, a lot of people are doing basements. But we do have to be careful. The community is also very interested in groundwater and making sure that we're not causing the impacts to neighboring properties by removing groundwater. So, the basement while it's a kind of free FAR, it might also be a little bit expensive to build if you have groundwater. You know, a high groundwater table on your property, you may have to do secant walls or something else that is a little more expensive.

Historic districts, we do have local categories of historic. We also have California National Register buildings. And so again, on that parcel report that we talked about earlier, you would see if you're one of those. And then we actually have Danielle Condit is my staff who works most closely on historic. And so, we could set you up with her to have some more discussion on those particular properties. And then as far as entitlements and building permits, we'll get into, single story only needs a building permit whereas two story houses also need a planning application before they get to the building permit. So that's the general rundown on that.

Samuel Gutierrez: Yeah. And as we're touching on this, I did want to touch on something that frequently does come up with the setbacks. You know, a lot of times, there's often some confusion and perhaps other cities do this. But I do want to note for the listeners that setbacks are determined by the shape of the lot in the city of Palo Alto and not by the orientation of the front door on the structure. Oftentimes, this comes up most with a corner lot where a front door might be on the broader or narrower street facing side and people assume that is their front yard. I understand operationally that might be how it is, but our code is very clear that the narrowest street facing side is always the front and then the furthest most parallel to that parcel line is the rear. And then the broader street facing side is the street side and then you have interior sides, which you could have multiple interior sides by the way. I just want to put that out there. There's often a lot of confusion and people tend to start site planning and having grand ideas when it's actually in reverse. So that's just a good note to keep in mind. It's the shape of the lot, not the orientation of the door.

Rob Dowling: Yeah, no, absolutely. And yeah, certainly there's a lot more. We're touching on I think 1,000-foot level, but I think there's obviously a ton more. And again, Palo Alto has done a fantastic job of putting together a tactical manual that visually presents that information really clearly. So, great resource there. And yeah, definitely, I think probably everybody on this call would agree that starting with the kind of the basic kind of planning sort of site planning is going to be a good idea to do before you jump into getting too far ahead of yourself and putting together full-on building package or anything else. Certainly, a lot of these items that we're talking about now are going to be absolutely critical to get checked. Before we kind of jump into the process, for anybody who's listening who is interested, and this is kind of a good segue into the next slide. But before they actually formally submit, Jodie, is there a way for anybody to get some kind of preliminary feedback on just some of the maybe key concepts that we just reviewed?

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes. We do have our planners on duty every day. You can either call or email them. I think we put that at the very end, that number and that email address, so people can see that at the very end of the slides. You know, just call or email. Because we're working remotely right now, we're probably not able to pick up the phone live. But we are returning calls within a couple of hours or definitely within a day or so. So, you know, don't be afraid to leave us a message and we'll get back to you. So, you can always do that. The two-story homes have a pre application process that we can talk about. And then all of our intakes are happening online. So, there's a whole OPS system that we call it. Yeah, since the pandemic, we have gone paperless. And so, there's a whole system to that and there's a lot of videos that explain how to upload your plans and all that sort of thing.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. And what we're going to be talking about, for anybody who might be new to the process or just beginning or maybe they're just now thinking about doing either a remodel or new construction on their property, what we're going to be discussing today is, I'll give you guys kudos, it's probably the most important piece that dictates a lot of the constraints on the property. And it's really just this first planning phase, but there are different departments that have insight and their own point of view on certain things and might offer a new set of constraints that maybe we won't cover today. And finally, it is a piece of the timeline but certainly, there's another piece of the building department review and permit issuance that we're not necessarily going to focus on today. Just for everybody's information, it certainly it's there and this will be a task to get through just what we have in an hour. But there's a lot more for the entire approval cycle.

Jodie Gerhardt: And just to clarify, we are the Planning and Development Services Department now. Planning and Building are back together as one department, we have one director, which is going to be a good thing because we want to move projects forward in a timely fashion. And so, we're all pulling in the same direction. But you're right that obviously we've got the planners on today so we'll focus on that. But we can tell you a little bit about the building process for single family homes as well, for single story.

Rob Dowling: That'd be excellent. Yeah, and that's a great segue into our next slide. Do you want to want to kick this one off?

Jodie Gerhardt: I think I'm going to let Sam take this one.

Rob Dowling: Perfect.

Samuel Gutierrez: Okay, so to answer the first question, what is the difference in the approval timelines between two story and single story? Well, it really depends on of course, the size of the building and then the inclusion or exclusion of a basement because then that plays into the timeline and adds more complexity to plan checking. But if you do a two-story home, you get into the IR process, which is the individual review process where you need to submit the architectural plans at first so we can take a look at the massing, the site planning for consistency with the IR guidelines. That process typically takes about three to maybe five months, depending on turnaround because we'll be reviewing for 30 days. We'll give comments. There could be neighbor comments, and then after that, the applicant, be it the homeowner with their design team or architect, they have their time to digest that information and adjust accordingly and resubmit. That might take a month or more. And then we have another 30 days and so forth. So, it could take about three to five months, I believe. That is consistent with what we've been seeing, right, Emily? Yes, she indicated yes. So, about three to five months.

And then a single-story home doesn't have the IR process. It goes directly to building permits. And it's actually funny enough approximately the same timeline, about three to five months because in that case, you're submitting construction drawings. So, you have full structural, electrical plans, plumbing plans, HVAC and so forth. There's a lot of data involved there, not just elevations and site plan drawings. And that would be reviewed concurrently by planning, building, public works, fire, utilities, and so forth. Urban forestry, if there's any trees. When you combine the two, and you say, well, I have an IR project two story and then I need to get the building permits after you pass the IR, again in three to five months. Then you have the building permit process that takes about the same time. Ultimately, you're looking at six to 10 months ish timeline for getting through the process. Again, it's kind of dependent. There are city timelines that are fixed, but then there's also timelines on the applicants’ part depending on when they resubmit, that could impact those timelines as well.

And then moving to the single-story combining district. This is something that exists relatively newly in the code. It's not something that has existed since the 90s or 80s or so forth. Some neighborhoods are more sensitive to two story homes, in particular, the Eichler neighborhoods where we have flat roofs, slab on grade foundations. That community felt a little out of place or out of context with new two-story homes. So, there was this effort to create the single-story combining district which is a voter driven, resident driven effort. So actually, there could be more single-story districts added to the city if enough residents in that particular neighborhood filed through the process and then we would apply it if it wins a majority vote. In those areas, you cannot exceed 17 feet in height, so pretty much a single story building all the time. That's something to be mindful of. And when you look up the parcel reports, you'll see the district being zoned as R1, which is the single-family residential district. And in parentheses as you notice here in the presentation, you'll see an S. That lets you know it's a single-story combining district, you're limited to 17 feet and that should be noted in the parcel report as well for max height. It says no greater than 17 feet. So, it's just something to be mindful of.

Basements are not considered a story. We do count them in floor area if the basement height is three feet above the grade, meaning that the first floor of the house is three feet above the ground. If it's anything lower than three feet, then the basement doesn't count towards your floor area, so all that's exempted. Though, I will note that the county assessor will tax you on that. That's often a question we get. It is a condition basement so that's something you will get assessed on versus not having one. There are some rare cases, although I don't believe there's any R1 ones in the hillside districts. But if a basement happens to protrude out of a hillside, then you know, you don't have a feature that's now fully underground, it's popping out of the ground. In those cases, you'll have a basement that partially counts towards floor area and a story and then as it gets back into the hillside, it doesn't anymore. Again, I don't believe that there's any lower R1 districts, maybe the R1 20,000 combining district near the REs but that's something to keep in mind.

And then Eichler homes as they are described, they are the mid-century modern homes that came about after World War II. We have the famous circles, Redwood circle and so forth towards the south eastern end of the city. And then the protected trees to consider always on properties are coasts, live oaks and valley oaks and redwoods. These are the city protected trees by ordinance but other trees to be mindful of especially if you have corner lots are street trees. And then if you're thinking about moving driveways around, from the left side or right side, you want to think of the street trees. Again, those are protected and regulated trees because they're city property. And then finally, the kind of the lower tier protected trees would be a property that went through IR already and we required some trees to be planted for privacy or kind of buffer planting. But those are very specific and not likely something to be concerned with because then you would have been moving into a new house already. But those are kind of summing up the protected trees.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. Yeah, no, that's a great overview. Sam, so just to clarify, if you are as a part of your single-family home, single-story, single-family home construction, if you are removing trees, does it then kick the project into the IR process or is that a separate application altogether?

Samuel Gutierrez: No. So, if you're removing trees that will be reviewed concurrently. Urban forestry will be reviewing, planning keeps an eye on that as well. And then we'll check during that plan check are these oaks and redwoods? And then that has to do with protected trees specifically. If you happen to have a house that let's say is from 2011 and you want to construct new or add to it or add some accessory structure and that house went through the IR process because it's a two-story house, there will be like perimeter landscaping, tall trees, pittosporum, saratoga bay laurels, things like that that were done for privacy. And those have to remain and that should be on the entitlement noted on there that they have to remain for the life of the property. It's a little different situation. I did want to mention them. They're kind of the lowest tier of protected trees.

Rob Dowling: Understood. And when it comes to submitting a single-story house in Palo Alto, while it might not go through the same public review process, is planning still looking at it once you submit to building or does it skip the planning department altogether?

Samuel Gutierrez: No, no. Planning looks at everything, I like to say. Pretty much it's a safe bet that planning looks at everything.

Rob Dowling: [inaudible 00:32:13] busy.

Samuel Gutierrez: Right. Right. We still have to check for zoning compliance. We need to make sure the FAR is still correct, lock coverage, setbacks, heights. There's a large number of other zoning regulations for like front yard permeability and so forth, driveway clearances and all of that. So, we still check the building permit, but we're checking them concurrently with all the other departments. So, it'd be pretty seamless. In those first 30 days, every department will be reviewing all at once.

Rob Dowling: Understood. Okay, no, that definitely helps clarify. Thank you for that. Anything else Emily, Samuel, Jodie, before I move on to what's going to be a longer topic of two story?

Emily Foley: I just wanted to add that the single-story combining district is not the only case where lots may be limited to building a one-story home rather than a two-story home. If the lot is considered substandard, which means in general, that it's going to be less than 4,900 square feet, then it is also limited to the same 17 feet in one story.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yeah, and there's a whole chart in the tech manual that talks about that as well. Because there's sort of different sizes and things. But it's a very good point that Emily's bringing up.

Rob Dowling: Yeah, that's a really good point. And I know especially, as you get maybe closer to downtown there definitely some small lots where that may be applicable. So it makes total sense. Excellent. Well, we'll jump into a bigger topic. And that would be kind of the IR process and two-story home approval process. So, I'll pass it off to the experts.

Jodie Gerhardt: I'll start it off. I'll have Emily walk us through the process and then probably both of us can talk about the individual review guidelines. As we said, the single-story homes, you just need a building permit for planning as part of the building permit will check to make sure that you're doing the right setbacks and that sort of thing. If you're doing a two-story house, it is a different process. There is actually a planning entitlement that's required. We call it the individual review process or the IR process. So, if we say IR, I'm sorry that's our shorthand. And there is the QR code in the bottom there that will send you to the IR guidelines. So, these are additional guidelines on top of the zoning requirements that you need to adhere to. And these are subjective guidelines. We try and make them as objective as we can, but at the end of the day, they're still subjective. And we do have a consulting architect that helps my staff through that process. You know, we're planners, we're not architects and so he gives us that additional expertise.

As far as applicability, because there are some two-story homes that don't have to go through this process, but I wanted to make sure the ones that do, any new two-story home, you know, fully brand-new two-story home needs to go through IR. A new second story that's going on to an original one story would need to go through the process. If you're expanding your upper level by 150 square feet or more, then you go through this process. So that's maybe the wrinkle, if you were just expanding the second story by a tiny little bit, then maybe you could squeak the IR process. But if you're making modifications to a previous IR project, then you will need to go through IR again. And so, those are generally how it applies. And let's see, I think that's the main thing to kick it off. Well, we can have Emily walk us through the actual process itself. We do have this. I think for ease of reading, you've broken this into a couple of slides. But we do have a nice one-page handout that will walk you through this process. Emily?

Emily Foley: Yeah, so this process begins at the point of the formal application being received. Prior to this, you could choose to have a preliminary meeting, which would be with a planner and with our consulting architect.

Jodie Gerhardt: And we do highly, highly recommend that prelim.

Emily Foley: Yes, that was what I was going to say next. And so, assuming that you did a preliminary application and you have gotten your application into our OPS system, then the review will begin. And so that begins with a notice being mailed to adjacent neighbors and you the applicant posting the notice board on the site. And that begins a 21-day comment period. This is the minimum required comment period, but realistically, we do allow neighbors to comment at any point during the process. The reason for not limiting it is that they would have the option to request a director's hearing or appeal the project. And we typically find it easier to just work with the neighbors throughout the whole process.

Rob Dowling: Yeah, and as an applicant, I mean, definitely would highly encourage early often and constructive conversations with neighbors. Avoiding those hard conversations usually doesn't go very far from our experience.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes, and then notices, the legal requirement is adjacent neighbors. So, if you have neighbors on the side of you, if you've got a neighbor in the back, even if you have a neighbor that just sort of touches a corner of your property, we consider that adjacent. And also, if you take your property lines and you go across the street, then those neighbors count as well as far as being adjacent and having the legal right to request a hearing.

Emily Foley: And so, the next step, of course, is to have city staff looking at the project. This includes the planning department, public works engineering, and urban forestry. Those are the typical three other projects. It might also include historic review, other departments, and then also our consulting architect. And so, after that 30-day period, the applicant will receive a comment letter. Typically, we see IR projects need about two or maybe three rounds of review. So, that first letter will almost definitely have comments and it'll go around the loop as shown on the chart. And so, at that point, the applicant will revise. Sometimes, if necessary, they can schedule a meeting with the planner or with our architects to discuss some of those comments and then it'll get resubmitted. When it gets resubmitted, another 30-day comment period is kicked off. And so hopefully, all of the comments from the first letter will be addressed and we'll be able to check everything off and start making our approval letter which will consist of a decision cover letter and then also standard conditions of approval. Jodie, is there anything specific we want to say about the conditions of approval?

Jodie Gerhardt: No, I think that's good. I mean, we try and make all of that available online. But then we also, obviously send a copy to the property owner and to the neighbors. I think that's the notice that you're seeing there is that once the director makes a tentative decision, we do mail that out.

Rob Dowling: Excellent.

Emily Foley: And so, this section of the chart explains what the process is if a neighbor chooses to request a hearing, and so at some point during that 14-day period, it goes from being tentatively approved to essentially being back under review. A staff report gets written by the planner and notice is mailed again to that same set of adjacent neighbors and a director's hearing is held. Those meetings are typically a conversation between the director or someone designated to do this hearing as a third party. And we review the staff report, we review the neighbors’ concerns, they most typically have to do with perceived privacy impacts, occasionally tree removal or another item will come up. But the goal of the meeting is to come into some sort of compromise that can be incorporated into the conditions of approval, to move the project forward. And so, if that is able to occur, then a final director's decision is sent out and it has the same notice period of 14 days. Of course, not all neighbors will be satisfied through this process and can choose to appeal it to the city council. Again, in that case, a staff report is written and it goes on the council consent calendar, and the city council will decide whether or not they would like to hold a public hearing, or if they would prefer to uphold the director’s decision.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yeah. I think in this case, Palo Alto generally processes about 102 story houses every year. I'm making up percentages, but generally 90% of those are able to, you know, the director makes a tentative decision, the neighbors are generally happy, and so that approval becomes finalized. There's maybe 10% or so where a neighbor is not satisfied and does request a hearing. So, the director will try and work with the neighbors and the property owner to come to a compromise. And then about 1% or so gets appealed to city council. We really try and stay away from this as much as possible. I mean, council has a lot of things on their agenda and single-family houses is something we should be able to work out before we get to council. And so, we really hope that property owners work with us in this regard. Again, we're always trying to balance property owner rights with neighbor rights and trying to find that happy medium.

Rob Dowling: Yeah, I can definitely see how that would be a challenge at times. In terms of timing goes, Emily, you mentioned the preliminary review process. How long does that typically take? I apologize if I missed that piece.

Emily Foley: A preliminary meeting is just an hour-long discussion with the planner and with the consulting architect. The applicant provides plans, it is time to go over conceptual site plan, floor plans and elevations, and to kind of make sure that things are on the right track before a formal application. But there shouldn't really be any additional time associated with that. It would just be a meeting that occurs while you're preparing plans.

Rob Dowling: Understood. I know everybody's busy, but approximately how many days or weeks would you anticipate it taking in order for somebody to be able to sit down and conduct this meeting?

Emily Foley: It varies. I would say that currently we have a lot of space in the calendar. They do only occur on Wednesday afternoons, but we have three or four slots per week. And at this point, there's a good chance that you'd be able to get it for the next Wednesday.

Rob Dowling: Excellent, excellent. Okay.

Jodie Gerhardt: And there is an IR process documents or forms page so that you can see what that process is and there's a space to write down your time slot. But as Emily said, there, Wednesday afternoons, and we try make it where... you know, if it was two weeks out, then I would have to start shuffling stuff and trying to make sure it doesn't get to three weeks out.

Rob Dowling: Sure. Sometimes I would imagine that the number of applications. City of Palo Alto receives sometimes a challenge to keep that train moving. With that said, we're going to dive into, I think Emily, an area expertise for you, certainly, but it's something that I think the entire planning stuff is probably pretty familiar with. But the guidelines that are there.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yeah, so the individual review guidelines is that extra document that you need to adhere to for two story homes. There are the five different guidelines. And I'm opening my book that has all my red marks across it from the years of working on this. And Emily's got hers too, I'm sure. But guideline number one is mostly about site planning, trying to make sure that you're fitting in with the neighborhood or you're also fitting in with the lot. We want to reinforce existing patterns. Sometimes we have some houses that are further setback on the lot and so we'd like to see new houses. Maybe they don't have to be all the way back if someone's 50 feet setback on their lot, but maybe they're not right up on the 20-foot minimum setback. Things of that nature. There's also in the Eichler neighborhoods, sometimes we have the more patio style where homes are more out on the whole property and with maybe a plaza in the middle. So, we want to see some of those same sorts of patterns.

And you'll see the examples here, picture's worth 1,000 words. In the center in the green box, in the center there is the new house. And if you're looking at the front elevation, you'll see that on the left-hand side is a single-story home. Whereas on the right-hand side is a two-story home and the new house, we call it space under the daylight plane. We definitely like to have that space. And it's really just sort of keeping the massing in scale with the neighborhood. And to do that, we have this space under the daylight plane, especially when you're next to a single-story home. Whereas in the red, you'll see that that house is built out to the maximum and that would really start to visually encroach on that single story home to the left.

And also, too I should note that when we're looking at sort of these massing neighborhood comparisons, we are mostly looking at just the house that's on the right and left of you. Sometimes when we're talking about front setbacks or garage placement, we will look a little further down the block. But for the most part, it's just the two houses next you that we compare to. Anything else on guideline one, Emily?

Emily Foley: I guess just briefly that streetscape diagram kind of similar to this that shows the three houses next to each other is one of the submittal requirements for the plan set.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes, and I think this one also talks about the garage being subordinates on to the main house. We don't want the old style where the garage is the first thing you see.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. Yeah, no, and for anybody who's new to viewing these documents, this is a very small snapshot of the entire document as a whole. There is if you go back to the two-story home approval, if you follow this link here, it'll give you much more information about each one of these guidelines. But moving on to guideline number two.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes. And so, guideline number two does get into the placement of the driveway, the garage, and the house. We do have key points like you said, if you look in the IR guideline document itself. And some of the key points are to place more of the floor area on the first floor level whenever possible and avoiding first floor levels placed high above the ground level. We do want to see that you're, again, fitting in with the neighborhood. The first house in the red box there is very, very boxy as the second story is as big as the first story Generally, we don't want to see that unless that's happening in that neighborhood where you're going, but it usually is not. And so, we usually want to see things that are in the green box. You'll see in the in the center example there that they've actually sort of hidden the second floor into the roof. So that's one way that you can visually reduce the massing.

Not everyone takes us up on this offer but most people will do kind of that righthand greenhouse where the second floor is just sort of staying small and doesn't have 12 story ceiling heights and things like that. People can have taller ceiling heights, we're not regulating ceiling heights, what we're regulating is the mass of the house itself. But of course, your ceiling heights ultimately adds to the mass of your house. So that's why I bring that up.

Rob Dowling: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that's a really good point. Yeah, certainly not dictating any of those constraints. But again, just kind of putting together all those guidelines to steer everybody in a consistent direction in the community, which is great.

Jodie Gerhardt: And so, guideline, three, let's see. Just making sure my key points... This one does get into the architecture. Again, we're not dictating architectural style, but we do want to make sure that the style hangs together as a whole. You know, in the red box here, we call them flippy, floppy roofs. They're all over the place like that's a little too much, it's a little too busy. Sometimes if someone comes in with all different size windows, it starts to draw attention to itself in not a great way. And so, we do want to have, in the green box here you'll see a little more simplified forms, a little more windows that that go together as a family of windows. And so, that's the main kind of crux of this. Let's see, to fit a detailed. Yeah, so that's, that's the main crux of that, to guideline three.

Guideline four, street facing facades. Again, we don't want to have that pronounced garage. We don't want to have different styles, you'll see on the bottom red there, then you start to see the different styles of windows and kind of pieces and parts that just don't fit together. Whereas on the green side, a much more cohesive design from a street view. We do want to make sure that that sort of front facade blends in with the rest of the neighborhood. So, thank you.

Rob Dowling: Last but not least.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yeah, not least. This is one of our more popular guidelines that is mainly about privacy. We do have a population that likes their privacy. And so, we have come up with some rules of thumb to help with this issue. You will sometimes see frosted windows on the side of homes or you will see windows with a higher sill height, starting at five feet. Those are our easy tricks. You don't have to do that but that's kind of the easy route for us to ensure that privacy is maintained because on those side property lines, we only have a six-foot setback or something similar. Whereas we're not too worried about privacy in the front usually. There might be a special circumstance but usually, the front is fine. And the rear, we try and not worry about quite as much but that's because in the rear we've got a 20-foot setback where we can have some landscape solutions. We can put some trees in the rear of the property to kind of break up the views from rear to rear.

There is also kind of rear to your side neighbor's backyard that we might be mindful for. And so, the trees might need to come around to the side a little bit so you're not looking in your side neighbor's backyard. And the same goes for balconies. This doesn't show our balcony design. Our best balcony though we would like it to be kind of built into the house with kind of a room on either side. That way those rooms on the sides could block the views from the balcony, but you could still see your backyard. If you can't put rooms on either side of the balcony, then we may put up a privacy wall. Privacy wall is usually about five foot six and it helps screen the views again to your side neighbor's backyard. Again, those are sort of the easy solutions. Not required solutions, but just sort of easy ones. If an architect comes up with a different way to do it, we're happy to look at that.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. And again, there's a lot of information in each one of these guidelines which I'm sure folks have perhaps some questions on. But in an effort to try to keep going and make our way through to ADUs, I'm going to keep making our way through what's been definitely a hot topic and something we've been approached a lot about. And is complicated. It's not super straightforward. Again, there's a QR code here at the bottom for a handout that Palo Alto has put together, which is extremely comprehensive. It goes over a lot of what we're going to be discussing right now and a lot more. But with that said, I'll hand it off.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes. So please, everyone take a look at the handout if you're looking to do an ADU. And please call our counter staff to talk through your individual property. Because this one gets pretty complicated. Generally, the state allows you to do an ADU and a JADU on your property, and gives you those sort of bonus square footages to make that happen. Of course, at some point your property sort of maxes out so you've got to put all the pieces together and make sure it all fits. But we have seen a lot more ADUs come into the city. We are encouraging those. The ADU itself only needs a building permit. If you're doing a two-story house, then we would normally just do the ADU along with the two-story house so it might look like it's a discretionary process, you know, a planning process. But really the ADU just needs a building permit.

And maybe I think if we go to the next slide. So, there are some sort of highlights to remember. Let's see. For properties with JADUs, the property owner does need to occupy one of the units and we do have deed restrictions on those JADUs. Still, we do not do the deed restrictions for ADU use anymore. For ADUs that are less than 750 square feet, we do not have impact fees, but the larger ones, there would be impact fees for that. Street addresses would be done through our building departments and all the regulations about Airbnb is not allowed because you do need to rent for 30 days or more. I know Sam can get into lots of details if people have questions about that. They cannot be sold separately. They're all on one piece of lot, you cannot subdivide off the ADU.

And then both the ADU and the JADU do need to have kitchens. The junior ADU requirement is a little bit less as far as the kitchen but they both need to have a kitchen. They also need to have bathrooms but the JADU you can share the bathroom with the main house if you choose. Attached ADUs cannot be connected to the main house whereas a JADU can be connected. And then if we go on to the next page, I think we start to show the inside of our handout there. Just to note, again, you may need to try and read through this but give us a call because it does get complicated quickly. In the white table here, table number one, those are the state allowances whereas in table two, the kind of light green, those are additional allowances that the city of Palo Alto has given to property owners.

And then when you look at the sort of third row down, you'll start to see like are you converting space? Are you building brand new? And so, once you find your column then you can go down from there. That's a quick rundown of ADUs, but everybody's still kind of on a learning curve. And there's our number and our email, so please ask if you have questions or of course, we're here right now too.

Rob Dowling: I'll kick it off with one quick question. This is in regards to floodplains. The question is, it seems houses near 101 require several feet of ground clearance. But beyond a certain street heading towards midtown, it drops to zero requirement. It looks like the granularity is very coarse and sudden rather than mean gradual. Is it by design required like that? And has the floodplain been updated according to the adjusted projections for sea level rise?

Jodie Gerhardt: All of the floodplain requirements come from the nationwide, FEMA. And so, we're just implementing those regulations. As they get updated, then we update our systems. Like I said, we now need to be one foot above the floodplain and that is really to reduce insurance rates for the entire city. So that's sort of a higher-level issue than us. We just we just implement it.

Rob Dowling: And if you are located in a floodplain, Jodie, is that something that would show up on that parcel report when you pull up your particular address?

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes, it will absolutely show up on that parcel report. So, you'll see what your floodplain is. And Public Works Engineering is our main department that handles that. If someone needs some real details, Public Works Engineering would be the group to talk to. Also, to note, we are in the process of building new bridges across one of our main creeks. It's going to be a couple of years. But after those bridges are in place, then I'm sure new FEMA maps will come out.

Rob Dowling: Understood. Another question that came. Is any portion of Palo Alto unincorporated?

Samuel Gutierrez: No. Not anymore.

Jodie Gerhardt: Not that we would regulate. Yeah, there's no sort of interior pockets. The College Park and Baron Park have all been incorporated into the city. Stanford Research Park is part of the city, we regulate Stanford Research Park. We do not regulate the university, that's regulated by the county. So that's the one big... But we do regulate the shopping center, Stanford shopping center.

Samuel Gutierrez: And part of the medical center.

Jodie Gerhardt: Yes, we regulate the medical center.

Rob Dowling: Okay, got it. Got it. Yeah, Stanford, crazy how much land that campus has.

Jodie Gerhardt: I got to see the original grant deed that is in cursive. So, I got to tell my kids, that's why they're learning cursive.

Rob Dowling: Yeah. When it comes to single story plan reviews, first of all, the same guidelines that we reviewed for IR, is that the same lens that planning is looking at when they're reviewing single story number one? And number two, approximately, Sam, you touched on this briefly but if you could just reiterate. Approximately how long would somebody, a resident who's applying expect for that process to take assuming not a historic property?

Samuel Gutierrez: Okay, so single story, we're mainly checking for zoning compliance. You have a few one-off properties that might be adjacent to a creek or actually near downtown or in downtown that are historic and they would go through in a different process. But the vast majority of single story R1 lots, it's a straightforward building permit process. So, it's very prescriptive. Are you meeting your setbacks? Are you meeting your FAR, lot coverage? Things like that. With the single story, we don't have the privacy concerns that are present with the two-story home. So, it is different. And as I mentioned before, to get through the single-story building permit review process, it's approximately three to five months. Again, we're checking structural, so along with zoning, along with fire code and urban forestry with trees and whatnot.

So, you might actually get approvals within your first 30 days but then you have a few comments from a few departments, typically that's the building department. Because they're looking at structural, they're looking at your green building code compliance, which is very involved and intricate, there's water requirements. So, you can check off a few departments but then a few other ones because of their scope and what's involved is going to take some time. So, like I said, approximately three to five months. One note I will say it is helpful that if you do have a plan and you stick to it, then we are only checking for those comments. If in the middle of the plan check process, you decide to change, what you can do as a homeowner or designer, that will elongate your process because then, depending on what you're changing, I want to add another bedroom or a bathroom or this and that. It's not just what's on the drawing, its new plumbing calculations and energy compliance calculations and so forth. Just be mindful of that as well in the middle of the plan check process. It will cause some delays accordingly to whatever you're changing.

Rob Dowling: Excellent. Well, I want to be mindful of the time and the amount of time you've already invested in will help walk in through the process. I know there are some other questions that are out there. What I would encourage is there is the contact information right here that is on the screen. Certainly, for any questions we weren't able to get to due to being short on time, feel free to reach out if there's any questions that we can help with, certainly you can reach out too. Our information is right there as well. But again, Jodie, Emily, Samuel, I can't say enough about how beneficial this hour was to everybody and I want to thank you for volunteering your time.

Jodie Gerhardt: Thank you so much for having us.

Rob Dowling: Thank you so much. All right. Take care.

Jodie Gerhardt: Take care.

Samuel Gutierrez: Bye-Bye.

Emily Foley: Bye.