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Atherton guts most of multifamily housing from plan it's sending to state

Tuesday afternoon meeting has huge turnout

Attendees listen to council members speak about the housing plan at a City Council meeting in Atherton on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

An unprecedented number of people — around 250 — turned out for Atherton City Council's Tuesday, Jan. 31, meeting to make their voices heard amid a contentious process to plan for housing in town over the next eight years.

The council removed multifamily housing plans that were met with ire by residents, and softened changes to a lot on Oakwood Boulevard in Golden State Warriors' star Steph Curry's neighborhood.

After switching back and forth between different options over the last several weeks on the state-mandated plan, the council adopted a plan with the following changes:

• Nixed the higher-density overlay zones on El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue

• Kept its 280 backyard accessory dwelling units (ADUs)

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• Changed a rezoning of 23 Oakwood Blvd. to a multifamily zoning overlay to allow for more flexibility in what's built on the site (which allows for it to remain as single-family housing even if it was sold, for example)

• Removed 17 lots slated to be upzoned along El Camino Real

The council held the roughly four-hour long meeting Tuesday afternoon as the town rushed to meet the Jan. 31 deadline to file updated housing element plans to the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Mayor Bill Widmer speaks about the town's housing plan at a City Council meeting in Atherton on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The town must plan for the development of 348 new housing units, per its 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which is a large jump from its allocation of 93 units during the previous eight-year cycle. Town officials fear lawsuits, fines and loss of local control of planning if the town doesn't create a compliant housing element.

"Somebody has to make the decision: Are we going to protect the town or open the town to lawsuits?" Mayor Bill Widmer said.

Staff had recommended the council adopt the following plan on Tuesday:

The plan staff proposed going into the Jan. 31, 2023 Atherton City Council meeting. Courtesy town of Atherton.

City Manager George Rodericks said two developers have already contacted him inquiring about the so-called builder's remedy, which allows for residential projects to move forward even if they do not comply with local development standards. These developers were the owner of 23 Oakwood Blvd. (David Arata) and Los Angeles-based real estate firm Mulholland Drive Company.

Pam Silvaroli speaks about the multifamily housing along El Camino Real during public comment at a City Council meeting in Atherton on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Significant pushback on new multifamily overlay on El Camino and Valparaiso

A plan to create a multifamily zoning overlay along El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue faced vocal opposition, with an hour of public comments consisting mainly of residents speaking against the idea. One Menlo Park resident who lives next to one of the proposed overlays said it would turn his quiet street into the traffic equivalent of exiting a stadium after a Golden State Warriors game.

The Atherton Planning Commission came up with the overlay as an alternative to upzoning 19 lots along El Camino Real. The commission recommended the entirety of El Camino, 88 properties, be part of an overlay zone on a wider range of properties that would permit development of up to 20 units per acre. Council member Stacy Miles Holland recused herself from the discussion on the El Camino Real zoning overlay because she lives within 500 feet of the site.

The Planning Commission also recommended a multifamily overlay zone on Valparaiso Avenue, which includes 22 properties, most of which are larger than a half acre, allowing up to 10 units per acre.

With the multifamily overlay zone, the current single-family regulations can remain in place, but property owners would have the option to develop their property as either a single-family home or more intensely under the multifamily development regulations.

23 Oakwood Blvd. site

The sideyard at 23 Oakwood Blvd. in Atherton on Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Council members said they are concerned about the impacts of development at 23 Oakwood Blvd. on neighbors, but fear what could be built under the builder's remedy if they don't put in some standards themselves. The council previously opted to zone the property at 10 units per acre, but decided to create an overlay for the site. That way, if the owner sold the site it could be developed on a smaller scale if desired.

Warriors star Stephen Curry and his entrepreneur wife Ayesha Curry expressed their opposition to the plans in a letter to the town on Jan. 18.

Stephanie Sargent of Redwood City became emotional discussing the upzoning of the site, saying the town wanted to "destroy" her home.

"This is over my fence and yes, I'm NIMBY (not in my backyard), whatever everybody wants to call me, because it is over my fence. I will have people staring into my yard, into my bedroom window."

Attendees listen to council members speak about the housing plan at a City Council meeting in Atherton on Jan. 31, 2023. Those opposed to multifamily housing coming to 23 Oakwood Blvd. wore green shirts that read: "Like a good neighbor, 23 Oakwood stays there." Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Diane Howard, a Redwood City council member, said she is concerned about the impact of the builder's remedy at 23 Oakwood and said it would have an adverse effects on the neighborhood.

"Please attempt to get the proposed housing element to HCD before the deadline today," she said.

The town had opted to upzone a 1.5-acre lot at 23 Oakwood Blvd. earlier this month, where there is currently a single-family home. The property owner plans to develop up to 16 townhouses with the town's guidelines.

The owner, Arata, wants to upzone his land and is interested in moving the project forward. Although he doesn't want to pursue a builder's remedy, he's well aware of state requirements of the town if the remedy is enacted, town staff said.

Council member Rick DeGolia said that if the town doesn't have a compliant housing element, the owner will build more than 10 units per acre. DeGolia said he would not support anything more than two-story buildings on this property and work to create standards for minimizing adverse impacts on neighbors, such as including screening.

Widmer said people have been sending him letters accusing him of knowing Arata and being in his pocket.

"I have no business interest with him," Widmer said, noting that he would not recuse himself from the vote because he used to be neighbors with Arata.

Council member Rick DeGolia speaks about the town's housing plan at a City Council meeting in Atherton on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Doubts about viability of upzoning El Camino properties

The council opted to remove a plan to upzone 19 lots along El Camino Real for up to 20 units per acre after negative feedback from owners. This plan was unpopular, in part, because the town has stipulated that residents would not be able to rebuild their homes as single-family homes.

"Y'all came in your red shirts and said you're not going anywhere," Widmer said of the upzoning. "If you're not moving, then there's nothing that we can do about that and you know it makes no sense to do an upzone."

Resident Pam Silvaroli has voiced her opposition to the upzoning of the lots.

Who knew I would have anything in common with Steph and Ayesha Curry? I am faced, as he and his family are, and many others, with the horrific notion of losing our privacy and our space.

-Resident, Pam Silvaroli

"Who knew I would have anything in common with Steph and Ayesha Curry?" she told the council. "I am faced, as he and his family are, and many others, with the horrific notion of losing our privacy and our space."

Staff contacted HCD to see if opposition from the property owners would be considered by HCD in the site evaluation, according to the staff report. HCD staff noted that letters stating that specific sites would not be viable because of property owner disinterest was "something they took very seriously." HCD told Atherton staff that some property owners may just be attempting to discourage the process.

"However, they would not be able to provide any specific feedback about sites or viability until they received the town's draft housing element as adopted by the town," staff noted.

Attendees listen to council members speak about the housing plan at a City Council meeting in Atherton on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The state has 60 days to review the town’s housing element and certify it as substantially compliant with state law. If the state deems the element is not compliant with state law, the town must revise it further.

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Atherton guts most of multifamily housing from plan it's sending to state

Tuesday afternoon meeting has huge turnout

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Feb 1, 2023, 11:06 am

An unprecedented number of people — around 250 — turned out for Atherton City Council's Tuesday, Jan. 31, meeting to make their voices heard amid a contentious process to plan for housing in town over the next eight years.

The council removed multifamily housing plans that were met with ire by residents, and softened changes to a lot on Oakwood Boulevard in Golden State Warriors' star Steph Curry's neighborhood.

After switching back and forth between different options over the last several weeks on the state-mandated plan, the council adopted a plan with the following changes:

• Nixed the higher-density overlay zones on El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue

• Kept its 280 backyard accessory dwelling units (ADUs)

• Changed a rezoning of 23 Oakwood Blvd. to a multifamily zoning overlay to allow for more flexibility in what's built on the site (which allows for it to remain as single-family housing even if it was sold, for example)

• Removed 17 lots slated to be upzoned along El Camino Real

The council held the roughly four-hour long meeting Tuesday afternoon as the town rushed to meet the Jan. 31 deadline to file updated housing element plans to the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

The town must plan for the development of 348 new housing units, per its 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which is a large jump from its allocation of 93 units during the previous eight-year cycle. Town officials fear lawsuits, fines and loss of local control of planning if the town doesn't create a compliant housing element.

"Somebody has to make the decision: Are we going to protect the town or open the town to lawsuits?" Mayor Bill Widmer said.

Staff had recommended the council adopt the following plan on Tuesday:

City Manager George Rodericks said two developers have already contacted him inquiring about the so-called builder's remedy, which allows for residential projects to move forward even if they do not comply with local development standards. These developers were the owner of 23 Oakwood Blvd. (David Arata) and Los Angeles-based real estate firm Mulholland Drive Company.

Significant pushback on new multifamily overlay on El Camino and Valparaiso

A plan to create a multifamily zoning overlay along El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue faced vocal opposition, with an hour of public comments consisting mainly of residents speaking against the idea. One Menlo Park resident who lives next to one of the proposed overlays said it would turn his quiet street into the traffic equivalent of exiting a stadium after a Golden State Warriors game.

The Atherton Planning Commission came up with the overlay as an alternative to upzoning 19 lots along El Camino Real. The commission recommended the entirety of El Camino, 88 properties, be part of an overlay zone on a wider range of properties that would permit development of up to 20 units per acre. Council member Stacy Miles Holland recused herself from the discussion on the El Camino Real zoning overlay because she lives within 500 feet of the site.

The Planning Commission also recommended a multifamily overlay zone on Valparaiso Avenue, which includes 22 properties, most of which are larger than a half acre, allowing up to 10 units per acre.

With the multifamily overlay zone, the current single-family regulations can remain in place, but property owners would have the option to develop their property as either a single-family home or more intensely under the multifamily development regulations.

23 Oakwood Blvd. site

Council members said they are concerned about the impacts of development at 23 Oakwood Blvd. on neighbors, but fear what could be built under the builder's remedy if they don't put in some standards themselves. The council previously opted to zone the property at 10 units per acre, but decided to create an overlay for the site. That way, if the owner sold the site it could be developed on a smaller scale if desired.

Warriors star Stephen Curry and his entrepreneur wife Ayesha Curry expressed their opposition to the plans in a letter to the town on Jan. 18.

Stephanie Sargent of Redwood City became emotional discussing the upzoning of the site, saying the town wanted to "destroy" her home.

"This is over my fence and yes, I'm NIMBY (not in my backyard), whatever everybody wants to call me, because it is over my fence. I will have people staring into my yard, into my bedroom window."

Diane Howard, a Redwood City council member, said she is concerned about the impact of the builder's remedy at 23 Oakwood and said it would have an adverse effects on the neighborhood.

"Please attempt to get the proposed housing element to HCD before the deadline today," she said.

The town had opted to upzone a 1.5-acre lot at 23 Oakwood Blvd. earlier this month, where there is currently a single-family home. The property owner plans to develop up to 16 townhouses with the town's guidelines.

The owner, Arata, wants to upzone his land and is interested in moving the project forward. Although he doesn't want to pursue a builder's remedy, he's well aware of state requirements of the town if the remedy is enacted, town staff said.

Council member Rick DeGolia said that if the town doesn't have a compliant housing element, the owner will build more than 10 units per acre. DeGolia said he would not support anything more than two-story buildings on this property and work to create standards for minimizing adverse impacts on neighbors, such as including screening.

Widmer said people have been sending him letters accusing him of knowing Arata and being in his pocket.

"I have no business interest with him," Widmer said, noting that he would not recuse himself from the vote because he used to be neighbors with Arata.

Doubts about viability of upzoning El Camino properties

The council opted to remove a plan to upzone 19 lots along El Camino Real for up to 20 units per acre after negative feedback from owners. This plan was unpopular, in part, because the town has stipulated that residents would not be able to rebuild their homes as single-family homes.

"Y'all came in your red shirts and said you're not going anywhere," Widmer said of the upzoning. "If you're not moving, then there's nothing that we can do about that and you know it makes no sense to do an upzone."

Resident Pam Silvaroli has voiced her opposition to the upzoning of the lots.

"Who knew I would have anything in common with Steph and Ayesha Curry?" she told the council. "I am faced, as he and his family are, and many others, with the horrific notion of losing our privacy and our space."

Staff contacted HCD to see if opposition from the property owners would be considered by HCD in the site evaluation, according to the staff report. HCD staff noted that letters stating that specific sites would not be viable because of property owner disinterest was "something they took very seriously." HCD told Atherton staff that some property owners may just be attempting to discourage the process.

"However, they would not be able to provide any specific feedback about sites or viability until they received the town's draft housing element as adopted by the town," staff noted.

The state has 60 days to review the town’s housing element and certify it as substantially compliant with state law. If the state deems the element is not compliant with state law, the town must revise it further.

Comments

been there
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 1, 2023 at 1:37 pm
been there, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2023 at 1:37 pm

We need to recall this bad law and the elected politicians who voted for this. We elected when.
This problem is not just in Atherton or next door to you. It applies everywhere in California.
I have written a large check to help fund this law as unconstitutional. I encourage you all to open your checkbooks also.
When I find a credible organization to mount a statewide recall of this madness, I will be donating to it too.


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Feb 1, 2023 at 2:27 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2023 at 2:27 pm

The Town Council & Staff need to "regroup" and decide where the "red line" is that would cause them to spend litigation $ with the State. If they can articulate a clear & concise position, they would find many other towns joining the effort!


Bad law / bad press
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Feb 1, 2023 at 5:59 pm
Bad law / bad press , Atherton: other
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2023 at 5:59 pm

The Almanac needs to be more thoughtful about its headlines. This is negative framing in the title of this article.

Atherton is proposing a viable plan to meet its obligations while supporting, to the best of its ability, the property rights and life savings of owners.

The Almanac needs to be supportive of its community or you will find yourselves without friends and supporters - biting the hand that feeds you. You hurt people’s livelihoods when you misrepresent your community on such an important issue.


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Feb 1, 2023 at 6:28 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2023 at 6:28 pm

Bad Law/Bad Press - You are absolutely correct! The press coverage was terrible & absolutely biased as to how selfish & evil people are that worked hard to build enough personal wealth to afford some privacy.

It is part of the "entitlement" of the generation of the reporters.


editoratlarge
Registered user
another community
on Feb 1, 2023 at 8:44 pm
editoratlarge, another community
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2023 at 8:44 pm

People in other communities, neighboring communities, are also grappling with the “loss of privacy and space.” Do the people of Atherton expect their neighbors to pick up the housing slack on their behalf? Why should they get special treatment?


Westbrook
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 2, 2023 at 12:37 am
Westbrook, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2023 at 12:37 am

Are there really 112 property owners willing to rent their ADUs to very low, low-income tenants, in Atherton?


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2023 at 6:50 am
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2023 at 6:50 am

Atherton should provide incentives for those 112 ADU residents. Pay for it with a parcel tax. Would be better than the loss of property values that is coming. Money has never been spent prudently. Too much in town centers and police departments who have admitted they will not pursue thieves on car or on foot.


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:04 am
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:04 am

Perhaps the Town Center should be "re-purposed" into a Town owned Multi family housing complex and the staff offices could be constructed in a much smaller & more appropriate location.

The new "Town Housing Center" could be rented to Atherton's staff and others that serve the area.


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:35 am
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:35 am

Cybervoter, that's the best suggestion I've heard. And plenty of poetic justice. We should do a citizen's referendum. The council will never do it.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:50 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:50 am

"Are there really 112 property owners willing to rent their ADUs to very low, low-income tenants, in Atherton?"

Not a chance in hell. Most in Atherton built "ADU's" as a work around so they could get more square footage built. They had and have ZERO intention of renting it to ANYONE.


Ayesha
Registered user
Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 3, 2023 at 10:01 pm
Ayesha , Atherton: West Atherton
Registered user
on Feb 3, 2023 at 10:01 pm

Athertonians want their independent school teachers, but not living in their neighborhoods. Let’s think about what this is really impacting.

Also, when your platform and charitable giving is for underserved and under-resourced communities and often through a religious lens, it seems pretty hypocritical.

How can your household staff be from an underrepresented and underserved group, but they aren’t ok to be your neighbor?


Menlo Lifestyle
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 14, 2023 at 2:40 pm
Menlo Lifestyle, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2023 at 2:40 pm

At least Atherton is trying to stand up for their residents, unlike the progressives in Menlo Park who have come out against single family homes. The homeowners of MP better clean house soon or they won’t be able to get back what they lost. That’s what the YIMBY’s are counting on!


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