Guest opinion on Louise Street dispute: Don't ignore my property rights | July 10, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - July 10, 2013

Guest opinion on Louise Street dispute: Don't ignore my property rights

by Sam Sinnott

Over a year ago, I bought a home on Santa Cruz Avenue.

The existing lot was overgrown, including almost a dozen dead heritage trees, but it was also large, flat and suitable for a new family home, with an enormous white oak tree and an old driveway and parking area with double gates connecting directly to Louise Street in back.

The elderly former owners used the gates and dirt driveway connecting to Louise Street for many years. However, this rear access had been blocked by neighbors placing gravel and wheel stops in the public right of way, blocking those gates, to create their own exclusive parking area. Mr. Tate, the elderly former owner, had complained to the neighbors about blocking his driveway but they ignored him.

After reviewing my original plan to relocate the rear driveway and allow the parking to remain, my neighbors decided not to move their parking and vowed to organize the neighborhood against me. That was April 2012.

Following many fruitless meetings with neighbors, the Public Works Department granted my application for an encroachment permit to pave my existing rear access and improve the safest vehicular route to and from my property. Because Santa Cruz is at its narrowest in front of my property, staff approved the permit, similar to one that was approved for the driveway in 1984, to make the property safer.

City staff also recommended denying the neighbors' appeal of the driveway encroachment permit because staff recognized the existing rear-access rights and that my proposal would help get cars off Santa Cruz — a stated goal of the city.

Neighbors claim, among many inaccuracies, that a green space would be destroyed. A large, overgrown oleander bush dominates this so-called green space. I recently designed yet another driveway that saves all foliage and provides 83 square feet of more green space than the former gravel parking area.

The city agrees that we have vehicular access rights to Louise. We have recently been using the existing dirt driveway and gates to clear the rear yard of overgrowth that was choking the heritage oak tree. All work was previously discussed with and approved by the city arborist. Prior notice of this work was given to the city attorney and to the police chief.

In my view, the council ignored my legal property rights and voted to appease a packed house of neighbors by revoking my encroachment permit. The city began a process to gift city-owned land to the neighbors. The neighbors replaced the gravel parking area with ivy following the March 5 council hearing.

The city's attempt to take the safest route of access away from a single-family home by abandoning part of the street is a violation of my property, due process, and equal protection rights.

No negative impacts will stem from a new family driving to their home via a safe street. The council should drop the proposed abandonment and approve my revised, green driveway plan.

Sam Sinnott is a longtime Menlo Park resident and founder of Sinnott & Co. Architecture & Construction.


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Posted by Louise Street resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

In asserting your "rights", you are unfortunately continuing to rewrite and distort the facts. You also give absolutely no weight to the rights of the neighborhood and the dozens of neighbors on Louise Street and throughout Menlo Park who believe your plans destabilize and fundamentally alter the character of our neighborhood.


1) There was no "old driveway" from Santa Cruz to Louise Street. Your property has used its driveway on Santa Cruz for the duration of its existence. As dozens of current and former residents of the Street have testified, the "driveway" on Louise Street never existed. In fact, your first letter to the owners of the adjacent property made very clear reference to your interest in constructing a "new access" to Louise Street. It was only after homeowners on the Street expressed concern about construction of this "new access" that your story changed, and you began referring to an "old driveway" that no one who currently lives or previously lived on Louise Street ever saw or used.

2) You have not, as you claim "recently been using the existing dirt driveway". You have cut down shrubs and trees in the City-owned green space and driven over mature ivy and shrubs to manufacture a driveway where none existed. In fact, on at least four occasions over the last year you have flouted the City's requests and explicit direction to refrain from performing work in the disputed area until the City made its final determination. The rear fence of your property and the area leading to that fence were completely obscured by ivy and mature trees and shrubs when you purchased the property. You and your crews have since removed substantial greenery from the area, including cutting down multiple trees and shrubs on the city-owned land and trampling the ivy so thoroughly that it bears no resemblance to its prior appearance. Dozens of neighbors who have lived on the street for decades - including four families who've lived in the homes directly adjacent to the green space - have testified that no vehicle ever used the rear gate to your property. It was used for pedestrian access only - access that your neighbors on Louise Street have offered to preserve and formalize - and it appears even for pedestrians, the gate was used most recently more than 20 years ago.

3) Your comment that the neighbors "vowed to organize the neighborhood against" you is also a fabrication. The neighborhood made very concerted efforts to work with you from the beginning. When you placed flags and markers in the green space, the neighbors began asking questions of each other and of the City. When the neighbors learned of your plans, several approached you and City Staff for explanations, and also met with you and City Staff several times to attempt to understand your plans and come to an agreement. The neighbors want your property to have the pedestrian access to Louise Street it has historically enjoyed, similar to the access enjoyed by your neighbors at 1833 Santa Cruz. We are simply working to protect a small open space that has been enjoyed for generations by hundreds of current and former residents from being paved over for the benefit of a single developer.

4) Your suggestion that the conditional encroachment permit issued to you by Public Works somehow constituted a show of support for your plans is also a distortion. Before issuing any permit, Public Works directed you to work with the neighborhood and ultimately issued you a "conditional" encroachment permit with the full understanding that the neighbors would appeal. You were not allowed by that permit to perform any work on the City-owned land until the neighborhood appeal was heard. As noted above, that didn't stop you from repeatedly performing substantial work on City-owned land without a permit.

5) Your article fails to note the multiple occasions that the City has ruled against your plans.
* The Planning Department has twice said "no" to your requests to flip your house and change its address from one on Santa Cruz to one on Louise Street. (That hasn't stopped you from repeatedly advertising the property for sale with a fictitious Louise Street address even after being asked by the City to stop.)
* The City Council voted in March to support the neighborhood appeal of your encroachment permit and also voted unanimously to pursue abandonment of the land to the neighbors.
* The Planning Commission has ruled that abandonment of the land to the neighbors is consistent with the Menlo Park General Plan, which seeks to preserve the existing character and stability of neighborhoods.

Sam, your actions have already significantly changed the character of our neighborhood. What used to be lush green space is now characterized by tree stumps, trampled ivy, and a dilapidated fence. When you drove bulldozers and a dump truck - unannounced - through the City-owned open space onto your property last month, it was hugely destabilizing to the neighborhood. You seem to have forgotten, but this is where your neighbors live.

You have claimed in the past to be a good neighbor. Neighbors listen to one another. They listen to the City. The Planning Department has twice said "no" to your request for an address change. The City Council has said "no" to your encroachment permit. The Planning Commission has said abandonment of the land to the neighbors is consistent with the Menlo Park General Plan. Hundreds of neighbors have expressed their opinion that your plans are not good for Louise Street, for the neighborhood, or for Santa Cruz Avenue. Multiple individual City representatives have said the same.

Please, for the good of the neighborhood, your neighbors, and your City, it's time for you to set aside your motive of further increasing your profits on the sale of your property, to listen to the neighbors and the City, and to show that you can, in fact, be a good neighbor.

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Posted by Louise Street neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Amen to the Louise Street resident above...

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 4, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?