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Grand Jury report calls out Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside for misusing backyard units to meet housing quotas

Original post made on Jun 14, 2023

A San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury has singled out Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside for trying to sidestep state law by relying too heavily on backyard accessory dwelling units in their housing plans.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 14, 2023, 10:06 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by pvrez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 14, 2023 at 2:41 pm

pvrez is a registered user.

don't let Steve Drace gaslight you - you should be angry. he's advocating for unjust taking, a violation of your constitutionally protected private property rights (5th amend).

Posted by Stuart
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jun 14, 2023 at 8:46 pm

Stuart is a registered user.

Read the section titled "Recommendations":
Deed restrictions?
Required independent monitoring?
Verification of how an ADU is used?

This is very frightening and threatening language which is evocative of a totalitarian state. These recommendations are a very short step away from the government assigning people to be housed (billeted) on your private property - with or without your consent.

Posted by CyberVoter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 15, 2023 at 12:12 am

CyberVoter is a registered user.

Who convened a Grand Jury for ADU's on the Peninsula? How does a Grand Jury fit in CA's Housing discussion?

Perhaps no one has noticed that CA has lost over 750,000 residents over the last few years. Offices and retail stores are vacant all over the area! Look at Middlefield Road between Atherton & Palo Alto to see massive opportunity for new housing in the area!

The "Government Planning Model" is a disaster. The residents need to assert a rational solution to problem cased by CA' s bureaucracy and well-intended, but naive housing equity zealots.

Posted by Menlo 2024
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 16, 2023 at 12:56 pm

Menlo 2024 is a registered user.

We just can't build housing and give it away. The left and Newsom have destroyed this state....

Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 17, 2023 at 6:39 pm

new guy is a registered user.

What a waste of time and money. You (journalist and the entire grand jury) should have read HCD's guidance regarding ADUs. Sorry, but there are no stated limits as to their use to satisfy the requirements.

from article:

"The most surprising finding to Grand Jury Foreman Steve Drace is that HCD is allowing cities to use ADUs to satisfy low-income housing, yet there is no system in place to monitor if low-income residents are inhabiting those units."

"We think that's a little sketchy," Drace said. "It's within the letter of the law, but it's violating the spirit (of the law)."

The low-income ADU "only exists on paper, that's the issue," said civil grand juror Greg Spector.

So Drace and Spector can have their "opinions", but sadly, they have no real power here. Drace also has no power to enforce the "spirit of the law" whatever that means. Sorry but Grand Juries must follow "legal" written laws, not some interpretation of the "spirit". Spector may want ADUs to be rented to "low income" people, but we still live in a country where you cannot force this to happen.

Sadly, HCD will be back in 8 years with even more "guidelines". For now, they will have to live with the current law, and the lawsuits that will come from people's interpretation of the "spirit" of the law.

Posted by Les
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2023 at 1:48 am

Les is a registered user.

As a former Chairman of the Woodside Town Planning Commission, all I can say is High Time. Congratulations to the SM County Grand Jury for investing the time and effort to bring this on-going issue to light. For many, many years the Town of Woodside has been very, very guilty of localized, insular, housing and property elitism, with layers of devious manners that widen the economic divide between the ridiculously rich and the rest of San Mateo County and State of California. Now is the time for serious change.

Posted by Westbrook
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 18, 2023 at 4:38 am

Westbrook is a registered user.

I suggest a system similar to cap and trade now being used for carbon offsets. It doesn't make sense to put dense multi-family housing in certain areas, like Woodside, Portola Valley, and most of Atherton. It's too far from shopping, schools, and other services. In most cases, these are in rural, and isolated areas of the Peninsula and they are also the most affluent and can afford to pay other Communities to include more housing. I would think they would be willing to pay a premium for this type of policy.
It could be a win-win if more housing is the real goal. If some other social experiment is the plan then that will be exposed.

Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 19, 2023 at 11:07 am

Alan is a registered user.

"Deed restrictions?
Required independent monitoring?
Verification of how an ADU is used?"

I think the point is - if a town is going to use ADUs to count towards their affordable housing quota, they need to prove it's being used that way. If someone builds one of these things in their backyard, and doesn't want this sort of monitoring, I don't think they have to.

There is the question of whether this whole concept of forcing every town - regardless of their nature - to increase low-income housing really makes sense. I live in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park - and there are places where they could (and are) putting up affordable apartment complexes. I'm fine with that. Forcing Atherton to make this accommodation, hmm, I don't see why you can't just let rich neighborhoods be rich neighborhoods.

Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 19, 2023 at 1:20 pm

pogo is a registered user.

California’s Housing and Community Development (HCD) agency is demanding our state build 2.5 million new housing units during the next eight years. That’s more than 300,000 new units a year EVERY YEAR FOR EIGHT STRAIGHT YEARS.

This is a fantasy worthy of Timothy Leary.

Our state builds about 100,000 new single and multi-family units a year. Not only will California not hit this wildly absurd 300,000 goal, but because of our slumping economy, mortgage interest rates (doubled in one year!) and depressed housing market, we aren't even having an "average year." Just take a look at housing sale prices and volume – they are down almost 10% since last year. We aren't going to do HALF of HCD's 2.5 million unit goal.

This isn’t about “affordable” housing. The median price of a home in San Mateo County is now about $2 million. If you could wave a magic wand and cut that by 50% - not that that’s going to happen – are these $1 million prices now suddenly affordable for these targeted workers? And if you focus on our more expensive cities like Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley where median prices are significantly higher, the affordability issue is even more farfetched. Unless you want multi-story high rise apartments, providing affordable homes isn't possible when a single acre in our priciest cities sell for $5 to $10 million. The math just doesn’t work.

The folks behind these new regulations are DEVELOPERS AND BUILDERS. No one disputes that and it’s not necessarily a bad thing – but don’t fool yourself into thinking these initiatives are going to magically create affordable housing. When a builder proposes replacing a single family home with a ten-unit condo, none of them are going to be “affordable,” at least not to the people who need the most help. These developers just want to flip a property and upzoning it makes that a sure thing. Getting to skirt local housing regulations and bypass those noisy, inconvenient public hearings is just a fun bonus.

Web Link

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2023 at 8:48 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Oh, Alan.

Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 21, 2023 at 10:05 am

pogo is a registered user.

As with a lot of our state's ill-advised regulations, they can easily be self-certified. We self verify for A LOT of things, including benefits like unemployment (where you certify that you "are actively looking for work...").

A city or town can require that a property owner annually certify that their ADU rent is below market. This could be done on-line easily. It really doesn't matter if the renter is a college student, a senior, a teacher, police officer or even if the renter is related to the property owner. Only the amount of rent that is paid is at issue. You either qualify or you don't.

And, yes, people cheat. That's already going on pretty much everywhere.

Posted by Meg
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 22, 2023 at 3:04 pm

Meg is a registered user.

This sort of targeted abuse and culture war approach is so disheartening. PV exceeded the mandated housing allocation last cycle by a large amount. Little 9 mile by 9 mile PV with no unincorporated land to build on has greenlighted lots of ADU's, in addition to low and moderate income housing developments managed by local churches, non profits and schools. Some of these are multi-unit developments. But it is clear that there is no winning with the slaves to the developers and attack dogs in public office. One wonders if the answer is to vote out the current government in Sacramento who have consistently failed the California homeless and housing insecure? Really, the only major success in providing housing to the housing insecure in Calif. has been through the large numbers of new build ADU's and now they want to stop the use of ADU's. It feels like Newsom and the Developer's lobbyists don't want the homeless housed? Are they afraid housing the housing insecure might put an end their assault on the middle class lifestyle of private home ownership and the open space environment that slows global warming? Profit at any cost?

Web Link

Posted by Not-Jeff
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Jun 26, 2023 at 9:26 am

Not-Jeff is a registered user.

"providing affordable homes isn't possible when a single acre in our priciest cities sell for $5 to $10 million. The math just doesn’t work."

Ding ding ding! This a nutshell...a big part of why this state's approach to increasing housing inventory is so misguided. Math doesn't give a 'F' about political ideology.

While we do need more housing and housing costs are a factor in the California exodus (though I'll add we've had these exodus'es before during recessions in general but particularly tech-centric ones; it's just that in this case the influx is not exceeding the exodus), there are less obtrusive ways to achieve this.

Personally, I think some of the existing office building space should be rezoned for housing, as it's clear that the peninsula in particular has more office real estate than is usable for office space.

Posted by theater goer
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 27, 2023 at 8:34 pm

theater goer is a registered user.

Interesting to note: ADU’s were just praised as a key means of fulfilling housing quotas in Marin…

Posted by Tecsi
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 28, 2023 at 9:39 am

Tecsi is a registered user.

Why is this reporter devoting two paragraphs to someone from Greenbelt Alliance?

I thought Greenbelt’s focus was climate change.

Posted by Tecsi
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 28, 2023 at 9:47 am

Tecsi is a registered user.

@Meg. Very well stated and argued.

We have a lot of aggrieved people—typically in their 20s/30s—who expect us to densify our communities in the false hope that home prices and rents will substantially decline, and everyone will be able to live here.

Looking at current new homes prices and new apartment rents, I see zero evidence for this.

Posted by Tecsi
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 28, 2023 at 9:53 am

Tecsi is a registered user.

@Westbrook: your cap and trade proposal is intriguing and well worth exploring.

Thanks for offering a new, creative approach.

Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 28, 2023 at 10:07 am

pogo is a registered user.

Westbrook's idea of allowing cities to fund multi-family housing in other more appropriate areas with transportation corridors and larger downtowns is a very good one.

Unfortunately, this idea has already been proposed (right here on The Almanac's Town Square) but has been knocked down by Sacramento officials. Governor Newsom, the Housing and Community Development agency and Attorney General Rob Bonta oppose these ideas citing they are just a way for "rich" towns to pay off their obligations. These officials are on record demanding that new, higher density projects be located within EVERY city, regardless of land costs, economics or the availability of resources like transportation, jobs, or schools.

They are on a mission.

Posted by CyberVoter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 28, 2023 at 10:16 am

CyberVoter is a registered user.


You are ABSOLUTELY correct! It is the 2nd French Revolution all over again. Newsome, Wiener and the massive Sacramento establishment will not be happy until that have created "equity for all" by Zip code! And then when they see the results, they will have to go even further.

Californians must wake up and bring back sanity before it is too late!!

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