Portola Valley Basement Ordinance, 2008 sign now

Prepare to lose more rights to the use of your land.


We, the undersigned, stand opposed to the ordinance currently under Portola Valley Town Council consideration; said ordinance serving to further restrict the peoples right to construct basements beneath their houses.

Note to signatories: This petition is intended to be a response from the Portola Valley community to its Town Council. By clicking to sign this petition, you are presenting yourself as a member of the Portola Valley community who stands in opposition to the proposed basement ordinance. If you are a member of a neighboring community and still wish to sign this petition, please indicate so in your endorsement.

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The Portola Valley Town Council will convene on January 9th, 2008 to ratify an ordinance which will dramatically compromise your rights to build a basement underneath your home. "Full Basements" will no longer be permissible, without steep penalties. Basements larger than 20\% of your Adjusted Maximum Floor Area (AMFA) will be discouraged through punitive measures. Barring immediate public resistance, it is believed that your Town Council will effect this change post haste.

This action, conceived by the Towns Planning Commission, represents yet another erosion of your real property rights. The author of this petition stands opposed to this ordinance and asks for your endorsement in such opposition.

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Current basement zoning rules:
Basements are generally allowed under residential living structures as long as they do not extend beyond the structure's above-ground footprint. Additionally, the ceiling of a basement must not be higher than 18" above natural grade and must not be higher than 12-feet above the basement floor. When these fundamental parameters are met (as well as other, less stringent parameters), basements may be built without penalties or undue restrictions.

Proposed basement zoning rules:
You will be penalized for basements that are larger than 20\% of your propertys AMFA. If your proposed basement area is larger than 20\%, then all basement square footage will effectively count against (reduce) the amount of total permissible above-ground square footage for your property. (Not just the area over the 20\% limit, all basement area is calculated into the penalty.)

Example: Suppose that your property is allowed to have a 4,000 square foot house. Currently, if that house is one-story, you may have a 4,000 square foot basement. With the new ordinance, you will only be allowed an 800 square foot basement. If you want to have a larger basement, the zoning ordinance will force you to forfeit your above-ground living space. Eg, if you decide that you want a 2,200sf basement, the ground floor living space of your house must be reduced from 4,000sf to 2,900sf .


Quotes on this subject, from a locally renowned architect:

The ordinance that the Portola Valley Planning Commission is proposing would be one of the most restrictive basement ordinances on the entire peninsula.
If given only 20\% AMFA to work with, I could not in good conscience propose any basement at all to my clients. For so little return, the basement area would come at too high a premium and basement construction becomes cost-prohibitive. It seems that the Planning Commission as realistically trying to prohibit basements altogether.
If I am able to put more storage, mechanical, and limited-use space underground, I can effectively reduce the size of the house above ground. Water heaters, furnaces, mechanical rooms, seasonal storage, wine cellars, media rooms, vaults; they can all go into basements. If they take basements away, my house designs will need to have more above-ground mass.
What is the visual difference between a 5,000sf house with a full basement, and a 5,000sf house with no basement? In most cases, zero. There is no difference. With very few exceptions, you don't see basements, you don't hear basements, they disappear just as they should.
Generally, if people want two levels in their house, they can either have a two-story house or they can have a one-story house with a generous basement. By implementing a basement ordinance, it seems that the town is actually encouraging two-story houses which, in my mind, is incongruous with Portola Valleys current Design Guidelines.

Town officials were consulted in concert with public records. In addition, professionals in the architecture and building arenas were consulted to assist in providing contrasting voices of reason.

Proponents of the new ordinance claim that construction of basements will add to the overall construction time of a residential building project. Opponents will say that the difference in the construction period between a partial basement and a full basement is negligible; possibly no more than a matter of 1-2 weeks which, in the greater scheme, is a nominal delta.

Proponents claim that basement construction creates a soil disposal issue. The Town is rightfully concerned that soil will be unnaturally stockpiled on building sites. Your Town concedes that the reason builders stockpile soil on site is because the Town raised roadway impact fees steeply to cover wear and tear. The natural solution is to reduce off-haul fees and establish alternative incentives for off-haul of soils, with compensatory fees embedded elsewhere.

Proponents claim that expansive basements will require more energy for HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning). Professional consultation reveals that the opposite is true. Subterrainian Earth maintains a constant of approximately 55єF. Indeed, this area (being proximal to 55єF environs) requires less winter heating than against the deeper cold of outside air. In summer months, the area is naturally-cooled by the surrounding soil ... thus requiring less A/C. Furthermore, basement climates are actually conducive to a few common uses: wine storage (cellars), smart-home technologies (circuitry-cooling), etc.

Proponents cite extreme cases. A fellow who builds a 9,000sf house gets a 9,000sf basement for a gross 18,000sf home. That's unfair, it's an abuse of the system, it increases the "livability" of the property beyond what is intended for the Town. Opponents acknowledge that extreme cases can happen; but feel that it is worth allowing a few extreme cases rather than burdening the entire population with legislation to prevent those few abuses. Additionally, the Town's ASCC is in a position to exercise its authority to prevent such egregious abuses.

One proponent of the new ordinance claims that basements increase house sizes and, therefore, increase property values. Opponents say, "Whats so bad about that?!"

So much of the Town's argument is based on drawbacks of excavation, road impact, associated dust, equipment emissions, noise pollution, etc. They are replete with "green" legitimizations, and seem to be exploiting the green movement to facilitate this cause. Consider this, folks. Compare the impacts of installing a basement vs. installing a swimming pool. Same excavation. Same road impact. Same green concerns. Indeed, swimming pools are much more abusive of natural resources: energy usage of pool equipment (electricity), production and byproducts of chlorination (biohazard), natural pool-heating resources (natural gas consumption and combustion). How long will it be before the Town tries to outlaw swimming pools? Where do we stop legislation-gone-awry?

The basement issue is currently on the drawing board of many Planning Departments around the Bay Area. It is the hot topic. As our Towns schedule on the matter is imminent, all eyes are on us. It is no exaggeration to say that the outcome of Portola Valleys basement initiative will impact and influence other jurisdictions in our greater community. Again, do we stand up for our property rights, or do we allow those rights to be taken from us?

The immediate matter is our right to build our properties as we chose. Ordinances are currently in place to keep fanatics from building homes that are truly offensive and contrary to Portola Valley decorum. This basement ordinance is not one of those protective measures. Basements are not obtrusive. Basements are not nuisances. They are utilitarian spaces where we can expand our living and storage areas while keeping the exterior mass of our homes in check.

I strongly urge you to speak up and let the Town Council hear your feelings on this matter. Come to the January 9th meeting. Meanwhile, your endorsement of this petition will be an endorsement of 1) our desire to keep our basement options open, and 2) to symbolize that, especially in this context, we value our free rights to use our real property as we chose.

Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

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Carolyn BookerBy:
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The Portola Valley Community


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