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.