Atherton house under construction for 40 years will be demolished

The building permit for this house at 370 Walsh Road in Atherton was issued in February 1978, but construction was never completed. (Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac)

A house in Atherton that has been under construction for more than 40 years will be demolished, but delays from utility companies have pushed back the date of the teardown, according to City Manager George Rodericks.

On Feb. 3, 1978, the town issued Dr. Norman Tong, listed as the homeowner and builder, a permit for a new single-family home at 370 Walsh Road. That house is still unfinished, despite the fact that Atherton in 2006 passed a law putting a strict three-year time limit on construction projects, with hefty fines for violations.

Town officials had said in the past that their hands were tied because the homeowner was following regulations in place when he received his permit, which allowed the permit to remain open as long as he scheduled an inspection and could show "meaningful progress" every six months.

In 2014, the town documented a long list of problems on the property, including dead trees; accumulations of trash, scrap metal, tires, construction supplies and materials; combustible materials; inoperable vehicles; and a large structure that showed significant deterioration, staff wrote in a report.

In February 2016, Tong died of a heart attack while working on the house. On Sept. 30, 2016, the building permit expired because, as a town report said, "no meaningful progress had been made in over one year."

Last September, the City Council ordered Tong's family to apply for a new building permit, bring the building up to current codes or tear it down. The family has opted to demolish it, but gas, electric and sewer shut-offs are still pending so the house remains, Rodericks said.

The most recent delay in the effort is due to PG&E, which applied for a gas cut-off and pavement restoration permit in March. Town staff approved the permit the day PG&E applied, Rodericks said in a July 1 email.

"PG&E did not return to pick up the permit until mid-June," Rodericks said. "They still have not completed their work."

PG&E is set to begin its work on Aug. 13, said company spokesperson Andrea Menniti. Neighbors may notice PG&E crews digging in the street during the project, she said.

Tong's family hired a demolition contractor and can formally apply for the demolition permit as soon as PG&E completes its work, Rodericks said. The review process for the permit can take up to 10 business days, said Mike Greenlee, a town building official, in a July 2 email.

The house's structure has not been altered in any way, Greenlee said. Once demolition is finished, the lot will be completely cleaned, he said. There is a chain-link fence around the property to help prevent unwanted entry.

West Bay Sanitary District also applied for a sewer disconnect permit, but that work is still in progress, he added. West Bay will need to verify that the house's sewer line is not connected to the sewer main. West Bay will also verify that the sewer line is properly capped off.

Officials from the town's code enforcement division visit the property at least two times a month, Greenlee said. The last complaint the town received about the property was in April, he noted.

The Tong family could not be reached for comment.


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8 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 17, 2019 at 4:50 pm

Oh to have bought a 1.38 acre lot on Walsh Rd for $44,000 in 1975
Yep, that was the price for 370 Walsh.

2 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2019 at 3:36 pm

pearl is a registered user.


2 people like this
Posted by 5thGenCalifornian
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2019 at 7:32 am

If only it was a simple as, "Bureaucracy."

PG&E HAS to ensure there's no gas connection, or they're liable when there's a fire. The sewer has to be properly sealed or you've got another mess.

I feel your pain, its frustrating as hel when there's finally a resolution to a decades old eyesore and we've got to wait another couple of months, but, there ya go.

2 people like this
Posted by Arthur
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 19, 2019 at 8:47 am

It is Bureaucracy. What if there was a fire at the property, would it take that long for the utility to disconnect? If yes, we have a bigger problem.

6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 19, 2019 at 10:19 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


if there was a fire at the property they would come out and use a device that pinches the pipe closed. They use them when someone breaks a gas line as well. The problem is it's not permanent. The gas main has to be disconnected at the main which is usually in the street.

As a builder I can tell you PG&E is buried with work. Especially, because of the wild fires. They are required to put those customers first before anyone else. We have been waiting to have wires pulled into a house we have under construction for two months now and the work won't be done until early next month. That's IF there isn't another major wildfire that pulls manpower away from this area.

We've also had to wait months to get gas disconnected and installed.

2 people like this
Posted by pg&e hater
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 19, 2019 at 10:41 am

Art: there's a gazillion reasons to detest pg&e, but you're reaching here.

If your comment is a slam against regulations in general, again, there's a gazillion examples.

But this owner proves *exactly* why regulations need to be well written and enforced.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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