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Guest opinion: Does Woodside need yet another planner?

Original post made on Jul 11, 2015

My wife and I moved to Woodside nine years ago when I retired as a land-use lawyer. I soon found myself in Woodside Town Hall and could not help but notice the number of business cards for the town's planning and building staff. The large staff for such a small town was, well, remarkable.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 12:00 AM

Comments (21)

Posted by Still Building!
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 11, 2015 at 8:51 am

We applaud your bringing this to light. It is a huge issue for Woodside residents. Our current project took 2 and 1/2 years and $40,000 in ' soft' costs to approve.

Posted by Cry me a river
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm

First, you seem to be confusing the Planning Department versus the Building Department.

Second, your facts are wrong. We have a greater number of planners here in Atherton.

Above it all, you're lucky Woodside does so much to protect land use. Atherton is unrecognizable from 20 years ago. DON'T LET IT happen to your village!!!

Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 12, 2015 at 9:48 am

pogo is a registered user.

Nicely researched, Mr. Johnson. Your points are excellent and I hope that the Town Council takes note.

Getting a permit for a minor project in Woodside often takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. The example you cited was spot on.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 12, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Be sure to check the planning employee vs. planning (employee + contractor) some of the neighboring towns may be less shining paragons due to role of mandatory outside contractors.

Posted by Glens Resident
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jul 13, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Having built two homes in Woodside what I see is one process for all projects regardless of the size. Many of those requirements you mention are State mandated. And each municipality can implement as they see fit.
But a small project should have a separate process that is less burdensome and less expensive for the owners. A garage is not an estate-sized project. Assign planners/building department employees as specialists to be assigned to small projects - people who are good at communicating to owners who are trying to do it themselves and not part of the trade.

Posted by woodside visitor
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2015 at 5:23 pm

I appreciate the detailed exposure on the matter. a $40k expense with the city to build a garage seems outrageous to me.
As another comment pointed out, how do we differentiate between small and large projects? I think this a great question for the Woodside village staff to think about.

Posted by Yes!!
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 14, 2015 at 2:46 am

Woodside's planning, building and ASRB process is so notoriously bad that people in the know avoid buying here. From personal and neighbor experience I can testify that the hens are running the henhouse.

One problem with the process is the ability for neighbors to endlessly impede with minor concerns on design elements that are not even visible to them. The town allows individuals to infringe on the basic rights of other property owners... Resulting in tens of thousands in soft costs, but no cost to the neighbor.

Don't move to Woodside unless you have tons of money to throw away.

Posted by Sallie Olsen
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2015 at 11:11 am

I happen to know the headaches and issues that have been so difficult to get a garage permit. It would be different if the project had any real impact on the community, which it does not. Needless frustration.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2015 at 11:22 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

As a builder I can tell you Woodside has the notorious reputation for being a major pain to deal with both in Planning and Building. Even minor variations from plans due to differing existing conditions requires a submittal for approval. In most other cities these things are handled in the field by the inspector being given a stamped sketch by the engineer of record. Woodside puts ridiculous roadblocks to construction up at every turn. It's a wonder anything gets built there.

Posted by SFer
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Here in San Francisco, we're known for having a pretty onerous permitting and inspection system. I also understand that you don't want to have a building free-for-all in any community and that Woodside residents want to retain the feel of their town and environs. That said, this situation is ridiculous. I would definitely not be in favor of adding another planner. Sounds like Woodside needs to spend some of the income it's getting on an audit of the planners themselves.

Posted by Good times
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jul 14, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Interesting research. From experience, adding yet another "body" would only make things worse, not better.

Having gone through the whole process recently, I was "amused" to see that after an initial submission, one planner came back with questions and requests for changes. While some of those were minors, others were significant. We then resubmitted but this time around, this was reviewed by a different person. You guessed it, more questions and requests that had not been brought up previously. Add one more body and things will only get slower, not faster.

Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2015 at 12:43 pm

I'm sure many of us have planning stories to tell, but even in unincorporated Menlo Park, working with the San Mateo planning department had its moments. Overall I was impressed with their efficiency. Having said that, one of their inspectors decided we needed to do an X-ray study of an existing concrete slab to ensure it had the needed rebar. Next inspection, $800 later, a different inspector couldn't have cared less about the results (which showed rebar). Left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth.

Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 14, 2015 at 2:49 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Inspectors are of the opinion that they are gods and can do whatever they want. Have fun.

Posted by Oakland 2
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2015 at 6:34 pm

$40,000 stands out as WAY TOO MUCH for a $70,000 project.

Posted by Oakland 2
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2015 at 6:39 pm

I mean WAY, WAY TOO MUCH for a $57,000 project.

Posted by pontificate ad nauseum
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 14, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Curious why original poster Johnson fails to acknowledge that apparently he has 2 unpermitted entrance gates to his Woodside estate, with neither Town record of approvals anywhere on the Town's database of permit history, nor Woodside Fire Protection District approvals on the public record.
Might that not be worth looking into by the new Town Planning staff member that he is castigating for being an unnecessary hire to enforce Town of Woodside ordinances and code compliance?

Posted by Sherlock Holmes
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jul 15, 2015 at 1:39 pm

@pontificate: assuming this is true, how did you figure that out? Did you do a drive by, notice newer gates and then looked up the town records? If so, then you may have too much time on your hands and should consider joining the Sheriff's office to help solve all these burglary cases. :)

Posted by just saying
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jul 15, 2015 at 4:56 pm

ad nauseum might want to be careful - Mr Johnson is fairly experienced in litigation matters...
Web Link

Posted by Tim Johnson
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 16, 2015 at 7:27 pm

In response to pontificate ad nauseum (correct spelling: nauseam), the gates were in place when we purchased the home in 2005. The seller has assured us that the gates were permitted.

Posted by Tim Johnson
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 19, 2015 at 6:52 am

In further response to "pontificate ad nauseum [sic]," the gates to our "estate" were permitted by the Town of Woodside on March 6, 2000.

Posted by Not quite
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 21, 2015 at 10:32 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names. ]

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