Ask Palo Alto to Protect Los Trancos Creek

Ray Krebs, flickr

Update: We’re pleased to report that the Palo Alto City Council voted in favor of a 50-foot setback from the creek bank, as well as bird-safe design, lighting restrictions, and other protections for wildlife. Now the project will go back to the Planning and Transportation Commission for review before returning to the City Council for final approval. Thanks to everyone who submitted emails to the City Council! Your voice makes a difference!


On Monday, January 23, the Palo Alto City Council will consider approving a monster home on an open space parcel far up in the foothills above Palo Alto. The house would be too close to the bank of Los Trancos Creek, which could result in erosion and landslides into the creek, impacts to sensitive species, and blocking of wildlife movement along the creek corridor. Please email the City Council and ask them to require changes to the project to mitigate these impacts.

What’s Happening

A landowner has proposed a 7,200 square foot home, plus an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and swimming pool, on an open-space-zoned site in the Palo Alto foothills. This mansion is a mere 20 feet away from the bank of Los Trancos Creek, which provides critical habitat for threatened and endangered species and a movement pathway for animals.

The Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan suggests that in open space areas like this one, riparian setbacks for development should be 150 feet, which is what Santa Clara County requires in their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, Palo Alto has not yet updated its antiquated ordinance to comply with the Comprehensive Plan; thus a 20-foot setback is all that is required. However, the City Council has discretionary authority to direct the landowner to modify the project because it is located in an ecologically sensitive area. We are recommending a 55-foot setback, which would be in line with neighboring homes, and for the Council to require bird-safe design, outdoor lighting restrictions, and protocols to control the spread of Sudden Oak Death during construction.

Why It Matters

The recent storms, with their subsequent mudslides and flooding, have clearly demonstrated that if we disrespect and neglect our creeks, people’s homes will suffer the consequences. The foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains are notoriously erosion-prone, as witnessed by the brown sediment coloring our creeks and floodwaters in recent weeks. When we allow construction too close to creek banks, the resulting erosion dumps tons of sediment into creek channels, increasing future flood risk.

Also, putting homes too close to creek corridors is harmful to wildlife. Almost all of our local species use creek corridors at some point of their life history — for drinking, for breeding, for nesting, for shelter, and for migration and movement in the landscape. Los Trancos Creek supports critical habitat for threatened steelhead trout as well as threatened and endangered frogs and salamanders. Furthermore, creek corridors are critically important as movement pathways for larger animals like mountain lions, bobcats and badgers. A home 20 feet from the top of the creek bank is very likely to impede the movement of these animals.

What You Can Do

Please email the Palo Alto City Council and ask them to require changes to the project to protect the creek, wildlife, and riparian habitat.

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