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July 27, 2015



Thanks, Russ. The planning commission appears to be rubber stamping every project with some minor changes.

Why do we have design review ?


Interesting post/ of course not accurate/I watched the meeting also- thankyou Granicus-
"I made some comments that I was concerned about second story additions being approved in neighborhoods where none existed". This is a direct quote from Russ.
I was surprised to drive the neighborhood and see the following:

605 Vernon Way / two story split level / second story over garage and main dwelling

615 Vernon Way / two story split level / second story over garage and main dwelling

621 Vernon Way / / two story split level / second story over garage and main dwelling

624 Vernon Way / two story split level / second story over garage and main dwelling

711 Vernon way / two story home

717 Vernon way / home with second floor

728 Vernon Way / two story home

716 Vernon Way / two story home

704 Vernon Way / two story home

This is in two short blocks and only on Vernon Way. There are many two story houses in this area. As I drove the neighborhood I realized that this addition definitely fits into the neighborhood. Maybe Russ is not against two story additions unless they are in the neighborhood, because that is the way it appears. To quote John Lennon, sorta, "This is my story both humble and true, Take it to pieces and mend it with glue"
Go ahead, need a good laugh.
I will admit that some of the addresses were hard to find and one might not be exact.


Try doing the same windshield survey on the 600 block of Lexington Way. You will find a different story. A story that I, along with another neighbor talked about...one that illustrates that that block is one of the last remaining blocks that have few, if any, second story additions.

However, the bigger point that I was attempting to make here and at the meeting is that there are some areas where two story homes do not fit into the consistency of the current neighborhood and adding them essentially changes the consistency to the point where consistency no longer exists and therefore the planning tool of neighborhood consistency becomes moot.

Just sayin'

Bruce Dickinson

Russ, I gotta tell ya, you command a lot of respect from yours truly, Bruce Dickinson, but I disagree with you on most of your post. Let’s start with what we do agree on, most likely. If the house pictured above is the first example of the block that will break the one story “history", if you will, it has got to look the part. Sadly, this looks like an example that is “straight outta Fremont” that is to say, it looks like a generic tract home that has no place in Burlingame, I don’t care if its one story, split level, or two stories. Looks too plain and something like Plan 3 of the Shadow Oaks community development in your typical ex-burb in the middle of some inland area where the only water you see is sprinkler runoff into the gutters of the housing tract. Now in this case, the domino effect will start, not just for two story houses, but for not so great looking two story houses, in the said neighborhood, which is a problem. A house, if quality materials, architectural character, and human scale elements are incorporated with intent and thought, the community can be proud of the first two story house on the block and something that will have a “halo effect” of sorts, and raise all property values, which is what will probably happen if subsequent two story houses with equal stateliness would also be erected. Also the owners of the house being added to will also see their house value increase beyond what they put into it. The details can go a long way.

Now where I disagree is the definition of “neighborhood”. Is it one street, is it a city block, or is it the general neighborhood or city? Two city blocks away is what I consider the same neighborhood. Now for those who are not wealthy “hitters” like yours truly, and want more space, what is the most affordable and realistic way to do it? Sell your house and buy one that costs way more than it is to build an addition to an existing property? That’s not entirely fair, quite frankly. You own the land, you own the house, you can build to regulation (ordinance), but make it architecturally interesting to keep in line with the less tangible guidelines (which will cost more, but way cheaper than buying in a more expensive neighborhood) but set the example for future 2 story houses which WILL eventually be built. Then you have broader issues of the housing stock deteriorating because of age, lack of maintenance, what have you where re-habing or remodeling can be more expensive than tear-downs.

Bruce Dickinson has no beef with building/adding something nice to give a family the same rights to enjoy two-story living as other families, but the Planning Commission should require something that looks nicer, as the minimal cost still is outweighed by the value creation of building up. It wouldn't take a lot to improve the design of the above and I'm not talking about the fine Italian marbles, exotic woods, and precious metal trimmed fixtures that make the Dickinson house a living museum, but alas, I digress. In the long run, an upgrade in the housing stock will benefit the entire neighborhood’s value, but it’s gotta look upgraded, ya know what I mean? Burlingame should command higher standards, period.


I think the biggest contributing issue is something else entirely, not yet mentioned. There were three subdivisions of Burlingables, all created between January 1935 (BG #1) and October 1935 (BG#3). Burlingables #2 (August 1935) was by far the largest, and looking at the patterns, streets like the 600 block of Lexington are indeed predominantly 1 story with integrated garages, just as the 300 and 400 blocks of Lexington follow the same patterns. However other blocks, such as Burlingables 3 (Chatham, Marin, Cumberland) have predominantly split-level homes. I'm fairly sure that these are not full two stories, and I doubt there was ever a full height, original two-story house built on any of these blocks. The split levels IMO generally do not look overwhelming, and good for them, way back when, to recognize this for the benefit of all the neighbors. I’d think that the majority of the homes were probably completed before the early 40s, and it may have been a marketing technique to promote small homes (something that we have fewer and fewer of, but I digress), but also larger homes in certain blocks, that had an extra bedroom and bathroom, albeit in the split-level format. There are indeed patterns if you look carefully, and yes, here and there, additions and complete teardowns have interrupted the given patterns.

Split-levels generally appear far less visually overwhelming. A full second story, the type of which is being discussed currently in Burlingables #2, as people expand their homes, together with the fact that all the garages are “integrated” without the typical long Burlingame driveway going all the way to the back, does result in a quite dense “solid” look, no matter what style is used; BTW this problem is not unique to Burlingables, but it is going to change the feel of that neighborhood for sure.

Maybe the Planning Commission should look more closely at split levels to be a solution as a better fit for Neighborhood Consistency in this neighborhood. Splits may have their detractors, but they were designed to "blend" with their single story neighbors and the integrated garage styles, seamlessly; I do think they largely succeeded at doing such.


As usual, Jennifer, you are a fount of B'game wisdom. You are also on target on the details that are the key to understanding original intent. It will take someone with backing and backbone to get neighborhood consistency back on the front burner.

just saying

The term is transition. These homes, these neighborhoods and yes as humans we will also transition. Archie Bunker said “ you know Edith you don’t really buy beer, you just rent it for a while.

Jennifer definitely has some research going on, albeit one-sided, and that is her privilege. There is another side however and I believe the dominant side. We can both agree, I hope, that neither knows for sure.
I know that with a small two bedroom one bath home (some fortunately had 3 bedrooms) we were anticipating more space. Parents with three children living in a two bedroom one bath home which was probably the norm when these houses were built is not anymore. We have no family room which adjoins the kitchen. We have houses with enclosed kitchens, enclosed dining rooms and enclosed living rooms and they are all transitioning. Why? Because that is what the new buyers want. They want a family room that is part of the kitchen. They want open plans. Do you say no to them because someone built homes with no idea what the future would hold. That norm has transitioned into people wanting individual bedrooms and to also wanting the lines to take a bath, shower or to use the bathroom to stop. Younger people, the ones usually buying right now want updated appliances, electrical and plumbing also. Yes there are many two story houses which are split level. Some of these have added second floors over the non -garage side and I am sure many more will do so in the future. More second floors will come and many are already there if you look.
There is no right or wrong here but likes and dislikes. The likes and the dislikes are transitioning however, whether you like it or not.

just saying

In college my English professor said that I write well and questioned whether I proof read my writings. My answer, no I didn't.
I proof read my last comment after posting and now must change one part.

"We have no family room which adjoins the kitchen. We have houses with enclosed kitchens, enclosed dining rooms and enclosed living rooms and they are all transitioning. Why? Because that is (not) what the new buyers want"

The last sentence should have read: Because that is not what the new buyers want. I have added the word not into the sentence.

Bruce Dickinson

Guys, Bruce Dickinson isn't an architectural expert, but doesn't a split level home usually result from the bottom floor being partially sunk into the ground? So if you have an existing one story, how do you create a split level without sinking the first story down or making one of the ceilings lower than 8 feet? I know you can potentially add to the rear of the property, but I cannot see how this can add substantial square footage?

There are plenty of houses in Burlingame Park and Easton that are two stories and look spectacular. Just get Sean McMurphy or whomever your regular contractor is to just replicate the basic style of one of these houses. I don't see how having something nice on the block cannot be of net benefit to everyone other than the immediate neighbors losing some privacy. Other houses will get built larger due to aging housing stock and on $1.5 million dollar dirt, you can't have people keep to one story or unrealistically dig down to make something a split level (unless it's a new house). An addition as a split level will give you minimal extra square footage if the first story is 8 feet and not dug into the ground.

It feels weird saying this in spite of my wealth beyond riches, but I think Bruce Dickinson is a lot more open to the struggles of people trying to own a home. If you've got a neighborhood of nice two story houses, all values will go up and you give opportunities for families to utilize their $1.5 million dirt so that they don't have to go and pay $3 and $4 million in Burlingame Park. Sorry folks, but you gotta have a little more empathy for your fellow Burlingamers, in my opinion. A neighborhood can look spectacular with one and two story homes, we know this for a fact there are so many cities in the US that have this (just look at my Burlingame, San Diego post). It's just whether the Planning Commission has the motivation and means to enforce the right designs and architecture.

C'mon folks, can't we be a little more generous for our fellow neighbors? This is something that I'd be happy doing for the right reasons and that offers the greatest good to the greatest number of people? not just for current residents, but for future residents as well!


Bruce, I think what you are describing is some kind of hippie 1970s sunken structure, dug down. That is most certainly not what I describe. Here is the Wiki description of a split level:

"A split-level home (also called a tri-level home) is a style of house in which the floor levels are staggered, so that the "main" level of the house (e.g. the level that usually contains the front entry), is partway between the upper and lower floors. The main level typically contains common living areas (a living room, kitchen, dining room, and/or family room). There are typically two short sets of stairs, one running upward to a bedroom level, and one going downward toward a basement area. The basement level is usually finished off, and often contains additional living areas (most often, a family room, an office and/or a hobby or playroom), as well as frequently laundry facilities and other utilities. The basement level often also features a garage, and is usually level with the driveway. Beneath the main level (downward from the basement level) is usually crawl space, or sometimes additional basement space, which is frequently unfinished."

Regarding sufficient square footage for young families, I live on a block with short properties (100ft.). Right next to me is a newly remodeled 1930s era split-level home with integrated garage. It has substantially more square footage than my own two-story craftsman, though is several feet shorter. Though it is not so critical in this neighborhood, where there is a real mix of sizes and styles, it could make a big difference in other neighborhoods of predominantly one era or style. Split level are actually fairly common in Burlingame.

To clarify, this issue is not about lack of empathy or exclusion, it is about visual cohesion vis a vis Design Review.


Russ it nice to read your comments. I had no idea you were God when it comes to design. I guess we need your permission to have a quality design.

How about becoming an architect and starting your own company? It is really easy to sit on the sidelines and pass judgement as a city of Palo empolyee.

A Idiot

You must be Forest A. Gump. What a buffoon.


A.- Interesting that you are calling me the supreme being just because my opinion appears to differ from yours.

Last time I checked, we live in the land of the free with "freedom of expression" included. This blog is an example of that particular freedom.

And to set the record straight: I do not work for the city of Palo Alto. I work for a non profit association in Palo Alto.

Also as a matter of record, I spent close to 30 years as a design professional so I know a thing or two about the subject.

I don;t normally find the need to defend my opinion, but I always yield to temptation when the facts are erroneous.

Bruce Dickinson

Easy, easy fellas, c'mon, guys, the last time I checked, Russ lives in Burlingame and basically runs or is a part of several Burlingame institutions, as it were, including the website that is even allowing such diarrhea type posts to splatter this site with nonsense. Agree or disagree with what he says, but Bruce Dickinson kinda regards Russ as the E.F. Hutton of Burlingame, that is to say, when he talks, people listen (something I may know a thing or two about, ya know what I mean?).

Anyway, in reply to Jennifer's post (another person with some dynamite ideas, though I may not always be in agreement with her), Jennifer, in your own Wikipedia citing, you describe what Bruce Dickinson originally said about the bottom floor being sunk in, to wit: "here are typically two short sets of stairs, one running upward to a bedroom level, and one going downward toward a basement area. The basement level is usually finished off, and often contains additional living areas." Bottom line is a split level home usually includes some underground or semi-sunk component to it.

For someone putting on an addition to a one-story house, asking them to dig down to get the the allowable square footage to get a split level look is financially prohibitive and unfair, quite frankly. Also, while I'm no expert in Burlingame codes, in most municipalities, there is a Municipal Code and more intangible "guidelines" over which governmental bodies have purview. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I would think it would be quite unusual for something in an ordinance to say that you cannot build a two story house in a one story neighborhood. "Neighborhood consistency" seems to be a guideline in most cities that is subject to interpretation and more intangible in nature and therefore is a reason why Planning Commissions exist. It depends on the definition of the "neighborhood" and what is or what isn't "consistent". It appears that already on this post, there is not an agreement as to what this consists of depending on definitions and how one views the world of Burlingame.

What is clear in municipal codes and ordinances, is that properties are allowed to be built to a certain square footage. This is in the interest of fairness and basic property rights to allow equal protection, as it were. Requiring cost-prohibitive modification gets into a murky area, especially for those who are doing the additions for themselves. I would say digging down to get a basement for a split level home is too cost prohibitive for a family looking to add square footage and forcing them to get that square footage by selling their one story and buying into a neighborhood where there are two story houses that are a lot more expensive, doesn't make a whole lotta sense to this noggin!

Finally, strictly speaking from an economic point of view, if Bruce Dickinson were far, far less fortunate than my current financial situation, if I were living on that street, and nearly all my wealth was tied into that house, I would openly welcome the entrants of two story homes. Now they have to be really nice, with top notch quality, and character such that one would not be able to tell the age of the house. If those types of 2 stories get built, I know the value of my one story would increase, by a lot. Just look at the neighborhoods where this has already occurred, even the dirt is worth more!

Now Bruce Dickinson is displeased at the current office building and multifamily-a-rrhea that seems to be going on in Burlingame to the sole benefit of developers at the expense of the public with a lot of externalities, but I don't see a whole lotta downside from allowing houses to go to two stories, which exist in most Burlingame neighborhoods and can be done in a nice, non-impactful way that respect everything that Burlingame stood for! We just need the Planning Commission to really sweat out the details in these situations to ensure that the community is enhanced in more ways than one, ya know what I'm sayin'?


Hi Bruce, you left out this line in the Wiki : "The basement level often also features a garage, and is usually level with the driveway." Maybe there are also examples of digging down (out), particularly on a grade of some sort, I am not as familiar with those. There are probably hundreds of split level homes in the spanish and tudor revival styles, all over Burlingame, Some may have additional cellar areas, as with all homes; but to my knowledge, this is not a prerequisite, why add the expense?



Bruce Dickinson

Jennifer, are you selling Bruce Dickinson’s reading comprehension skills short? The sentence from Wikipedia (which I HATE, btw) states that the driveway is level with the garage, but this does not preclude the garage itself nor any part of the house being sunk, as a matter of fact, the word “basement” is used in that very sentence. Anyway, this weekend, I had a meeting with my local real estate guy and architect to re-build a house on my winery property in the Anderson valley. And I brought up the notion of split level houses. To make a long story short (no pun intended), strike another point in the “Bruce is Right” category!

It turns out that the split level home was in fact conceived originally to build on a sloping site. My real estate guy said that nearly every split level in Burlingame has some basement or is built into a slope and that creating a split level house from a regular one story that does not already have a basement or a part of the house that is already sunk would be costly and a waste of money. It would be much easier to get an additional story built as digging down involves a greater cost and you probably won’t get to maximum square footage if you want a shorter house compared to a two story.

Also in new construction today (in Burlingame or elsewhere), split levels are virtually never requested by home buyers. Smaller windows, shallow pitched rooflines, and plain looking exteriors don’t do much for curb-appeal and the multiple flights of stairs and not having bedrooms on the same level (much easier for raising kids) were also drawbacks. Privacy within the house is also compromised because of the proximity of levels and rooms where everyone can hear everything.

Also, my guy stated that split levels in Burlingame when adjusted for square footage sell for less than one or two story homes.

What about my other points, the ones about municipal code versus discretionary items, having codes apply to all homeowners uniformly, and the only option for those adding to houses in a street where only one stories exist is to either undertake probhitively costly renovations to either build down, build split (both suboptimal and costly), or sell their house and buy something in Burlingame Park or Easton where you can take a one story house and build up? The only thing I hear by way of retorts on those points are crickets chirping, ya know what I mean? Folks, believe me, the multifamily and commercial property nonsense in Burlingame is getting ridiculous, but now allowing a one story house convert into a two story when there are houses in the “neighborhood” that are already like this, it is allowed by municipal code, it is the norm for any suburb in Anytown, USA seems overly prohibitive and unfair. The example that Russ showed is a very boring design, if it can be made grander and done right, no one will be able to tell how old the house really is..that would be a measure of success!


What a quaint thread.
It is now WOKE 2021 and the City Council will soon do away with residential zoning.
What could go wrong?

Paloma Ave

I believe that it is the state of California who wants to do away with residential zoning?


I believe it is the federal government that wants to do away with those raaacist residential zoning rules.

well, not exactly. It is forces even larger than the United States government that want The Great Reset.

And apparently the people want it too, since Biden got 500 million votes.

Paloma Ave

MBGA - There are not even 500 million people in the U.S.?

Paloma Ave

Popular vote

Biden 81,268,924 or 51.3%

Trump 74,216,154 or 46.9%


I guess I have to explain that the 500 million was my attempt at a cynical joke.


The popular vote is irrelevant.


44,000 is Biden margin of "victory"

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