Room In The Barn

March 9, 2006

How much grass do you need for five cows in one barn? How much grass do you need for four cows in one barn and one cow in a second barn? Why does the Town Planning Department think that a bedroom in a guesthouse requires 1.25 times the water than a bedroom in the main house?

The San Mateo County standard is that each bedroom is calculated as representing 150 gallons of wastewater per day whether in a primary or secondary dwelling. According to the County Environmental Health Department this should be adequate for all uses in the secondary dwelling.

Planning staff has proposed the following policy even though the County told them it was not supportable.


When a new or existing septic tank system, which serves a primary residence, is used for the treatment and disposal of wastewater from a second dwelling the following formula shall be used to determine the amount of additional leach field trench required. For up to a two bedroom second dwelling the amount of additional leach field trench shall be increased by the amount required for that number of bedrooms multiplied by 1.25. For second dwellings that have three or more bedrooms the leach field trench infiltrative capacity shall be increased by the amount required to serve a primary residence with the same number of bedrooms.

The County found no data anywhere to justify making special requirements for secondary dwellings. Some counties do require more. For example, Santa Clara County requires that all secondary dwellings not attached to the primary dwelling have a separate septic system that can serve at least three bedrooms. The Santa Clara County Environmental Health Department justifies this position by referring to the overcrowding in low-income parts of the County.

San Mateo County did give the Town of Woodside the go-ahead to adopt a second dwelling policy for the Town since “there appears to be ample precedence for such requirements, we may be able to support such a policy in court if we are sued. (although we could not on a technical basis).” We cannot tell if the Town has actually adopted this policy. We have never seen it on a Council agenda.

It concerns us that the Town would adopt a policy that makes it more difficult to have a guest house without being able to provide adequate justification. It also concerns us that staff is creating more difficulties for residents in the use of their own property and wasting valuable time and money when they should be completing plan checking or returning phone calls and emails for projects stuck in the backlog for months at a time. We are bothered that staff on its own in the absence of any problem that we know of has again taken a step to be more restrictive and hard-line on building issues.

0 Comments on “Room In The Barn

  1. Anonymous

    I think that if you look at most of the town’s building rules that don’t make sense, it is because they were made with the intention of slowing new construction and remodeling. I think we should really be asking ourselves whether that is what the residents of Woodside want. This is a great format for asking those types of questions. My opinion on the subject, is that we should encourage remodelling, and new construction, as long as we are maintaining the verdant and rural feeling that attracted us all to this town in the first place. But we should encourage beautification. Right now, the process is so costly, time consuming, fraught with red tape and arbitrariness, that we are encouraging people to run their properties into the ground. And we should revamp our building polcies to encourage solar and our green construction. We are one of the most affluent towns in the nation, we should lead the way!

  2. Moooving past septic

    These are great comments…but they continue the bandaid of Septic vs. the cure of Sewer. Portola Valley has maintained a wonderful rural quality without being so backwards as to mandate septic or deny pumping…lets get past the symptoms and get to the disease…to use a health and safety code to solve planning issues is a recipe for disaster and ridicule..and we have both. I’d love the Cows to open up this for discussion..and for members to openly challenge this outdated thinking with the town.

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