The City Council views height limits as an inconvenience, not a reflection of community values. Well, that’s not quite true…
Height limits reflect the values of the City’s residents. Walnut Creek voters passed Measure A in 1985 because they didn’t want to see tall buildings sprouting up all over town. And no developer yet has been willing to bet that the voters feel any differently now.
It’s the Chamber of Commerce and development interests who chafe at height limits. And that, unfortunately, is the only “community” whose values our City Council cares about. Those are the people who put them in office. If you don’t believe this, just look at the way the City interprets height limits…
For the Homestead Terrace project, derisively referred to by the neighbors as the “Homestead Hilton”, the City chose to measure the height of the building from a high point along the property frontage, not the base of the building. An argument could be made that the proposed building, which sits in a bit of a depression, wouldn’t be any taller than a building at the allowable height limit constructed on a flat lot. But if height-from-street-level is the standard, then shouldn’t buildings constructed on an elevated lot be held to a lesser height? That definitely isn’t the case. The City measures height from the high point of the lot frontage or the base of the building – whichever is most advantageous to the developer.
For a rather extreme example of the City’s bias, consider the proposed Arroyo Apartments, now under review. The site, just around the corner from the DMV, is close enough to the creek to sit within the 100 year flood plain. No living spaces can be constructed within the first 7 feet above the sidewalk due to FEMA regulations. The City has chosen to measure the height limit from that high water mark. Thus, if we have a catastrophic flood, and you’re paddling your rowboat down Arroyo Way, you can be assured that the building won’t soar any higher above you than the height limit allows. In the meantime, those walking down the sidewalk will wonder why the building is so tall.
And then, of course, there’s the exception for “architectural features”. The City interprets a 50 foot height limit as really allowing structures up to 62 feet tall in places, in order to accommodate each architect’s need to add enough turrets, spires, battlements, rooftop gardens, or clerestories to give their buildings a sense of grandeur and extravagance appropriate for a world class city such as ours. A new zoning change currently under consideration for part of the traditional downtown would allow this height exception on up to 80% of a building’s horizontal roof area. The height “limit” will only apply to 20% of the building.
It’s pretty clear, to me at least, that the voters’ INTENT in passing height limits was to limit heights. The intent of the City Council is to cater to the interests of their developer friends and circumvent the law whenever possible.
Some contributors to this site have advocated for the repeal of Measure A. If anything we need MORE voter-approved development restrictions, because the City Council can’t be trusted to reflect the values of our City’s residents.