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Our journey

Three years ago, we started working with an architect to remodel our home to accommodate our growing family. Our goals have always been to abide by all city codes, ensure the existing structure was not historic, and to work transparently with all neighbors. We are not applying for any variances, and we can confirm that we are not blocking any views.

Although home renovation is a lengthy process in the best circumstances, our family’s journey has been a particularly arduous and, at times, excruciating one. Over the last two years, we have spent over 120 hours working with a select few community members who oppose any change. In order to address all neighbors’ critiques, our design team has had to continue iterating on our model, leading to an extended, expensive design process. Our kids, ages 5 and 4, ask us, "Why don't our neighbors want us to build our house?" Our hope is that by sharing our story, we can help pave a smoother path for generations of Sausalito families to come.

The Process

Kicking off any renovation in Sausalito of a structure more than 50 years old requires a review by the City of Sausalito Historical Preservation Commission. In our case, the Commission voted and determined that our structure is not historical, i.e. it is “categorically exempt” under Section 15301 (e) of the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Guidelines. (See report here).

So we were set to start planning our forever home. Almost immediately, we sent letters to the neighbors in our street that we were working on developing plans to expand our home. Several months later, as soon as we had what would be our first version of the 3D model and floor plans ready, we reached out again. Letters went out to each neighbor within a 300 ft radius, with links to full plans, a 3D model, and an invitation to a neighborhood Zoom meeting for everyone to voice any feedback or concerns. Only 3 neighbors attended the Zoom meeting.  

From there we iterated on our design, keeping open feedback loops with all neighbors willing to work with us, and being very deliberate about incorporating their feedback and voiced concerns into our designs. Once everyone was at a happy point, we submitted plans to the city, received a staff recommendation for approval of our plans and received over 15 letters of support from neighbors and community members. One week before the scheduled hearing date, the planning department informed us of a new interpretation of code that required us to modify our design, and resubmit. We have just resubmitted and are awaiting our new planning commission hearing date. 


The most challenging aspect of our journey thus far has undoubtedly been dealing with dissenting neighbors. Fortunately, most of our neighborhood has shown us tremendous support and enthusiasm. Some neighbors initially raised valid concerns that we made efforts to address, ultimately gaining their approval. Nonetheless, we are realizing that certain objections will still exist no matter what we do. 

One neighbor assured us of their support for over two years. We shook hands over it and even shared a hug. However, just nine days before our initial planning commission meeting, they unexpectedly withdrew their support, blind-siding us completely. Their explanation was, "...Honestly we thought there was no way this project would be approved because it has a much larger footprint than the existing home and the design is so out of character with the neighborhood…”.


Had we been aware of their design concerns earlier, we would have gladly incorporated their feedback. We genuinely aim for our home to harmonize with the neighborhood's character. Unfortunately, by the time they conveyed their reservations, we had already submitted our plans, leaving us unable to make modifications before the hearing. Nevertheless, in our revised design, which we have recently submitted, we made significant adjustments based on the feedback voiced via public comments. We have notably changed the front of the house, completely removing the garage, opening up the front garden driveway, and changing from beige vertical siding to a dark cedar-style clapboard exterior.

One neighbor, right from the beginning, was transparent about his intention to object. He's the type of neighbor who insists on going around asking people to trim their trees in order to maintain his completely unobstructed panoramic view of the bay. In total, we invested more than 50 hours collaborating with him, making adjustments to our roofline and reducing our bedroom square footage, all to ensure there would be no obstruction whatsoever.  Not even an inch of blockage. However, in the end, his support remained contingent on our ability to persuade another neighbor down the hill to trim the top of an avocado tree in their backyard. Unfortunately, and understandably, they were unwilling to trim the tree, and so his objection still stands.

Then there's the landlord who owns two rental properties next to us but hasn't resided in Sausalito for more than a decade. His properties lack any views, and our sun study indicates minimal or even positive changes to their ambient lighting. Despite our sincere efforts, including more than 5 hours on Zoom, to find a mutually beneficial solution, his "concerns" seem to constantly shift. As soon as one issue gets resolved, a new one emerges. Most recently, he has been canvassing the neighborhood in an attempt to garner opposition. Several neighbors, some in support of us and some neutral, have approached us, expressing their desire to distance themselves from his actions and noting that his behavior borders on harassment.

In another instance, a neighbor who had objections and refused our offers to address their concerns called the police when we saw them at a local market when Jake asked for feedback. They alleged to the officer that Jake had 'chest-bumped him multiple times'. Luckily, the police were able to confirm using security camera footage that there was no basis for any wrongdoing. The official police report states that there was no“merit to any crime occurring” and "at no point did the subjects (Jake and neighbor) touch the other", despite the neighbor's seriously unfounded accusations.

In conclusion, our renovation journey has been far from seamless, a narrative shared by many in our community. Nevertheless, it's essential to recognize the proactive steps being taken by the City of Sausalito to reshape the status quo. Recent staff additions to the planning department, with decades of experience in community development, indicate a promising new direction. Our city seems to acknowledge the need to simplify the design review process in order to effectively address today’s challenges. We are excited to have already begun working with these experienced individuals and are hopeful that together, we can establish a better precedent for the future.

To learn more about the various objections please see the following links. Further information is available upon request. We are advocates of radical transparency, so the ups and downs of our process are an open book to anyone interested. 

*Note: As described above, our project was continued pending resubmittal due to a new code interpretation. But the Commission still took public comment.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly with any questions or comments!


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