Statistics show that someone starts a home-based business every 12 seconds in the U.S., and hundreds of them can be found among the expensive neighborhoods of Los Altos.
According to city data, there are 369 licensed home-based businesses in Los Altos. Approximately 60 percent of them are categorized as “services,” which include child care, pool cleaning and consultation.
Most home businesses are legal and discreetly nestled behind closed doors, but at least one resident argues that some of these operations – even those with city-issued licenses – are inappropriate for residential neighborhoods.
“As a longtime Los Altos resident, all I can say is that we are absolutely astounded that a corp-yard-type business … is allowed in an R1 (residential) neighborhood,” wrote Los Altos homeowner Warren Young in a letter to city staff this month. “This is totally contrary to the stated permitted uses in my opinion and inconsistent with Los Altos’ typical residential character.”
After living peacefully alongside a home business on Mundell Way for the past 30 years, Young said he doesn’t want to cause any trouble. Over the past few months, he noted that “eyesores” – including deliveries by flatbed truck, as many as eight vehicles from the business parked on the side of the street and open shed storage – have worsened. Multiple inquiries to the city have resulted in some site improvements, including the removal of surplus chemicals that were being inappropriately stored on-site.
Even with the infractions, city officials verified the legality of the aforementioned business. Young wonders why the city would license such a business in a residential area in the first place.
Legal or not
Zoning and Business License codes in the Los Altos Municipal Code classify a home occupation as one that is “carried on in a home, provided no assistants are employed, … does not change the residential character or appearance of the dwelling or adversely affect the uses permitted in the residential district of which it is part,” and sells “no product, other than those produced on premises.”
Monitoring home businesses is challenging for a small city like Los Altos, according to City Manager Marcia Somers, who said Los Altos enforces municipal codes by complaint or when staff observe a possible violation. She said the city responds to an average of five to six business-related complaints every year.
Some exceptions to the code for businesses are grandfathered in.
“It’s important to note that we have legal nonconforming businesses in Los Altos that have a right to exist, although the current zoning no longer provides for those uses,” Somers said.
For Young, even if the business on his street is legal, he’s disappointed that the city won’t see what he views as the bigger picture.
“We pay a lot of money to live there, like everyone in Los Altos,” he said. “I just think that in a city like Los Altos, having an operation being able to exist in a community trying to improve is not right.”
Residents concerned about businesses conducted in their neighborhoods can contact the city’s Code Enforcement Office at 947-2775.