Piscine

Palo Alto: Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wants to tear down three homes to build a pool, records show

PALO ALTO — Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wants to add to her expansive estate by demolishing three adjacent homes she owns to build a swimming pool and pool house that could cost almost $1.6 million.

But so far, Palo Alto planning officials have said no, pointing out that a pool doesn’t warrant removing homes from the city’s housing stock. Like other cities in the Bay Area, Palo Alto is under intense pressure by the state to produce thousands of additional homes to chip away at a housing shortage crisis that has priced numerous families out of the region.

Since July 2020, the former executive who left Yahoo in 2017 with a $23 million golden parachute has applied twice for a permit to tear down three of the four townhouses next to her family home on Addison Avenue to make way for a pool and a single-unit home with attached garage.

One of four identical two-story town homes that owner Marissa Mayer owns next to her home is adorned with a “Love” sign in Palo Alto, Calif., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. The former CEO of Yahoo would like to demolish three of the four town homes and is reportedly planning to build a pool and pool house on the property. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt said although people can buy adjoining properties as Mayer has, the city doesn’t allow them to tear down multiple houses to build a single huge one or replace them with other structures such as swimming pools.

“We don’t have a means of preventing folks from owning adjoining properties, and we don’t have a fence requirement,” Burt said, adding that whatever Mayer and others do with the additional land must comply with the city’s housing ordinances.

“Presumably now they can come back with something that better conforms with our current code, and you know there’s still a fair amount of latitude of what they can do with the property,” he said.

Mayer, who resigned from Yahoo several years ago after Verizon bought the search engine company for $4.5 billion, isn’t the first Palo Alto tech mogul to try to create a sprawling estate in recent years.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to scale back plans to rebuild four Palo Alto houses around his home after a city advisory board expressed concerns he was trying to create a “compound.”

Zuckerberg wanted to replace four homes he owns on Hamilton Avenue and Edgewood Drive but in the end was allowed to replace only two houses with two new single-story ones, in keeping with the “size and scale of properties in the area,” city officials said. At that point, it was a fundamentally different project than the original one.

For Mayer, this wasn’t the first time her plans have run into a roadblock. Mayer riled up the Palo Alto community in 2018 when she applied to turn the city’s oldest mortuary near her home into a private club for working women and their families. The plan drew public outcry, and after a City Council discussion of it in 2018, Mayer dropped it.

Mayer has been buying up property in Palo Alto for years. She purchased three of the four homes on Addison Avenue in 2011 for about $800,000 each, then paid $6.5 million in 2020 for the fourth. She is hoping to replace the townhouses with a granny flat and pool and to remodel the fourth townhouse.

Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s home, the brown roof in the center, is seen in this google map, also showing four town homes on the right that are also owned by Mayer in Palo Alto, Calif. Mayer wants to add to her expansive estate by demolishing three of the adjacent town homes she owns to build a swimming pool and pool house. (Google Maps) 

In emails between Mayer’s representatives and Palo Alto planners, the city indicated the proposal would violate its “no net loss” policy because it would lead to the removal of two residential units.

That policy is part of the city’s Housing Accountability Act, which was passed in 1982 and amended in 2017. The act aims to promote infill development by speeding up the process of approving new homes as long as they replace existing ones and there’s no net loss.

Mayer did not return a request for comment, and a spokesperson for her family said they are continuing their “constructive engagement with the City of Palo Alto’s relevant departments.”

in an email to the city obtained by The Mercury News, Mayer’s lawyer Christine Wade argues that “while the redevelopment of the property would result in the loss of two existing residential units, the project is consistent with objective development standards and the city’s mandate to bring new uses into conformity.”

Burt noted that while Mayer and her team could still return with a plan that better conforms with the city’s rules, they have yet to do so.

For the the wealthy, Burt noted there are options that don’t result in turning Palo Alto into a city of large plots.

“We still have some large lots of land in the city that are available for purchase for people with an unlimited amount of money,” Burt said.

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