Marissa Mayer demolishes three townhomes for swimming pool in Palo Alto

Despite a state law to preserve housing, former Yahoo CEO got approval for townhouse demolitions

Ex-CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer (Getty Images, iStock)
Ex-CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Marissa Mayer, the former head of Yahoo, has razed three townhouses next to her Palo Alto home to dig a swimming pool and spa, potentially flouting state housing preservation laws.

The former CEO filed a pre-application last July to demolish three of the four two-story townhouses and garages at 561 Addison Ave. in Palo Alto’s University South neighborhood, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The proposal outlined plans to build a swimming pool and one accessory unit there.

In October, the newspaper disclosed emails between the Palo Alto’s planning department staff and the Santa Rosa real estate firm Patterson Properties, which helped file Mayer’s pre-application, which includes a cursory review of digital plans and other documents.

Initially, city staff said Mayer’s proposal conflicted with SB 330 — the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 — which requires that someone planning to raze housing units must show that the same amount of housing would replace them.

Mayer’s plans were approved Dec. 8, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post, which first reported on the demolition.

“After a closer examination of the rules, staff found that in fact the demolition was permissible as proposed and therefore allowed to proceed,” Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, spokeswoman for the City of Palo Alto, said in an email to the Business Journal. “The same would not be true today.”

Horrign-Taylor said some local and state laws changed at the start of this year. She didn’t specify which laws would stop a project similar to Mayer’s. The city declined to release planning documents associated with the proposal. The documents aren’t available through the city’s online permit database.

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Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Mayer, said the demolition project received proper permits so that the properties are now one single-family residential parcel and could be redeveloped.

The prominent Silicon Valley tech executive bought the three Addison Avenue townhomes in 2011 through an affiliate LLC publicly linked to her, paying between $700,000 and $800,000 each, according to the Business Times.

She bought another neighboring home for $6.5 million in 2020, and a multi-unit building on the same block in 2018 for $5.4 million. Hiltzik provided no comment about the other Addison Avenue properties Mayer owns, or further redevelopment plans involving those properties.

Affordable housing is scarce in the Peninsula city, where the typical home costs $4 million in late April, according to Zillow, up 22 percent from the prior year. It’s also built 7 percent of its current state-mandated housing goals, and must build another 6,086 homes by the end of the decade, of which 40 percent must be affordable.

Mayer, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University, spent 13 years working at Google before being tapped to be Yahoo’s CEO in 2012. She held that job through 2017.

In 2018, she co-founded Lumi Labs, a startup to be renamed Sunshine, that developed an address book app enhanced by artificial intelligence. Mayer, known for parties at her Palo Alto home, has imported snow and built an ice skating rink for guests, according to her neighbors.

[San Francisco Business Times] – Dana Bartholomew

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