Frequently Asked Questions

There are several categories of Frequently Asked Questions within Public Works. Please follow the links below:

Building in the flood zone

I’m adding on to my house which is in the flood zone. What rules do I have to follow?

First, decide whether the project is a “Substantial Improvement” under FEMA regulations (see question 2, below).

If the addition is a FEMA substantial improvement, then the project must comply with FEMA regulations for building in the flood plain and with the City’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance. In short, these requirements include:

  1. Elevating the building above the BFE (requirements will vary on type of project - refer to question 6.)
  2. Anchoring the building to prevent flotation and lateral movement
  3. Using materials below BFE that are resistant to flood damage
  4. Using construction methods that minimize flood damage
  5. Placing utilities above the BFE (HVAC system, electrical and communication wiring, etc)
  6. Wet-flood-proofing parts the building that are below BFE

What is a Substantial Improvement?

A “substantial improvement” is any addition or home improvement project that costs more than half the value of the existing house. See the City’s guidance on how to value the existing house and the improvement project. You may also use the City’s worksheet or call the Engineering Division at 650-330-6740.

If the improvement is being made to a commercial building, the City has a separate worksheet. Call the Engineering Division at 650-330-6740.

What is a Base Flood?

This is a flood having a 1% chance of occurring or being exceeded in any given year (previously referred to as the 100 year flood).

What is the Base Flood Elevation (BFE)?

The Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is how high the water will go, in feet above sea level, when a 1% flood occurs. BFEs are shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for flood zones AE.

If I want to build a new house or substantial improvement in the flood zone, can the crawl space floor be below the BFE?

Yes, City Code allows the crawl space to be below BFE if

  1. The building is wet-flood-proofed
  2. The crawl space height does not exceed four feet
  3. The crawl space floor is no greater than two feet below the lowest adjacent grade

What does wet-flood-proofed mean?

  1. Finished Floor is 12" above BFE for residential projects and at or above BFE for non-residntial projects
  2. Flood vents are installed so that flood water can flow freely into and out of the crawlspace
  3. All parts of the building below BFE are built with flood resistant materials
  4. All utilities are installed 12" above the BFE for residential projects and at or above BFE for non-residential
  5. The building is anchored to prevent flotation and lateral movement
  6. The design complies with the City’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance (Menlo Park Municipal Code 12.42) and FEMA technical bulletins.

What are flood resistant materials?

  1. Concrete
  2. Pressure treated Douglas fir
  3. Redwood
  4. Other wood with a minimum dimension of four inches or larger (such as girders).

If I want to build a new house or substantial improvement in the flood zone, can the crawl space floor be below the lowest adjacent grade of the soil surrounding the building?

Yes, as long as these other requirements are also met:

  1. The crawl space floor is no greater than two feet below the lowest adjacent grade
  2. The crawlspace height does not exceed four feet
  3. The building is wet-flood-proofed

For a new accessory building, can the floor be below BFE?

Yes, as long as these other requirements are met:

  1. The building is used only for storage or parking
  2. The building is wet-flood-proofed
  3. The building doesn’t make flooding worse on someone else’s property
  4. The building design complies with the City’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance (Menlo Park Municipal Code 12.42.51 (3) (E)) and FEMA technical bulletin 7-93.

If I want to make a substantial improvement to my house in the flood zone, do I have to raise the house if the bottom of my floor joists are below BFE?

Yes. Keep in mind that a house built in compliance with FEMA regulations may be safer for you and your family if you get trapped inside during a flood. The house and its contents may also be less likely to suffer damage in a flood.

Raising your house may reduce the cost of your flood insurance. Ask your insurance agent how much you will save. Multiply the yearly savings by the years you plan to spend in the house. Compare that expense to the cost of raising the house.

Is it possible for a property owner to avoid triggering the City’s Substantial Improvement Ordinance requirements by phasing their improvements?

No, a property owner may not construct improvements to their single family house in phases with the intention of avoiding compliance with FEMA requirements.

The City encourages all building projects in the flood zone, even those that are not FEMA substantial improvements, to comply with FEMA regulations and City ordinance. Structures in compliance with FEMA regulations keep people safer, improve the City’s emergency preparedness and disaster resilience.

All projects completed less that 36 months prior to an application for a building permit are counted toward the cost of the improvement project when deciding whether it is a substantial improvement. If 36 months have elapsed between the issuance of the ‘certificate of occupancy’ for a prior project and the date of application for a new project, then only the new project is counted when determining whether it is a substantial improvement.

Can the floor of a garage which is attached to the main house be constructed below the base flood elevation?

Yes, the slab of the garage floor can be below BFE if the garage is wet-flood-proofed.

However, if the garage slab is below BFE then the lowest adjacent grade (driveway approach) will also be below BFE. This will make it impossible to reduce the cost of flood insurance by removing the home from the flood zone through the LOMA process.

When determining whether a project is a FEMA substantial improvement do I add the value of improvement projects to my house and my detached garage?

No, treat each structure separately when deciding whether the improvements to that structure are a FEMA substantial improvement.

When determining whether a project is a FEMA substantial improvement how do decide the house value if part was built pre-FIRM and part was built post-FIRM?

Calculate the value of the portion of the house that is pre-FIRM using an appropriate depreciation factor for the year when it was built. Calculate the value of the portion that is post-FIRM using a different depreciation factor for the year it was built. Add the two together.

Where is the City’s Flood Management Protection Ordinance online?

Visit the City’s website and view Municipal Code section:
"12.42.51 Standards of Construction."

Who do I call if these FAQs don’t answer my questions?

Call the Engineering Division at 650-330-6740.

City-owned trees

Does the City of Menlo Park have a regular tree maintenance schedule?

The City of Menlo Park maintains approximately 27,000 park and street trees. Due to the large number of trees maintained by the City, the emergency and most critical cases are scheduled first. Normally, street trees are pruned on a 5 year rotating schedule.

Can I remove the street tree in front of my house?

No, only the City can remove street trees. Only trees that are dead, diseased or have serious structural problems are approved for removal.

If there is a City tree that appears unhealthy or needs pruning, where do I call?

Call the Maintenance Division at 650-330-6780 and request a work order. City staff will inspect the tree and determine what needs to be done.

Does the City replace street trees that are removed?

Yes, the tree will be replaced by the City. If you would like to see a list of replacement species, please contact the Maintenance Division at 650-330-6780.

If the City is replacing a City tree who is responsible for watering the tree?

The homeowner is responsible for watering the tree and will receive instructions when the tree is planted.

The tree in front of my house was removed, but the stump is still there. When is the City going to remove it?

Due to the underground utility lines, the City has to notify Underground Service Alert before grinding the stump. They will then mark the stump to identify utilities in the area around it.

Could I request a tree to be planted in front of my house?

City Staff will need to visit and review the sidewalks easement and right of way in order to determine whether a tree can be planted. Please call the Maintenance Division at 650-330-6780.

Garbage and recycling

How can I find out my waste collection, recycling, and/or organics service day?

Recology of San Mateo County can inform you of your waste collection, recycling, and/or organics service days by calling 650-595-3900 or visit Recology's website.

Who can I call for waste collection service changes or questions about my bill?

Recology of San Mateo County can answer billing questions at 650-595-3900.

How can I recycle hazardous wastes such as oil, antifreeze, pesticides, computer monitors, sharps, fluorescent tubes, and bulbs?

Residents of San Mateo County can recycle their household hazardous waste with the San Mateo County Environmental Health Household Hazardous Waste program. To set up an appointment, please visit SMCHealth website or call 650-595-3900.

How do I recycle organics properly? I am not used to placing food scraps out for recycling.

The organics recycling cart is simply a large compost container. Place your food scraps in the bin with yard trimmings for weekly pick-up. Common household items that can be placed in the bin include coffee grounds, breads, pasta, eggshells, fruit, meat, pizza boxes, and wine corks. For additional information on how to compost, please visit the Recycling, Compost & Garbage Page.

Are plastic bags acceptable in organics containers?

Compostable bags certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) are acceptable in the organics program. For detailed information on these bags, please visit the South Bayside Waste Management Authority's website.

I am doing construction / remodeling on my property. Do I need to obtain a debris box from Recology?

Debris from construction, demolition, or remodel of a building is not included in the Franchise Agreement between the City of Menlo Park and Recology. This means that any company can be used for construction, demolition, or remodeling projects. If a project requires a deposit because of the Construction and Demolition Ordinance, be certain that recycling tags show Menlo Park as the City of Origin and that recycling requirements are met.

What is the proper way to dispose of prescription medication?

Prescription drugs should not be placed in the trash. The City of Menlo Park offers a free, safe, and convenient location for residents to dispose of unwanted or expired medication. A secured drop box is located in the Police lobby at 701 Laurel St. Drop-offs can be made during regular business hours.

General Public Works questions

Who is responsible for maintaining sidewalks and other frontage improvements?

State law (Division 7, Part 3, Chapter 22 of the Streets and Highways Code [Sections 5600 and 5610]) requires property owners to maintain sidewalks, parking strips, curbs, retaining walls, and other such works between their property line and the street line. Property owners are required to maintain these frontage improvements such that they will not endanger persons or property or interfere with the public convenience in the use of those works or areas.

Heritage trees

Where could I get an application to remove or heavily prune a heritage tree?

Permit applicants may submit applications online through the City’s online permit portal. Please register for an account by creating a username and password. Under the "Public Works" tab, select "Create an application." After reviewing conditions and terms, the heritage tree application can be found under "Select a Record Type" in under smaller font "Public Works" tab. Select "Heritage Tree Permit" and continue application.

Is there a fee for the permit?

Please refer to the City of Menlo ParkMaster Fee Schedule(PDF, 706KB) for current permit fees.

Do I need a permit to remove a dead heritage tree?

Yes, but there is no application fee. An arborist report is not required if the application is submitted with pictures to show evidence the heritage tree is dead. A replacement tree and/or an in lieu fee are also required.

What is required for heritage trees related to development applications?

In addition to the heritage tree permit application, the applicant must submit a complete arborist report which must be written by a consulting arborist from the City-approved list. A complete arborist report includes:

  1. An arborist report may, but not limited to include, tree inventory table, the tree appraisal value of each heritage tree
  2. A tree protection and mitigation guidelines to disclose the tree protection fencing requirements and other details
  3. A tree plan/site map to include a replacement tree plan
  4. Any other support documentations, such as diagrams or pictures.

Could the city arborist come out and take a look at my tree before I apply for a permit?

No. The arborist will evaluate your tree after the application has been submitted. Exception: if the tree is a street tree, the City takes responsibility for the removal.

Can the City recommend a certified arborist?

The named arborists (not the company) submitted their qualifications to demonstrate their ability to comply with the city’s heritage tree ordinance, view the city-approved consulting arborists list. Permit applications are required to be accompanied by an arborist report prepared by one of those approved arborists. The only exception is under Criterion 1 (the heritage tree is dead) if the application is submitted with pictures, then when no arborist report is required.

On what basis does the city arborist approve a permit?

The decision making criteria described in Menlo Park Municipal Section 13.24.050(a) are closely tied to industry standards and require the provision of evidence to demonstrate a heritage tree is: dead, dying or poses a significant risk, significantly restricts reasonable economic enjoyment of the property, or interferes with utilities.

Decision making criteria Description
Criterion 1: Death
The heritage tree is dead.
Criterion 2: Tree risk rating
The condition of heritage tree poses a high or extreme risk rating under the International Society of Arboriculture Best Management Practices.
Criterion 3: Tree health rating
The heritage tree is (a) dying or has a severe disease, pest infestation, intolerance to adverse site conditions, or (b) likely to die within a year.
Criterion 4: Species
The heritage tree has been designated as invasive or low species desirability.
Criterion 5: Development
The heritage tree interferes with (a) proposed development, repair, alteration, or improvement of a site or (b) the heritage tree is causing/contributing to structural damage to a habitable building. There is no financially feasible and reasonable design alternative that would permit preservation of the heritage tree.
Criterion 6: Utility Inference
The removal is requested by a utility, public transportation agency, or other governmental agency due to a health or safety risk resulting from the heritage tree’s interference with existing or planned public infrastructure. There is no financially feasible and reasonable design alternative that would permit preservation of the heritage tree.

How do I measure a tree that has multiple trunks?

Multi-trunk trees, where the trunk splits at 4.5 feet above the ground or less, are measured below the main union. 

Multi-stemmed trees with a union occurring below the existing grade shall be considered individual trees and diameter measurements will be taken for each individual stem to determine trunk diameter – independent of the other stem diameters.

How much of a heritage tree can I prune without a permit?

Up to one fourth of canopy and/or roots.

What do I need to submit to the City for a permit application to remove or heavily prune a Heritage tree?

  1. Completed application form
  2. Payment (check for fee)
  3. Completed certified arborist form
  4. Replacement tree plan, which may be either a written statement or landscape plan to state the tree replacement species, container size, planting location, and in lieu fee payment (if applicable)

How do I find the status of my permit application?

  1. Go to the City's online permit portal.
  2. Towards the end of the webpage under Public Works, click "Search Application."
  3. Under General Search, find the Record Type section and select "Heritage Tree Permit."

Can I appeal the decision?

Who can appeal is dependent on how the city arborist makes his decision and the appeal period is 15 days after the decision date.

  • If the decision is based on Criterion 1, 2, 3, or 4, only the permit applicant may appeal.
  • If the decision is based on Criterion 5 or 6, any community member (residents, property owners, permit applicants) may appeal.

Please refer to the heritage tree ordinance for more details on the decision making criteria or the City website and refer to the Master Fee Schedule(PDF, 706KB) for the appeal fee.

Do I have to plant a replacement tree?

The overall goal of the Heritage Tree Ordinance’s replacement requirement is to ensure continued canopy cover is maintained or increased. Ideally, the replacement tree(s) should replace the removed canopy cover in a period of approximately 15 to 20 years.

The City provides a list of recommended trees in the administrative guidelines, but here are other options:

  1. Visit Cal Poly’s SelecTree webpage to help select a replacement tree and fill in at least these characteristics:
    • Mature height must be greater or equal to 35 feet; and
    • Select the “California Native” option
  2. Confirm on UC Davis’s Water Use Classification of Landscape Species webpage that the selected replacement tree’s water usage is either very low, low, or moderate/medium.
  3. Confirm the selected tree has an overall desirability of 4 or less as defined in the Western Chapter International Society of Arboriculture: Species Classification and Group Assignment, 2004, or the most current edition. Your project arborist may have a copy of the book.

What if I don’t have any space on my property to replant a tree that has been approved for removal?

Applicants must submit a written statement to explain why they are unable to meet the tree replacement requirement. The city arborist may have to inspect the property and determine whether there is space for the replacement tree. If the written statement is approved, applicants may pay an in lieu fee. For development-related removals, the in lieu fee will be the appraised value of the heritage trees. For non-development projects, the in lieu fee is based on the monetary value of the replacement tree, which correlates with the size of the heritage tree truck diameter. For more information, please review the administrative guidelines(PDF, 394KB).

Is there a public platform to track permit applications, pending appeals, and proposed tree replacements?

To the extent permitted by law, the City shall make publicly available all heritage tree permit removal and pruning applications, replacement tree requirements and appeals. Applicants shall submit pictures of the replacement trees once they has be planted in the ground.

What are tree appraisals and why are they required?

For development projects, the appraised value (calculated by City-approved certified arborist) of all heritage trees on site shall be submitted with the arborist report prior to the issuance of any building permit. The tree replacement and trunk formula are common tree appraisal methodologies as described in the most recent edition of the Guide for Plant Appraisal. The appraised values will be used to evaluate the value of replacement trees and any potential violation fees.

Will notices be required for decisions made under Criterion 1, 2, 3, or 4?

A notice of removal posting is not required and nearby property owners will not be noticed. This is because only the permit applicant may appeal the decision.