Uploaded: Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 11:00 am
Portola Valley housing plan faces opposition
In an opening salvo, critics unloaded on the Portola Valley Town Council on June 27 over the town's plans to buy a property at 900 Portola Road, where homes affordable to moderate-income people would be built.
The packed council meeting included opponents of the housing plan and advocates for Windmill School, a private preschool that has been eyeing the site for a permanent home.
Since mid-2010, the school, the property owners and the town have been haggling over the 1.68-acre parcel that for 51 years had been Al's Nursery. The nursery closed in March 2011.
The town has been negotiating to buy the property with intent of building eight homes affordable to people who work in Portola Valley. That plan might help the town comply with a state mandate that requires cities and towns to provide for below-market-rate housing. The town would finance the project by selling two parcels it owns in the expensive Blue Oaks subdivision.
Opponents spoke during the open-microphone period at the start of the meeting. Speakers for the school and against the housing were evenly represented. No one spoke up for the housing. Since the matter was not on the formal agenda, the council could not comment.
Windmill, a renter since its founding in the 1950s near the defunct windmill on Portola Road, now rents space at the Alpine Hills Tennis & Swimming Club at 4139 Portola Road.
Windmill "(doesn't) have a long-term future" at Alpine Hills, resident Elizabeth Cushman said she's been told. The school embodies "a sense of community that really is as the root of what Portola Valley stands for," she said. Should the town buy the property, she suggested it would be a Pyrrhic victory. "You'll lose the broader war of public opinion."
Monika Cheney, a resident and co-chair of Windmill's board, complained that the town should have phoned the school community rather than releasing a statement. "We're extremely disheartened and really disappointed," she said. "You can't place enough importance on the value of this school."
"It's unbelievable to me that you have taken this action," resident Gaja Frampton told the council. "This is my first experience with you and it's terrible. I urge you, please, please, urge you to reconsider purchasing Al's Nursery."
A community meeting is set for Wednesday, July 11, to talk about the town's plans for the property. Mayor Derwin, who noted that her two sons attended Windmill, offered school backers a separate meeting to discuss a home for the school, but the audience greeted it with scattered jeers.
The town had an earlier affordable housing plan that was rejected by voters. In 2003, the council rezoned 3.6 acres near the corner of Alpine and Portola roads group for 15 to 20 small homes. Residents angry about higher housing densities and their presumed effects on property values put a referendum on the ballot, and a narrow majority overturned the zoning decision.
In a statement with regard to the new affordable housing plan, Mayor Derwin said: "With this parcel, we finally have the opportunity to provide housing to people who work in our community and love Portola Valley but can't afford to live here."
At the June 27 meeting, resident Bernie Bayuk said high-density housing does not belong in Portola Valley. "It's unusual to be able to live where you work," he said. "Once you set a precedent permitting high density housing in Portola Valley, you will have planted a seed."
"Maybe you have to do it," resident Allan Brown said, "but I'm not sure that time wouldn't be better spent trying to change that (affordable housing) law."
"From a neighborhood standpoint, the proposal will be a drastic change in density," said resident Bud Eisberg, who lives close by on Wyndham Drive. "Why not build the units in Blue Oaks?"
When Mark Bronder, a 22-year resident of Wyndham Drive, rose to speak, unlike the other speakers he turned away from the council for half a minute to cheerily identify audience members who had lived in Portola Valley longer than he had. "I'm a newbie," he said.
"I don't want high-density housing in this town, especially not near me," Mr. Bronder said, turning his attention to the council. "Sounds to me like you guys got out-negotiated by Blue Oaks and threw us under the bus. You know, that's going to change the character of." He broke off, then continued: "Your job is to serve us and keep the character of the town!"
Mr. Bronder took a step or two toward the council. "We're ready to get legal counsel," he said, "if everybody's ready to chip in."
Posted by Don Qixote,
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 4, 2012 at 3:06 am
For Clarity did a great job in providing a rough outline of the 'History of Al's Nursery'. Here are a few additional details for everybody's consideration:
Yes, the Angel Investor's stepping in allowed the former owners to close the sale of the property on their timeline. Perhaps Windmill could not sign on the dotted line because other than originally indicated by the town, re-purposing Al's plant nursery into a children's nursery requires some zoning change. Would it have been prudent to spend your donor's money in the hope the zoning change will go through later on?
Yes, Windmill backed out at the last minute, because they did the right thing: due diligence. Checking for pesticides before buying a home - in particular when you plan on having 50 children - is part of 'Real Estate 101', I believe.
No, Windmill never lost interest in the property. The whisper number for taking care of the chemical residue is three times Amused's annual income (see earlier post). Even in PV it takes some time to raise that kind of money.
Yes, the former owners of Al's Nursery bent over backwards - away from the Town's BMR plan for the site, that is. To the best of my knowledge they specifically declined to sell to the town when they heard of the intended use.
That would be the minor additions to the big picture outlined by For Clarity.
A question to anti_NIMBY: could you please elaborate on the obviousness of Windmill's lack of money to pay for the property? Your post did not include any supporting facts. Perhaps you can share how much money the Windmill group actually has in the bank and what amount has been pledged by NIMBY PV-residents on an 'if needed' basis?
Lets not forget that the focus of the discussion is on the town's BMR plans, and Windmill is only a sideshow to that.
If the Town (many years ago) allowed the Blue Oak development to pass in exchange for two BMR lots that later turned out to be not suitable for multi-unit development, I see two possible explanations: the project approvers knew about this and looked the other way or they failed to do their due diligence ('is what I am buying fit for the intended use?'). That seems deplorable and/or incompetent to me.
Perhaps the Town wants to avoid an outcome similar to the voter rejection of the Nathurst Triangle development effort a couple of years ago. Maybe the thinking is, that once facts have been created, there will be less resistance to the development. And: if the Town trades/sells the two Blue Oaks lots ($4mio, give or take) in exchange for a single less-than 2 acre lot zoned for mixed residential/commercial use ($2.5mio, give or take), then the Town suddenly will have a large surplus.
Is it just coincidence that the Town just approved the 2012/13 budget with a projected surplus of $4,388 (the total budget is about $4.5mio)? We could have a long debate about how un/realistic this number is. Or we can just look at last week's edition of the Almanac and read about the Ford Field renovation. Basically, the bids are $100k higher than the Town planned on spending. Maybe some NIMBY-PV resident will step up and donate the additional funds, or maybe the Town will just use some of the handy real estate surplus. Perhaps the bids for the development of the multi-unit project will come in higher than expected, too? So lets add some incentives for our friend, the developer. How about chipping in some of the several hundred thousand Dollars required to establish utilities at the lot (eight or more houses create a lot of sewage...). Since 'we' have surplus, no problem at all....
What bothers me even is the fact that the Town Council spends time and resources on an issue that has been rejected before and that is clearly not aligned with the Town's charter. Does the Town Council really believe they have been elected to create a high density housing area in the heart of Portola Valley?
To my knowledge, there is no law on California's books that requires communities to engage in the development of low income housing. Instead, municipal ordinances require developer of multi-unit housing projects to set aside a percentage for low income housing. The irony of the situation is that because of the Town's intended nature (...preservation of the rural character...), there are no large scale housing projects in PV. Creating one just so that low income units can be provided seems ... twisted to me.
Another way of looking at the Town Council's project is that tries to create (the illusion of) an income-integrated community. This might make sense in a city with 50,000 or more residents, but not in a (fiercely elitist) town with 4,000 residents. The town's own report points out that in-law units seem to work in PV. Looking at any other city in the Bay Area, it is easy to see that ghettoization does not create integration.
What do proponents of the development mean when they say, teachers and town hall employees should be able to live in their community? Obviously everybody struggles with the high real estate prices in the Bay Area. But nobody can dispute that housing for teachers and policemen is available in Redwood City, Menlo Park or Palo Alto. The commute from any of these places is better than to Sunnyvale or South San Francisco, where a large percentage of the PV-residents work. The last time I checked, PV had less than five restaurants, two high-end grocery stores, no cinemas and theaters. That means, PV residents actually have to leave their (geographic) community to access culture. At the same time, it is only a ten minute drive from any of the (geographically) surrounding communities to make use of the excellent recreational facilities and library in PV.
My point is that for PV's specific circumstances, a high density housing project will neither create economical, nor cultural integration (to the opposite: it will create more division). Kindergarden teachers and administrative assistants will never be able to buy (or rent) in PV, no matter what crazy plan the Town Administration comes up with. Since economical integration is not feasible, how about the Town Council starts thinking about cultural integration of lower income non-resident community members? How about creating some incentive for teachers, policemen and town-hall employees to stick around for the long run and thus, become engaged in the social live of community? For example, the $4.0mio (give or take) proceeds from the sale of the Blue Oaks lots can provide a $1400 rent stipend for 10 'persons of high value to the town' for 25 years (give or take). I know from experience, that cultural integration works - I have seen Kindergarden teachers enjoy Christmas parties in 20,000sqft homes and millionaires operating power tools to fix up broken playground equipment at the Kindergarden.
I sincerely wish the Town Council members would take their individual agendas off the table and remember why they where elected! Planning a real estate transaction the size of the annual town budget and initiating a development that will shape the future of the town for decades without public discussion clearly indicates the Town Council is aware how indefensible its position is. So why do it in the first place? Incompetence or personal gain come to mind, again.
What would Bill Lane do?
Lets all celebrate the 4th of July by reading Article 34 of the California Constitution.
PS. If you call me NIMBY, I call you socialist.