Portola Valley: Residents volunteer to tackle
affordable housing issue
A group of Portola Valley residents have volunteered to put themselves between a rock and a hard place. They will make recommendations on how the town can plan for and where it can locate affordable housing in Portola Valley.
To talk the issue through, the group will meet in the first of five public meetings at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the Historic Schoolhouse at 765 Portola Road.
State law requires that every city and town in California make plans for housing affordable to residents and/or potential residents with incomes across the socio-economic spectrum. But in Portola Valley, with neighborhoods of very-high-value, single-family homes, finding a neighborhood that will accept multi-family homes affordable to people of moderate incomes is a big challenge.
The members of the Affordable Housing Ad-Hoc Committee are Susan Dworak, Bud Eisberg, Wanda Ginner, Judith Hasko, Judith Murphy, Jon Myers, Andrew Pierce, Onnolee Trapp and Carter Warr. Chairing the meetings will be attorney, mediator and former mayor Steve Toben. A verbal progress report is due to the Town Council in late March, with a final written report due in mid-May.
Conversations on this topic in face-to-face and electronic forums over the last year or so have been prickly, with occasional flashes of anger. A recent effort by the council to buy a former nursery at 900 Portola Road for multi-family housing met with stiff resistance from homeowners on nearby Wyndham Drive.
Among their complaints: The plan could lower their property values. (Town Attorney Sandy Sloan has said she's seen data that undercuts that assertion as it applies to moderate-income housing.)
Arguing that socio-economic diversity is good for the community, residents and council members have spoken in support of moderate-income homes. A moderate income in San Mateo County is around $86,500 for an individual and $123,600 for a family of four. The homes would be reserved for people who live or work in town such as teachers, firefighters and residents with changed financial circumstances.
While it is not required that a town actually build the homes, the plans should present a good faith effort to Bay Area and state housing authorities, who set the quotas. In Portola Valley, affordable housing construction is complicated by the high cost of land, which can push up the number of homes needed per acre for a developer to make a profit, which then tends to raise concerns among neighbors about density.
Such realities put a premium on easily developed sites. The town owned property meant for affordable housing in the Blue Oaks neighborhood but sold it. Developers cited steep topography as a reason not to build there. The town planned to use the sale's proceeds to buy 900 Portola Road, a flat 1.68-acre site secluded near a collection of several small businesses, but the deal fell through after the county reported a botched job on pesticide cleanup.
The ad-hoc committee meeting is set to begin with a county-wide perspective on affordable housing from Mark Moulton, executive director of Housing Endowment And Regional Trust (HEART).