Ed Wells, part of Portola Valley's loyal opposition, dies


Ed Wells, an active participant in Portola Valley civic affairs for many years, died Feb. 7 at his home in the Westridge neighborhood. He was 91.

A Portola Valley resident since the town was incorporated in 1964, Mr. Wells was part of the town's loyal opposition. He was widely admired for the gentlemanly ways in which he expressed his disagreements with other residents on local civic issues.

For a time, he helped lead a campaign to stop plans to build the new Town Center complex that opened in 2008, and he was an ardent opponent of the town's utility users tax.

Mr. Wells was a Palo Alto native and graduated from San Rafael High School, where his father was the school principal, according to family members who provided information for this story.

He spent parts of the 1940s in demanding outdoor situations. In 1942-43, he helped survey the Alaska-Canadian Highway.

In 1944-45, he served as a sergeant in the 776th Field Artillery Battalion of the U.S. Army in Europe, including in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. After the Germans surrendered, Mr. Wells stayed in France for a year to help with reconstruction.

Mr. Wells met his future wife, Alison, at Stanford University and they married in 1949. Mr. Wells' degrees include a bachelor's in civil engineering and a master's in hydraulics from Stanford, and a degree in sanitary engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He worked as an engineer in the early 1950s, and moved to advising on public financing, founding his own company, Bartle Wells, in the mid-1960s.

Civic activism

Mr. Wells volunteered for 13 years as Portola Valley's treasurer.

In 2009, he explained to the Almanac why voters should not renew the utility users tax: The tax is nondeductible, linking it to open-space funding was a "trick" to appeal to residents' civic pride, and the town didn't need the money.

In opposing the new Town Center complex, Mr. Wells pressed the Town Council on why it would not seek financing through a general obligation bond -- a step requiring voter approval -- instead of using town reserves and private donations. The council also arranged a potential loan from San Mateo County, something Mr. Wells said the council "promised" it would not do.

"What was special about Ed was that even though we disagreed on many things, he was very respectful about disagreeing," Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin said. "He was more of a gentleman and a statesman. ... He showed us an example of true civil discourse, a quality sorely missing from some of the tough public discussions in Portola Valley during the last several years."

Danna Breen, an active town volunteer, noted that while she and Mr. Wells often disagreed on issues, they did agree on reopening of Sausal Creek at Town Center. "That was very meaningful for us to have Ed's support," she said. "Beyond support, he worked with us."

Ms. Breen said she "always felt loved and supported" by Mr. Wells, however they differed. "I think, politically, that's important and I think it's one of the things we've lost."

Councilwoman Ann Wengert commented via email: "... Ed was universally well respected for his commitment to the public process, his respect for our community and his willingness to stay involved over many years to make sure that his views were heard and considered in each deliberation," Ms. Wengert wrote. "The Town benefited greatly from his participation."

Mr. Wells' survivors include his wife Alison; his children Ed of University Park, Maryland, Donn of Portland, Oregon, David of Wilbur, Washington, Carolyn of Diamond Springs, California, Richard of Sonoma, and Janet of Berkeley; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. Wells asked that there be no services. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind, or Peninsula Open Space Trust, or the charity of your choice.

Click here to see a family memorial and post remembrances in Lasting Memories.

— Dave Boyce

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


13 people like this
Posted by Danna Breen
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 13, 2015 at 12:20 pm

After the town center was built though, Ed was an ardent supporter of the renovation of Sausal least we saw eye to eye on that one!
Ed and I pretty much always disagreed on issues pertaining to the town. But I always felt loved and appreciated in the arguement.He teased and cajoled but never won me over. I will so miss having the disagreements, Miss the big booming,ED WELLS HERE when he answered the phone. Loved having a glass of wine with him and Ali. Loved driving him in the Travel-all. Ah, this is tough,

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,867 views

Good News: The New Menlo Park Rail Subcommittee Hits A Home Run
By Dana Hendrickson | 12 comments | 1,680 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,231 views

Two degrees can do all that?
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 755 views

Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 211 views


Register today!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More