Portola Valley in 2015: Productive year punctuated by 'involuntary resignation'


In Portola Valley, the year 2015 began with a new contract, approved by the Town Council in December 2014, for Town Manager Nick Pegueros with a clause stating that, should Mr. Pegueros depart the job involuntarily, everyone in Town Hall would be bound to silence as to the circumstances of his departure.

In August, Mr. Pegueros did leave involuntarily -- by a mutual agreement he "involuntarily resigned," the town said -- and that clause in his contract did its job: next to nothing is known publicly as to the circumstances of his departure.

In the first quarter of 2016, if things go as expected, a new contract will be drawn up for a town manager now being recruited.

Second units

A change in the leadership of Town Hall was not the only significant event of 2015 in Portola Valley.

The council, after considering input from the Planning Commission and the Architectural & Site Control Commission, adopted an ordinance in September to open up options for homeowners to build second units.

On properties of two or more acres, a 1,000-square-foot second unit is now allowed, up from 750 square feet. On properties of 3.5 acres or more, an additional second unit is allowed, providing that one of them is attached to the main house. And for new second units of up to 750 square feet, staff review of the design is sufficient.

Green energy

The council looked at electricity and its sources. A "community choice" energy program is now underway in San Mateo County to establish sources for electric power other than Pacific Gas & Electric. Such programs are already working in Marin and Sonoma counties and are providing a greener mix of electricity than is available from PG&E.

Over the spring and summer, the Portola Valley council considered starting its own alternative energy program. The autonomy could allow the council to make a strong push for 100 percent green electricity and have discretion on how to reinvest profits, if any. The idea has since faded and the town is expected to join the county group before the deadline at the end of February.

Aircraft noise

On noise from aircraft flying arriving at San Francisco International Airport, the council decided to authorize spending of up to $7,500 for a consultant familiar with the ways of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA has had a history of being non-responsive to the complaints of Portola Valley and other Peninsula communities located under new and more concentrated flight paths for arriving planes. Consultants, outsiders who used to be insiders, might help get through to the FAA.

The objectives for the consultant: conduct an independent analysis and compile data useful in arguing for alternatives to the current flight-path situation, and get independent answers to questions such as: Has noise increased under the new flight paths, and if so, why? What can be done?

Town manager

In December, the council had agreed to Town Manager Nick Pegueros' third contract in three years, this time for three more years. The council then reviewed his performance in April and gave him a 3 percent raise. What happened between April and his abrupt departure in August may never be made public.

Mr. Pegueros had not been working in his Town Hall office for three weeks before the council met on Aug. 12. At that meeting and at two earlier meetings over the previous three weeks, the council met behind closed doors to evaluate Mr. Pegueros performance.

The clause in Mr. Pergueros' latest contract forbade anyone in Town Hall from talking with "the public, the press, or any Town employee concerning the termination of this Agreement."

It was a provision of questionable enforceability, said Nikki Moore, an attorney with the California Newspaper Publishers Association. But its presence, she added, was probably enough to obligate managers -- in this case, the council -- to "instruct staff not to speak about information subject to the agreement."

Town Attorney Leigh Prince did not disagree with Ms. Moore's interpretation.

Had Mr. Pegueros been fired rather than offering his resignation and having it accepted, he would not have received a severance package that included six months of his base annual salary, then at about $199,000.

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