Portola Valley: Former mayor Kirke Comstock dies


A memorial service for former Portola Valley mayor Kirke Comstock is in the works, but not yet scheduled. Mr. Comstock was 86 when he died Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Saratoga, his son William Comstock said.

Mr. Comstock served on the Portola Valley Town Council for four years and seven months, starting in March 1999, when he filled a seat vacated by Richard Merk.

One highlight of his term came in May 2003, when he joined his council colleagues in a unanimous vote to approve a controversial "special residential" zoning category that would allow 15 to 20 small homes on 3.6 acres near the corner of Alpine and Portola roads.

Opponents of the rezoning, in a town that is mostly zoned for single-family homes, organized a referendum to overturn the council's decision to allow up to 5.8 homes per acre. The opponents won the day with nearly 52 percent of the votes, but the campaign split the community.

When Mr. Comstock retired from the council in 2003, he talked with Almanac about the cost of living in Portola Valley. "(We need) to see that the pricing of housing in this community is somehow handled to make room for people who aren't very, very rich," he said. "We need to create the atmosphere and conditions so that (affordable housing) can be put into place."

Mr. Comstock was born in Jackson, Michigan, and had a 44-year career with United Airlines as an aeronautical engineer, retiring in 1998. When buying aircraft, United ordered them not off the shelf but customized to the company's specifications, and Mr. Comstock led the design team in defining those specifications, his son Bill said.

One of Mr. Comstock's passions was access for the disabled, a passion he followed through on in designing accessible interiors for United's aircraft, and in upgrading the sidewalks of the city of Palo Alto, his son said. "He was a pioneer" in championing access for the disabled, his son said.

Mr. Comstock served on the Palo Alto City Council for 14 years and once spent several days in a wheelchair negotiating the city's streets in trying to sense what it was like for people who use wheelchairs, his son said. "He was doing his due diligence," Bill Comstock said. The experience in a wheelchair "made a big impression" on him, his son said.

Other passions included international travel and reading, particularly the magazines The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper's Magazine, Bill Comstock said.

Mr. Comstock loved local politics, his son said. Among the political skills about which Mr. Comstock liked to enlighten others, according to his son: looking someone in the eye while making a definitive statement, and letting the other guy have his say while also listening to what was being said, all without betraying his thoughts or feelings through facial expressions. "I daresay he enjoyed it," his son said. "He had an inner lawyer in him."

Mr. Comstock also served five years on the Portola Valley Planning Commission.

A life-long lover of the environment, Mr. Comstock and his wife, Dorothy Brand Comstock, were on the board of the Committee for Green Foothills, which helped to save many Midpeninsula open space areas from development, his son, Bill Comstock, said.

"He just loved open space," his son said.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Dorothy Brand Comstock of Saratoga; his son William Comstock of Carmel; and his daughters Karen Comstock of New Haven, Connecticut, and Kristin Pugh of Los Gatos.

The family asks that donations in his memory be made to Committee for Green Foothills, 3921 E. Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, 94303.

–Sue Dremann contributed to this report.


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