The news on adding more affordable housing in Portola Valley was not uplifting.
A subcommittee of current and former town officials familiar with land-use issues in town spent months examining prospects for building homes for teachers, public safety workers and employees on land the town owns.
Their report, issued Sept. 27, concluded that of 30 parcels the town owns, most is open space or remnants of larger parcels or unsuitable due to geologic conditions.
Four might be worth further examination – the Town Center, property near Ford (baseball) Field, a remnant in the Blue Oaks neighborhood, and a right-of-way on Alpine Road near Corte Madera School – but none were "obvious candidates," the report said.
"I would like to see the subcommittee go forward," said Councilwoman Maryann Derwin, who is on the subcommittee. "I don't want to stop tonight with just accepting the report, saying, 'This was great. Let's move on.' I would like to see some forward action coming out of this action tonight, whether it's tasking this group with another mission and/or looking at the four properties to consider moving forward on them."
Councilwoman Ann Wengert, the second of the two council members on the subcommittee, said she, too, would like the investigation to continue. "I want to keep it moving," she said. "If anything, I want to expand it if there's a willingness." It will be important to know whether the public is paying attention, she added.
Councilman John Richards said he thinks there's definitely an audience in town for more on this issue, driven in part by families who want their children living nearby.
Portola Valley institutions have felt the impact. High home prices and commuting woes led to the departures of a town attorney and a school principal, Ms. Derwin said.
One of the Town Hall staff had to move across the Bay due to a steep rent increase, and three others are "on pins and needles worrying that they're going to be evicted or the rents going to go up 50 percent and then where are they going to live," Ms. Derwin said.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," she said in an email. "In my opinion, we are beyond crisis at this point and into disaster."
Steve York lives in town and owns a wood-restoration business. Silicon Valley "tech youngsters" with their high starting salaries "are wiping out lower-middle-class and working-class people," Mr. York said in an email. "They can afford $3,000 to $4,000 a month, even for a room in a house here," he said. "That is a mortgage most places and definitely where I am from ... in Michigan."
Stories about housing affordability should be shared more broadly in the community, Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said, as should information about the evolution in the design of small homes – a point on which Ms. Derwin agreed. "There (are) gorgeous designs out there for affordable housing," she said.
Former mayor Steve Toben, a subcommittee member, chimed in, referring to current designs of small homes as smart and "quite exciting" as well as being compatible with the town's aesthetics. More could be done to "keep the drumbeat going," he said.
Mr. Toben noted that while a parcel may not be suitable on its own for housing, it might become so if sold to the owner of an adjacent property.
Ms. Derwin added: "Just because we're out here in the hills and we're an affluent community, we still have to play our part. Every city in San Mateo County needs to help out with this crisis."