Portola Valley: Council to forge ahead on affordable housing


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."


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5 people like this
Posted by Karen Grove
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm

I applaud Portola Valley's efforts to site affordable housing on public land! Please do move forward with next steps with a "what would it take to make this work" attitude. In Menlo Park we are exploring putting affordable housing above the library as a way to meet housing demand and to add vibrancy and activity to our community center. I love the idea of adding affordable housing to the PV Town Center. Tiny homes are a great addition to the pool of potential solutions.

6 people like this
Posted by community member
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:21 pm

lip service

you'll hear nothing more but crickets or frogs from this pond

these comments from someone observing a multi-million dollar pre-school being constructed where the last best opportunity was lost along Portola Rd.

It's obvious what our priorities are and I have a hard time believing anyone who has become a multi-millionaire solely by their home appreciation.

Affordable housing is not a crisis to those who already have what they need.
Their crisis will be the taxes required to hold their castle.

This is THE epitome of NIMBY in PV: not in my backyard

2 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:41 pm

I recall that the town of Portola Valley recently changed the zoning rules to allow for more/larger second homes on existing large parcels. Has this had any impact on the problem of affordable housing in the area?

It's likely the solution lies in paying local employees more so that they can afford to live in the area. Perhaps Portola Valley and other "affluent" communities should demand that more of their property taxes remain in the area to provide for higher salaries and costs.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 12, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Please do not develop affordable housing within town limits. Instead outsource to Menlo Park or Woodside where land is cheaper and there is more available space. Trying to do this in the few remaining undeveloped town parcels is ludicrous.

Like this comment
Posted by Tired
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 13, 2017 at 12:35 am

I totally support second units and also affordable housing tied to jobs in the community---teachers, fire, town officials, etc. quoting Steve York about this, though, is a bit misleading. While I like Steve, he is now had multiple opportunities for housing in PV and the surrounding towns within the plater price limitation he posted. Many people have contacted him. Others have suggested looking in other towns on the Peninsula, but he has not wanted to do this, his reason being that he does not want to commute to PV, where he does most of his work. And yet, we are expecting our teachers, town officials, and firefighters to do this. Who is to say what is fair?

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

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