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Mayor says affordable housing and safety are among priorities

 

For Ann Wengert, who was elected mayor of Portola Valley in December, the priorities for the Town Council for 2019 include looking more deliberately at undeveloped properties the town owns with the idea of using them to add to the stock of housing affordable to people who work in town but cannot afford to live there.

A location near the maintenance area on the 11.2-acre Town Center at 765 Portola Road may be suitable for one or two dwellings to rent, Wengert told The Almanac recently. "It's a small thing, but it's one that we could potentially start with," she said.

Another such spot is an undeveloped acre adjacent to the frog pond near Corte Madera School at 4575 Alpine Road, a location that the Portola Valley School District might be interested in as potential teacher housing, she said. And the town owns a portion of the undeveloped land used as a parking lot at the Alpine Inn at 3915 Alpine Road.

The council unanimously elected Wengert as mayor; she is in her third term on the council and has been mayor twice before, in 2009 and 2014. The mayor leads council meetings and sets agendas for the meetings in coordination with the town manager.

Wengert is 66, is married, and has a career of more than 35 years in real estate investment management and advisory services. She is a graduate of Bucknell University and the Wharton School of Business, and is a docent/naturalist at the Ano Nuevo State Reserve.

In an interview about her plans for the year, Wengert also noted the importance of keeping after the Federal Aviation Administration on the ongoing issue of commercial aircraft being directed over the town, of examining the council advisory committees and their focuses in light of the town's changing demographics, and of reviewing residential evacuation routes in case of wildfire.

The Emergency Preparedness Committee is "all over" the issue of fire safety, Wengert said. Whereas in the past, the committee's main concern was earthquakes, "now it's much more of what I'll call urgent fire response," she said.

The town has two evacuation routes out of town north and east but are others possible? Perhaps private roads can be made available in case of emergencies, she said, adding, "Two directions might not be enough."

Affordable housing

"We're becoming a very elitist area," Wengert said. "I mean, diversity is just disappearing, and that is one of my biggest concerns. ... It's just getting worse. It's getting worse all the time and it's so difficult to really make inroads into how you tackle that."

People with lower paying jobs in restaurants and elsewhere in the community are barely hanging on, she said. "Eight people sharing a house, living east of Hayward it's not sustainable."

The Woodside Priory School and The Sequoias retirement community are building so-called affiliated housing for their employees, and the local churches have expressed an interest in building housing on their properties, she said. But there may be employees at Roberts Market and the hardware store interested in living in town, and the town might be able to make some housing available, she said.

In recent years, the town loosened rules for building cottages and in-home apartments, in part because older residents said they want their children and their caregivers to be able to live on their properties, Wengert said.

An apartment "immediately gives people the opportunity to do something they couldn't do in the past," Wengert said. "Put a kitchen in, put a separate entrance in and I can have a caregiver living right in the main part of the house. Anybody could."

"Whatever we can do, creatively, we should do," she said. "We should absolutely move forward."

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