News

Guest opinion: Let's tackle the moral crisis of our time: affordable housing

By Nancy Stork

In 1994, my husband and I put a bid on a house in Ladera. The deal never went through, but one of the shocks of my life came when I read the deed to that house and found an exclusionary racial covenant from the 1950s. The realtor's cover letter said that racially based covenants were no longer legal, but there it sits, a blight on our history, fully searchable by anyone who wants to visit the San Mateo County Records.

We are now at a historical juncture. My students are sleeping on sofas or commuting from King City. One told me he was offered a room in a converted meat locker. Drive north on I-280 at 4:30 a.m. and you will see dozens of cars parked on the berm. People are living in RVs along El Camino Real. The Bay Area, home to self-proclaimed "sanctuary cities," has hundreds of people living under bridges. Affordable housing is the moral crisis of our time.

Local decisions have global impact. When cities in the Bay Area vote to limit housing, the effects multiply. When well-housed people equivocate and say "Not here. Not now.", the delays mount and people are driven out.

Many people in Portola Valley have worked on this issue; I thank you. I applaud the public meetings held by the town and by Stanford. I am glad to hear that the Priory is proposing more faculty housing and I appreciate that the town is relaxing its rules on ADUs. These are important steps, and I hope we can do more.

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In particular, I support the development of the town land wedged between the Corte Madera school fence and Alpine Road. Here are some of the arguments I have heard and my replies:

• Portola Valley is already so expensive, it won't really be affordable anyway.

Answer: There are many levels of affordability and we need housing at all of them.

• The town is a gateway to the open space.

Answer: We have multiple trailheads and two beautiful gateways to open space: Willowbrook and 555 Portola Road. There is an existing right of way, and walking by a sensibly designed group of small homes will not impede anyone's progress toward Windy Hill or the Toyon trails.

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• The environment, particularly the frog pond, needs to be preserved.

Answer: We have a robust review process in place that will save the frog pond, respect the environment and build green houses.

• There's no transportation.

Answer: Working-class people in the Bay Area already own cars. Old cars that break down and cause traffic jams. Affordable housing in the Bay Area will help save the carbon costs of workers commuting for hours. We can build housing and work on public transportation.

• Let Redwood City do it, let Google and Facebook do it. People can move to the Midwest if they can't afford houses here.

Answer: Redwood City is doing its part; Google and Facebook can be part of the solution, and young people should not have to be told to leave their jobs.

Town planners know that ideal communities have people of all income levels and all ages. I, for one, do not want to live in a town of old people sitting on real estate riches, with our school population declining. If we do not grow, we will wither on the vine. We can build housing without destroying the rural character of this town. As a start, we can say yes to affordable housing on town lands.

Let's begin to undo historical injustices and make Portola Valley a better place to live.

Nancy Stork has been a San Jose State University English professor for 25 years, and a Portola Valley resident since 1996. She sings in the St. Bede's Episcopal Church choir, and is an avid hiker and a volunteer with transitional housing and adult literacy programs.

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Guest opinion: Let's tackle the moral crisis of our time: affordable housing

Uploaded: Fri, Jun 28, 2019, 5:14 pm

By Nancy Stork

In 1994, my husband and I put a bid on a house in Ladera. The deal never went through, but one of the shocks of my life came when I read the deed to that house and found an exclusionary racial covenant from the 1950s. The realtor's cover letter said that racially based covenants were no longer legal, but there it sits, a blight on our history, fully searchable by anyone who wants to visit the San Mateo County Records.

We are now at a historical juncture. My students are sleeping on sofas or commuting from King City. One told me he was offered a room in a converted meat locker. Drive north on I-280 at 4:30 a.m. and you will see dozens of cars parked on the berm. People are living in RVs along El Camino Real. The Bay Area, home to self-proclaimed "sanctuary cities," has hundreds of people living under bridges. Affordable housing is the moral crisis of our time.

Local decisions have global impact. When cities in the Bay Area vote to limit housing, the effects multiply. When well-housed people equivocate and say "Not here. Not now.", the delays mount and people are driven out.

Many people in Portola Valley have worked on this issue; I thank you. I applaud the public meetings held by the town and by Stanford. I am glad to hear that the Priory is proposing more faculty housing and I appreciate that the town is relaxing its rules on ADUs. These are important steps, and I hope we can do more.

In particular, I support the development of the town land wedged between the Corte Madera school fence and Alpine Road. Here are some of the arguments I have heard and my replies:

• Portola Valley is already so expensive, it won't really be affordable anyway.

Answer: There are many levels of affordability and we need housing at all of them.

• The town is a gateway to the open space.

Answer: We have multiple trailheads and two beautiful gateways to open space: Willowbrook and 555 Portola Road. There is an existing right of way, and walking by a sensibly designed group of small homes will not impede anyone's progress toward Windy Hill or the Toyon trails.

• The environment, particularly the frog pond, needs to be preserved.

Answer: We have a robust review process in place that will save the frog pond, respect the environment and build green houses.

• There's no transportation.

Answer: Working-class people in the Bay Area already own cars. Old cars that break down and cause traffic jams. Affordable housing in the Bay Area will help save the carbon costs of workers commuting for hours. We can build housing and work on public transportation.

• Let Redwood City do it, let Google and Facebook do it. People can move to the Midwest if they can't afford houses here.

Answer: Redwood City is doing its part; Google and Facebook can be part of the solution, and young people should not have to be told to leave their jobs.

Town planners know that ideal communities have people of all income levels and all ages. I, for one, do not want to live in a town of old people sitting on real estate riches, with our school population declining. If we do not grow, we will wither on the vine. We can build housing without destroying the rural character of this town. As a start, we can say yes to affordable housing on town lands.

Let's begin to undo historical injustices and make Portola Valley a better place to live.

Nancy Stork has been a San Jose State University English professor for 25 years, and a Portola Valley resident since 1996. She sings in the St. Bede's Episcopal Church choir, and is an avid hiker and a volunteer with transitional housing and adult literacy programs.

Comments

PV Resident
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 30, 2019 at 12:36 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 30, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Priory, Stanford and other employers with boundless acres of available land create the demand for housing, so why don't they use their own land to build rather than ripping up treasured community environmental space? If one thinks building on rare and rural town lands enjoyed by the bay area as a whole is a solution to affordable housing then one has missed many a PV meeting over the years and one is missing the point entirely. We cannot build housing on rural land (e.g., the Frog Pond) without destroying its rural character. If you destroy rural, it's no longer rural. If you build on rural, it's no longer rural. Rural means rural. Rural does not mean structures.


Dr. Meg Abraham
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 30, 2019 at 11:57 pm
Dr. Meg Abraham, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 30, 2019 at 11:57 pm

Wow, this is the most self-serving and uninformed piece I have seen in the Almanac in quite a while. So let’s start with some facts. Portola Valley has been extremely effective in adding to local housing stock. So much so that we are ahead of our state mandated quota to provide housing. This has been done by implementing an Auxiliary Dwelling Unit ADU plan, as well as fast tracking affiliated housing at local schools, Churches, University’s etc. In the case of ADU’s many PV people (including members of the town council) have or are expending considerable personal capital to put up ADU’s on their property. But I have not seen the same sense of urgency in Ladera (not part of Portola Valley although we always welcome their opinion). If Nancy Stork is so concerned, then maybe she should house some of her students on her property, or at least go to Menlo Park and work the issue there. Has she looked into ADUs, housing on City owned land or the other housing issues in Menlo Park where she pays taxes and elects government?

In addition to our strong record of building housing over the last few years, Portola Valley spends very considerable amounts of money, through self-imposed extra taxes, to maintain facilities for cycling, jogging, equestrian, and hiking enthusiasts. Many dozens of people who live in smaller apartments and crowded cities (as well as those from Ladera) walk, ride and jog on that small bit of crucial connecting land that is called Frog Pond Park every week on their way to trails. As housing density increases recreational space becomes more important to maintain the health and wellbeing of the entire Peninsula. The residence of Portola Valley gladly pay for the facilities that give pleasure to so many, including Frog Pond Park

And by the way, why shouldn’t institutions such as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. be part of the solution. After all they are certainly a major part of the problem. In fact, why is San Jose State failing to provide housing to their students? Shame on them and shame on Nancy Stork for failing to work with her institution to get needed housing there where the students work. As an Alum, I can tell you the commute for PV is not feasible for students. they need to be on campus.

Now let’s discuss the real moral crisis of our time. That is global warming. Portola Valley, unlike Ladera/Menlo Park is not on a major transit hub. Instead we are in a fire zone with a major earthquake fault running through it less than half mile from Frog Pond Park. That has been an important factor in the housing density structure of our small community. It is not safe to build densely in Portola Valley. This being the case, we probably could get exemptions to bills like Scott Wiener’s Prop 50 and the subsequent new versions under consideration (which specifically exempts areas where there is an increased fire danger). Instead we are working to both protect critical environments and increase housing in a safe and effective way. We are actually analyzing ways to put in affordable housing (not simply more expensive housing like the ones in area with covenants).

Open Land such as Frog Pond Park, which acts as a runoff area for the rare sag pond known as Frog Pond, reduces the effects of global warming. Portola Valley and the areas around are part of one of the world’s largest contagious rainforests. The redwoods and oaks that stretch from Portola Valley to Canada are critical to maintaining the health of not only the Peninsula, but the world at large. They are likened in value for carbon sequestration to the rainforests of Latin America. So, if one is so concerned, put up housing (and parking lots) where it will do less damage to the environment and then come walk, ride, jog and enjoy paradise on our dime (but please do stop at the stop sign)


AN
Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 2, 2019 at 8:03 am
AN, Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 2, 2019 at 8:03 am

Nancy,
I am so sorry for the tone the two prior comments chose to use. Though this often seems to be the default way we currently respond to one another on sensitive topics, you have tried to raise an important issue and I respect that. Housing is indeed an enormous issue in our area. I just googled rentals in Portola Valley and there are no apartments and the cheapest rental home available today is 7800 a month. If ADUs are being rented at livable rental rates to teachers and waiters, etc, that's great. I haven't seen it yet (but am so OPEN to that being true). Where are these listed, Meg?
I know Priory is in the beginning process of building additional living units to offer additional affordable housing to their staff (as the main reason people must leave is cost of living) (I believe Priory is already the main source of PV's affordable housing) and it's wonderful the town supports this and the school is putting in this revenue and effort.
I do have to say, it's not fair to say that someone cannot speak to a town's legal responsibility to provide the federally required amount of affordable housing (a number I thought PV was not yet meeting but considered a priority, but I may be wrong) without housing someone on their own property. If a town is required to do something, it's ok to speak to it. If a person feels their town should provide more housing for a broader swath of the community, they should be free to say so without having to provide it themselves--an action that is not always possible, affordable, or logical and, frankly, is an argument intended to shame and shut down a voice. You are bringing up an issue of civic responsibility, not individual. I think we can talk about it as such.
As an aside, the local community colleges are now allowing overnight parking because they know a fair number of their students are living in their cars.
Yes, the environment is of absolute critical concern. Housing is as well. It doesn't need to be a contest, each issue needs to be an issue we work together to find a way to solve. Together. Agreeing, disagreeing, but hashing throug it in conversation and debate, not insults.


Steve Taffee
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 2, 2019 at 1:58 pm
Steve Taffee, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 2, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Those of you interested in affordable housing may be interested in listening to a 4-part podcast that I facsinating in its exploration of how we came where we are and what some coinnunities are doing to address it,

The podast is from NPR's "On the Media" program and the series is called The Scarlet E(viction). You can find it here:

Web Link

and listen to it through your browser or through your favorite podcast app.

I recommend it to your community's housing advocates and city goverment planning/housing committees.


Incredulous
Portola Valley: other
on Jul 2, 2019 at 2:48 pm
Incredulous, Portola Valley: other
on Jul 2, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Come on PV! Every time a site is suggested for affordable housing/ADUs, neighbors and residents band together and fight against it with the vehemence only entitled NIMBYs can muster. Nathorst Triangle, Blue Oaks, Al's Nursery, and now 'Frog Pond Park' (a newly created name to try and make it sound like it is a designated area of open space, which it isn't) and probably the Stanford Wedge. If PV residents near the Frog Pond don't want housing there (and neither does the school because it wasn't in their Master Plan to support their teachers and staff in their extortionate multi-million bond measure), fund raise, buy it off the town, and when they purchase another piece of land and permission is granted to build affordable housing on it (with neighbor support instead of blocking), then apply for the designation of open space at the Frog Pond, and call it what you want. But at least you will have done the right thing by those with less advantages than you, instead of throwing your toys out of the pram because it might affect your view/driveway/traffic. Dr Abraham, swathes of Amazon forest are destroyed every day, and you really equate this issue with building 10 affordable housing units on a small piece of land? Supporting Measure Z was less environmentally friendly than these units, when they could have repaired and remodelled, but unfortunately, it passed - terrible for the environment near CMS. Time for some home truths and the redirection of moral compasses.


Ruth Wilcox
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 3, 2019 at 1:21 pm
Ruth Wilcox, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 3, 2019 at 1:21 pm

I am late to this discussion, but I think, if possible, we should look at the Nathorst Triangle again as a possible site for affordable housing. I live adjacent to the area and enjoy the fact that I can shop at Robert's and the Hardware store without driving a car. I supported the proposal when it came up a few years ago. Another advantage of having affordable housing in our community mentioned by N.Stork, but not addressed by other commentators is that it is easier to attract residents of differing backgrounds, incomes and ages. This makes for a more interesting and diverse population for our town.


Kirskie.
Portola Valley: other
on Jul 5, 2019 at 1:57 pm
Kirskie. , Portola Valley: other
on Jul 5, 2019 at 1:57 pm

Let’s not introduce problems into our community with affordable and low income housing. We don’t need that.


Homer
Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 5, 2019 at 1:59 pm
Homer, Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 5, 2019 at 1:59 pm

@Incredulous - your “morale compass” is bad for my property values. Go save the world somewhere else and with your own money.


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