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.