Portola Valley officials seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of meeting increasing pressures from Sacramento for more high-density affordable housing and the demands of some residents who are unhappy with the options the town is exploring for building affordable housing on its properties.
About 40 to 50 residents attended a June 24 meeting of the town's Ad Hoc Housing on Town-Owned Property Committee, where it discussed a concept to build up to 11 homes on a town parcel on the south side of Alpine Road near the Frog Pond Open Space and Corte Madera School. The ad hoc committee has looked at a list of 30 town-owned parcels to determine if any could be suitable for affordable housing. Most of these properties were rejected previously due to poor drainage, unsuitable geologic conditions and because they were considered too small.
Opponents of the project argue that building on the 1.3-acre property would disrupt the ecology of the Frog Pond, a vernal pool that is a breeding ground for frogs during the rainy season; damage the views of some homeowners near the Windy Hill Open Space; create a hazard for hiking and equestrian trails; and increase traffic in the area.
Town officials say that Portola Valley is ignoring mandates coming down from the state to increase affordable housing and neglecting the need for housing for local teachers, firefighters and town employees, many of whom have to commute long distances to work.
With respect to affordable housing, Portola Valley "cannot put its head in the sand any longer," Mayor Ann Wengert told residents at the meeting.
"The state has put us in the position of being at risk of state laws being imposed over local planning rules," Wengert said. "The town doesn't want the state to force people to sell houses here and replace them with multi-unit dwellings."
Councilwoman Maryann Derwin emphasized that there will be changes in the affordable housing requirements and Portola Valley "will be expected to build."
The 1.3-acre site adjacent to the Frog Pond, known as the road remnant of Alpine Road, made the preliminary cut with the committee along with three other properties a maintenance building at the Town Center, a vacant parcel near Ford Field and a road remnant in the Blue Oaks neighborhood. Residents who spoke at the June 24 meeting were largely opposed to development of the site near the Frog Pond.
"It seems like a shocking area to be developed," said Curtis Carlson, a resident of the Portola Valley Ranch neighborhood. "The truth is, however many units we build it will never be enough. The community should decide, not a committee."
"We worked hard to get affordable housing built a long time ago and it can be done with equal or less environmental impact," said former mayor Jon Silver. "The land is a gateway to contiguous open space, and the focus of the committee should be on other plots."
Silver suggested that the town look into a plot that he said is for sale, a 1-acre site along Alpine Road next to Roberts Market where development wouldn't have such a large impact on views, trails, open space and the environment, but would require Portola Valley to find the money to purchase it, he said.
The Town Council met in closed session on Wednesday, June 26, and discussed price and terms of payment for a site adjacent to Roberts Market that is owned by the Donald McKinney Trust, according to a council agenda. Nothing was reported out of closed session, according to Town Manager Jeremy Dennis.
"(The road remnant) really is open space as it exists and the trails are used by pedestrians, equestrians, dog walkers and others," said Betsy Morganthaler. "It is used by people in the town as opposed to trails used by out-of-towners."
Ranch resident Lee Middleman was in the minority in supporting possible development of the road remnant.
"I hear objections that might be put forward for any parcel in Portola Valley," Middleman said. "We need to accept some change and think about the larger community."
Planning Commissioner and ad hoc committee member Judith Hasko said at the meeting that, "It's easy to say no to things, but we need to be creative and explore options. Any ideas or efforts are helpful."
The committee did not take any action, but will consider holding a follow-up evening meeting in the future. The town will monitor state housing legislation that could impact Portola Valley and consider engaging with an architect to explore development opportunities at the Town Center.