Little agreement on sites for Portola Valley affordable housing

Windy Hill is visible behind the Frog Pond Open Space in Portola Valley. The town is exploring the development of affordable housing in the space behind the pond on the right. Photo by Magali Gauthier

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.

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27 people like this
Posted by PV
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 8, 2019 at 9:59 am

The residents have spoken, it’s clear we don’t want this nonsense. Affordable housing can be well intentioned but not without a vision plan and proper planning. Adding two or three affordable units will not suddenly make a town more affordable. The town already addressed this by encouraging residents to build ADUs. Time to move onto something more important—how about resurfacing/restricting Alpine road?

3 people like this
Posted by CuriousaboutStanfordHousing
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Jul 8, 2019 at 2:50 pm

CuriousaboutStanfordHousing is a registered user.

How does the Stanford housing proposal fit into all of this? If Stanford builds its proposed housing complex along Alpine Road, does the town of PV still have to add additional housing?

24 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 8, 2019 at 4:51 pm

This strong-arm State tactic needs to be challenged in the courts. Cramming more unwanted units into communities only incentivized valley companies to continue to grow here. The message should instead be that Silicon Valley is oversubscribed and too expensive. Companies need to look to other regions to move to or start satellite offices in. Nobody is requiring you to do business here, it's a choice. This is a huge country with many amazing cities and regions that are begging for growth -- go there, grow there. It will do everybody good. Instead, California and local cities are capitulating to big business and, in effect, subsidizing local growth via permanent structural changes to our local cities and town which will forever diminish the quality of life for everybody who lives here. The solution to overcrowding IS NOT TO ADD MORE PEOPLE.

2 people like this
Posted by Housing advocate Meg
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 27, 2019 at 5:37 pm

These statements from council members (below) are just not presenting a full or accurate picture. Lack of transparent and or properly informed discussion are stirring up some pretty bad feelings and hurting the effort to sensibly build affordable housing.

Although I believe the good people on the Town Council think the statements are true, they should consult legislative analysts to get better information. The Cal State Consitution specifically gives power over zoning to local authorities. Any state bill (such as SB50 which has already been voted down) attempting to restrict those powers would likely be challenged in court, tied up for years and might well be declared unconditional. The current adviors to the council are doing a great job for any anti-housing residents with this over reaction to a poorly thought out bill written to boost developers. This does not to help the housing insecure!

"The state has put us in the position of being at risk of state laws being imposed over local planning rules,"

"The town doesn't want the state to force people to sell houses here and replace them with multi-unit dwellings."

emphasized that there will be changes in the affordable housing requirements and Portola Valley "will be expected to build."

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Boomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 28, 2019 at 9:55 am

That's a HARD NO on this nonsense! Here are the approved ways to be a Portola Valley resident:

1) Be super-wealthy
2) Be an elderly person who moved here a long time ago when supply-demand were not COMPLETELY out of whack and who doesn't think of themselves as super-wealthy even though they are when considering their home equity
3) There is no Number Three

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