News

New Portola Valley mayor embraces thoughtful change

As a professional energy consultant, new Portola Valley Mayor Jeff Aalfs is well-positioned to help write new rules to make homes more energy-efficient, one of the Town Council's objectives for 2020.

The goal is for all new construction projects and major remodels to use recycled materials, all-electric appliances and electric space heating, to keep Portola Valley in the forefront of innovation in energy conservation.

"This is what all building is going to look like in the future," Aalfs said in a phone interview.

Requiring more energy efficiency in new construction is one of several initiatives the Town Council is planning for in 2020, according to a list of priorities published by the town.

Other plans include continuing to work on a long-term goal of providing affordable housing, preparing the community for wildfires and other emergencies, making streets and roads safer for pedestrians and encouraging more volunteering, according to the priority list.

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The need to build affordable housing has been a hot topic in Portola Valley, generating a conflict between a desire of many residents to maintain the community's rural feel and emerging state regulations requiring more lower-priced housing units.

A Stanford University proposal to build 27 single-family homes, along with 12 affordable rental units, is a case in point. The proposed project, known as the Stanford Wedge, would undoubtedly increase traffic along two-lane Alpine Road, the main route in and out town, and would be much denser than any other housing that currently exists.

Aalfs said the project will get a thorough review by the Planning Commission, the Architectural and Site Control Commission and the Town Council.

"There's going to be a very public discussion of the project," Aalfs said. "A lot of details have to be ironed out about how to proceed and what it looks like, and not all the objections are going to be overcome."

Portola Valley has also been working on identifying property that it owns that could be used for affordable housing, but an ad hoc committee formed to do an inventory found only one small site at the Town Center where there would be few barriers to development.

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The Town Council dismissed a potential site next to a vernal pool known as the Frog Pond in the face of strong community objections, and another parcel across Los Trancos Road from the Blue Oaks subdivision was identified as having potential, but the location "may be too remote," among other barriers, Aalfs said.

"You would be putting a lot of housing on a very small road," which could create traffic problems or impede escape during an emergency, he added.

Portola Valley formed an ad hoc committee last March to make recommendations about how to deal with the threat of wildfires. The committee reported its findings in December.

The suggestions included adding regulations banning wood shake roofs and wood decks to building codes and doing more evacuation planning before the next fire season, Aalfs said.

"We've also been mapping trees, fire hazards and vegetation along our main roads," he said. "We need to clear some of the more hazardous things so fire doesn't block our escape routes."

Portola Valley has produced a pedestrian safety plan that will be implemented beginning this year. Upgrades, including adding traffic warning lights, road markings and other measures will be completed as money is available, he said.

"The spending will have to be budgeted," Aalfs said. "Some projects are big enough that we will need to get grants to pay for them."

Portola Valley depends on volunteers to do the work that is sometimes done by paid staff in other, larger communities.

Although the town currently has plenty of people willing to step up, Aalfs said, he thinks it's important to try to get younger people involved to encourage fresh ideas.

Environmental focus

Aalfs serves as chairman of the board for Peninsula Clean Energy, the alternative energy provider for San Mateo County, and said the experience has "influenced my thinking around sustainability."

He wants to investigate putting a microgrid at Town Center composed of solar panels and batteries that would enable Town Hall to function during an extended power shutoff .

The center is currently served by a diesel backup generator that could only be used for a limited period of time, he said.

A microgrid "is something that we have considered in the past and would be a very timely thing to consider again," he said, referencing PG&E's fire-prevention power blackouts in 2019.

Aalfs said he is also intrigued by the idea promoted by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo of a public takeover of PG&E, and would like to see Portola Valley "weigh in on the idea and possibly support it."

The move would put the public more in control of "cleaning up" the utility's electrical grid and eliminate the need to make a profit to pay dividends to shareholders, he said.

"Customers are on the hook for PG&E's costs as it stands," Aalfs said. "If we could turn PG&E into a cooperative, run by its customers, that would be a benefit."

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New Portola Valley mayor embraces thoughtful change

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 16, 2020, 9:54 am

As a professional energy consultant, new Portola Valley Mayor Jeff Aalfs is well-positioned to help write new rules to make homes more energy-efficient, one of the Town Council's objectives for 2020.

The goal is for all new construction projects and major remodels to use recycled materials, all-electric appliances and electric space heating, to keep Portola Valley in the forefront of innovation in energy conservation.

"This is what all building is going to look like in the future," Aalfs said in a phone interview.

Requiring more energy efficiency in new construction is one of several initiatives the Town Council is planning for in 2020, according to a list of priorities published by the town.

Other plans include continuing to work on a long-term goal of providing affordable housing, preparing the community for wildfires and other emergencies, making streets and roads safer for pedestrians and encouraging more volunteering, according to the priority list.

The need to build affordable housing has been a hot topic in Portola Valley, generating a conflict between a desire of many residents to maintain the community's rural feel and emerging state regulations requiring more lower-priced housing units.

A Stanford University proposal to build 27 single-family homes, along with 12 affordable rental units, is a case in point. The proposed project, known as the Stanford Wedge, would undoubtedly increase traffic along two-lane Alpine Road, the main route in and out town, and would be much denser than any other housing that currently exists.

Aalfs said the project will get a thorough review by the Planning Commission, the Architectural and Site Control Commission and the Town Council.

"There's going to be a very public discussion of the project," Aalfs said. "A lot of details have to be ironed out about how to proceed and what it looks like, and not all the objections are going to be overcome."

Portola Valley has also been working on identifying property that it owns that could be used for affordable housing, but an ad hoc committee formed to do an inventory found only one small site at the Town Center where there would be few barriers to development.

The Town Council dismissed a potential site next to a vernal pool known as the Frog Pond in the face of strong community objections, and another parcel across Los Trancos Road from the Blue Oaks subdivision was identified as having potential, but the location "may be too remote," among other barriers, Aalfs said.

"You would be putting a lot of housing on a very small road," which could create traffic problems or impede escape during an emergency, he added.

Portola Valley formed an ad hoc committee last March to make recommendations about how to deal with the threat of wildfires. The committee reported its findings in December.

The suggestions included adding regulations banning wood shake roofs and wood decks to building codes and doing more evacuation planning before the next fire season, Aalfs said.

"We've also been mapping trees, fire hazards and vegetation along our main roads," he said. "We need to clear some of the more hazardous things so fire doesn't block our escape routes."

Portola Valley has produced a pedestrian safety plan that will be implemented beginning this year. Upgrades, including adding traffic warning lights, road markings and other measures will be completed as money is available, he said.

"The spending will have to be budgeted," Aalfs said. "Some projects are big enough that we will need to get grants to pay for them."

Portola Valley depends on volunteers to do the work that is sometimes done by paid staff in other, larger communities.

Although the town currently has plenty of people willing to step up, Aalfs said, he thinks it's important to try to get younger people involved to encourage fresh ideas.

Environmental focus

Aalfs serves as chairman of the board for Peninsula Clean Energy, the alternative energy provider for San Mateo County, and said the experience has "influenced my thinking around sustainability."

He wants to investigate putting a microgrid at Town Center composed of solar panels and batteries that would enable Town Hall to function during an extended power shutoff .

The center is currently served by a diesel backup generator that could only be used for a limited period of time, he said.

A microgrid "is something that we have considered in the past and would be a very timely thing to consider again," he said, referencing PG&E's fire-prevention power blackouts in 2019.

Aalfs said he is also intrigued by the idea promoted by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo of a public takeover of PG&E, and would like to see Portola Valley "weigh in on the idea and possibly support it."

The move would put the public more in control of "cleaning up" the utility's electrical grid and eliminate the need to make a profit to pay dividends to shareholders, he said.

"Customers are on the hook for PG&E's costs as it stands," Aalfs said. "If we could turn PG&E into a cooperative, run by its customers, that would be a benefit."

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Comments

PV Resident
Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Jan 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm
PV Resident , Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Jan 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm
28 people like this

I agree with Mayor Aalfs that it is time for fresh ideas. Councilmembers Derwin and Wengert have been on the council 15 years and Mayor Aalfs close to 10. Time for these lifers to step aside. Our towne needs fresh leadership that better represents the interests of the residents. Thank you all for your service, it’s time to pass the torch.


Sigh
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 16, 2020 at 6:04 pm
Sigh, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 16, 2020 at 6:04 pm
20 people like this

Honestly, the last thing we need is another extremely opinionated person to head up the Town Council. Jeff is a bright guy with a lot of ideas, but he pushes very hard, and clearly has already got some set, vigorous goals to accomplish. Jeff, perhaps you could stop salivating long enough to ask what the people of PV want, and not just what YOU think should happen. A solar grid? What do you mean? Big difference between solar panels on the roof of the library and an actual ground-based solar grid.

Your personal opinion on the location of the Blue Oaks parcel for affordable housing is truly unnecessary. Los Trancos is not a remote street, and it has access to both Alpine Road and Page Mill. As for the Stanford Wedge, I don't love your attitude of how we should just suck it up and deal with it. This is our town, not just yours, so stop with the dictatorial attitude of how things are going to go.

I agree with the above poster. Time for some new blood in the Town Council. Many of us have just had it with people who insist on abusing their power to push their own viewpoint of what should happen.


DrWho
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 16, 2020 at 7:40 pm
DrWho, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 16, 2020 at 7:40 pm
21 people like this

This self-important politician forced a change in utility provider upon the entire town, without seeking input from residents. As it turns out, he is chairman of the same imposed energy entity. Also, the town selected a trash contractor on a no-compete basis, selected by yet another contractor, enabling an effective 14year Monopoly. Thomas Paine would be inspired to author more revolutionary works.


Bill D Wall
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 16, 2020 at 9:48 pm
Bill D Wall, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 16, 2020 at 9:48 pm
4 people like this

Dear Sigh,

Can you give me directions on how I can get to Page Mill from Los Trancos Road? It looks to me like the two roads never join???? I would love to use that as a shortcut if it truly exists.


Jeff Aalfs
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 17, 2020 at 5:23 pm
Jeff Aalfs, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 17, 2020 at 5:23 pm
6 people like this

Hi,

Thanks for the comments! I completely agree about listening to more of our Residents' ideas. In fact, I have a coffee hour scheduled for next Thursday, the 23rd, from 9 to 11 in the Resource Room of the Portola Valley Libary. All are welcome. Please come by--I'd be happy to meet you in person. If you can't make this one, I will be holding more over the course of the year.

Also, for the record: Peninsula Clean Energy is non-profit, Joint Powers Authority. I represent Portola Valley, which is a member of the JPA, on the Board, and I currently act as Board Chair. My work for PCE, like my work for Portola Valley, is completely unpaid. Also, the Council voted, unanimously, in a public session, to join PCE, after several study and discussion sessions (all public) over the course of a year. I hosted a number of information sessions during that time, looking for public input. I have pointed this out on multiple occasions because I don't like the appearance, or the insinuation, of corruption to go unchallenged.

Best Regards,

Jeff Aalfs
Mayor
Town of Portola Valley


Danna Breen
Portola Valley: other
on Jan 17, 2020 at 6:47 pm
Danna Breen, Portola Valley: other
on Jan 17, 2020 at 6:47 pm
12 people like this

I have such a problem with the Almanac policy of letting people post anonymously. So counterproductive. I feel challenged by some of these letters.
Every person on town council has their interest and strength which they bring to their leadership when they become Mayor. Jeff’s passion and interest is sustainability so yes be prepared to see this emphasis during his year long lead.
People want to live in Portola Valley, because our government has made it this way. As always, people should attend council and committee meetings which relate to their concerns when they want to express themselves, stand up and be heard. THAT is productive and frankly that’s how we do things here. It was a really tiring year in PV let me tell you, but so many of us showed up and voiced our opinions,. We were respectful of the process and the council and in the end we were heard, We all don’t always agree, but In the end I think we can all agree that PV is wonderful.


PL
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jan 17, 2020 at 6:56 pm
PL, Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jan 17, 2020 at 6:56 pm
12 people like this

We don’t need to make accusations. The fact is that we are not looking for activist Mayors. California’s government is bad enough at slowing down housing development with its outrageous regulations. We don’t need a small town mayor adding more. The transfer of funds forcing moves to green energy abetted the damaging fires we have had. Climate change had nothing to do with the horrible fires. It was poor management and well intentioned regulations that led to the fires. PG&E did not perform their maintenance and the folks in Sacramento did not allow proper clean up of the forest. Of course no individuals responsible for this travesty were held liable.


Gas Stoves Are Splendid
Portola Valley: other
on Jan 17, 2020 at 7:52 pm
Gas Stoves Are Splendid, Portola Valley: other
on Jan 17, 2020 at 7:52 pm
12 people like this

I know Jeff, and I think he is an earnest, thoughtful, and decent man.

My one piece of cautionary advice for him is: WATCH OUT FOR UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

A good example is the latest California law, AB5. It was created to “help” (actually, get at) Uber and Lyft drivers. Instead, it has severely messed up the business lives of many writers, journalists, bloggers, actors, musicians, and other ad hoc professions.

I hope he and the council don’t enact any “AB5-like” measures in PV.


Jon Silver
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 18, 2020 at 10:19 pm
Jon Silver, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 18, 2020 at 10:19 pm
9 people like this

I must agree with comments above made by Danna Breen, Jeff Aalfs and Bill Wall. I find it instructive that all of the negative comments above were posted by people (or bots?) who chose not to use their names. These mean-spirited, mostly snarky, negative posts contained, variously, inaccuracies, ad-hominem attacks and deceptive arguments.

These anonymous attacks mischaracterize Jeff Aalfs, his colleagues and our Town of Portola Valley.

Who was it who said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put its pants on”?

As one who has lived in Portola Valley for more than 65 years, I know that our Town is well governed by many dedicated volunteers and an active public, including Jeff Aalfs and the other members of our Town Council.

Where to start in correcting some of the falsehoods put forth by our unnamed friends?

In the interest of brevity, I will not attempt to address all the misleading statements made, but just a high- (or low-) light or three.

1) Perhaps first that the people of Portola Valley don’t want an “activist” Mayor. While “activist” is not a word I would use to describe Jeff Aalfs—I would call him a gentle, thoughtful open-minded man, a good dad and husband and a dedicated community volunteer—I do think that the people of our Town want a Mayor and other leaders, who are committed to facing the crises of our time. Foremost among these is climate change. People in our Town want action on addressing this crisis, not mere lip service, or worse an apologist for PG & E, the Koch brothers or big petroleum or coal.

2) The suggestion that the PG & E caused wildfires where the fault of environmental regulations is just silly. PG & E has spent years resisting sensible safety measures such as undergrounding of electrical lines—or even proper record keeping about potential problems. The scale of their irresponsibility is breathtaking. PG & E has spent big money on lobbying and on political contributions, rather than investing in sensible maintenance and hazard prevention. If one doubts this, visit the neighborhood PG & E barbequed to our north in San Bruno.

If government shares any responsibility for this, it is in allowing regulatory capture to occur, which resulted in the PUC being far too soft on PG & E for years. Also, government should have taken more aggressive action on campaign finance reform to limit the power of moneyed interests such as PG & E.

3) The idea that anyone was “forced” by our Town Council to use cheaper, cleaner power by Portola Valley’s Town Council in some kind of secret process is laughable. If our nameless friends wish to pay more for dirtier PG & E power, they are free to do so. They can sign up for it if they so desire.

Speaking of our Town’s democratic governance, all decisions are made in the open with the opportunity of extensive public input. If one is unaware of this, it is because one did not bother to pay attention or to participate. Democracy is hard work; it takes time and involvement.

As one who spent time in the old Soviet Union, I can attest that lack of democracy can be quite restful—for a while—but it is not an alternative I would choose.

If our anonymous friends disagree with this or any of what I have said, perhaps they should step-up and run for office. But I have some news for them. If they do throw their hat(s) into the electoral ring, they will actually have to use their real names; one still cannot be elected to office in California under a pseudonym—or as a corporation or LLC.

Sincerely,

Jon Silver
Portola Valley resident, 1954–present
former Town Councilmember, 1978-1993
former Mayor, Town of Portola Valley, 3-terms
Town of Portola Valley Open Space Award recipient, 2003
former San Mateo County Planning Commissioner, 1995-2007
former Chair, Town of Portola Valley Conservation Committee, 1977-78
Gadfly, 1953–present
Cranky old-fart, from some time ago—to well into the future(?)


Dave Ross
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 19, 2020 at 9:43 am
Dave Ross, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 19, 2020 at 9:43 am
10 people like this

In my opinion, one could not ask for a better representative government than Portola Valley's Town Council. All its members are elected, and every member is an accessible resident in the community. They don't go away to Sacramento or DC to make legislation - they live and serve right here in Town, and anyone with a concern, a beef or an idea can call them up, visit or send an email. PV's governance is by people with strong local ties, who care little about party affiliation or ambitions for higher office. We do this because someone needs to, and we feel better about our selves and our community by stepping up to share the burden.

Town Council membership is open to all residents, but few stand for election. Why? Because it is a heavy commitment of time and energy, for no gain except the satisfaction of participating in the effort to make and keep PV a great place to be. And, of course, there are the anonymous trolls.

Danna Breen and I share opinions about anonymous complainers. Perhaps mine are a little stronger. In my view, folks who post ad hominem, negative and snarky (and usually incorrect) comments under the cover of anonymity don't deserve the attention they seek. As to Danna's suggestion to show up, and Jon Silver's suggestion to run for office - both are excellent ideas. I suspect the people posting negative comments here are either not really residents or are too lazy (or cowardly) to offer meaningful participation, who don't want to identify themselves because they are not ready to stand by their remarks.


Rank & File
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 11, 2020 at 3:51 am
Rank & File, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 11, 2020 at 3:51 am
Like this comment

Those that invest the time and energy to run for elected positions deserve credit for their public service. There is an understandable tendency for those individuals to have agendas. What I see and hear is that when these officials achieve their positions of power, they also should continue to understand the representative nature of their position. They should work not only to pursue their agenda but to represent the views and interest of the many citizens who cannot or do not treat local politics as their avocation. Just temper your activism a bit recognizing it is doubtful that the average citizen believes local politics should be at the cutting edge or at one end or another of the political spectrum. That’s all.


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