The Woodside Town Council backed away from a project that would have used solar panels to supply Town Hall and the historic Independence Hall meeting venue with electricity.
The project won a 3-2 council majority at a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 14, with council members Daniel Yost, Chris Shaw and Ned Fluet voting yes, but fell short of passage since a critical fourth yes vote was needed with Dick Brown and Sean Scott absent. Tom Livermore and Brian Dombkowski voted no.
The solar panel project, paired with batteries to store the electricity, would have given residents a place to meet and charge their electronic devices in the event of a power blackout and would have paid for itself in cost savings over time, according to proponents.
But objections won out as the council rejected the $304,000 project on a number of grounds, including the visual damage panel installation might cause to Independence Hall and the fact that power generated by solar panels is more expensive than power from Peninsula Clean Energy, San Mateo County's clean-energy consolidator.
"Rooftop solar is the highest priced way to go," said project opponent Ed Kahl. "The price of solar systems and solar power keep going down, so there's no advantage to spending the money now."
The proposal also included a provision for electric vehicle charging stations to be installed in the parking lot at the town library, but some residents objected because of a shortage of parking at that location.
"The cost of this redundant system will be closer to $500,000 than $300,000 after adding in the cost of a needed roof replacement, charging stations, consultants' fees and staff time," Kahl said.
Shaw emphasized the safety issue, saying that the town needs an independent source of power separate from the PG&E grid.
"When you eliminate generating electricity locally, you are putting the community at risk," Shaw said. "We've been talking about this for a long time, and we keep kicking the can down the road."
Peninsula Clean Energy is also supportive of independent green energy projects, Yost said.
"Power shutoffs aren't going away," he said. "(This project) is something we need to do when the budget is flush."
Bridge repair approved
The council also approved a maximum of $950,000 for a repair to a 106-year-old bridge on Old La Honda Road about a mile west of Portola Road and authorized putting the project out for bid.
The bridge is a reinforced concrete box girder bridge built in 1914, according to the staff report on the project.
A recent Caltrans study reported that the bridge is "structurally deficient" and experiencing advanced deterioration of its exterior girders and abutment walls. The study gave the bridge a 36.8 rating for "sufficiency," with 100 being the highest score possible, according to Woodside Planning Director Jackie Young.
Although repair or replacement of any bridge with less than a 50 rating is eligible for federal funding which could be used to cover 89% of the cost, the federal Highway Trust Fund is currently tapped out and new funding won't be available until 2023, said Woodside Public Works Director Sean Rose.
Despite that situation, the council voted to go ahead immediately using town funds, since there are three other bridges that also need repairs, and wait to secure federal reimbursement later.
Rose recommended the repair plan that calls for placing a culvert 84 inches in diameter, along with cement, under the bridge to create a channel instead of replacing the entire structure.
"Right now there's a rectangular concrete opening," he said. "We're going to put a pipe inside the opening and build concrete walls and encase the culvert in concrete."
The council also authorized Town Manager Kevin Bryant to execute an amendment to the contract for $57,770 in environmental consulting services for the project to meet certain requirements for the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, according to the state report.
The control board requires that Woodside restore about 1,000 square feet of riparian stream area as mitigation for the bridge construction, according to the staff report.
Town staff has identified a site downstream from the project on Dennis Martin Creek at Portola Road where the mitigation would take place. The work will include removing invasive plants, installing native plants and monitoring of the work for up to five years, the report says.
New traffic rules
Because of recent blockages of Old La Honda Road caused by accidents involving oversized vehicles, the council moved to change the size limits for trucks using the road from a maximum of 3 tons, which is about the size of a pickup truck, to a limit of 35 feet in length and 13 feet in height, and to end an exception for routine deliveries to Old La Honda Road residents.
The council also voted to make the restrictions enforceable rather than merely advisory, per a recommendation from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which will be in charge of enforcing the ban.
Old La Honda Road is a narrow, winding route that connects Portola Road and Skyline Boulevard south of La Honda Road.
The 3-ton weight restriction did not address the problem of very large vehicles not being able to navigate the road's sharp turns, according to a staff report.
In the most recent incident, in September, a 75-foot-long truck/trailer got stuck and needed to be towed out, causing the road to be closed to through traffic for several hours and resulting in damage to the road, according to the staff report.
Exceptions for public utility, town, and emergency vehicles will remain in place, along with a new exception for any vehicle that has obtained a transportation permit from the town.
Both the Old La Honda Road bridge project and the vehicle size restrictions passed unanimously.