In early 2019, an architectural firm presented the Portola Valley Town Council with conceptual drawings that depicted 11 new homes on a 1.3-acre parcel next to the Frog Pond Open Space. The property was among 30 town-owned parcels that an ad hoc committee vetted for the possible construction of affordable housing to meet state mandates.
The proposal drew quick criticism from a number of residents, including Mary Hufty. Project opponents argued that building on the property would disrupt the ecology of the pond, impact the views of some homeowners near the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and increase traffic in the area.
Recognizing the opposition, the Town Council at the end of the year unanimously voted to remove the parcel from consideration.
"That was a very hard fight for the Frog Pond," Hufty said. "It became obvious to me that we needed to have a broader base of representation for the people of Portola Valley."
That helped drive her to run for a seat on the Portola Valley Town Council this fall. Hufty, an environmentalist and retired family physician who has previously served on the town's Westridge Architectural Supervisory, Conservation and Trails committees, is the second person to qualify for the ballot. Sarah Wernikoff, a Portola Valley School District volunteer with a background in e-commerce general management and nonprofit management, is also running for one of two council seats. Mayor Jeff Aalfs, who joined the council in 2011, qualified for the ballot on Aug. 6, while Councilwoman Ann Wengert has decided not to run again.
Hufty said she's looking to bring a different perspective to the council.
"It's become sort of a policy for them that they are always in consensus," she said. "The ability to have a different point of view on the council would be very nice for everybody."
Hufty grew up outside Washington, D.C., and moved to the West Coast to attend Stanford University in 1968. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in human development and biology, she went to University of California, San Diego for medical school, where she met her husband Daniel Alegria.
After medical school, they moved back east. They would later return to California, practicing medicine in Colfax and Auburn before moving to Portola Valley in 1987. As doctors, having Hufty's mother-in-law nearby to help care for their children was important.
"I was thinking we could deduct our bed because we were always on call," she joked.
Hufty worked for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department for a few years before becoming a family physician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where she worked for 25 years.
"Family practice is always a big challenge," she said. "You have to learn to listen to everybody ... I'm a good listener, and I'm friendly."
Since retiring, Hufty has increased her environmental advocacy work, particularly around Bay restoration efforts. She says she's a "big advocate" for San Francisquito Creek and pushed for the passage of Measure AA, a Bay Area-wide measure on the June 2016 ballot to initiate a 20-year parcel tax to raise roughly $25 million annually to fund restoration projects in the Bay. It passed with 70% approval and went into effect the following year.
Hufty is also passionate about the town's trail system.
"Portola Valley has an unbelievably good trail system," she said. "I don't know if there is a huge amount of improvements that need to be made (to trails), but we need to keep an eye on it."
Her concerns about protecting the environment propelled her to join Portola Valley Neighbors United, a volunteer-run group founded in January "to respond to several difficult town issues and preserve the town's rural nature," according to its website.
"The Mission of PVNU is to help our local community preserve and enhance its small, rural open space character on the edge of a rapidly developing urban and industrial area by upholding and applying the objectives and principles of our General Plan and municipal code with transparency and consistency," the website states.
Hufty, who is president of the organization, says she will decrease her involvement during her campaign.
So far, the group has mainly focused on issues relating to development and wildfire safety. It has written several letters to the Town Council calling on the adoption of a wildfire prevention and safety ordinance that would establish a public safety officer to implement and enforce the policies, a proposal Hufty considers one of her goals if elected.
PVNU has also come out against the Stanford Wedge project, a proposal by the university to build single-family homes and rental units on open space it owns along Alpine Road. Hufty said she does not believe the site would be appropriate for development.
"The fire department very clearly said this was a terrible place to develop, and it became obvious that report wasn't getting attention," Hufty said, referring to comments made by Woodside Fire Protection District officials that raised concerns about fire hazards. "You just can't put ignition at the bottom of a fire pile."
PVNU collected about 400 signatures asking Stanford to withdraw its proposal, which is currently in the environmental review stage.
While Hufty is against the Stanford Wedge project, she supports the development of housing if it keeps with the town's character and is in an appropriate location.
"I remember when Portola Valley had lots of little houses that were a lot of fun and could be rented — that is well within the character of Portola Valley," she said. "I am not in support of bigger and bigger houses; I'm in support of the Portola Valley where there are students and other people living there."
Hufty said she likes the town's efforts to engage residents and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office in discussion around police reform and racial equality. "I think this is a very complex discussion and very timely for the whole nation if we can do it in a gracious way," she said.
If elected in November, Hufty said she would also work to allow town committees "to function."
"The committees need to be able to choose their own members and bring in new people," she said. "We're good at (having) strong committees, but you need to have them keep improving their information and their voice by bringing in people that they know understand the situation."
In a follow-up email Tuesday, Hufty acknowledged that, if elected, she "will have lots to learn about all the town concerns and projects," and said she is not a single-issue candidate.
"I am if anything too diverse and open minded in my interests and enthusiasms," she said.