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Editorial: Jeff Aalfs and Sarah Wernikoff for Portola Valley Town Council

Jeff Aalfs and Sarah Wernikoff. Photos by Magali Gauthier.

There are plenty of things that unify the four candidates for Portola Valley Town Council: a deep love for the town's rural beauty, with its network of trails and bucolic open spaces; a determination to protect it from the ever-present threat of wildfires; and concern over the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents, local businesses and the town's bottom line.

But with only two seats on the council to fill, voters need to make a choice between incumbent Jeff Aalfs and challengers Sarah Wernikoff, Angela Hey and Mary Hufty. The Almanac recommends reelecting Jeff Aalfs and electing Sarah Wernikoff.

With nine years' experience on the council, Aalfs has shown admirable leadership as mayor during an extraordinarily difficult year, as the coronvirus turned life upside down and the CZU Lightning Complex fires, the largest to ravage the area in at least 100 years, came chillingly close to town. His weekly emails were notable for their clarity, compassionate tone and useful information during the pandemic, and he's well-versed in the town and Woodside Fire Protection District's fire prevention strategies.

Climate change is a major threat to Portola Valley, and Aalfs' experience as a sustainability professional and board member of Peninsula Clean Energy gives him an edge. His idea of turning the Town Center into a microgrid that generates and stores solar power is interesting and worth pursuing. He's committed to taking a close look at the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office policies and practices with an eye to improving them, banding together with other small towns to increase Portola Valley's clout in effecting change.

Aalfs' cautiously progressive approach to the perpetually controversial topic of building more housing — an inevitability, given state law — acknowledges the important role housing plays in increasing diversity in a town that was 91% white according to the last census. Wanting to weed out racial bias in policing is easy to get behind, he points out. Adding more housing for people of different income levels is a tougher sell in Portola Valley, but flows from the same values of equality and justice.

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Wernikoff stood out among the challengers for her thoughtful, constructive approach to issues facing the town, her willingness to do her homework and her years of volunteering with the Portola Valley School District as well as her work with Close the Gap California, a nonprofit that recruits and supports progressive female candidates to close the gender gap in the state Legislature. Her experience from holding leadership roles in e-commerce companies and nonprofits should serve her well.

Wernikoff says she fell in love with Portola Valley the moment she laid eyes on it, and that its lack of diversity is one of the only things wrong with the town. Among the candidates, she had some of the most insightful answers on the value of increasing the town's ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Wernikoff is well-versed on fire safety issues and we feel she can be counted on to consider divisive development proposals, like the Stanford Wedge project, fairly and reasonably. We think she's the candidate most likely to hit the ground running if elected, and serve with energy and an open mind.

What does it mean when The Almanac makes an endorsement? Read our explanation here.

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Editorial: Jeff Aalfs and Sarah Wernikoff for Portola Valley Town Council

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sat, Oct 3, 2020, 8:55 am
Updated: Tue, Oct 6, 2020, 11:32 am

There are plenty of things that unify the four candidates for Portola Valley Town Council: a deep love for the town's rural beauty, with its network of trails and bucolic open spaces; a determination to protect it from the ever-present threat of wildfires; and concern over the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents, local businesses and the town's bottom line.

But with only two seats on the council to fill, voters need to make a choice between incumbent Jeff Aalfs and challengers Sarah Wernikoff, Angela Hey and Mary Hufty. The Almanac recommends reelecting Jeff Aalfs and electing Sarah Wernikoff.

With nine years' experience on the council, Aalfs has shown admirable leadership as mayor during an extraordinarily difficult year, as the coronvirus turned life upside down and the CZU Lightning Complex fires, the largest to ravage the area in at least 100 years, came chillingly close to town. His weekly emails were notable for their clarity, compassionate tone and useful information during the pandemic, and he's well-versed in the town and Woodside Fire Protection District's fire prevention strategies.

Climate change is a major threat to Portola Valley, and Aalfs' experience as a sustainability professional and board member of Peninsula Clean Energy gives him an edge. His idea of turning the Town Center into a microgrid that generates and stores solar power is interesting and worth pursuing. He's committed to taking a close look at the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office policies and practices with an eye to improving them, banding together with other small towns to increase Portola Valley's clout in effecting change.

Aalfs' cautiously progressive approach to the perpetually controversial topic of building more housing — an inevitability, given state law — acknowledges the important role housing plays in increasing diversity in a town that was 91% white according to the last census. Wanting to weed out racial bias in policing is easy to get behind, he points out. Adding more housing for people of different income levels is a tougher sell in Portola Valley, but flows from the same values of equality and justice.

Wernikoff stood out among the challengers for her thoughtful, constructive approach to issues facing the town, her willingness to do her homework and her years of volunteering with the Portola Valley School District as well as her work with Close the Gap California, a nonprofit that recruits and supports progressive female candidates to close the gender gap in the state Legislature. Her experience from holding leadership roles in e-commerce companies and nonprofits should serve her well.

Wernikoff says she fell in love with Portola Valley the moment she laid eyes on it, and that its lack of diversity is one of the only things wrong with the town. Among the candidates, she had some of the most insightful answers on the value of increasing the town's ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Wernikoff is well-versed on fire safety issues and we feel she can be counted on to consider divisive development proposals, like the Stanford Wedge project, fairly and reasonably. We think she's the candidate most likely to hit the ground running if elected, and serve with energy and an open mind.

What does it mean when The Almanac makes an endorsement? Read our explanation here.

Comments

Meg
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 5, 2020 at 11:10 am
Meg, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2020 at 11:10 am

This is a badly written and thought out opinion.
I find the description of Jeff Aalfs qualifications to be poor to the point of being propaganda. The editor states Aalfs is a "sustainability professional" and claims this "gives him an edge". Let's be honest here Aalfs is a sustainable BUILDING MATERIALS professional. One could claim that Angela Hay is a Sustainable science development professional. Certainly Mary Hufty has a very distinguish record in environmental sustainability which Aalfs lacks.
The Almanac goes on to state ”progressive approach to the perpetually controversial topic of building more housing — an inevitability, given state law — acknowledges the important role housing plays in increasing diversity in a town that was 91% white according to the last census"
This is hyperboly at is worst. The state proposed bills on housing, like SB59 and SB1120, have not passed and may never pass. The current legislation that has passed primarily requires ADU improvements not the major subdivisions that the current council under Mayor Aalfs are considering. Further, the idea that adding housing increases diversity is not proven. We have had several housing developments in PV over the years with little increase in diversity. In fact it has been the minority communitied in the Bay Area and Los Angeles who have most strenuously fought SB50 and SB 1120 - which the current PV council use to justify considering the building of large high density subdivisions in fire prone PV.
There are now quite a few small PV ADU units renting at moderate prices and still we had to import a black person for the local Black Lives Matter protest. Shame on The Almanac for stating without evidence that housing leads to diversity. That is the sort of rediculious statement that holds back real progress in integration by pretending that by simply building housing people will come to a place that is not making them welcome. And why would they feel less welcome? Well I will note that two of the people who do identify as Black in PV have not seen their opinions kindly acknowledge on local forums or as contributing to the PVNU organization dedicated to environmental sustainability. Maybe the Almanac should have considered minority residents opinion about "building housing as a key factor in population diversity" before stating it as fact. The presumption that minority families are not here because they can not afford to live here is pejorative.

While Aalfs may be versed in the Fire districts plans, the town under Mayor Aalfs has done too little in the area of fire prevention. For example, unlike other communities (all of Los Angeles for example) we still have no mandated brush clearance program.

Finally, I note the advertisement dollars Aalfs is spending with the Almanac are a point against this endorsement. Not a good look


John
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Oct 6, 2020 at 12:00 pm
John, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Will the real Jeff Aalfs please stand up. Not sure what actually if anything Jeff Aalfs has done for PV? Maybe a list of his REAL individual accomplishments would be enlightening. He nods his head at the Council meetings, gets very angry at some of the people who don't agree with him and then tries to jam the REACH (green building code down our throat). The Reach Building code eliminates natural gas to new structures and requires them to be only electric. If PG&E is turning off our power because they can't generate enough electricity how is it helpful to advocate for a code which would mandate houses to be built only with electricity? All this means is more PVrs will install generators and how does that reduce carbon ? It doesn't it makes the problem worse. Doesn't Jeff consult for architects on the Green Building Code? Seems maybe a conflict of interest? The weekly updates during COVID seem to have more of a staff tone than being original content from Jeff. What exactly has he done about the wildfire issue in PV? Not one thing in fact he seems to look the other way and has ignored what the Town's fire safety subcommittee recommended. Haven't seen anything on the Towns agenda about wildfire and definitely haven't seen Jeff Aalfs leading any charge. His participation and engagement seems to be very lack luster in everything he does for the Town. I know I never even received a courtesy of any replies when I reached out to him on various Town matters. Being on the Council means more than just showing up for some Council meetings. He seems more of just a YES man for the Mayor Jeremy Dennis. Likely time for a change!


Neighbor
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Oct 6, 2020 at 5:11 pm
Neighbor, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 5:11 pm

Honestly, I don't think it's appropriate for the Almanac to endorse any candidates for any election in any of the towns or counties they cover. Just report the news factually. That's all we ask.


Meg
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 7, 2020 at 12:10 pm
Meg, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 12:10 pm

It is my understanding (from a very knowledgeable source) that the Almanac regularly endorses the incumbents unless there is a really major argument against that person. So the endorsement should be viewed with that in mind.


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