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Guest opinion: Civility is under siege in Portola Valley

The worldwide trend of populist resentment of government seems to have arrived in Portola Valley. The town has not yet been served, but a group of disaffected residents is threatening a lawsuit over imagined transgressions involving one of our most vital volunteer committees. The irony of this lawsuit is that the plaintiffs' actions will effectively help destroy what they have been so vocal about protecting: small-town Portola Valley.

One of the hallmarks of Portola Valley has always been the collegiality and informality that comes with a small-town volunteer government. Of course there have been disagreements, even passionate battles about issues in town, but the recent outcry for even more resident participation is not advanced by a lawsuit that strategically targets the Wildfire Preparedness Committee (WPC).

Although I can only speak with certainty about the last 13 years, the council members from this period have always been scrupulous about maintaining openness and encouraging public engagement.

Any examples that have been brandished with such righteousness, as with the inadvertent WPC chat incident, had absolutely no impact on decision making by the council or committees. This sort of innocuous exchange would have been widely accepted if we had been meeting in person. It might have been brought up during oral communications, possibly with a bit of embarrassment thrown in for good measure, and that would have been that.

When sensible corrections have been suggested in the past, typically it has been accepted that they would be incorporated into town policies and procedures. We are so fortunate to have a town staff that takes the Brown Act, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and all state and local laws very seriously, and is always quick to remind our government volunteers of best practices.

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So what does this mean for our town now? A few years before I joined the council, a former council member said in effect that the development of our lovely town center would be the 'nail in the coffin' of old Portola Valley. I don't think he was correct at that point, but this latest deep change in attitudes may be.

With the aggressive approach to 'fixing' the town, will anyone be interested in running for a non-paying volunteer position on the Town Council, only to be threatened with lawsuits by their neighbors? Is this when we have to change to a paid professional council of full-time bureaucrats? Or does our dysfunction lead to a takeover by the state? Either for me would be the true nail in the coffin of old PV.

John Richards is a member of the Portola Valley Town Council.

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Guest opinion: Civility is under siege in Portola Valley

by John Richards /

Uploaded: Sat, Jun 18, 2022, 8:51 am

The worldwide trend of populist resentment of government seems to have arrived in Portola Valley. The town has not yet been served, but a group of disaffected residents is threatening a lawsuit over imagined transgressions involving one of our most vital volunteer committees. The irony of this lawsuit is that the plaintiffs' actions will effectively help destroy what they have been so vocal about protecting: small-town Portola Valley.

One of the hallmarks of Portola Valley has always been the collegiality and informality that comes with a small-town volunteer government. Of course there have been disagreements, even passionate battles about issues in town, but the recent outcry for even more resident participation is not advanced by a lawsuit that strategically targets the Wildfire Preparedness Committee (WPC).

Although I can only speak with certainty about the last 13 years, the council members from this period have always been scrupulous about maintaining openness and encouraging public engagement.

Any examples that have been brandished with such righteousness, as with the inadvertent WPC chat incident, had absolutely no impact on decision making by the council or committees. This sort of innocuous exchange would have been widely accepted if we had been meeting in person. It might have been brought up during oral communications, possibly with a bit of embarrassment thrown in for good measure, and that would have been that.

When sensible corrections have been suggested in the past, typically it has been accepted that they would be incorporated into town policies and procedures. We are so fortunate to have a town staff that takes the Brown Act, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and all state and local laws very seriously, and is always quick to remind our government volunteers of best practices.

So what does this mean for our town now? A few years before I joined the council, a former council member said in effect that the development of our lovely town center would be the 'nail in the coffin' of old Portola Valley. I don't think he was correct at that point, but this latest deep change in attitudes may be.

With the aggressive approach to 'fixing' the town, will anyone be interested in running for a non-paying volunteer position on the Town Council, only to be threatened with lawsuits by their neighbors? Is this when we have to change to a paid professional council of full-time bureaucrats? Or does our dysfunction lead to a takeover by the state? Either for me would be the true nail in the coffin of old PV.

John Richards is a member of the Portola Valley Town Council.

Comments

Meg
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 18, 2022 at 9:47 am
Meg, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Jun 18, 2022 at 9:47 am

I just saw a screen shot of some of the disrespectful and pajoritive comments made regarding resident volunteers by council members and employees using a private chats during meetings. John was at those meetings in his capacity as a council member. I have not heard that he stepped forward to stop this sort of unpleasant behavior. I suspect that some people are not interested in participating in a government because they do not like being trash-talked by the current PV government. And I further suspect that "This sort of innocuous exchange" would not have happened if they had been meeting in person. This is not the first, second or even third time I have seen residents treated in an unkind and disrespectful manor. There is not a lot of that is collegial in this council's behavior. The nail in the coffin will be if we do not vote in a kinder, more responsive and respectful council.


Neighbor
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Jun 19, 2022 at 8:28 pm
Neighbor, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2022 at 8:28 pm

It's beyond tiresome to see all the "Guest Opinions" on any matter involving the Town Council being written primarily by members of the Town Council. Why can't the Almanac show a shred of journalistic integrity?


Kevin Forestieri
Registered user
another community
on Jun 20, 2022 at 9:53 am
Kevin Forestieri, another community
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2022 at 9:53 am

@Neighbor

Be the change you want to see! You can submit a letter or a guest opinion to [email protected] We strive to publish a broad range of views that reflect the community, and we encourage anyone who wants to be heard to submit an opinion piece regardless of whether they're a resident or a council member.


Matt
Registered user
Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 20, 2022 at 2:34 pm
Matt, Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2022 at 2:34 pm

I gotta say only step ???? not the public arena if you have a thick skin. I posted on Nextdoor over Woodside s Measure A and was called a liar, accused of being in the pockets of big business or special interests and much much worse.

It saddened me greatly to wade through the hateful vitriol of all the posts and comments. Why we all can't communicate with a bit more compassion and kind ess is beyond me.

If it weren't for human nature, we'd be a pretty good species.


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