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Portola Valley's draft housing element is headed to the state

Council members Maryann Derwin, left, and John Richards, right, during the July 13, 2022, Town Council meeting. Screenshot.

Fears about the loss of horse stables and scenic corridors, along with increased wildfire risk were all part of an hours-long discussion Wednesday, July 13, in Portola Valley before the Town Council approved its draft housing element.

The draft will be sent to the state, pending revisions the council requested to address concerns about displacement of the Isola Riding Academy, and adding limitations to the opt-in rezoning program to limit projects to four units per site (rather than four units per acre) and requiring a discretionary review process.

The town is assigned to plan for 253 new units in the 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), compared to just 64 last cycle.

Portola Valley's draft housing element plan is set to be sent to the state soon for a 90-review. Screenshot.

Jeremy Levine, a local housing advocate and policy manager for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said Portola Valley's plan is the only one of the nine draft housing elements in the county his organization recommends for certification.

He believes the town, which has hosted over a dozen meetings on the topic, made a good faith effort to meet the housing needs of the community. He noted that the children of locals, teachers, blue-collar workers and others are being priced out of Portola Valley — where the average home now sells for $4 million — and said the housing plan is a good start toward making the town more inclusive.

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Councilman Jeff Aalfs said cities across the state have seen the same pattern that has limited housing development in California.

"At the end of the day we're elected officials, if we get 50 people adamantly opposed to it and five or 10 potentially supporting it, we're probably not going to do it, and every jurisdiction is like that," he said. "The result is we're very, very short of housing." The difference during this housing cycle is that the state Legislature has made housing a priority and is being stricter on how towns plan for housing, he said.

He also noted that town staff and the Ad Hoc Housing Committee made a series of compromises to create the best housing element possible.

Isola Riding Academy at Glenoaks Equestrian Center

Isola Riding Academy in Portola Valley. Via Google Maps.

The town received a number of written comments from people concerned about the 29 units of housing designated at the Glenoaks site at 3639 Alpine Road, which is home to the Isola Riding Academy. Because of this feedback, the Town Council asked staff to follow up with the property owner and tenant to look into options for maintaining horse operations.

"Woodside and Portola Valley are some of the last equestrian bastions in the Silicon Valley area," Brigitte Hajos said in a June 16 email to the town. "They are horse land and closing still more horse riding facilities pushes horses and equestrians out of the valley. Too many public riding facilities have been closed and we are losing precious opportunities to save the sport and these precious animals. When riding facilities close, horses are sold off. Many are put down or end up in slaughterhouses if there are no imminent buyers. Horses are majestic creatures with therapeutic powers far beyond most people's understanding."

Opt-in zoning

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After residents of the Nathhorst Triangle area vehemently opposed plans to "upzone" the density of housing in their neighborhood in an earlier iteration of the draft element, the town decided to create an opt-in zoning program would allow single-family residential parcels 1 acre or greater to rezone to allow up to four dwelling units per acre. The town added in a clause that the owner opting for rezoning has to live on-site to prevent developers from buying up land.

But some residents expressed their concerns to the town that upzoning "creates powerful economic incentives to fundamentally alter" the environment and wildland habitats of Portola Valley.

Resident Sylvia Thompson told the town on June 23 that the program allows developers to profit from urbanization and "harnesses fear and greed to encourage rapid development."

"Neighbors are forced into an economic prisoner's dilemma: the first up-zoner in a neighborhood reaps a financial windfall at nearby property owners' expense," she wrote. "The only way to reclaim some of the value lost to the new high-density project next door is also to up-zone and move out, ideally before someone else does. The ensuing race for the exits depresses land values, benefiting developers and cascading into the sort of overnight over-development seen in other formerly pristine places."

On Wednesday, the council considered removing the opt-in program and adding a small number of Senate Bill 9 units, but staff advised that they probably won’t be financially viable for residents to through this program (SB 9 units are limited to 800 square feet in size in town). The state's so-called duplex law that took effect in January requires local agencies to grant ministerial approval to certain lot splits and up to two primary units on each resulting lot, with 4-foot side and rear setbacks.

Ford Field and Ladera Church sites

The council decided that planning for Dorothy Ford Field and the Ladera Church property will take place together about two years into the 2023-31 cycle. This will allow the town to first evaluate how the plan's implementation is progressing.

In a June 16 email to the town, Ford's widow Susan Ford Dorsey, said her husband gave the land under two conditions: the land remains as open space and that the park be named after his mother, Dorothy B. Ford.

Details of the deed restriction at Ford Field in Portola Valley. Courtesy town of Portola Valley.

"I believe that the town would be breaking that promise to him and our family by developing it," she said. "That land is a place of solace for our community and it needs to be kept intact. Like every family in our community, our family has benefited from the beauty and recreation afforded by the park."

While both Susan Ford Dorsey and many residents have stated the town has a moral obligation to keep the property in open space, but other than the two deed restrictions governing the baseball field which expire in 2031, there is no legal impediment to changing the use of the open space portion of the site.

Town staff confirmed that there is not a proposal to build housing over the Ford Field baseball diamond. There may be an opportunity to rearrange the uses at the site and improve the baseball facilities with the overall project.

Staff has had preliminary conversations with a nonprofit affordable housing developer about the feasibility of developing the site. For the purposes of financing and operations, affordable housing developers typically require approximately 50 units to make these types of projects feasible.

View videos of the meeting here and here.

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Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Portola Valley's draft housing element is headed to the state

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jul 15, 2022, 5:48 pm

Fears about the loss of horse stables and scenic corridors, along with increased wildfire risk were all part of an hours-long discussion Wednesday, July 13, in Portola Valley before the Town Council approved its draft housing element.

The draft will be sent to the state, pending revisions the council requested to address concerns about displacement of the Isola Riding Academy, and adding limitations to the opt-in rezoning program to limit projects to four units per site (rather than four units per acre) and requiring a discretionary review process.

The town is assigned to plan for 253 new units in the 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), compared to just 64 last cycle.

Jeremy Levine, a local housing advocate and policy manager for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said Portola Valley's plan is the only one of the nine draft housing elements in the county his organization recommends for certification.

He believes the town, which has hosted over a dozen meetings on the topic, made a good faith effort to meet the housing needs of the community. He noted that the children of locals, teachers, blue-collar workers and others are being priced out of Portola Valley — where the average home now sells for $4 million — and said the housing plan is a good start toward making the town more inclusive.

Councilman Jeff Aalfs said cities across the state have seen the same pattern that has limited housing development in California.

"At the end of the day we're elected officials, if we get 50 people adamantly opposed to it and five or 10 potentially supporting it, we're probably not going to do it, and every jurisdiction is like that," he said. "The result is we're very, very short of housing." The difference during this housing cycle is that the state Legislature has made housing a priority and is being stricter on how towns plan for housing, he said.

He also noted that town staff and the Ad Hoc Housing Committee made a series of compromises to create the best housing element possible.

Isola Riding Academy at Glenoaks Equestrian Center

The town received a number of written comments from people concerned about the 29 units of housing designated at the Glenoaks site at 3639 Alpine Road, which is home to the Isola Riding Academy. Because of this feedback, the Town Council asked staff to follow up with the property owner and tenant to look into options for maintaining horse operations.

"Woodside and Portola Valley are some of the last equestrian bastions in the Silicon Valley area," Brigitte Hajos said in a June 16 email to the town. "They are horse land and closing still more horse riding facilities pushes horses and equestrians out of the valley. Too many public riding facilities have been closed and we are losing precious opportunities to save the sport and these precious animals. When riding facilities close, horses are sold off. Many are put down or end up in slaughterhouses if there are no imminent buyers. Horses are majestic creatures with therapeutic powers far beyond most people's understanding."

Opt-in zoning

After residents of the Nathhorst Triangle area vehemently opposed plans to "upzone" the density of housing in their neighborhood in an earlier iteration of the draft element, the town decided to create an opt-in zoning program would allow single-family residential parcels 1 acre or greater to rezone to allow up to four dwelling units per acre. The town added in a clause that the owner opting for rezoning has to live on-site to prevent developers from buying up land.

But some residents expressed their concerns to the town that upzoning "creates powerful economic incentives to fundamentally alter" the environment and wildland habitats of Portola Valley.

Resident Sylvia Thompson told the town on June 23 that the program allows developers to profit from urbanization and "harnesses fear and greed to encourage rapid development."

"Neighbors are forced into an economic prisoner's dilemma: the first up-zoner in a neighborhood reaps a financial windfall at nearby property owners' expense," she wrote. "The only way to reclaim some of the value lost to the new high-density project next door is also to up-zone and move out, ideally before someone else does. The ensuing race for the exits depresses land values, benefiting developers and cascading into the sort of overnight over-development seen in other formerly pristine places."

On Wednesday, the council considered removing the opt-in program and adding a small number of Senate Bill 9 units, but staff advised that they probably won’t be financially viable for residents to through this program (SB 9 units are limited to 800 square feet in size in town). The state's so-called duplex law that took effect in January requires local agencies to grant ministerial approval to certain lot splits and up to two primary units on each resulting lot, with 4-foot side and rear setbacks.

Ford Field and Ladera Church sites

The council decided that planning for Dorothy Ford Field and the Ladera Church property will take place together about two years into the 2023-31 cycle. This will allow the town to first evaluate how the plan's implementation is progressing.

In a June 16 email to the town, Ford's widow Susan Ford Dorsey, said her husband gave the land under two conditions: the land remains as open space and that the park be named after his mother, Dorothy B. Ford.

"I believe that the town would be breaking that promise to him and our family by developing it," she said. "That land is a place of solace for our community and it needs to be kept intact. Like every family in our community, our family has benefited from the beauty and recreation afforded by the park."

While both Susan Ford Dorsey and many residents have stated the town has a moral obligation to keep the property in open space, but other than the two deed restrictions governing the baseball field which expire in 2031, there is no legal impediment to changing the use of the open space portion of the site.

Town staff confirmed that there is not a proposal to build housing over the Ford Field baseball diamond. There may be an opportunity to rearrange the uses at the site and improve the baseball facilities with the overall project.

Staff has had preliminary conversations with a nonprofit affordable housing developer about the feasibility of developing the site. For the purposes of financing and operations, affordable housing developers typically require approximately 50 units to make these types of projects feasible.

View videos of the meeting here and here.

Comments

Charles
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jul 15, 2022 at 7:01 pm
Charles, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Jul 15, 2022 at 7:01 pm

Looks like a great first step in paving over paradise. Maybe next cycle we can put a road and houses up Windy Hill. Congrats.


Mary Hufty
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jul 18, 2022 at 1:18 pm
Mary Hufty, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Jul 18, 2022 at 1:18 pm

How did this turn out to be the conclusion of that lengthy process? Why are we putting moderate income in our rural business areas? What is wrong with low income housing why does it have to be made to look like projects? There are many good people who work in our area and who need housing here..

We know that we provided a good deal of jobs to people who love the outdoors, plants, large animals and small, and we know that we would like to decrease traffic in Portola Valley. What stops us from providing low and very low income housing in the places that provide country type labor jobs and where the people who work those jobs want to be which is in the country? Why are we destroying our local business that support our environment and rural spaces? This Glen Oaks solution flies directly in the face of all our efforts. Least practical , most destructive.

Practical solutions and common sense combined with local knowledge seems to have lost their sway...

Hopefully when the rubber hits the road, common sense and environmental solutions will regain respect.

Mary


Peter Lipman
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jul 18, 2022 at 3:17 pm
Peter Lipman, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Jul 18, 2022 at 3:17 pm

The one-size-fits-all State HCD mandates put small towns like Portola Valley “between a rock and a hard place.” We have to deal with extreme wildfire and earthquake risks, while lacking access to public transportation, have minimal commercial infrastructure, and don’t even have a post office.

Especially challenging is equitably accommodating the priority goal to provide sites for affordable housing. The current housing-element proposal concentrates the HCD-mandated very-low-income multi-family housing (58 of the 60 proposed units, without any mix of higher-income units) in a small (“gateway”) area at the town boundary.

In addition to obliterating Dorothy Ford Park, the town’s first and most visually prominent open-space preserve (acquired 50 years ago with donations for this purpose from early town residents), the proposed housing-element plan seems in violation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing state law (AB 686). This law explicitly requires that affordable housing sites “should be identified throughout the community,” and that the community should “ensure that sites for lower-income households are not concentrated in segregated areas.” Rather than geographically marginalizing and isolating affordable housing at one place on the edge of town, shouldn’t Portola Valley propose to mix lower-income multi-family housing among multiple sites located more centrally and distributed more widely in the town?


Ronny Krashinsky
Registered user
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jul 21, 2022 at 2:16 pm
Ronny Krashinsky, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
Registered user
on Jul 21, 2022 at 2:16 pm

Regarding:

"The town added in a clause that the owner opting for rezoning has to live on-site to prevent developers from buying up land."

I believe this is a factual error. There is currently no such clause in the draft housing element, and as far as I know there was no proposal from the AHHEC, Planning Committee, or Town Council to add such a clause.

Summary notes from the 7/13 Town Council meeting only include:

"Added limitations to the Opt-In Rezoning Program to limit projects to four units per site (rather than four units per acre) and require a discretionary review process."


Hmmm
Registered user
another community
on Jul 21, 2022 at 2:27 pm
Hmmm, another community
Registered user
on Jul 21, 2022 at 2:27 pm

Portola Valley residents should be ashamed of their regressive housing stance but they're too oblivious.


Jimboreno
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Jul 22, 2022 at 9:09 pm
Jimboreno, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 9:09 pm

Let's look a bit further into the 21st century and make sure we procure adequate space for drones and robots who will surely render the bulk of our "working" folk obsolete. Perhaps Elon will freight them to the Martian frontier where their hardworking kind will continue to perservere and proliferate, peace be upon their ilk, who seemingly desire nothing more than right livelihoods and quality entertainment as provided by Netflix, Apple, Amazon, the NBA, TikTok et al--plus their inevitable corporate usurpers.
Just a hunch but what do I know? The future shines brightly.


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