A candidate forum for Portola Valley residents is being held Thursday evening, Oct. 13, at the Town Center. The event website says the event is for Portola Valley residents only and, according to several sources, the press is also not welcome, much to the ire of some town residents who are calling the move "fascist."
The forum, hosted by nonprofit Portola Valley Residents, takes place from 6:45 to 8:45 p.m. for candidates running for the Portola Valley Town Council. All five candidates will attend the forum. There will be a meet-and-greet with candidates, followed by an open-mic Q&A moderated by resident Judith Murphy. The event is described as a "private meeting."
Resident JoAnn Loulan, who is executive director of the Democratic Messaging Project, said she was shocked when she heard non-residents would not be welcome at the event. She, and several other residents, contacted The Almanac to say that they specifically heard the press was not welcome at the event.
"That's called fascism, in my opinion, not allowing the press there," she said. "Are you kidding? That's (the free press) what keeps our country free."
Council member Maryann Derwin said in a statement that "historically, Portola Valley has had a reputation as a welcoming, inclusive community. In my 17 years on the Portola Valley Town Council, I cannot recall a Town Council Candidate Forum or similar event where the doors were closed to anyone, be it a reporter from The Almanac or a neighbor from Los Trancos or Menlo Park."
She said that beside the fact that a "free press is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy and failing democracies often start with the suppression of the press," it sends a "weird mixed message" to have a "friendly green banner" on Alpine Road inviting all to 'A Night of Community and Candidates' when an election event is closed to people who don't live in Portola Valley proper.
Resident Jon Silver, who was asked to co-sponsor the event, said he was told that there will be a sign outside the event that says if you don't live in Portola Valley, you can't enter the forum. Other residents have contacted The Almanac to say that they've heard that non-residents will not be permitted at the event.
"Since when are we a country where you need an internal passport?" Silver said. "If you want to have a private meeting, have it in your own living room."
He said that he's heard some people are afraid residents won't be forthright during the forum if they know the press will be covering the event and are fearful that comments they make could be interpreted as racist.
Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said that the town regularly rents the Community Hall for private events which, "by their nature, are for only those invited." The town is not sponsoring the event tonight.
"The town's procedures for renting the Community Hall do not specify this, but the town has always understood that a private party could limit attendees," he said in an email.
The Sequoias retirement community in Portola Valley hosted a candidate forum in September and the organizers provided The Almanac with a link to the recording, because there were a limited number of logins available to attend the event live.
More on tonight's event can be found here.