The creator of the town's social media platform, a retired attorney, an architect, an engineer and tech company founder have applied for two open seats on the Portola Valley Planning Commission. The two selected will replace Judith Hasko and Craig Taylor, who left the commission in December after getting elected to the Town Council.
The Portola Valley Town Council spent two and a half hours interviewing candidates for both the Planning Commission and the Architectural & Site Control Commission (ASCC) during a special meeting on Monday, Jan. 9.
One of the seats is for a one-year term (ending in December 2023) and the other is for a two-year term (ending in December 2024).
The council is set to take public comment, nominate and vote for candidates for the positions on Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. Tune into the meeting here or attend in person at the historic schoolhouse, 765 Portola Road.
The Portola Valley Town Council is also scheduled to vote at the meeting on ratifying Town Manager Jeremy Dennis' Jan. 4 emergency declaration in response to the recent storms. The Town Council must ratify such a proclamation within seven days.
"The atmospheric river throughout New Year's Eve weekend brought unprecedented rainfall levels, including approximately 5.8 inches in the 24-hour period beginning early on New Year's Eve Day," according to town staff report. "Additional rain could bring power outages, additional flooding of right of way and buildings and road blockages."
Local impacts of the storms so far include:
• Local flooding on Portola Road and Mapache Drive
• Minor mudslides on Portola, Alpine, Hayfields, Westridge roads
• Silted up drainage ditches on Portola and Alpine roads
• Fallen trees on Portola, Alpine, Los Trancos Woods roads
These are the applicants:
Lynda Brothers, a retired lawyer, applied for the one-year term in a Dec. 19 letter of intent. She said she worked in appointed roles for the state and federal governments. Past roles include principle for the U.S. Department of Energy and as a subcommittee counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Brothers, a former biochemical geneticist, said she went to law school with the goal of "addressing scientific matters in the public policy arena." During her career, she was involved in environmental cleanup projects. She told the council on Monday that she has a lot of experience working on California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cases.
Brothers moved to town just a year ago, but said she feels like an "old timer" in Portola Valley having grown up in Palo Alto off of Arastradero Road near Gunn High School, roaming the hills of the area.
She said in her interview with the council that she's always wanted to serve on a Planning Commission.
"I don't come into this with any agenda. I don't come into this with any backstory. I don't come into this with any biases," she said.
She did state that she doesn't like the state mandates for a housing element, but said under the pressure from the state, the town has done a good job on its draft element.
Brothers co-authored an article published on the Portola Valley Neighbors United website that critiques the draft environmental impact report for the Stanford Wedge project on Alpine Road, noting that it fails to address extensive tree removal analyses that were in the town files.
"The omission of tree removal data is one illustration of the inadequacy of the DEIR," she and co-author Valerie Baldwin wrote.
Rebecca Flynn, who founded the PV Forum social network and sits on the Sustainability Committee, told the council on Monday that she has a finger on the pulse on what is going on in town and that as the forum moderator, her primary role is to step in when things aren't factual or are inappropriate. She said this role wouldn't impact her ability to serve on the Planning Commission.
"Portola Valley exists in a stunningly beautiful landscape of mountains, hills and steep ridges straddling the geologically active San Andreas Fault, covered with oak forests and riparian zones along creeks and riverbeds," said Flynn, who has lived in Portola Valley for about two decades, in her Dec. 21 letter of intent. "It's critical that all land use plans respect and preserve that uniqueness while also making it possible for a wider variety of families and individuals to join Portola Valley."
Flynn noted that the "efforts to refine the housing element as well as find solutions for increasing affordable housing in our town in a manner that respects and preserves our natural environment will continue to be active efforts for several years to come as the town grapples with finding locations for affordable housing."
She said that given the extreme threats of climate change, it is important that the town continue to encourage the adoption of green and sustainable building practices.
Flynn is a member of the ADU (accessory dwelling unit) Ambassadors team, which helped craft a townwide ADU survey and educational materials.
Flynn holds master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and INSEAD business school in France.
Ronny Krashinsky, who joined the town's Sustainability Committee in 2022, said in a Dec. 22 letter of interest, that he was "struck by the beauty" of the town's design guidelines and conservation guide when he moved to Portola Valley two years ago. Krashinksy is a computer engineer at NVIDIA, where he's worked for over a decade.
He has learned that the town has been "under great strain" with the regional need for more housing was colliding with a desire to preserve the town's rural character and the need for geologic and fire safety.
He's closely followed the Ad Hoc Housing Element Committee and related Planning Commission and Town Council meetings. Krashinksy is also a member of the town's ADU Ambassador team.
Krashinksy lives next to The Sequoias retirement community, which is included in the housing element's site inventory. Town Attorney Cara Silver said his need to recuse himself from a segment of the housing element discussion depends on the FPPC's response to Council member Judith Hasko's recusal.
Hasko has recused herself from the housing element discussion overall because she lives within 1,000 feet of properties being considered for upzoning in the Nathhorst neighborhood, until she gets a written response from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Krashinksy completed his bachelor's degree at University of California at Berkeley and holds a Ph.D. from MIT.
Karen Vahtra, an electrical engineer and co-editor of the Portola Valley Post, has lived in Portola Valley for 20 years.
Vahtra co-founded a technology company that went public in November 2001.
"I chose Portola Valley over the neighboring communities because I love nature, open space, and a quiet environment," she said. "I am very familiar with the design and construction process as I participated extensively with the architect and contractor when I built a house here that was completed in 2006."
Vahtra has volunteered to help low-income people file their taxes for a decade for an IRS tax program. She also volunteers with Stanford Hospital.
She served on the town Wildfire Committee until her resignation in November 2021. Around the time she resigned, several other committee members did as well. Following that exodus, vice chair Dale Pfau was removed from his post.
She said she also spearheaded an effort with many residents in town during the COVID-19 pandemic to sew and repair about 1,000 masks for the community at large.
"I felt that I could contribute and I hope one of many that we could calm the level of anxiety in the town and that we could all kind of return to where life was a lot easier," she told the council on Monday. "And I think things are stressful because of the (state) mandates."
Carter Warr, a resident of Portola Valley since 1988 and architect with CJW Architecture, is applying for both openings on the ASCC and Planning Commission. He formerly served on the ASCC from 1991 to 2012.
A horseman, Warr is a native of rural Oregon. He said most of his architecture firm's work is in Portola Valley. He said he would like to see consensus and balance brought to the town's commissions.
"I love this valley and what it represents as a home for those who appreciate a rural lifestyle in close proximity to the busy world of the Bay Area," he said in his Dec. 1 letter of intent to the town. "Portola Valley is a treasure founded on great principles set down in the early 1960s by those with courage to protect open space, a rural lifestyle, and the aesthetics/land practices associated. That courage and determination has been inspiring."
Warr noted that he served on the ASCC through a tough period when nearly all of the design standards were modified to guide and protect Portola Valley from becoming like some of the other adjacent communities.
"I feel the town would benefit by having, again, a practicing design professional on either the ASCC or the Planning Commission," he said.
He told the council on Monday that as a commissioner he would have to recuse himself from a lot of topics because his work with local architecture clients. His clients have included the Woodside Priory and Woodside Fire Protection District, he said. He has been in touch with owners of possible housing projects in the Nathhorst Triangle neighborhood.
"I know that in some ways I can be a firebrand because I do have to recuse myself," he said. "I do you think there's value ... because of the insight I can have from both the applicant's and the opponent's position."
Silver said he would potentially have more conflicts of interest as an ASCC member than on the Planning Commission. Silver said that since Warr's interests, which are financial, are different from Hasko's potential conflicts.
Council member Craig Taylor wondered if Warr would himself have to recuse himself from the entire housing element process as Hasko has done.
"I find this very confusing and somewhat frightening," Taylor said. "It (recusals) got to be a much bigger thing than expected."
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