Thus, a standing-room-only crowd showed up at a March 27 Town Council study session on wildfire preparation as part of an ongoing effort to get the jump on a potential emergency.
"Fire safety is something the town has been discussing since incorporation (in 1964)," Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said. "It's a concern of the town that a wildfire could be devastating."
As a result of the threat, many residents have had their fire insurance canceled or their premiums increased, said resident Michael Tomars, who reported that his insurance rates went up 120 percent.
The study session discussion brought up removing brush and undergrowth to prevent fires from getting started, creating regulations for new home construction to minimize the fire risk, emergency evacuation planning, and communicating to residents about how they can protect themselves.
Since many Northern California wildfires have been started by sparking from power lines, Councilman Craig Hughes suggested that the town begin working with PG&E to consider undergrounding the lines in Portola Valley, a measure that requires about $20,000 per pole.
"Although it is expensive, undergrounding is a cost-effective way of reducing the fire threat," said Fire Chief Dan Ghiorso of the Woodside Fire Protection District, who pointed to efforts going on statewide to coordinate emergency efforts.
The town has an emergency operations plan and an emergency operations center that operates 24 hours a day; it includes regular training for town staff and an emergency preparedness committee, Dennis said.
Councilwoman Maryann Derwin emphasized the need for clearing brush from around homes, and suggested forming teams of volunteers to do the work.
The town is considering setting up a demonstration parcel to practice brush clearing.
"Hopefully we can give people a picture of what their homes would look like to be considered safe," Hughes said.
Portola Valley is trying to increase evacuation routes on privately held land, and creating a plan that would give residents some idea of what to do if they need to exit quickly.
Normal evacuation routes along Alpine, Portola and Arastradero roads have been bolstered by permission from Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and Fogarty Winery to pass through their properties to safety.
Evacuation plans and drills are no panacea, though. In Paradise, the Northern California town that was largely destroyed in the Camp Fire, some residents used a suggested escape route that drove them directly into the fire that was coming from an unexpected direction.
"Every fire event is different and a plan isn't necessarily good for an event that hasn't been contemplated," Dennis said.
The council may create an ad hoc committee made up people from the community who have backgrounds in such fields as architecture, law enforcement and construction to study the issue, which it will revisit at its April 10 meeting.
"The laundry list is huge, and the challenge is keeping people engaged," Mayor Ann Wengert said.
"Stanford Wedge" housing
Stanford is responding to encouragement from Portola Valley with a plan to develop housing on the Stanford Wedge, an 75-acre parcel that the university owns along Alpine Road between Westridge and Golden Oak drives.
The initial plan, to include 29 units of about 2,200 square feet each, with three below-market-rate units, was presented in a study session by Stanford officials at the council's March 27 meeting.
The plan is for all the units to be moderately priced for the area to make them affordable to Stanford faculty.
"The homes will be clustered together to highlight their woodland character and will minimize the visual impact on the landscape," said Stanford Associate Director of Real Estate Jean Snider.
Snider said the university is in the "preliminary stages" of the project.
The project will be on 6 acres of the site closest to Alpine Road, which has some of the most level terrain on the property. The majority of the site has slopes exceeding 20 percent.
This story contains 677 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.