On Feb. 10, Derwin will begin to host virtual coffee chats, possibly with Vice Mayor Craig Hughes, for residents. This is in response to the influx of comments and questions residents have had during meetings, she said. The Zoom meeting ID for Wednesday's virtual chat, which is from 8 to 9 a.m., is 969 6615 5815, with the passcode 582679.
The town kicked off meetings to review Stanford University's proposed 39 housing units on part of 75 acres of university property referred to as the "Stanford Wedge" during a three and a half hour Planning Commission study session on Jan. 20.
Residents have had strong opinions about it, both in support and opposition, and Derwin said she hopes the civil discourse at the recent Planning Commission meeting will continue at all of the Stanford Wedge project meetings. She said she is excited to see the environmental impact review for the project, which is expected in the spring.
The project will probably not come to the council for review until next fall at the earliest, Derwin said.
The town will also tackle its housing element, a state-mandated blueprint for providing housing to people of all income levels. The town is in the midst of developing its latest plan for the next housing element cycle, which runs 2023 through 2031 and is required to be certified by the state by Jan. 1, 2023.
In November, council members Craig Hughes and John Richards penned a letter to the Association of Bay Area Governments following a council discussion on the state Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process, stating that the town will remain highly susceptible to wildfires and that it would like to engage "on the sensibleness" of adding significant numbers of new homes in high-fire danger areas. They also said that, as the smallest staffed city in San Mateo County, "it is improbable that there would be an ability to hire enough staff to ensure a transparent and equitable entitlement process for any future applicants" if the draft state methodology is implemented.
Portola Valley's allocation for the eight years from 2014-22 is one of the lowest in San Mateo County, at a total of 64 housing units. Of these, 13 are for above-moderate income households; 15 are for moderate-income households; 15 are for low-income households, and 21 are for very low-income households.
"The numbers are very challenging for all of us," Derwin said.
The state requires the town to plan for and encourage construction of these housing units, but the town does not have to build the housing. In the past, second units have been Portola Valley's most important source of moderate- or lower-income housing, and that program is expected to continue.
So far, identification of town-owned properties, which would be the cheapest to build on, has fallen short.
In 2020, the community also dealt with the threat of wildfires and two related PG&E public safety power shutoffs.
In the summer of 2021, the town plans to conduct an emergency evacuation drill to prepare residents for potential fires, Derwin said. The town's Emergency Preparedness Committee discussed setting up neighborhood leaders to help with emergency response during a Jan. 7 meeting, according to meeting minutes. The town is also hoping to purchase a trailer to use as a command post during emergencies, the minutes state.
The town has also put $130,000 in work toward vegetation management, she said.
In April 2019, the Town Council formed a committee to look at ways to reduce the threat from wildfires. The committee's recommendations include adopting "reach codes" that go beyond state requirements for in all new construction, such as banning all combustible roofing and fencing materials, requiring ember-resistant vents and enclosed eaves, and multi-pane tempered glass windows and skylights.
Conversation on race and equity
In 2020, the town began a series of conversations about race and equity and plans to continue this into 2021, Derwin said.
She said it's important to keep conversations about racial equity and the Black Lives Matter movement active.
Derwin would like to host a presentation on the history of housing disparity in town similar to ones held in Menlo Park on ''The Color of Law'' about housing segregation as a result of historic U.S. government-backed policies. The Menlo Park talks aim to educate residents about how policies such as red-lining led to a segregated Menlo Park
Derwin said she hopes the town can host a talk in the near future about the history of the Ramaytush Ohlone tribe that lived on the Peninsula, including in Portola Valley. In December, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to read a land acknowledgment statement at the beginning of every meeting.
In November, the council approved an acknowledgment that Portola Valley was previously inhabited by Ramaytush Ohlone peoples and that "acknowledges the violent history of the land that it dwells upon ... and recognizes that it has, and will continue to, profit from land stolen from the Indigenous Ohlone peoples, and commits to an ongoing effort to dismantle these legacies."
Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said in an email that the town plans to reach out to the tribal leaders in the next month or so to continue the work the council began last year on this issue.
The tribe began consulting with The Scape Martinez Projects Team on one panel of a multi-panel mural in East Palo Alto in December. Part of the mural will feature the Ramaytush Ohlone across history.
Town Historian Nancy Lund is working on finding a way to recognize the early European immigrants of Portola Valley, Derwin said.
"I want to honor our immigrants and educate the community about them," Derwin said.
Derwin, a retired writer who holds a master's degree in writing from University of Illinois at Chicago, is hoping to establish a town poet laureate.
"I would really love to do that this year," she said. "Especially now that poetry has become sexy because of the incredible (National Youth) Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at the inauguration."
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