Civility is under siege in Portola Valley | June 17, 2022 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Viewpoint - June 17, 2022

Civility is under siege in Portola Valley

by John Richards

The worldwide trend of populist resentment of government seems to have arrived in Portola Valley. The town has not yet been served, but a group of disaffected residents is threatening a lawsuit over imagined transgressions involving one of our most vital volunteer committees. The irony of this lawsuit is that the plaintiffs' actions will effectively help destroy what they have been so vocal about protecting: small-town Portola Valley.

One of the hallmarks of Portola Valley has always been the collegiality and informality that comes with a small-town volunteer government. Of course there have been disagreements, even passionate battles about issues in town, but the recent outcry for even more resident participation is not advanced by a lawsuit that strategically targets the Wildfire Preparedness Committee (WPC).

Although I can only speak with certainty about the last 13 years, the council members from this period have always been scrupulous about maintaining openness and encouraging public engagement.

Any examples that have been brandished with such righteousness, as with the inadvertent WPC chat incident, had absolutely no impact on decision making by the council or committees. This sort of innocuous exchange would have been widely accepted if we had been meeting in person. It might have been brought up during oral communications, possibly with a bit of embarrassment thrown in for good measure, and that would have been that.

When sensible corrections have been suggested in the past, typically it has been accepted that they would be incorporated into town policies and procedures. We are so fortunate to have a town staff that takes the Brown Act, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and all state and local laws very seriously, and is always quick to remind our government volunteers of best practices.

So what does this mean for our town now? A few years before I joined the council, a former council member said in effect that the development of our lovely town center would be the 'nail in the coffin' of old Portola Valley. I don't think he was correct at that point, but this latest deep change in attitudes may be.

With the aggressive approach to 'fixing' the town, will anyone be interested in running for a non-paying volunteer position on the Town Council, only to be threatened with lawsuits by their neighbors? Is this when we have to change to a paid professional council of full-time bureaucrats? Or does our dysfunction lead to a takeover by the state? Either for me would be the true nail in the coffin of old PV.

John Richards is a member of the Portola Valley Town Council.

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