Portola Valley panel issues report on affordable housing | June 19, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - June 19, 2013

Portola Valley panel issues report on affordable housing

by Dave Boyce

The Portola Valley Town Council now has community opinion to refer to as the town makes plans for housing that is affordable to people of low and moderate incomes, as required by state law.

Of the four options available to the town — granny or in-law units, below-market-rate homes built in concert with new subdivisions, housing for employees on or near the grounds of commercial enterprises or institutions, and homes independent of any enterprise or institution — a committee of nine resident-volunteers endorsed the first three.

In preparing the 11-page report, the committee members, who were appointed by the council, met six times over three months as they looked into this complex and sometimes controversial topic. Subcommittees met separately and organized community meetings and researched related topics.

Granny units — second units on a property— were the clear favorite, in part because residents prize the town's rural character and structures that blend into the wooded open space that dominates the landscape. Second units give homeowners discretion in choosing designs consistent with that rural ethic.

The report acknowledges the interests of people who work in town but cannot afford the seven-figure price tag that comes with a home there. The recommendation: consider homes on sites where "housing is not the primary use," including agricultural or undeveloped land, such as the Hawthorn Estate at the corner of Portola and Alpine roads.

The committee also favored assigning a percentage, typically 15 percent, of a new subdivision to below-market-rate homes. This program "needs more teeth so that the housing actually gets built," committee member Carter Warr said.

The Association of Bay Area Governments sets quotas for affordable housing. Under those quotas, between 2014 and 2022, Portola Valley should plan for 21 homes for very-low-income residents, 15 for low-income residents, and 15 for moderate incomes — — $86,500 for an individual in San Mateo County, and $123,000 for a family of four. Granny units address much of the need, but state law requires multi-family zoning, a spokesman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development told the Almanac.

A provision in the Blue Oaks subdivision set land aside in 1991 for eight small below-market homes, but they were never built. The site's topography and the high cost of building in Portola Valley dimmed their chances among potential developers. The town sold the site in late 2012 for $2.88 million.

The committee's report does not favor moderate-income homes not affiliated with an existing commercial enterprise. Such projects, if they arise, should be preceded by "very, very public discussion," Mr. Warr said. Passersby should not see "a discernible difference between the rest of the town and where the unaffiliated housing would be."

A pesticide clean-up issue led the council to allow to expire a purchase contract for a former plant nursery for a small number of condos at 900 Portola Road. This proposal for unaffiliated homes drew vigorous opposition from nearby single-family homeowners.

It was not long after that contract expired that the council opted for the Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee to consider the issue over three months and prepare a report.

Former mayor Steve Toben chaired the committee. The other members were Carter Warr, Bud Eisberg, Judith Hasko, Susan Dworak, Wanda Ginner, Judith Murphy, Jon Myers, Andrew Pierce and Onnolee Trapp.

Go to tinyurl.com/PV1002 to read the committee report and associated documents.

Go to tinyurl.com/PV1004 to add your comments to the discussion.