Land purchase for affordable Portola Valley housing looks like a longshot | July 31, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - July 31, 2019

Land purchase for affordable Portola Valley housing looks like a longshot

by Rick Radin

Any hopes Portola Valley residents have of the town purchasing land to build affordable housing may be in vain, according to an email from Mayor Ann Wengert.

The Town Council has been evaluating land that the town already owns for multi-family housing that might fulfill more stringent state mandates in the future to build affordable housing within the town limits.

Many residents are demanding that the town place the most attractive property it owns — the road remnant of Alpine Road and the adjacent property, known as the Frog Pond — off-limits to development to protect views, wildlife and recreational open space.

"The primary reason behind selecting town-owned properties is the clear economic advantage of not having to acquire land as part of any proposed housing project," Wengert explained.

"If the Town owns the parcel we are much better positioned to ... develop affordable housing by contributing or leasing the land to a partner agency, thereby significantly reducing project costs," she added.

But, even if town-owned land is used, "projects still may not be financially feasible due to today's high cost of developing affordable housing," Wengert wrote.

As a result, market-rate land acquisition "is not a priority focus for our current affordable housing efforts," she wrote.

Portola Valley does have an Inclusionary In Lieu Fee Fund earmarked for affordable housing, but the amount of money in the fund is limited, Wengert noted.

"Any proposed use of these funds would require careful analysis of alternative uses followed by significant community input and outreach," she wrote.

The Town Council is apparently showing interest in one parcel that is on the market, but whether the town has the money or desire to buy it is unknown.

The council met in closed session on June 26 and discussed price and terms of payment for a site adjacent to Roberts Market that is owned by the Donald McKinney Trust, but nothing was reported out of the session, according to Town Manager Jeremy Dennis.

Danna Breen, who belongs to a neighborhood group that opposes development near the Frog Pond, said she thinks that the town should be trying to raise money privately to purchase land for affordable housing.

Breen noted that Portola Valley raised $20 million to build its Town Center.

"Too bad (the council) hasn't raised any money," she said. "So you start a campaign and start raising money. You turn over every stone."

Breen said residents "are holding the line on the frog pond" and trying to get the council to make it designated open space.

"Let's shut down (the Ad Hoc Housing on Town-Owned Property Committee) and start a fundraising committee," she said.