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Portola Valley housing plan faces opposition

Original post made on Jul 3, 2012

In an opening salvo, critics unloaded on the Portola Valley Town Council on June 27 over the town's plans to buy a property at 900 Portola Road, where homes affordable to moderate-income people would be built.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 3, 2012, 11:00 AM

Comments (22)

Posted by For clarity
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 3, 2012 at 12:42 pm

In April 2011, a week before the owners of Al's nursery were due to move, Windmill asked the owners for another '6 months' because they hadn't acquired the necessary permissions to develop the plot. The owners were devastated, and would have been unable to move, if not for the generosity of some business 'angels' who purchased the property from the owners so that they could leave. Later, when the discovery of the weedkillers on the land were made, Windmill again backed out of the deal, leaving the 'angels' with an empty lot on which they had to do thousands of dollars of remedial work. Now Windmill seems to have jumped back in, 15 months after the date they were supposed to purchase the land, screeching 'foul', because the Town announces the potential purchase (weren't the Town in negotiation before with the Nursery years ago too, and then backed down for Windmill to start impotent negotiations?) Of course the Wyndham Drive neighborhood doesn't want below market housing near them, so their support of Windmill is now self-serving. But if Windmill had been decent and purchased the land as agreed in April 2011, this wouldn't even be an issue. The angels wouldn't have had to be involved. No good deed goes unpunished.

Posted by A local teacher
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I am deeply ashamed to read my community's comments made at this meeting. So much privilege, so little heart. Eight houses to provide a start for incomes considered successful in most of the country; still priced so that a local single teacher or social worker could not afford to buy, but at least priced so that a family/individual that contributes well to our local community could. This hearing showed that having money does not make you a better person, it simply makes you able to keep the rest of the world out, and provides the resources to threaten if that space is jeopardized. Is this who we really want to be? Do we really want to keep out eight homes that could only be owned by people who work hard and well? Eighty five thousand dollar incomes are not given to slackers. Please reconsider.

Posted by local realist
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Local teacher, your note is shameful. You are generously compensated for a fun, low stress, 40 hour a week, 9 month a year job, yet you also think you deserve a home. If you want to be able to afford a home in PV, here is the solution. Quit your job and get accepted to a graduate school that is much more prestigious than the college you attended. Be one of the top 10% of students so that upon graduation, you get a good job in the corporate world. Then work 60-100 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, doing a job you mostly hate. Live a Spartan existence for 15 years saving every penny. Then you should have a down payment. Problem solved, and welcome to the neighborhood.

Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jul 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm

That location is suitable for a school, such as Windmill. It really isn't a good location for housing of any kind. The property adjoins a small shopping center and restaurant. There are no other residences that are close. The residents would be isolated in an essentially commercial area.

Posted by right behind realist
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm

RIght on local realist. So if this goes through, what do the supporters think I should teach my 2 young children.

1. Put off having fun for the next 30 years (study, study, study, work your tail off 50-100 hours a week for 10 years) just so you can afford a starter home in PV.


2. Get an easy job (simple 2-4 years of study at a party school) and get on the list for cheap housing in one of the top places on the planet to live. In fact, just add a bunch of children and you will probably get the biggest house on the block, cuz you need the space.

Why do I have to pay for you to live next to me? Riddle me this.

Posted by Amused
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm

>> The property adjoins a small shopping center and restaurant. There are no other residences that are close. The residents would be isolated in an essentially commercial area.

I have to admit that I actually laughed out loud when I read this. So there's absolutely no NIMBY attitudes here, it's all about concern for vulnerable potential buyers.

Yes, PV's dense commercial district would be a terrible place to live. Who could possibly want shopping and restaurants near where they live? If the smog from the cooking doesn't suffocate folks, why it will almost certainly cause cancer. Thank you for looking out for the vulnerable potential buyers!

Batten down the hatches, the peasants want to buy homes in PV. If they only make $85K, they probably will smell really bad.

Posted by anti_NIMBY
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm

For Clarity's historical perspective is spot on. In fact, Al's original owners bent over backwards to accommodate Windmill but were strung along by Windmill. Over 12 months, those owners gave Windmill many deadline extensions so that Windmill's fundraising efforts would be successful. Windmill never had enough funds to meet their asking price. Why should the current owners even consider a Windmill offer? Windmill obviously does not have the funds to buy this land even after the current owners have removed the chemicals in the land. Does Windmill have the funds for construction? I doubt it. Or is this new public push just a clever attempt at fundraising? Let the Town do a good thing for the teachers, police, and others and build affordable housing!

Posted by clarity
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm

For Clarity: Please check your facts before posting information that you think to be true in regards to Al's Nursery. Your post contains many inaccuracies and is misleading.

Posted by Clarity 2
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I couldn't have said the comment just posted from Clarity better. Fact checking is definately in order. In addition, be appreicative that Windmill is handling it's donors funds and non-profit funds with fiduciary care and responsibility. When donor funds are in an organizations hands and the situation changes under the organization's feet, the organization and it's officers must act per the donors instructions and intent.

Posted by For clarity
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 4, 2012 at 12:03 am

To Clarity and Clarity 2. I have no need to 'check my facts', they are correct. I apologize if the truth is getting in the way of Windmill's story. As for Windmill's fiduciary care and responsibility with donor funds, are you saying it was the donors' instructions and intent that made Windmill back out two times?
As for your names, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Posted by Don Qixote
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 4, 2012 at 3:06 am

For Clarity did a great job in providing a rough outline of the 'History of Al's Nursery'. Here are a few additional details for everybody's consideration:

Yes, the Angel Investor's stepping in allowed the former owners to close the sale of the property on their timeline. Perhaps Windmill could not sign on the dotted line because other than originally indicated by the town, re-purposing Al's plant nursery into a children's nursery requires some zoning change. Would it have been prudent to spend your donor's money in the hope the zoning change will go through later on?
Yes, Windmill backed out at the last minute, because they did the right thing: due diligence. Checking for pesticides before buying a home - in particular when you plan on having 50 children - is part of 'Real Estate 101', I believe.
No, Windmill never lost interest in the property. The whisper number for taking care of the chemical residue is three times Amused's annual income (see earlier post). Even in PV it takes some time to raise that kind of money.
Yes, the former owners of Al's Nursery bent over backwards - away from the Town's BMR plan for the site, that is. To the best of my knowledge they specifically declined to sell to the town when they heard of the intended use.
That would be the minor additions to the big picture outlined by For Clarity.

A question to anti_NIMBY: could you please elaborate on the obviousness of Windmill's lack of money to pay for the property? Your post did not include any supporting facts. Perhaps you can share how much money the Windmill group actually has in the bank and what amount has been pledged by NIMBY PV-residents on an 'if needed' basis?

Lets not forget that the focus of the discussion is on the town's BMR plans, and Windmill is only a sideshow to that.

If the Town (many years ago) allowed the Blue Oak development to pass in exchange for two BMR lots that later turned out to be not suitable for multi-unit development, I see two possible explanations: the project approvers knew about this and looked the other way or they failed to do their due diligence ('is what I am buying fit for the intended use?'). That seems deplorable and/or incompetent to me.
Perhaps the Town wants to avoid an outcome similar to the voter rejection of the Nathurst Triangle development effort a couple of years ago. Maybe the thinking is, that once facts have been created, there will be less resistance to the development. And: if the Town trades/sells the two Blue Oaks lots ($4mio, give or take) in exchange for a single less-than 2 acre lot zoned for mixed residential/commercial use ($2.5mio, give or take), then the Town suddenly will have a large surplus.
Is it just coincidence that the Town just approved the 2012/13 budget with a projected surplus of $4,388 (the total budget is about $4.5mio)? We could have a long debate about how un/realistic this number is. Or we can just look at last week's edition of the Almanac and read about the Ford Field renovation. Basically, the bids are $100k higher than the Town planned on spending. Maybe some NIMBY-PV resident will step up and donate the additional funds, or maybe the Town will just use some of the handy real estate surplus. Perhaps the bids for the development of the multi-unit project will come in higher than expected, too? So lets add some incentives for our friend, the developer. How about chipping in some of the several hundred thousand Dollars required to establish utilities at the lot (eight or more houses create a lot of sewage...). Since 'we' have surplus, no problem at all....
What bothers me even is the fact that the Town Council spends time and resources on an issue that has been rejected before and that is clearly not aligned with the Town's charter. Does the Town Council really believe they have been elected to create a high density housing area in the heart of Portola Valley?

To my knowledge, there is no law on California's books that requires communities to engage in the development of low income housing. Instead, municipal ordinances require developer of multi-unit housing projects to set aside a percentage for low income housing. The irony of the situation is that because of the Town's intended nature (...preservation of the rural character...), there are no large scale housing projects in PV. Creating one just so that low income units can be provided seems ... twisted to me.

Another way of looking at the Town Council's project is that tries to create (the illusion of) an income-integrated community. This might make sense in a city with 50,000 or more residents, but not in a (fiercely elitist) town with 4,000 residents. The town's own report points out that in-law units seem to work in PV. Looking at any other city in the Bay Area, it is easy to see that ghettoization does not create integration.
What do proponents of the development mean when they say, teachers and town hall employees should be able to live in their community? Obviously everybody struggles with the high real estate prices in the Bay Area. But nobody can dispute that housing for teachers and policemen is available in Redwood City, Menlo Park or Palo Alto. The commute from any of these places is better than to Sunnyvale or South San Francisco, where a large percentage of the PV-residents work. The last time I checked, PV had less than five restaurants, two high-end grocery stores, no cinemas and theaters. That means, PV residents actually have to leave their (geographic) community to access culture. At the same time, it is only a ten minute drive from any of the (geographically) surrounding communities to make use of the excellent recreational facilities and library in PV.
My point is that for PV's specific circumstances, a high density housing project will neither create economical, nor cultural integration (to the opposite: it will create more division). Kindergarden teachers and administrative assistants will never be able to buy (or rent) in PV, no matter what crazy plan the Town Administration comes up with. Since economical integration is not feasible, how about the Town Council starts thinking about cultural integration of lower income non-resident community members? How about creating some incentive for teachers, policemen and town-hall employees to stick around for the long run and thus, become engaged in the social live of community? For example, the $4.0mio (give or take) proceeds from the sale of the Blue Oaks lots can provide a $1400 rent stipend for 10 'persons of high value to the town' for 25 years (give or take). I know from experience, that cultural integration works - I have seen Kindergarden teachers enjoy Christmas parties in 20,000sqft homes and millionaires operating power tools to fix up broken playground equipment at the Kindergarden.
I sincerely wish the Town Council members would take their individual agendas off the table and remember why they where elected! Planning a real estate transaction the size of the annual town budget and initiating a development that will shape the future of the town for decades without public discussion clearly indicates the Town Council is aware how indefensible its position is. So why do it in the first place? Incompetence or personal gain come to mind, again.

What would Bill Lane do?

Lets all celebrate the 4th of July by reading Article 34 of the California Constitution.

PS. If you call me NIMBY, I call you socialist.

Posted by love PV as it is !!!
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 4, 2012 at 8:19 am

okay -so these homes are built - are they going to be for sale or for rent? Who maintains them- is there going to be a CC&R or do the residents have a monthly homeowners fee? When they no longer nwant to nlive there or do not qualify (??? hmm) are they for sale on the open market?? who gets the profit - the homeowner or the town?
Is it a single income or a combined income that is needed to qualify for this Low income housing?? I like the idea of putting the low oncome housing in Blue Oaks - now that would surely bolster the property tax revenues
Way too many unanswered questions

a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 4, 2012 at 10:41 am

Please stop invoking Bill Lane's name. It's getting really old. His wife, Jean is still healthy and happy and living here in PV. Why not ask what SHE would do? Other than that, I totally agree with what Don Quixote just posted.

I can see both sides of the purchase situation. I talked with the owners of Al's nursery immediately before and after Windmill backed out, and they were absolutely floored and devastated when it fell through. They had been elated at how things were working out. The reason they did not accept the Town's offer was that it was (according to them) far below the value of the land (per their assessment), and certainly below what Windmill was offering.

I seem to remember quite a bit of discussion regarding the amount of traffic and parking that would be created by having the Windmill preschool in the Al's Nursery lot. I don't know what became of that.

I am not in favor of having "affordable housing" right in the middle of town. Frankly, I'd like to know what happened with the Blue Oaks lot, and how they shimmied out of it.

In addition, I'd like the number of units absolutely clarified----the memo from the Town Manager said that it would be at least 8 units. However, it also indicated that it could be quite a bit more. This is what happened with the Nathorst Triangle thing. There is no specific limitation that the residents would be people who work locally at community-fostering jobs---firefighters, teachers, etc. This is a small town that has recently experienced a number of burglaries. I'll leave it at that.

Last time I checked, many of the local teachers prefer to live in other communities. That way they are free to live their own lives (Go out! Have a drink! Do something silly or stupid or just goofy!) without being monitored/judged by their professional community.

I will address the elephant in the room. Is Portola Valley exclusionary? Yes, of course it is. Anywhere in the country that hosts wealthy people is (and I am on the low end of that scale, according to PV and Woodside statistics!) Most of us here grew up middle class, and busted our butts to get to this place in life. We very much value the land, space, and atmosphere here. We don't want PV to change--it's something we love to death and aspired and worked hard to get to. It doesn't make us awful people, or bigots, or any other negative labels you can stick on it. It just means that we worked really hard to get here, value it intensely, and want to keep it the way it is. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Posted by anti_NIMBY
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

For Don Q., over the year of negotiations, Windmill's offer was between $300,000-$600,000 below the asking price despite the fact that Al's owners lowered their appraised valued property for Windmill. Each time Windmill's offer amount did not change, but instead Windmill ask Al's owners to SUBSTANTIALLY lower their asking price because the school would need to change its zoning status. This excuse is just a red herring for not having enough funds. The Town's General Plan wants high density development along Portola Road for its businesses, schools (The Priory) and even affordable housing (because it is close to transportation routes). Changing the site's zoning status would be routine part of the project review by the Planning Commission because the proposed new change was consistent with the GP.

Let's be clear here - The Town did not follow through in offer to buy the land from Al's original owners. Yes, those owners would have accepted the Town's offer if it had come through. The malicious rumor that those owners rejected the town's offer because they did not want affordable housing on their former land is pure SPIN.

Also, the current owners have cleaned up the leftover chemicals from the site, and it is ready for development. The current owners have the right to sell their land to anyone, and if they decide they do not want to sell the land to Windmill, then so be it. So, PV residents, what would you prefer affordable housing, one MacMansion on Portola Road or let the site stay vacant?

Posted by Professor
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Dear realist, how righteous you are that all you have you have earned and deserved. If only life were indeed so consistently fair, i.e. the variables of family money, networking, some one simply liked you, and then the recommendations of those teachers you accuse of living an easy life and not deserving to live in PV. Many people work very hard with less compensation than they deserve, and teachers are one of the main categories. We loved living in PV as a beautiful, friendly, outdoor place--not as an exclusive prize.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm

The truth is that many of us cannot afford to live close to work. Many years ago, I worked in Newport Beach and had to commute about 45 minutes from a more reasonably priced neighborhood. That's life, folks.

Do we have a right to live in Malibu or Beverly Hills? No, there's no "right" to live close to work - although the way our entitlement society is going, that time is probably not very far off.

Why is living in nearby San Carlos or Redwood City viewed so horribly? In addition to being wonderful, beautiful towns with good schools and nice neighborhoods, they have excellent shopping districts and great mass transit... something neither Portola Valley or Woodside has!

People should note that there are a lot of people who work in our towns living right here - in "in law" units and in rental units that meet the below market pricing requested by California regulations.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm

The legislature clearly sees a need for this attempt at diversity in communities.

Is economic diversity in a community a benefit? That's the accepted wisdom, and you can see it at work in any great city in the world. Diversity is what makes communities livable and interesting. It also enriches the lives of the inhabitants.

And economic homogeneity? That's something to be prized? Who would prize that, and why?

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Some would suggest there is already very little economic diversity in the Bay Area. Or in Compton or Camden. Or in Beverly Hills or Grosse Pointe.

It's not something you can legislate.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm

You can't legislate a free market. It's supply and demand. There is limited supply in exclusive areas and enough people with enough money to bid up the prices to price out those that don't have that much money. That's how a free market works.

I spent ten years as a cop and I have seen what happens to "low income or below market rate housing." They turn into pretty undesirable places to live over the course of time. Original buyers leave. They either keep the property and rent it out or they sell it to someone else that rents it out. You wind up with a development full of people that aren't the people you were originally ostensibly trying to aid. Crime goes up. There are more and more "less than desirable" people living in those places and all becasue folks wanted to practice socialism. Sorry, but in my experience, in most cases, if they can't afford to live in a particular place there is a reason. Hell, I can't afford to live in Portola Valley. I made choices in my life that kept me from making the kind of money I would need to live there. So what? That was my choice. No one owes me a place to live in Portola Valley or anywhere else for that matter.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2012 at 10:56 am

So exciting to see so many snobs come out with their claws out! A lot of the PV people I know never worked as hard as my well educated parents who never lived in PV.

Let's see...many of the PV people I've met are realtors, business people, trophy wives, attorneys and those who did well in the stock market or a combo thereof. They're nothing special, not any more deserving - morally some are less deserving (but morals don't count). One of these bright lights financed a good portion of his "success". Along with his parents' locally well-known name w/ selling marijuana. Another that I knew well for awhile lived in shame when his VC investments were a little, uh questionable & some of the company officers went to prison. One of the now elderly professionals who lives there was a stone cold child abuser who "married well" the 2nd time & has a lot of $$ from her divorce because her ex worked hard. No, these aren't representative of all of the PVers but I wrote this in response to the utterly ridiculous snobbery.

I see the good & bad resulting from "affordable" housing in that area. But I'm also laughing a lot at some of these comments. Thankfully, some commenters know the real goings on & others have practical opinions to share.

I might not live in PV, but even if my hardworking, over-educated spouse & me (hardworking & almost over-educated) could afford to live there, we wouldn't.

Posted by Redfield Flash
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I'm with Hmmmmmm. I think the British have referred to the condition as "having a stuffed shirt". The one percent will never understand the ninety nine percent, so if you're a member of the ninety nine, why would you want to live there? Just haul your leaf blower in the back of your old pickup and make sure you wipe your feet and close the gate on your way out. See you next week when the lawn needs care, otherwise please go away.

Posted by PVfan
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 10, 2012 at 10:12 am

"Yes, the former owners of Al's Nursery bent over backwards - away from the Town's BMR plan for the site, that is. To the best of my knowledge they specifically declined to sell to the town when they heard of the intended use."

Don Q-I'm so curious as to where you got this information, as I know the former owners quite well, and I heard them state on several occasions that they had no problem with BMR. There were other mitigating factors in dealing with the town. Please don't state as "facts" (and I use that term loosely) things for which you don't have all of the information. In this case, "the best of your knowledge" is incorrect.

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