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Stanford moving forward with Portola Valley housing project

Original post made on Dec 19, 2019

Stanford University has re-submitted a development application and Portola Valley has hired a consultant to develop an environmental impact report for the so-called Stanford Wedge project on land owned by the university on Alpine Road.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 19, 2019, 11:21 AM

Comments (22)

Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:04 pm

We are waiting, impatiantly, for the Town of PV to represent the views of its residents on this proposal. Not everyone is in favour, yet this opinion lacks support from our leaders.

Posted by David B
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Although the devil is in the details, I am fully 100% supportive of the concept of this development, and will urge our leaders (representatives actually) to support if.

Posted by Bigmon78
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 19, 2019 at 1:07 pm

I don't understand why Stanford, with its thousands of acres, needs to place higher density housing in our community. Why not on their own campus?! This development will mean much more traffic on two lane Alpine Rd, and place more burden on our already stressed school system.

To create zoning variances for Stanford to clog our roads at a dangerous, blind curve (as you come out of Westridge onto Alpine) is irresponsible by our town.

Posted by Dave Ross
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:18 pm

Stanford owns this land, and like any other Portola Valley landowner has development rights. They've held this property for many years, and we have become accustomed to the status quo. At only a few miles from campus, this housing opportunity is a good one and the time is right.

The number of housing units per acre actually works out to around 1 per 2 acres - pretty low density, even by PV standards.

The Town has limited control over this development - which does not mean NO control. As with all applications, it will receive plenty of scrutiny, and members of the public will have ample opportunity to make their concerns and views known.

I know well that the PV Planning staff and volunteer Council, Planning Commission and ASCC are diligent in their reviews, and will examine every inch of the proposal. Stanford will be responsible for covering the Town's cost of review.

It would be a stretch to think that if enough people object loudly enough to Stanford's plan that the Council can stop it. That would be investing the Town with more authority than it has, and than anyone wants, I think. If Stanford is seeking variances, I trust the PC and Council to carefully and fairly evaluate them.

Posted by Westridge resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Dec 19, 2019 at 5:47 pm

Im fully supportive. If done right, this can be a good thing. I trust our town administrators and council.

Posted by Save the wedge
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 19, 2019 at 8:59 pm

What they don’t tell you is that this 75 acres would never have been developed if Stanford hadn’t been approached by this council begging them to build 27 homes and 12 apartments on six acres of land. Look at the layout. The houses are packed together and very close to the road. The bulk of the land could never have been built out as currently zoned as it is way to steep. Once complete Stanford will use this as an example to allow them to build other ultra high density homes west of I280. Only the apartments “might” be available to teachers and staff. The homes go to Stanford. It’s a bad deal, Stanford wins and open spaces loses. Stand up and say no to the all out assault on our low density and rural community before it is to late. Just imagine 27 two story homes (many over the height limit) and apartments being built at once. Alpine road will be tore up for utilities. There will be tons of construction vehicles. Many many trees will be cut down. Countless wildlife will be lost. The above poster says 1 home for 2 acres. Nonsense - 27 homes and 12 apartments on the 6 acres that is buildable. Period. Bad deal.

Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 10:18 pm

To "David B" Please read the comments by "Save the Wedge".

Then ask yourself - who do our representatives represent?

Stanford has recently embarked on colossal on-campus building projects, and yet a few houses in the country are going to make a difference? Of course the land is theirs, but would it not be better to encourage its preservation as open space. When it is gone, it is gone, be it whole bites, or a nibble at a time.

To go further, building more accommodation only adds to the unsustainable growth of the Bay Area in general, and for that reason alone, I believe we should look askance at any proposal to build on green field sites. With PV's deep and founding background in care for the environment, I believe it should be the Town's guiding principle to resist development of unbuilt land.

Posted by Stanford Elite
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 19, 2019 at 11:31 pm

Let's just call it what it is:

It's a showcase project for Stanford, solely conceived to ponder/appease/recruit faculty who just isn't quite happy living among the plebs at or around campus.
It's to lure/maintain some of their faculty with prospects to live in a prime location.

"Look, we can't pay you Industry, but we can offer you living in a desirable area".

This isn't about a project benefitting the community. It is Stanfords desire to

Posted by Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Dec 20, 2019 at 12:36 am

It seems to me some gullible people are falling for Stanford’s bs here. We all know Stanford just wants to pack in housing and profit at the expense of our community. They have plenty of land to develop near the campus yet they choose a location far away with no amenities, ask yourself why they would do that. And who knows, maybe there is a cut of the deal for the town council considering they are approving this so rapidly—it’s all very suspicious.

Posted by David B
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 20, 2019 at 2:27 pm

To "PV Resident":

At one time, the land you live on was green field and unbuilt. Someone built a house on it (likely in the face of some "changing the rural character of Portola Valley" objections) and now you live there.

The world keeps changing... so much of the other land in California has been built on, and some of the flat, vacant land that's left is in our little corner of the world. Let's not pull the drawbridge up behind us.

PS: to "Resident": your "cut of the deal for the town council" crack was completely out of line. I know our council members and they are all honorable people trying to do the right thing in a complex world. Please apologize.

Posted by Dave Ross
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Dec 20, 2019 at 4:15 pm

Over the next couple of years this project is going to generate lots of discussion. In my opinion, posting messages anonymously is counter productive. I'm interested in learning about the concerns of my neighbors and fellow community members, but I can't seriously consider a message written by someone who wants to hide behind a made up name.

I urge writers to think of this as a public meeting space, where people take responsibility for the things they say. If you do, my respect for your point of view will increase dramatically.

Posted by Bill
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Dec 20, 2019 at 4:19 pm

I agree w/ David B and am happy that the town is proceeding.

I think Stanford is an asset. I enjoy the culture and the arts and the smart people and the open space they bring to the area. I enjoy hiking on lands that they maintain.

I enjoy working with people in the Stanford community. I enjoy living among the Stanford community - including faculty and professors right here in Westridge. I'm not fearful of new people. Their cars will be a rounding error. If it takes me 3 more minutes to reach 280, that's ok for welcoming some new folks.

I also recognize that Stanford owns the land. Like you and I with our land, they should enjoy some authority and utility.

And while I don't like traffic anymore than the next guy, and I like open space as much as anyone, life is a balance. Comments here that ignore the gray and focus on the white-hat heroes of open-space and the-way-things-used-to-be vs the black-hat demons of development and new-people-who-won't-appreciate-our-way-of-life are unproductive.

I'm thankful we have a council and volunteers who roll up their sleeves and get in the weeds of the gray. I'm doubly appreciate that they do so despite the hysterics.

I'm sure they'll represent us well and I encourage all to presume the best of intentions and refrain from petty, lazy demonization. Not everyone will be happy. Perhaps we'll all be unhappy just the right amount. Life is in the gray.

Posted by Save the wedge
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 20, 2019 at 8:37 pm

If you happened to be tuned into the Frog Pond nightmare you probably know that us "dissenters" were brushed aside only until we showed up in mass to the meetings where we received a paltry two minutes each to speak. Our emails went unanswered. It was quite a battle but I concede that our council finally listened and I respect that. But it left us with a serious trust issue with this council. Mr. Ross, as someone who profits from the development industry I can't help but think you know what I'm talking about.

I went to the Stanford presentations. Sounded great until I looked further and starting asking questions. This council invited Stanford to submit a plan that went against our town values. The plan requires a new zoning standard that does not exist today. I challenge anyone posting here to go down to the town office and look at the plans first! I propose this: ask Stanford to stick to the current zoning rules for that neighborhood (1 house per 2.5 acres) like everyone else has to. Do this and the project is dead. Again, why should Stanford get special treatment? Oh right, we get 12 apartments.

Also if you are following this topic then you probably know that this project is far beyond the proof of concept phase. Very detailed plans have been submitted. Comments have been submitted. We have been told it goes in front of the planning commission next month. No "couple of years", more like a couple of weeks. Again, 27 homes and 12 apartments on 6 acres of land. The houses are lined up one after the other. Some houses share a common wall. This is the Portola Valley of the future? Bad deal for sure.

Oh, and if you're following this topic you also probably know that several of our fellow residents who had dissenting views recently applied for the two open spots on the planning commission. And, you guessed it, they were all passed over in favor of incumbents selected by our current council. Nothing demonizing about this, just the facts.

Posted by Suspicious
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 21, 2019 at 12:52 am

I agree with the commenter above who said that something isn’t right here. Why was this all of a sudden approved so fast? And why did the council only select incumbents over new candidates? It seems to me the process is rigged and unfair. Stanford unfortunately seems to have a lot of influence over the council, for whatever reason. I want more transparency into this. A full investigation should be conducted.

Posted by Sacramento rules us
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 21, 2019 at 7:29 am

Go to Town Council meetings often enough and you will see/hear the panic about the State’s affordable housing requirements which are now law. No mention is made of fighting back to preserve our role as a haven of open space. This despite the Governor’s high priority on preserving open space at the same time as housing is developed statewide.
Other communities fight back. Not ours. May I respectfully point out that several of our hard working Town Council members were appointed, not elected, as no one ran against them.
PV needs more citizens ready to compete for these demanding volunteer jobs.

Posted by Questions
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Dec 22, 2019 at 12:30 am

Many questions remain about this project. What will be the traffic impacts? How long will it take to widen alpine road to accommodate the growth? How will this development impact the open space/environment? Why is this being prioritized by the council over other issues? Why has the council not been transparent with residents over this project?

Too many questions and ambiguities remain to green light this monstrous development.

Posted by Dave Ross
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Dec 23, 2019 at 3:23 pm

to "Save the Wedge": People who make ad hominem attacks should be ashamed to post anonymously. The very reason I use my real name in online posts is so that anyone who reads them can weigh my comments with some understanding (even if limited) of who is posting.

Spreading false information about me is counterproductive at best: "Mr. Ross, as someone who profits from the development industry I can't help but think you know what I'm talking about." [Portion removed; out of fairness, don't speculate on the identity of other posters.] Please refrain. If you would like to get in touch with me, I can explain just how wrong your false statement is. Or if you would like to reply here in public and add your name, at least I'll know who is making a false statement in order to discredit or diminish my posts.

My final point for this post: representation based on political viewpoints (even local politics) is for elected positions. If you want representation based on opposition to this or any other project (and if you actually live in PV), then elect a council member or two to support your agenda. Commission members (Planning, ASCC) have serious technical jobs to perform. IMO the last thing we need at commission meetings is argument among commissioners over political issues.

Posted by Judith Murphy
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 23, 2019 at 6:09 pm

I was a strong supporter of protecting the property adjacent to Frog Pond and incorporating it into the Frog Pond Open Space. I deeply care about the conservation values that led to the incorporation of the Town. But it does not stay 1964 forever. It is not a figment of the Council’s imagination that the State is passing laws that limit local control of building and is pushing hard for more housing. Council has been searching to find ways to manage the inevitable growth and honor everyone’s desire to keep things as open and rural as possible.

The Wedge project is a good one in many ways. There will be no land acquisition costs for the Town. Our new neighbors will be Stanford faculty and staff. Stanford has the resources to do this well. The management of the below market rate units will be handled by Stanford with no need for the Town to be responsible for that.

This is not a sudden approval. This project has been moving through all the steps required for anyone who builds here - with an extra subcommittee convened for oversight because of the proposed density. In addition for over a year Stanford has hosted well publicized local information sessions for Portola Valley residents to give feedback and make suggestions.

I’m trusting the Town committees to hold Stanford’s feet to the fire in protecting trails, extended setbacks for the scenic corridor, native landscaping and views.

Various opinions expressed often lead to better projects. However I agree with Dave that anonymous comments can be problematic. Anonymous sniping and unsubstantiated accusations about evil motives and payoffs never lead toward positive dialogue.

Posted by Save the wedge
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 24, 2019 at 9:21 am

I think Mr Ross's comment prior to the edit from the editors is exactly why anyone expressing their opinion on this matter should have the option of anonymity. I guess sniping is not limited to anonymous posters. And to suggest you don't profit off the development industry, a recent almanac article states you have "35 years in the construction business". Please. Anyone can read your website and make this decision for themself.

I also believe that we shouldn't have to elect new council members to "support our oposition agenda" as you suggest. Our council should represent all our residents views and uphold the principles of our charter and not push their own agenda. And again, several residents with the opposing view applied for the planning commission and were passed over. What is wrong with having more diversity on a commission? Why keep reappointing incumbents?

Ms. Murphy, thanks to you and to everyone who speaks out on behalf of open space. Woodside, Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills and all other rural communities have the responsibility of being stewards of what open space we have left. I concur that sadly not all of it will remain open space. This particular project however smacks of a back room deal as it never had to happen. This council reached out to Stanford and said "We know you won't build on this land as is so we'll give you an exception to allow for ultra high density housing, please build". Why did they do this? If such an action is not pro development then what is? Does anyone really think this will help solve the housing crisis? Why not put this to a vote of all residents.

This will be my last comment so I leave our readers with some questions to ponder:

1. Why does the town website not show all the reviews and details and comments related to this project. Or even the correct timeline? Why is this information withheld from residents? This article states that the town sent in comments in October and Stanford responded in November. What were those comments? What was the response? The article further states that the town has 30 days to respond to the new application, what is this response? That 30 days is probably over, how could we the residents possibly comment on something we've never seen? This project goes to the planning commissioners next month, once approved the only thing to talk about will be the color of the paint.

Web Link

2. Why should Stanford (or anyone) receive preferential treatment? Why shouldn't they follow the zoning rules like everyone else? Why are 12 apartments more important than open space? Ms. Murphy, you say Stanford will manage these, what happened to housing for our teachers and staff?

3. If the town approves the new ultra high density zoning standard, does that mean more developments can do the same? I can only imagine that once we allow Stanford to do this others will not be far behind.

4. Why isn't this council fighting back against the state of CA's bad laws about zoning and density? Why must Portola Valley submit to ultra high density developments? Why is this council pro development?

Posted by Strange
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 24, 2019 at 11:11 am

Save the wedge brings up many good points. The council is fast tracking this development, and for what reason? It make you wonder what Stanford offered to get this deal done... I hope there is a full and transparent investigation conducted

Posted by GoogleEarthUser
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Jan 2, 2020 at 4:53 pm

Doing a few quick measurements in Google Earth, it looks like the Wedge proposal from Stanford is pretty much identical to the density of housing units at the Ranch. I can find a couple places in the ranch where a ~6 acre polygon encloses 25+ houses. Is the Ranch too dense for Portola Valley?

Posted by Mary Hufty
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 3, 2020 at 12:43 pm

Dear Friends,

Congratulations to the Almanac for its excellent reporting and for opening up this important dialogue! Our leaders and volunteers need our respect. I hope we can honor and inform them as they deserve! They are working hard for us.

So why Portola Valley Neighbors United?
PVNU provides us a forum to meet up and discuss issues on our own terms that are real for us - issues that affect us personally, like our safety, the character of our community, and how our money is spent, before they are discussed by, voted on or approved by our council and signed and instituted by the Town Administration.

Check out our new website at My request and my mantra is "be forgiving". We are a new organization and we truly have a diverse following. Each of us has a different way of communicating. It is not a membership organization but a fledgling LLC striving to become a 501C3 for education, for helping local government make good decisions for a rural community, and to protect and restore the environment. We aim to support our town's staff and volunteers through the processes we have all grown to cherish - using the first amendment: a willingness to respectfully listen to each other, and a love of community.

Portola Valley Neighbors United is grateful for the attention that is being paid to the subjects of the Stanford Faculty Housing Development, Fire Risk and Open Space. There are powerful economic, political and personal pressures from inside and outside for development. Speaking for myself, I long for the more economically diverse neighborhood I knew here in the 70's. Affordable housing is near and dear to my heart. We need to accomplish a greater diversity and we will.

The advent of the charet, managed group feedback sessions, and the staff inspired town agendas have created a sense of powerlessness and distrust in our small community. PVNU was organizing to look carefully at the issues that are proceeding through the town and help us move away from bemusement, apathy, ignorance, and overreaction.

So Why Does the Wedge matter to me and how could it matter to you?

Over the 30 years in which I raised my family here, the Wedge was my solace and my escape, my place of adventure. Early on it was part of the Woodside Trails Club System; a few friends kept old horses there, it was a true rural vestige, it was affordable. The Wedge includes two intact watersheds for the San Francisquito Creek. It shelters breeding mountain lions, nesting great horned owls, eagles and who knows what else? For me, it represented peace and the last stronghold of the truly wild in Portola Valley. I began fighting to preserve the wilderness trail from Cervantes to Alpine Inn, so that others might have the experience there I have had. I had some success, but as I saw what was happening to the pristine ecosystem that had developed on the Wedge with the introduction of the bulldozer, mechanical masticators and goats, I began worrying that the Wildlife Corridor from Felt Lake to Jasper Ridge, and the Wedge Ecosystem would not safely bear the burden of a high density, all electric community.

I know this land, it is amazing and it is very wild. Wilder than we are used to, even in Portola Valley and its development poses a real fire risk to our properties. My hope is that it can be managed by its 'forever" owners, Stanford University, as a small, wild remnant of the 7,750 acre State Game Preserve that the Board of Trustees of Stanford designated in 1927. Its highest and best use is to be Stanford's 89 acre experiment on wildlands in a high fire risk rural community. How can we custodian this piece and keep us all safe - flora, fauna, and people alike?

This is an important question with several complex answers. It will take the partnership of two great institutions - Stanford University and the Town of Portola Valley - and our deep attention to get the answer to this question right.

PVNU is asking that both institutions bring compassion and intelligence to our community as they approach the Nature of the Wedge.

Respectfully yours,

Mary Hufty, MD
Honor Biology '72
Stanford University
President PVNU

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