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Portola Valley: Residents' letter raises alarm over Stanford housing proposal

Original post made on Feb 26, 2020

A group of 250 Portola Valley residents is demanding that the town Planning Commission adopt a group of Woodside Fire Protection District recommendations for the proposed housing project known as the Stanford Wedge.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 9:11 AM

Comments (38)

Posted by NoWay
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 9:33 am

Lousy idea from the get go.
Virtue signalling.
Plenty of inexpensive land and housing in the central valley.
Build it there!

Posted by PV Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 26, 2020 at 12:46 pm

We are very concerned about the way this projected has been greenlighted without due process. The fact that Mary Ann Derwin was the initial instigator of this project through her personal approach/proposal to Stanford raises concerns from the get go about the way this project has been handled. The facts are stated very clearly in the report from the Fire Marshall, and the current design that is before the Town does not even come close to addressing those concerns. Before going any further, the Stanford proposal must be sent back to the drawing board. We were not aware that 27 homes were going to be built in addition to 12 affordable housing units ( none of which are allocated to Portola Valley residents) on only 6 acres. That is preposterous. What does Portola Valley gain from this proposal, other than impact on our environment and adding considerably to congestion and fire danger? Is this being pushed through in order to satisfy some future requirement for affordable housing? Stanford has the right to develop their own land; we don’t argue that. What we do respond is that our town council and town government are responsible first and foremost for protecting the residents of Portola Valley. The report clearly states that , aside from the congestion and escape route issues, fire in this canyon—-the likelihood of which is greatly raised through development—puts those homes and residents at the top of that canyon at risk. It was also made very clear that developing a canyon like this is the worst possible place to develop. In our opinion, is not responsible stewardship of our town.

Posted by Predictable
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 1:31 pm

All too predictable:

"What does Portola Valley gain from this proposal, other than impact on our environment and adding considerably to congestion and fire danger?"

What housing crisis.....?

Posted by PV Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 26, 2020 at 3:20 pm

What we mean is this: people who work in Portola Valley—-firefighters, teachers, employees of local businesses—ought to be allocated some of that affordable housing, if Stanford is going to develop land within our town limits. Otherwise, what benefit is there to our community? Why should Portola Valley deal with additional fire danger, congestion, and adding stress to the escape route? Stanford refused to fully mitigate the impact of their proposed housing in Santa Clara County, as demanded Instead, they decided to try Portola Valley. We don’t need to be suckers.

Posted by BernieTtump
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 26, 2020 at 3:58 pm

The perfect ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ scenario. Provide approvals then go back and see if there are issues and then work around the concerns. Your government in action

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 26, 2020 at 4:12 pm

Come on, folks, enough with NIMBY. If Alpine Road can handle the hundreds frequenting the new (and great) Alpine Inn, adding 37 housing units on 6 acres is not going to clog up evacuation routes. I for one am happy to add new residents from the Stanford community. Or is it the "affordable housing" label that worries some?

Posted by pv resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 26, 2020 at 4:39 pm

NIMBY is out of control. Stanford owns the land, has rights to build 85 units, and will be subject to PV fire and other requirements. The new fire chief has not weighed in, yet, because fire studies not completed. PV will be able to weigh in on who can live there. It is a win/win. Bottom line: we need to do our part for affordable housing.

Posted by John C
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Feb 26, 2020 at 5:07 pm

Stanford University has an abundance of land that is significantly less vulnerable to wildfire than where they are proposing to build this faculty housing. Not sure if Stanford's first priority is the safety of Portola Valley or its residents. The Fire Dept. has that responsibility and it seems they are doing their job here by giving Portola Valley a warning about building so many houses in such a vulnerable area. Most of us are all for building new modest housing, BUT if you have the choice and the luxury of owning lots of land why not build it somewhere safe? Hasn't the planning department and Mr. Dennis been paying attention to climate change, have they already forgotten what happened in Paradise, Santa Rosa and Napa? It could happen here too and we should not be ignoring that fact.
It's time to start rethinking how and where we build.

Posted by 6 acres?
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 5:20 pm

PV Neighbor - could you reconsider several parts of your post? The piece of land concerned is 75 acres in size, not 6. Stanford has submitted plans to build on 6 acres out of the 75. So would you prefer 39 units built every 1.92 acres or a concentration of units in 6 acres leaving the other 69 acres as 'open space'? Have a little think. Plus you name one council member as instigating the whole thing? You think Stanford hasn't had these plans in the pipeline for years? You think Stanford would commence on a multi-million dollar project like this because one council member in a tiny little town thought some affordable housing would be fun? If you're going to throw out incorrect stats and biased criticism, you'd better have some proof in writing to back your statements up. Were you one of those who signed the petition against building on road remnant too?

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 5:44 pm

6 Acres - if you had attended the meetings last year you would know that Stanford has come out and admitted that they had no plans to develop the wedge at the current density as most of the land is too steep for development. Stanford also admits that they were approached and given tacit approval to move forward with plans that did not conform to zoning rules by a member of the town council who herself admits she was the one who approached Stanford. Here's the article with her quote to prove it:

Web Link

The same article has Ms. Wengert (former mayor and current council member) stating that the development would house local teachers which we now know was not true. It was wishful thinking at best.

Thanks to all residents who are standing up against a back room deal by an activist council and town manager. This development is bad for Portola Valley in so so many ways, the increased fire danger is just one of many reasons it should be halted. We've had enough and you can bet we'll be voting this group out and sending the town manager packing at the earliest opportunity!

Posted by 6 acres?
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 6:47 pm

@Enough is too much - Did attend those meetings, and heard the angry folks saying 'we'll wrap this up in so much legal tape, you'll never build here' (to Stanford representatives). Remain unconvinced by your polemic that the current council is an 'activist' one for the development of all land. If that were true, why didn't they overrule all the previous applications to build affordable housing in town? To whom did Stanford 'admit' they were approached and given 'tacit approval'? Are you taking a newspaper article as gospel truth over standard, lawful, town procedures for any building development in Portola Valley? If, as mentioned earlier, you have proof of backroom deals by council/town staff, why don't you share it? Incidentally, increased fire danger means Fire Dept. wants all yards and trails cleared anyway - so your precious ecosystem has to be destroyed for the sake of the houses already there to comply with their 'ideal'. But it's OK for the mansions on 3 acres to decimate the environment, building 'homes' to the max allowed, but not if it's for some cheaper housing on a 75-acre lot the town doesn't own? Just admit you want to make PV a gated community, with a pocket council and staff that prevents those earning less than $250K from living near/driving past/hiking/eating/drinking with you, plus a veto on the 'quality' of your neighbors, and you might be getting close to speaking your 'truth'. Sickening.

Posted by Ridiculous
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 26, 2020 at 10:24 pm

I don’t like how the town government is trying to move this along so quickly. It’s really shady and makes a lot of us distrust their motives. I want to know the TRUE motivation behind this and what each council member has to benefit from this. Clearly, this will not add any benefit to our town as Stanford is just going to use it for personal gain. Project needs to stop, period.

Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Feb 27, 2020 at 9:48 am

The arguments in opposition to the Stanford proposal seem to convey a heavy dose of altruism as a cover for a heavy dose of nimbyism. There is an uncountable number of extant examples of homes in PV, particularly in Blue Oaks and PV Ranch subdivisions which do not meet the criteria suggested by the critique set forth by Denise.
The proposal being pursued by the town to build low cost housing on a plot of what was set aside as open space near the intersection of Los Trancos Rodd and Ramona Rd is another example of that would fail to be acceptable under the limitations the nimbyists would like to apply to the Stanford proposal.
Serious;y now! Look in a mirror and ask yourself if the critiques you are surfacing are ones you would be willing to impose on yourselves - retroactively?
Or is this a case of the "I'm aboard let's pull up the anchor" syndrome at play?
Are you REALLY ready to enforce the same rules for everyone.

Posted by Sharon Savoca
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Feb 27, 2020 at 9:59 am

We need more housing in the area, and one of the largest employers--Stanford--should build some of it. As a local, I appreciate the open space of PV and Woodside. This proposal is not threatening that. PV still hasn't built the BMR housing it committed to when it green lighted the Blue Oaks subdivision some 20 years ago (and took a parcel to build it on). So, development is okay for multi-million dollar estates, not for BMR housing? This proposal for "moderately" priced Stanford housing seems reasonable, NIMBY attitudes should not prevail.

Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 27, 2020 at 1:30 pm

I say that PV needs to shut down the new Alpine Inn immediately. I don't believe anyone in PV thought it would be the success that it is, and it must attract hundreds (!!!) of cars to PV out Alpine Road, which adds to the congestion of PV. And just think, if there were need for an evacuation, there would be hundreds of cars at Alpine Inn, with drivers who may have had a few too many, trying to evacuate----oh the horror!! Shut it down, do the proper studies, let all the NIMBY PVers comment, and, definitely, put up your gates and issue PV ID cards to keep the riff-raff out...!

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 27, 2020 at 1:50 pm

6 acres - where do you suppose the idea came to concentrate all the housing on 6 acres? Remember the land is currently zoned one house for approx. every 2 acres. If you try to build within the current zoning (the same zoning everyone else has to follow) you would maybe get 10 houses on the parcel. Stanford went straight into the building department with a complete set of plans that did not even come close to complying with the existing zoning. You think they were just feeling lucky? Read the article link I posted, are you suggesting the Mercury News lied?

During one of the meetings I attended the Stanford rep came right out and said "We were not interested in building until we were approached with the idea from M.A.D." and I'm not the only resident who heard it.

Stan - yes, allow Stanford build BMR at the current zoning (the same rules you and I would have to follow) and insist they comply with the fire department's requirements. If we proposed this to Stanford they would walk away in a second and not a single house would be built. Period. Why do you suppose that is? They've always had the right to build there but choose not to as it just didn't make economic sense. Does that make them a NIMBY? I also completely disagree about the ranch & blue oaks having a similar fire risk profile. I've walked the wedge, the steepness and density of chaparral is unlike anything I've ever seen in Portola Valley. Stan, please take a walk on the wedge up into the canyon.

Sharon - build all the BMR housing you want, anywhere you want, just follow the same rules everyone else has to follow. How would you feel if an apartment building was allowed to be built on your neighbor's lot but everyone else could only build one home? Sound good? If not, are you a NIMBY?

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 27, 2020 at 1:58 pm

West Menlo - watch the movie "Fire in Paradise" on Netflix and afterwards ask yourself if you would write such an insensitive comment.

We in Portola Valley face the REAL threat of wildfire and we're serious about evacuation. Ask those folks in Paradise who got stuck in their cars if they wished they would have had a better evacuation plan in place. And then please just stay in West Menlo.

Posted by 6 acres?
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 27, 2020 at 3:26 pm

@Enough is too much Yes, I am suggesting the Mercury News article was not factually correct, but don't wish to add to your insular, misinformed diatribe by adding 'fake news' to your paranoid mindset. I pity you and your tribe for their inability to accept any change in your environment, and am going to waste no more time attempting to educate on the fallacies of your arguments.

Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 27, 2020 at 9:47 pm

@enough is too much: based on the Paradise movie scenario , how could you and PV possibly allow the Alpine Inn to create the potential traffic hazard in event of an evacuation? It seems to me, based on your reaction to “Paradise,” to be irresponsible (or just maybe a double standard)

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:35 am

West Menlo - PV has not "allowed" the Alpine Inn to do anything new. They are operating under the same business permit as they always have. I'm sure their permit specifies how many cars can park there. If in a real world evacuation scenario they or any other business could not be safely evacuated then it would be reasonable to revisit parking. It may be worth pointing out that Alpine Inn would probably evacuate down Arastradero road but I concede that may be of little comfort to those evacuating from farther down Alpine Rd. Hence, it is also reasonable and responsible to ask the town not to approve a new subdivision that would place up to 75 cars into a known choke point during an evacuation. If it can be proven that this is not an issue then agreed this protest would not be a valid one.

Posted by PV Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 28, 2020 at 1:51 pm

We are glad to see the vigorous debate about this topic, because it means that people are becoming aware of the situation. That is enormous progress from where this was a few weeks ago.

There is a way to build affordable housing in PV without additional fire danger or clear cutting, and without choking that particular area—-and from reading the notes from the PV Town Council meetings, it looks like it has been discussed. Simple: buy the property available next to Roberts Market with the funds the town currently has. Allocate funding over the next few years to build on it. This was the plan with previous sites, including Al’s nursery, now the site of Windmill School. There’s really no arguing that this is a great location—close to three school, the market, and central to everything. For those of you calling us NIMBYs, shame on you. That’s a slur, and one that none of us have earned. Wanting to protect the open space ethos of Portola Valley does not contraindicated building affordable housing. It just means that we as a town must PLAN—-and then EXECUTE the plan in an environmentally sensitive manner. Accusing residents of not wanting “certain types of people,” is that what you said? That’s racist and, for lack of a better word, classist. PV was founded by regular, middle class people, and most residents grew up and still hold those values. We wear our pajamas to the market, to ride our bikes with our kids to school, and we walk around in dirty gardening clothes, and we do our own repairs with the assistance of our invaluable friends at the hardware store. So stop the accusations, and address the real issue. This is about the Stanford Wedge. If you still want to pursue the affordable housing side of this , perhaps you should wonder, is there a Town Council member(s) who lives on three acres in Westridge and has an unrented guest cottage?

Posted by seriously?!
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:24 pm

to pv neighbor: not sure that property by Roberts is available. It is perfect, but I have heard (may be wrong) that the seller does not want to sell. meanwhile, we have a great deal! Stanford will build affordable housing for us without us having to buy expensive land. The fire issue is a non issue until the fire department concludes their study. And, why not pursue both!? after you suggested we stop calling names, you targeted someone in our community....a public servant, no less....classy!

Posted by PV Disaster
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:56 pm

Mark my words it will be a disaster if this goes through. Self serving council members with hidden agendas aren’t helping us here. Need to stand up and say NO, enough is enough. Stanford has plenty of land East of 280 where there is no fire risk. Maybe Stanford could build another road out of PV and that case we could have the housing at wedge, but for now it’s a big NO!

Posted by Maryann Moise Derwin
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 28, 2020 at 4:12 pm

To PV Neighbor. Wow. I have become pretty hardened to the comments on this blog but yours takes the cake. I am the 15-year Portola Valley council member who lives on a 3-acre parcel in Westridge with a fairly new unrented guest house. This is the place where I raised my children and lived as a wife and mother and now I live here alone with two labrador retrievers and quite often, my 30-year old surviving son who comes down from SF to make pottery in the garage. Fifty months and one day ago, my 23-year old son, Charlie, died in a car crash on Portola Road a mile from home. He actually burned alive in the car according to the coroner's report. As if that wasn't a heavy enough load for one human to bear, my surviving son, a star student at Georgetown Law with a prestigious government law job offer, went completely off the rails in deep grief and depression which caused him to blow up his career and send his life's purpose spinning. Since then, I have been present for my surviving son while still working as a council member and tending to my responsibilities on various boards and committees, building a guesthouse which I do in fact hope to rent below market rate, and grieving my Charlie. i miss him every single minute of every day. Consequently, I've been a little distracted and haven't been able to get it together to rent the guesthouse. Meanwhile, I would love to downsize because it is absurd for one sad and quirky old lady and two fat dogs to live on three acres, but I lam obligated to serve out my term and my responsibilities on my county boards. Plus, it is hard to leave this house, my house of ghosts and ashes, where Charlie lived most of his life, including the day he died. It is easy to take shots at elected officials from the anonymous comfort of your laptop, but you might have inquired about who I am and what I have endured before attacking my character. My heart was broken fifty months and one day ago, and as I said, I have become somewhat immune to the harsh words on this blog, but your post cut me like a shard of glass. It simply wasn't fair.

Posted by Jane Wilson
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 28, 2020 at 4:50 pm

I am also a currently serving volunteer on the ASCC in Portola Valley. If anyone wants to take potshots at another volunteer in town, you could also personally attack me. I'm not going to be swayed by the arguments of some of the posters above, because I've actually read through reports, witnessed the process in action, completed my ethics training and financial interests forms (like the rest of the Council, the Planning Commission and the ASCC), and have the ability to see that processes/Brown Act/State Law need to be followed - however many residents stamp their feet and cry foul because affordable housing, developing the Wedge, Fire mitigation etc don't suit their agendas.

Posted by Judith Murphy
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 4:52 pm

Any discussion that is a back and forth between anonymous posters is likely to be less factual and civilized than it should be. I am very interested in everyone's ideas and concerns, but I need to know who you are to take your post seriously.

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Ms. Wilson, us residents are stamping our feet not because BMR housing (the stanford proposal is not for low income housing) doesn't suit our agenda, we are stamping our feet because our elected town council members are not representing we the residents! They are not listening to us! We raise issues and are told "Don't worry, we'll do a study". We ask to have representation on the planning commission and we are passed over for incumbents who "tow the line". How about this, lets put all of this wedge rubbish to a public referendum and resolve this issue once and for all!

I feel for Ms. Derwin, heck I've taken quite a few shots on this board myself. It should never have gotten this far so as to be polarizing our town and its' residents. You can imagine the stress all this has caused us normally very happy people. But you had to see this coming, invite Stanford in to build a Menlo Park Style Subdivision in a canyon rife with wildfire potential next to homes that people purchased to get away from such subdivisions? And then call them NIMBYs for not falling in line? Let's end the wedge debacle and start working together again. And once and for all, none of us have anything against low income or BMR housing.

Posted by Jane Wilson
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 28, 2020 at 6:14 pm

Enough is too much. So if you were going to develop a piece of land, and neighbours objected, and you said, but we've complied with all the town regulations, we've submitted plans, we're going in front of the Planning Commission, we've attached the letters of neighbours who approve and those who disapprove, what would you want the Planning Commission to do? Agree with the neighbours who object? Agree with the neighbours who approve? Or listen to all the input, reports, geological/fire/paths and trails, neighbours etc and then make a decision? Why don't you believe that your voices are being heard? Why did not one member of the public show up to the meeting of ALL the Town commissions with Stanford to discuss their project in November? Every committee and commission was represented, every committee and commission wrote reports, and not ONE member of the public was there. So after the public charettes, the public meetings, the reports from all committees, no resident bothered to said anything. But now, they're writing letters (factually incorrect letters, but whatever), spreading rumours, creating Facebook pages, personally attacking members of the Council, threatening to 'oust' them from their positions as volunteers, because they haven't just told Stanford 'no' instead of going through the reports, neighbour letters, legal processes as above? Then you say you 'asked' to have representation on the Planning Commission? You don't 'ask' to go on a commission, you apply, you are interviewed, and then, if you're considered to be the best candidate at that time, you are appointed. I wasn't appointed the first time I applied, but I applied again when a vacancy arose. There's no 'ask' and you shall receive in public government - you try, and if you fail, you try again. When there were two vacancies on the ASCC last November, no one except the incumbents applied, so the incumbents were appointed again.

You say you've taken a few shots on this forum. Yes, but you're anonymous, and you and your followers have singled out one council member to vilify. That's underhanded, and quite frankly, appalling behaviour. If you have the courage of your convictions, if you have 'proof' of a back-room deal as another poster queried, reveal both it and yourself so that you can be sent correct information regarding town and planning policy.

Re a referendum. I've no idea how much that would cost the town. But since you say that this matter has divided the town, and the percentages 52 & 48 seem to be prevalent nowadays, how are you going to feel if your side is the '48%'? The anti-Stanford Wedge group is vocal, but are you absolutely sure you are in the majority? Do you really want to test that premise out? And then if you lose, are you going to watch as the town, planning commission, ASCC, other town committees, Fire Marshalls, work through all the plans, processes and legal work over the next year or so before the decision is made?

Posted by CivilityPlease
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Dear PV Neighbor,

I'm just curious: are you associated in some way with PV Neighbors United? Because having known Mary Hufty, the founder of PV Neighbors United, for some time, I am absolutely certain that Mary would never want her group to be associated with such a vicious, petty attack on a volunteer Council Member.

I have to assume that at some point, Mary will step in herself to clarify her position on your unfortunate behavior.

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:01 pm

Ms. Wilson - I can't say I disagree with your scenario in theory, but in actuality it played out more this this: I'm a landowner and I have no intention of building. An elected official comes to me and says hey, I've got a deal for you. We want low income housing and you want faculty housing. Submit plans that require a new zoning that none of the surrounding neighborhoods could get, but we'll give it to you if we get some low income housing. Submit the plans and we'll see what the neighbors think afterwards. Now you may say, wait - we advertised, we had meetings, we followed the rules but in ACTUALITY none of us knew or were asked. That's why there are websites, facebook pages, letters and more. Had this official sat down with all the residents in the area BEFORE approaching Stanford, things might not have gotten to this point. Now I do take some of the blame for not following every town bulletin, but then again I go to work every day and don't read the council minutes. But, honestly, never in my wildest dreams did I think this kind of thing would happen in PV. Foolish me!

I also have to take case with a couple other of your points. You are right, the residents did not ask to be appointed to the planning commission. They applied. They were interviewed. And the "best" candidates were chosen, "best" being defined as not one out of the four were better than the 2 incumbents? Who defines best? In this case the same officials that approached Stanford. But now we are being told that we are just being paranoid.

Also you claim the letters are factually incorrect (heard that before, see above) and then you are very dismissal with a "whatever". That is a big part of the problem! That's exactly the feeling we've been getting from the Council - "whatever". To be honest now I don't trust the council, planning commission or the ASCC!

WRT to a referendum, I wouldn't have suggested it if I wasn't serious. You make an interesting point about cost, how much is it costing staff and the town to process this building application? How much for all the studies? How much time from the volunteers?

One last one, it terms of planning policy, you seem to know so I'll ask - is it routine policy to approach landowners and ask them to submit development plans that don't comply with current zoning regulations?

I'm going to chime off now as I think we've got as far as we can go here. 250 residents have signed a letter, the facebook group is growing daily, websites are growing, but whatever.

Posted by Steve Toben
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:25 pm

The project proposed for the Stanford Wedge is being subjected to rigorous environmental review, including fire safety, and the residents of Portola Valley will have ample opportunity to provide input to the Planning Commission and Town Council. That's the democratic process. There is no evidence to suggest improper motives by any member of the Town Council. For years now they have spoken clearly and consistently about the adverse impacts of the Bay Area housing shortage on our own community. They have identified longtime residents who wish to downsize but remain in Portola Valley, yet have no alternative housing options; young people who grew up in Town and would like to return but can't afford to do so; and workers who provide critical services in our community but who are forced to travel long distances to work in town. The Town can't meet all these needs, but it can lessen the shortfall, and the State of California is watching. Residents may certainly disagree on how to address the Town's housing needs and where to locate a modicum of more affordable housing, but it is dead wrong to make malignant comments anonymously about our public officials, who are sincerely trying to do the right thing as they see fit.

Posted by Danna Breen
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:41 pm

As always, I object to the Almanac policy that people can post anonymously. It does not promote credible dialogue and communication. What results is gossip and promotes false information but in a news source context...Sort of leaves you scratching your head.

Posted by PV Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:58 pm

@civilityplease: yes, I'm a proud member of PV Neighbors United. What of it? Mary is doing great work in promoting the true values of Portola Valley ad exposing the fraudsters on our Council. 250 fellow residents have signed on to her letter. We will prevail!

Posted by Jane Wilson
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 28, 2020 at 10:25 pm

Enough is too much. I think part of the issue here is that many people seem to be operating on the fallacy that a council member approached Stanford and asked them to develop the land. To the best of my knowledge, that was not the case (and I have read the Mercury News report which implied otherwise). I don't know about and haven't been involved, in any zoning application for the land which Stanford owns. But googling the zoning ordinance, shows that the Stanford Wedge was included in the Town's General Plan for housing in 2014 - 6 years ago (I didn't go back further). At the end of the day, this parcel does not belong to the Town and is treated exactly the same as any other application to build on a plot of land. It has all the processes to follow through on, and Stanford has begun this process. Obviously Stanford recognizes neighbours may not like their ideas, which is why they held the public charettes last year with architects and planners available to discuss the project. But I don't believe these were Town 'sponsored', though there were Town Council officials there to see the plans/ideas, alongside the public.

Re planning commission. If an incumbent wishes to stay on a commission, I would assume it is quite rare for that person to be voted off that commission, in favour of a new applicant. Volunteering for commissions involves considerable time and new people have a steep learning curve to familiarize themselves with the General Plan etc. Would you 'fire' someone who worked with you for x years in favour of a new applicant?

Re the letter. I had heard, though I may be wrong, that a letter with signatures was discussed at the Town Council meeting on Wednesday. During that agenda item, each paragraph of the letter was addressed, and many found to be incorrect. I'm sorry I resorted to using the teenage 'whatever' dismissal, but to read the above comments and to know that they are incorrect and to know that these rumours and misinterpretations are proliferating because of misinformation, and to know that however many times you try to direct people towards the correct information/process, you are going to be ignored, because people will believe what they want to believe (ie all volunteers are receiving backhanders/promoting their own agendas/do not consider their neighbours), makes me feel like banging my head against a brick wall (another teenage mannerism).

Re cost of staff and volunteer time. Well as you may be aware, volunteers receive nothing (except condemnation at the moment and the right to attend the Volunteer Party in December), and we sign declarations each year to say as much legally. Yes, the staff are paid, and applications cost the applicants money for staff time. Application fees go to the Town, who pay the staff wages, fund the Town's budget plan etc. All the town spending/budget is public record - as it should be.

Re your last item - I don't believe it happened in the way you suggest/have heard, so it's a moot point.

I do however wish that some of the people who signed the letter you mention, had fact-checked it for accuracy beforehand. Ditto for the website. The Facebook page I'm a member of actually.

Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 1, 2020 at 11:25 am

Sorry to chime back in but thanks to Ms. Wilson pointing out that with the help of google we are able to get more verifiable information on the genesis of this whole wedge debacle. Here is a link to the minutes of the April 26, 2017 Portola Valley Council meeting where the first public discussion between Stanford and the council took place:

Web Link

I hope everyone interested will carefully read section 11. I believe it sets the record straight on a number of issues brought up here during this discussion.

The discussion at this council meeting seemingly starts out as Stanford wanting clarification on the Town's objectives for the wedge. Stanford confirms that PV had been reaching out to Stanford, that initially Stanford was not interested in building, and at some point that changed. But by the second question asked by the council the topic quickly shifts to 27 lots. Here is the third question the council asks Stanford:

"Councilmember Derwin asked if they were suggesting only 27 units on an extremely large property. Ms.Snider said 27 would be for the individual lots and the developable area is only three acres. She said Stanford is not interested in just one or two homes, but when they think about three or four acres, they think it could accommodate approximately 15 to 25 individual lots."

There you go. How did this initial conversation go so quickly from Stanford wanting clarification on objectives to a specific question "are you suggesting only 27 units?". It's very clear that there had been prior backroom discussions and that Stanford was already thinking about a hi-density sub-division with minimum 27 lots on 3-4 acres. It's also very clear that they were talking about a zoning change. And here's the final conclusion from the council:

"Mayor Hughes said the Council is excited to see these plans develop and will be as helpful as possible"

On April 26, 2017 (and prior) they were already talking about 27 lots. The understanding was at least 6 homes per acre and Stanford was given the green light to move forward and develop plans. Zero discussions with the public, zero input from Westridge residents.

Now there is a lot more to this council meeting discussion and I implore everyone to carefully read the entire section of the minutes. I feel compelled to point out that there is, in my opinion, a lot of goodwill on the part of the council towards solving what we all agree are important issues related to housing. Whether there are "improper motives" or not, it's very clear that the idea for this project started out a long time ago and it included a minimum of 27 lots on 3-4 acres which undeniably would require a zoning change. And it's clear Stanford was given the green light by the council to develop the plans prior to getting input from the public.

Posted by Jane Wilson
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 1, 2020 at 4:37 pm

I too hope that people will read the minutes from that meeting in April 2017. They will then see that when the public was asked if they had questions, only one person asked one question regarding the preservation of the scenic corridor. They will also see that when the public was asked if they had any comments, and no one spoke.

They will also read that not only Stanford was thinking of development, but also Woodside Priory, Sequoias, etc had plans. Woodside Priory has already been through the application process for building units, and have been approved. Stanford seems to be taking longer, though as I said in an earlier post, they did submit plans on which all commissions and all committees had the chance to comment and write reports last November, and again, no one from the public attended, asked questions or commented.

'Zero discussions with the public. Zero input from Westridge residents'. Minutes prove this statement to be incorrect.
Minutes also show Council members asking questions regarding the project. If they didn't ask questions, surely that would be more suspicious? If no one from the public asked questions or made comments when given the opportunity to do so, how are the Council members supposed to know that residents have questions or comments? Council members did ask questions, and they did not just 'greenlight' anything, as has been claimed and as can be seen from the minutes.

The back-room deal point again, included in your 'improper motives' comment? It's possibly a good thing that you are anonymous 'Enough is too Much', because if I were a Council member, I would be thinking about the things you are alleging, and contemplating a cease and desist order for harassment, or libel or slander.

The minutes prove that the legal process is being followed. The minutes prove that residents have not been asking questions or commenting until comparatively recently. Please continue going back through the official minutes of meetings, checking the posted agendas for meetings, checking the town's website, and then, maybe, it will be recognized that the public have and have had the opportunities to make their voices heard, but they've failed to use them appropriately, at the right time, and on the right forum.

Posted by Jon Silver
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:29 am

I am very disappointed by the recklessness and mean-spirited nature of many of anonymous posts above. Under the cloak of anonymity and without evidence to accuse our Town Councilmembers (and other Town volunteers) of committing many different heinous acts does a disservice to our Town Government, and to the type reasoned and civil discourse which is vital to Portola Valley’s democratic process.

To focus on just a few high (or perhaps I should say low) points, accusing our Town Councilmembers, variously, of acting “without due process”, of being “self-serving” “fraudsters” “with hidden agendas” is just plain wrong.

As man, I am tempted to say that to do so while hiding behind a shroud of anonymity is unmanly, but perhaps so as to not be sexist, I should say that it is just not what decent folks (men or women) do — especially without evidence.

To clarify no one has invited Stanford University to bypass our Town's normal procedures and zoning. On the contrary policies adopted by the Town Council I served on in the early 1990's allowed Stanford to propose development of more, but much smaller units than would be allowed under a conventional subdivision. This is in no way a violation of our Town's General Plan and Zoning; it is our General Plan and Zoning and has been for approximately the last 28 years. To criticize current Town Councilmembers for this is off the mark; if anyone is to be faulted it should be me and those I served with long ago.

BTW, before I entered office in 1978 much more development was allowed by Town zoning in the Stanford Wedge. It was zoned for one house per acre. There are about 75 acres there! I succeeded with the help of others in reducing this more than once in stages over the years. The current zoning allows far less development. If my memory is correct the current zoning is based on a 2½ to 9 acres slope density formula with only 10% credit given for unstable land. (The original zoning gave 100% density credit for unstable land.) The net effect of this was vastly reduce the development potential of this parcel below what was allowed 40+ years ago.

In the early 1990's based on input from about two-years’ worth of well attended public hearings it was my judgement and that of my Town Council colleagues that giving (and encouraging) Stanford to take the option proposing more, but much smaller dwelling units would result in a lower, or at least no greater, environmental impact than that which would result from fewer, but larger houses produced by a conventional development. This would also have the result of providing needed housing, some of which could be earmarked for those working in our town.

Personally, I would prefer the Stanford Wedge to stay forever as it has been throughout my life, that is as rustic open space. But, given that this land is privately owned, it is not reasonable to accomplish this goal via zoning of other legislative action alone.

To correct another misstatement, this project will not and cannot be “rushed” or “greenlighted” through. Should it proceed, it will be the typical slow, dare I say tortuous, but thorough Portola Valley process.

Reasonable people can differ about what should be done on the Stanford Wedge. But we ought to able to listen to each other in an atmosphere of mutual respect, without engaging in ad-hominem attacks, or impugning the character of those we disagree with. To do less is a disservice to our Town, our civil discourse, and to the volunteers who dedicate so much of their time to make it work.


Jon Silver
Portola Valley resident, 1954–present
former Town Councilmember, 1978-1993
former Mayor, Town of Portola Valley, 3-terms
Town of Portola Valley Open Space Award recipient, 2003
former San Mateo County Planning Commissioner, 1995-2007
former Chair, Town of Portola Valley Conservation Committee, 1977-78
Gadfly, 1953–present

Posted by Mary Hufty
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 3, 2020 at 3:42 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. We honor and support them. They are working hard for us. Thank you!

So why Portola Valley Neighbors United?

PVNU provides us a forum to meet up and discuss issues that are real to us - issues that affect us personally, like our safety, the character of our community, and how our money is spent, before those issues are voted on and approved by our council and signed and instituted by the Town Administration. We hope to improve the quality of our input to the council. 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 small town processes we have all grown to cherish - 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. PVNU was organized to look carefully at issues that are proceeding through the town and help us move beyond pride and overreaction to informed decisions.

So why does the Wedge matter to me and why should 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: a part of the old private trail system, leased land guarded by Roger Piers; a place where a few friends kept old horses; it was a true rural vestige; and it was affordable. Now we know 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? I began fighting to preserve the primitive 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 could long term, not safely bear the burden of a high density, all electric community.

I know this land, it is amazing and it is very wild. Deep chimney-effect ravines lead up to blue oak forests and chaparral. The Wedge is wilder than we are used to, even in Portola Valley. I believe 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 success story of managed wildlands in a high fire risk rural community. We can answer the important questions on how to custodian the land and keep us all safe - flora, fauna, and people alike, right in our backyards.

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 their work on the future of the Wedge.

Respectfully yours,

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

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