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'Massive' public records request escalates battle over Portola Valley's housing element

Original post made on Mar 21, 2022

Two Portola Valley residents filed a huge public records request, seeking to shield their neighborhood from being designated for denser development. The mayor said it comes with a threat to bankrupt the town with lawsuits.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, March 21, 2022, 6:57 PM

Comments (26)

Posted by Bob Adams
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 21, 2022 at 10:32 pm

Bob Adams is a registered user.

Shame on the editors of the Almanac. [Portion removed due to personal attack] Rather than interview any of the Nathorst affected neighbors, Ms. Swartz spoke to two town representatives - the mayor and a past mayor. Ms. Swartz did contact the plaintiff's lawyer, but did not speak to any one of the 19 homeowners who were on the proposed map Ms. Swartz included. Not one affected owner. What kind of editorial control do you have at the Almanac? Had she spoken with an owner, she would have found that NONE of the owners on the proposed map had been directly notified of this proposed up zoning from residential to multi-family. I happened to be in the meeting referred to by Mayor Hughes and heard nothing about "bankrupting" of the town - that must be Mayor Hughes interpretation of how he felt about the public records request, not the actual words said to him. To my knowledge, no Nathorst neighbor is against complying with the new State housing allocation or having new housing in Portola Valley. What many of us are against is loading all, or nearly all of the multi-family housing units into a 19 occupied home one block neighborhood. State housing law specifically states that lower cost housing is not to be concentrated in one area, and that it is to distributed across the town. It was clear in the February 28th meeting, the town staff was pointing toward the Nathorst block as the favored place to put multi-family housing. While that may be true for one or two parcels, it is against State rules to concentrate low cost housing in one location - the Nathorst block. [Portion removed due to personal attack] Had she spoken with even one of those affected she could have written a more balanced article, but it is easier to just take information from those most available, the town officials, even though it creates a very imbalanced story. Shame on the Almanac editors. By the way, past Mayor Derwin was in none of these housing meetings


Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 22, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Neighbor is a registered user.

When the Town Council refuses to represent the interests of the town residents, it comes as no surprise that homeowners need to respond in increasingly assertive ways. It seems to be the only way to get the attention of the Town Council back on the actual tenets and history of this town.

I think it’s time for term limits


Posted by Rural Neighbor in Emerald Hills
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2022 at 12:41 pm

Rural Neighbor in Emerald Hills is a registered user.

I wish the Allens luck and hope they prevail. The housing crisis will not be solved by rebuilding Portola Valley. There are many (thousands of towns) in California that need redeveloping, or have open space. Why is the state not actively looking at those areas for redevelopment? The city council needs to be concerned with its actual residents and not who has not gotten to live there yet.


Posted by TriciaHC
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 1:10 pm

TriciaHC is a registered user.

I hope people from outside of Portola Valley realize that many citizens actually want more affordable housing in our town. The vocal few are skewing the narrative right now. Many of us look forward to a day when our beloved school staff, grocery store workers, mechanics and others can find a place to work in our community!


Posted by Meg
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 1:39 pm

Meg is a registered user.

I was at that meeting. It was Mayer Hughes who suggested that any dissent regarding the town plan would adversely affect the town. He basically said, in so many words, we had to do as we were told or else. There was no threat on anyone elses part beyond advising that the state would be notified that the properties in question would not be sold for multi unit housing under any circumstances. They are family homes for God sakes.

It was said by several people that a lack of openness and dialogue on the part town government was forcing people to get legal representation and that was an expensive way for the town to do business. It was also expressed that continued mismanagement of the process might result in bankruptcy if everyone in Portola Valley felt they had to get lawyers to protect their property rights. That is a far cry from one person threatening to bankrupt the town.
This is just another instance of the terrible relationship the town has with the citizens due to continued half truths and ugly attacks on the public. I fully expect to receive another nasty response for having told the truth. The Almanac should retract this article and issue an apology to those who's words were misrepresented and then poorly reported. You clearly didn't fact check the sources. Shame on you Mayor Hughes and shame on you Almanac


Posted by Meg
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 1:51 pm

Meg is a registered user.

[Post removed due to same poster making two comments in a row/using disrespectful or offensive language]


Posted by Danna Breen
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 22, 2022 at 1:53 pm

Danna Breen is a registered user.

I thought that Portola Valley no longer had a reporter. This is one of the reasons why I like to see and understand who attends Zoom meetings. Is Angela Swartz now covering Portola Valley? It would be wonderful for her to report on some of the resident meetings as the community unfolds its ideas through the dialectic process.


Posted by Town of Portola Valley
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 22, 2022 at 2:18 pm

Town of Portola Valley is a registered user.

The Housing Element Update in the Town of Portola Valley is a 17-month process (Aug 2021-Dec 2022) being driven by the Ad Hoc Housing Element Committee (AHHEC), a committee of 14 community volunteers. The AHHEC meets monthly. To date, there have been 8 meetings; the Committee has discussed possible housing sites at 3 of these meetings. The Housing Element has not come before the Town Council yet. An update about the current status of the AHHEC's work is on the agenda for the next Council meeting on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:00 pm. See agenda item 13 for more information: Web Link


Posted by pvsusa
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 2:24 pm

pvsusa is a registered user.

I take exception with the reporter's statement that it is "not true" housing units would be three to four stories high. While the Town has not specified the heights of proposed housing, the Town Planning Department showed examples of how squeezing 20 units on a one-acre parcel could be accomplished. I direct you to the schematic on page 3 of the presentation: Web Link . Although it is a rough schematic, the example for 18 units per acre seems to show three-story buildings. I regret to say the reporter's story seems biased, and more appropriate for an opinion piece than a news story.


Posted by Town of Portola Valley
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 22, 2022 at 2:33 pm

Town of Portola Valley is a registered user.

The Housing Element Update in the Town of Portola Valley is a 17-month process (Aug 2021-Dec 2022) being driven by the Ad Hoc Housing Element Committee (AHHEC), a committee of 14 community volunteers. The AHHEC meets monthly. To date, there have been 8 meetings; the Committee has discussed possible housing sites at 3 of these meetings. The Housing Element has not come before the Town Council yet. An update about the current status of the AHHEC's work is on the agenda for the next Council meeting on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:00 pm. See agenda item 13 for more information. You can find the agenda on the Town of Portola Valley website.


Posted by Kristin Brew
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 2:37 pm

Kristin Brew is a registered user.

I would have been nice if the reporter had explained how these town residents were told that their lots were under consideration for changes in their zoning by the town. They were blindsided.


Posted by Meg
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 2:38 pm

Meg is a registered user.

This was not a zoom meeting. It was a small group of people in a neighborhood back yard. It was supposed to be a chat with the Mayor. There was no threat made beyond telling the Mayor that the families in question had no intention to sell or add multi family housing to their homes in the next ten years and the state would be made aware of this through their lawyer. Not much of a threat unless you are trying to play games with numbers. In fact everyone at the meeting suggested other locations for housing. After the meeting, it appears Mayor Hughes contacted the Almanac to get a story out that is not very flattering to the town. Or maybe someone else called the Almanac? I'm very sad that happened because we have all been pretty supportive of adding housing. In fact the small 9 mile by 9 mile town massively exceeded their house building quota last RENA cycle. I find this sort of power play is not good for community relations and may not be about the housing element or in service to the towns needs? Anyway the Almanac owes the Allen's an apology in my opinion.


Posted by another neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2022 at 3:48 pm

another neighbor is a registered user.

It would be prudent for the reporter to get her facts correct.
1) First, having read the flyer, it said that "This is the actual density of zoning "proposed" by the town". It did not say "actual density". If you are going to quote, please quote the actual quote! The town HAS proposed 20 units an acre and has shown the mockups of what that density would look like. At one meeting they even asked the Fire Marshall if their trucks could handle 3-4 story units.
2) I was also at the neighborhood meeting Sunday that you reported on and heard no "threat" to the Mayor. It was a small meeting where one person spoke at a time. A threat would have been noticed!
3) If you are going to add links to your story regarding Portola Valley, please at least make the link go to a Portola Valley photo, not a photo of a home in Woodside.


Posted by PVisBeautiful
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:56 pm

PVisBeautiful is a registered user.

What disappointingly one-sided reporting from the Almanac. Why were no affected homeowners (or other Town residents for that matter) interviewed?

To TriciaHC, it's absolutely true that many Town residents would like to see affordable housing developed to allow teachers, firefighters, and other folks who work in PV able to live here. Unfortunately the Town's proposal will not accomplish that. The proposal takes advantage of a RHNA loophole that allows any lot zoned at 20-units-or-more per-acre to be counted as 'affordable.' In all likelihood, these densely zoned lots will be purchased by developers, built into luxury condos, and rented at >$5000/mo rates. Ex-Mayor Derwin's assertion that developing high-density apartment complexes in PV will alleviate the homeless crisis is hogwash.


Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 25, 2022 at 11:04 am

pogo is a registered user.

According to Zillow, the average price of a Portola Valley home is $4.3 million. Zillow tends to be skewed and I suspect it's actually higher, probably over $5.0 million.

If you cut housing prices IN HALF - not that will ever happen - that would lower Portola Valley's average price to just $2.2 million. Assuming a 20% down payment, a buyer would need a mortgage of $1.75 million. If they had a perfect credit score, they will only need $425,000 in income to qualify... and that doesn't include the monthly cost of utilities, maintenance, insurance or the $20,000+ in annual property taxes.

And that example is cutting home prices IN HALF!

So the math simply doesn't work. We should face the cold, hard fact that a lot of people cannot afford to live in Portola Valley (or Woodside, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton) and that's not going to change anytime soon.

Sometimes reality sucks but it's even worse if you ignore it.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2022 at 3:17 pm

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

"So the math simply doesn't work. We should face the cold, hard fact that a lot of people cannot afford to live in Portola Valley (or Woodside, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton) and that's not going to change anytime soon.

Sometimes reality sucks but it's even worse if you ignore it."

Bingo pogo! Unfortunately, the pretend progressives in Sacramento want to pretend they're "doing something" to bring housing costs down. It's extremely cynical. There is virtually nowhere outside of maybe EPA or Belle Haven that anything close to "affordable" can be built. Of course, the developers will take full advantage of being able to subdivide lots and put more homes on them and sell them to the same high earners they're selling to now.


Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 26, 2022 at 9:13 pm

Neighbor is a registered user.

The whole situation is absolutely appalling, and I, for one, am grateful that the Allens hired an attorney who has requested ALL communications about this issue to be brought to light---including text messages and other private communications. The Town Attorney may want to not just suggest, but actually instruct the Council to FULLY comply, embarrassing as it might be to them. Let's see what they have to say when not in public, and when it's not their own property that's going to be massively devalued.

Former Mayor Derwin (aren't they all destined to be "former Mayors," since the office rotates through the council?), once again does nothing but insert drama, emotion, and inflammatory language into the room. I count this as the third actual time she's used the "Where's the humanity?!" line in a town meeting.

Hidden away in the article is the statement that other neighborhoods are being considered for rezoning. Which ones?


Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 27, 2022 at 11:32 am

PV Resident is a registered user.

OMG - this is super embarrassing but seems inescapable. In the absence of info, people assume the worst (with great certainty), then spin up their neighbors and start behaving in operatic ways they see as a rational. The language trends toward polar, dramatic, ridiculous…doubly-so when folks used to getting their way aren’t getting their way. The town volunteers wonder why those folks are so hostile to a bunch of people just trying to do their jobs - er - volunteer work. They verbalize their frustration with barely unrolled eyes and restrained inelegance and are attacked yet again. This is a difficult iterative process. People are gonna misunderstand and make mistakes. Do we really have to go full-drama gotcha every. single. time?

PV will not solve the housing issue. Anything created will be snapped up by Stanford folks or people Just Like Us or some divorced parent looking to stay near their kids (Sharon Heights West?)

But I also think we should all do our part. If all similarly-sized towns put their heads together and made some calculated adjustments and sacrifice for their fellow man, perhaps we can collectively, gradually work our way out of this. All those drop-in-the-bucket solutions will spill over and create meaningful change for our fellow, less-fortunate Californians. Seems like a worthy goal to me.

So please: let’s all - volunteers and residents - lower the temperature, fire the attorneys, ask how the kids are doing and see what we can do here.


Posted by Sue chaput
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 27, 2022 at 9:55 pm

Sue chaput is a registered user.

I send my thanks to our Portola. VAlley Town. Council for. MAny years of service.
I’m grateful for the inordinate time spent , the hard work , the energy. efforts
And yes—devotion In keeping our small Town quite wonderful!
I have nothing but respect for the 14 volunteers who came forth to serve on the
Ad Hoc Housing Element committee You face a new world of changes, charges
And challenges. Such bravery. I wish all of us well as we maneuver the State mandated requirements and complex processes. I do not like what I see!
There is a Gaelic saying about sadness being “put upon us”. This is a demanding task. It’s no surprise that the concerns, demeanor, and behavior of our California citizens is extreme These are exceptional times
Our frustrations, questions, anxiety ,anger and concerns must be directed
Towards our State representatives …..not at each other !
We are fortunate to be neghbors and friends .


Posted by Liesel
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 30, 2022 at 12:19 pm

Liesel is a registered user.

I have seen all sides of this discussion and am greatly disappointed in the Almanac. They couldn't have gotten the story more messed up if they had tried. A newspaper that doesn't factually and accurately present both sides of an issue is not a news vehicle, it's more than an advocacy mouthpiece. I won't be renewing my subscription to the Almanac.

As to Mayor Craig Hughes, I would advise any resident to be careful of what they share with him. Clearly, he will weaponize it against the speaker if he doesn't like the content.


Posted by Janet Chen
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 6, 2022 at 6:00 pm

Janet Chen is a registered user.

Housing crisis will be solved by making sure every town builds 100,000 dense climate responsible housing.

Walkable, bikeable communities everywhere where public transit pencils out.

Want a rural character for your town, an hour away from 5 million + jobs? Nope.

Move to Kansas is that is what you want. Cities will be built like cities.

Stick to your land and not interfering with what I do with my land is the best recourse.

We will build housing for all - black, white, asians. Anyone who wants to live in our community should be able to within a short-commuting distance.

BY BIKE.


Posted by MenloVoter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2022 at 7:41 am

MenloVoter. is a registered user.

Janet Chen:

So, turn Portola Valley into a large, dense city so people can get around on bikes. Got it. Let me know how that works out for you.


Posted by Parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 5, 2022 at 10:26 am

Parent is a registered user.

"If you cut housing prices IN HALF - not that will ever happen - that would lower Portola Valley's average price to just $2.2 million. Assuming a 20% down payment, a buyer would need a mortgage of $1.75 million. If they had a perfect credit score, they will only need $425,000 in income to qualify... and that doesn't include the monthly cost of utilities, maintenance, insurance or the $20,000+ in annual property taxes."

This is the reality of the argument against building housing to satisfy what some people deem to be a "housing affordability crisis". This argument is flawed at its foundation. The increased housing does nothing to address affordability.

There is no argument to support that any housing which will be built will be "affordable", unless the definition of "affordable" is changed city by city. No mechanic, or grocery store clerk, or restaurant kitchen worker earns 400,000, or 300,000, or 200,000 per year. And therefore none of these service workers would ever qualify for financing. And of course who really has 20% down?

A good first step would be to go back an eliminate any reference to "affordable". Once it has been agreed that any housing units will only be affordable to the top 1% of earners, the next logical question is: why are we creating more housing for the wealthy? The so called "crisis" is not being solved. The only outcome of this push for housing is ... density.

If towns said: "we are not creating affordability, we are creating density, we are creating additional property tax revenues for the county, we are creating profit for developers, buyers need an income of approximately 400K per year..." at least the message would be honest! The dishonesty begins with: we are building affordability.

Our society has become immune to lies. It is becoming far too common for changes to be implemented based upon a lie. An unfortunate fact is the push to build "affordable" housing is based on a lie. It is not support by simple math.




Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 5, 2022 at 10:35 am

pogo is a registered user.

Parent said: “If towns said: "we are not creating affordability, we are creating density, we are creating additional property tax revenues for the county, we are creating profit for developers, buyers need an income of approximately 400K per year..." at least the message would be honest! The dishonesty begins with: we are building affordability.“

SPOT. ON.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 5, 2022 at 7:52 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Parent:

I call "affordable housing" a myth and you call it a lie. I think yours is the more apt description.


Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 6, 2022 at 9:31 am

new guy is a registered user.

Good stuff.

How about also being honest about building housing in the parking lots. "Welcome to MP, we put low income people in parking lots!"


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