We don't know when risks will become realities. So I'm running on addressing risks generally by:
Managing fire risk means helping residents create defensible spaces, promoting Woodside Fire District fire-awareness courses and helping make Portola Valley a Firewise community (PV Ranch is a Firewise community).
More people die in Portola Valley from vehicle accidents than from fire. Accidents occur because drivers are tired, distracted, drug-impaired or speeding, in many cases. In 2018, in California, 3563 died in traffic accidents - 1069 were alcohol-impaired, 927 were speeding-related. Also in California, in 2018, 488 motor cyclists, 893 pedestrians and 155 cyclists died because of traffic accidents.
The town has helped promote safe driving through the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety (BPTS) Committee, on which I have served since 2013, that receives reports on accidents each month from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. In 2017, Portola Valley had 14 accident victims, either killed or injured, and 3 were speed-related, 1 was at night. Cyclists were involved in 9 of these accidents. Cycling education starts at a young age and I engaged the San Mateo County Sheriff's office, to hold a cycling training session to preschoolers at Carillon Preschool, attached to Christ Church Portola Valley.
Portola Valley Residents are encouraged to keep supplies of water, should the pipes bringing water to their homes get damaged in an earthquake. Earthquakes can cause many hazards - falling trees, cracks in the earth, crumbling buildings, road closures, fires, water & gas leaks, fallen power lines, blackouts, road accidents, food distribution disruption and more. Most know the basics - how to shelter under a table, have adequate supplies and avoid downed power lines. I can help the town encourage citizens to prepare for an earthquake by using warnings on cellphones and ensuring residents can turn off their gas and water supplies.
It's encouraging in Portola Valley to see residents complying with San Mateo County Guidelines and town messaging to wear masks, social distance and shelter. We have lost Portola Valley residents due to the SARS CoV-2 Risk. The PVCares initiative has helped some residents with shopping and other activities. I hope this initiative can continue, as part of my vision to encourage helpful relationships among residents.
Another risk is worry and anxiety. Parents are anxious when their children walk to school, older adults are frightened of COVID-19, others fear government mandates, some have financial worries. The consequences of worry are that people fail to thrive, they may even be tempted to self-harm or suicide. We need to help people find appropriate help for their worries - risk mitigation is one way to reduce worry. Cars are dangerous, but risks have been mitigated through body design, seat-belts, rules-of-the-road and highway patrols. We can reduce worry for other risks through reasoned and pragmatic implementation of mitigations.
Climate Change Risks
When I was on the Sustainability Committee, we worked on reducing the town's carbon footprint by encouraging solar panel installation, promoting LED lights, adding charging points for electric cars at the town center and providing energy monitoring devices in the library. We also had seminars on climate science and energy conservation.
So whereas, I want to encourage water-saving, there are cases where to enhance the beauty of a small area around a home drip irrigation or water-efficient sprinklers may add to one's enjoyment, safety and peace of mind.
Moving away from dependence on fossil fuels is one way to reduce our impact on the climate. Peninsula Clean Energy has encouraged residents to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Climate change helps cause wildfires through hotter weather and lightning strikes. So making the community resilient to climate change, means reducing fire and lightning risk. As television aerials, which sometimes had lightning conductors attached to them are removed from roofs we need to ensure that those buildings likely to get struck have lightning rods affixed.
We cannot avoid aging, but many reluctantly are forced to move away because of the high costs of homes in Portola Valley as they age. Others cannot affod to move because their mortgages are paid and their property taxes because of Proposition 13 are low. I would be against any repealing of Proposition 13 as it helps cash-strapped seniors.
According to Data USA, the median age of Portola Valley is 54.4 years, older than many other Peninsula cities. The Portola Valley Women's Association has been discussing Aging In Place. Many would like to stay in their homes as they age. It is vital to support these residents, many of whom are lonely, forgotten and no longer able to drive. We don't have a senior center in Portola Valley. I am interested in whether you think the town needs one.
We do have the Continuous Care Community - the Sequoias - that opens its doors for some events and activities to the general public in normal times. I have experience in leading a non-profit that supports care communities with spiritual messages of hope, music and pet visits. I hope our PVCares initiative can be expanded to help all citizens. I will advocate for the older adults in our community.
Risks to Plants
The Conservation Committee encourages native plant cultivation, and discourages invasive plant species. I am in favor of the town's Broom Pull day when invasive Scottish Broom plants are pulled. Removing Harding grass from the Frog Pond next to Corte Madera School is another encouraging initiative. Maybe we should have other days to remove non-native plants - which plants would you choose - what do you think?
Mountain lions prowl around Portola Valley and hide in the vegetation. Trail signs put out by the town are helpful, as well as alerts from the Sheriff's Office. Whereas the risk is minimal, I'd like to encourage residents who are fearful of mountain lion attacks to hike with friends and neighbors, another reason to help residents cultivate resilient relationships.
Why Do I Focus On Risk Management?
To help Portola Valley residents and visitors enjoy our community, thrive and reduce anxiety.
I support favoring the natural environment over the built environment in most situations. Design-thinking requires us to consider the impact of a new build on the quality of life, the rural ambience of Portola Valley and wildlife impacts. Occasionally, there will be situations, where we have to compromise, for example if commercial properties near the corner of Alpine and Portola Roads are rebuilt, we may need to favor pragmatic solutions for parking cars, increasing building height or illuminating interiors at night that favor the building architecture over vegetation, for example. Portola Valley's Conservation Guide for Residents goes into more detail.
The vigilance of Portola Valley's Architectural and Site Control Commission (ASCC) means that houses are designed to fit in with the natural environment. The Commission helps the town avoid "the erection of structures or additions or alterations thereto of unsightly or obnoxious appearance or which are not properly related to their sites". I support these objectives.
The Portola Road and Alpine Road scenic corridors need to be preserved as well as possible. The Land Use Element in the Town's General Plan aims to "minimize the need for non-local traffic to penetrate the planning area". Residents of other cities do come to hike and cycle in Portola Valley. Trucks deliver goods to businesses and residences. As more people order items online, the number of delivery vehicles has increased. Rush-hour traffic that is directed by Waze and other routing apps, has made the roads busier. Solutions might include displaying informative messages on the town's speed sign trailer, encouraging ride-sharing and pushing Caltrans to consider metering lights for Sand Hill Road on ramp (see Mr Roadshow's 2015 comments that says Caltrans would need to meter the entire corridor and there are no funds for that).
On a clear night you can see the stars, planets and space objects because the town has chosen to restrict lighting. The ASCC and town ordinances regulate the use of outdoor lighting. There are no street lights in Portola Valley. Let's keep it that way, so we can enjoy the night sky. I support keeping the town dark at night. I also encourage those walking or cycling at night to be well-lit.
The town's noise ordinance helps make Portola Valley a place of rest and relaxation for residents and visitors. Chippers and chain saws can only be used on weekdays, gardeners can only use power tools between 8:00 am and 5:30 pm on weekdays and between 10 am and 5 pm on Saturdays. Residents can use power tools from 10 am to 5 pm on Sundays as well. Holidays are when domestic garden tools are prohibited. There are exceptions for removing flammable brush and grass between April 15th and June 15th from 8 am to 8 pm. Given, the risk of wildfire, I'd consider extending these dates, for two weeks prior to when the Woodside Fire District chipper program for scheduled areas only.
Helping wildlife find trails and habitat requires us to be vigilant to preserve open space areas.
Diverse ideas, cultures and behaviors can cause friction and stress. However, I believe in respecting people, even if their thoughts differ from mine. This means being kind. It means not insulting people.
What does it mean to respect people in Portola Valley? It means treating people of all backgrounds and income levels well. It means driving carefully, to respect other road users. It means welcoming visitors and helping them understand trail use. Admonish a mountain biker or dog walker on a trail restricted to hikers only, but treat them kindly with respect.
A destructive, mean action can be hurtful, cruel and devastating, but one can still respect the person, while condemning the deed. We need to foster a culture of forgiveness and kindness, at the same time insisting on justice and fairness.
As I was taking some photographs in Portola Valley, I asked a couple what they thought the most important issue was in Portola Valley - they said speeding traffic. On the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, I've heard parents worried about speeding cars as they send their children to school. Each month, San Mateo County Sheriff's office reports on the number of speeding citations given in the town. A police presence in the town, calms some traffic, but we can all help calm traffic by driving at or below the posted speed limit.
In rural areas, sometimes there are long stretches of road being repaired, resulting in one-way traffic. Drivers cannot proceed until they follow a pilot car. The pilot car drives slowly to control the speed of following vehicles.
Seat belts, semi-autonmous vehicles and driver training all mitigate the risks from vehicles. Ultimately, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians choose whether to act with the utmost safety and concern for others, or put themselves at risk. Outside my house I've seen the after-effects of four crashes all involving cyclists, some involving vehicles.
It's easy on a bicycle to have fun going as fast as possible down a hill, but the consequences of an accident can be life-threatening. I remember fixing a rusty bicycle at the age of 13 and racing it down a small hill. I hadn't secured the gear cable very well and it came loose and wrapped around the front wheel so my bike veered across the road straight for a tree. I threw myself off the bike on to some grass before it hit the tree.
On another occasion, as a student I was rushing to lectures down a hill to get through traffic lights before they turned red. A lady stepped into the road in front of me - also in a hurry she failed to look in my direction and had her back to me - I was over the handlebars saved by a shaggy sheepskin coat - my bike getting a broken axle and bent forks. So, yes it is fun to race down a hill, but is it wise? Let's value safety for all and save the thrills for more appropriate venues.
How about driving as if you are a pilot car, driving at or below the speed limit to calm the speed of followers? I've heard it said that cars behind will overtake, but in doing this myself, I've only been overtaken twice and then it was where it was safe to do so. In the vast majority of cases, all the cars behind me had to go at or below the speed limit.
Crosswalks in Portola Valley are not always used optimally. A recent initiative has been to use flags when crossing near schools. The Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee has worked with Howard Young, Portola Valley's Public Works Director, and transportation consultant, Paul Krupka, to identify improvements that can be made to crosswalks. Implementation of recommendations, because of the COVID-pandemic, has been delayed, but expect to see improvements as roads get repaved.
Vehicle routing apps like Waze have helped people find backroads to avoid traffic. Unfortunately, going north on 280 there is often a traffic jam during evening rush hour at Sand Hill Road. Page Mill Road - Arastradero - Alpine Road - Portola Road - Woodside... gives drivers an alternative route. The result - increased traffic through the heart of Portola Valley.
The COVID pandemic started with very few leaving Portola Valley for work - so the roads were quieter, but some saw this as an opportunity to exceed the posted speed limits. It is all too easy to come off 280 heading southbound, exiting on Sand Hill Road that turns into Portola Road, and speed along Portola Road as the speed limit. As more hikers discovered the Windy Hill trails and town trails, they usually come in cars and park them on Portola Road and Willowbrook when car parks are full.
As a town we need to look out for each other, look out for deer, look out for pedestrians on the Road to Zero roadway deaths. As a town council member, I would support law enforcement as they cite speeders, encourage options for safer road use and look for creative responses to citizens traffic concerns.
ReferThe town council, town staff and Woodside Fire Protection District all work to keep residents safe from fire. However, it is up to each individual to help prevent flames and smoke from destroying our well-being. I am committed to helping promote mitigation of fire risk. Let me know your ideas on how to be safe from fire risk.
To reduce fire, each house needs to have a defensible space. I remember staying on Point Reyes at a naturopathist's bed and breakfast after a wildfire many years ago. She had cultivated a garden around her home and her neighbors' houses had been burned down. We looked out over her flower beds of sweet peas, and, beyond her garden, hillsides of blackened tree trunks. The only damage she suffered was a melted free-standing hot tub, which her insurance thankfully replaced just before we arrived. The healing atmosphere of her house was so great we stayed an extra night, so I could have my 2nd massage there. It was wonderful relaxing experience, but so easily her premises and livelihood could have been destroyed.
I'd be in favor of giving low-income homeowners a grant to support a defensible perimeter round their homes. This could help remove undergrowth and flammable trees. Much as we need to conserve water and encourage tree canopies, with a rural-residential boundary at our doorsteps, we need to think of how we can make our entire community as fire resistant and firewise as practically possible, within the constraint of preserving beauty.
With increasingly hot temperatures and the risk of lightning strikes we need to ensure all high structures have mitigated the risk of getting lit aflame by afixing lightning rods. The use of weed whackers, chain saws and other devices likely to cause sparks needs to be reduced when fire risk is very high.
The town's public works department has spent time cutting back roadside brush and dead materials that could easily catch fire. I encourage this action, together with the Woodside Fire Protection District's chipper program.
We need to work together with and recruit more local emergency management volunteers. Each family needs to work out a plan. One way to do this would be to follow FEMA National Incident Management System roles and even within a unit as small as a family, identify roles - principal coordinator, person to buy/manage supplies, communicator to send messages to other family members, etc.
We need to make sure everyone knows how to evacuate - which routes could be used and what to take. We need a rehearsal - which was delayed because of COVID - but that's really no excuse. Whereas the emergency services and school children have had drills, we need them for town residents. Besides people, we need to think about horses and pets. We may have very little time to evacuate stables. San Mateo County Large Animal Evacuation Group (SMC LAEG) is a volunteer group that helps evacuate horses and other large animals.
You can see some videos on how to mitigate fire risk and prepare for a wildfire evacuation here. We have a town emergency radio station on 1680AM that citizens need to be reminded of. Cellphones and the Internet may fail in an emergency.
A critical feature of Portola Valley's ambience is that the built environment is subservient to the natural environment. I agree with this.
My caveat would be that if we need to build very many dwellings by unavoidable State mandate, and we cannot encourage residents to build ADUs, then the town should consider all options to prevent urban sprawl, which might even mean building higher than usual, or allowing existing homes to be divided into two or even three, providing the house doesn't look any different from its original plan from the road and cars can be hidden. We must still keep the town looking rural to provide healthy respite for residents, hikers, cyclists and other visitors.
I agree with keeping the rural look of our roads, particularly our approach roads, in accordance with the Scenic Corridor Plans of Alpine Road and Portola Road. Great care must be taken to ensure that views off Portola Road of the hills are maintained, in accordance with the Portola Road Corridor Plan. We have wide shoulders for cyclists. I am committed to encouraging cycling commuters who can help reduce vehicle traffic, which enhances the rural feel of the town.
Mandates for Affordable Housing
The town has decided that affordable housing should be integrated among existing development, in keeping with nature. This has worked so far, the question is will it work in the future if we have to build many more housing units than in the past. Here we look at what this means for Portola Valley.
So far the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) mandates have been met by building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Homeowners may be able to build 2 ADUs (one attached to their house) and the other in a separate structure.
To ensure ADUs do not destroy the natural environment the town's ADU ordinance of March 27th 2019 states their number and size:
Night Sky and Noise Ordinances
We are fortunate to be able to see stars, the International Space Station and meteors on a clear night. We must be vigilant in ensuring that this is preserved. As an advocate for road safety, I see no need for street lights that could destroy the dark skies of our valley.
It is good that we can rest in the evenings and on Sundays, free from noises. We need to ensure residents understand the value of taking time off from noises that can affect hearing, temperament and relaxation in our town.
Committees and Commissions
I hope to encourage the town's commissions and committees that have contributed to the culture of rural ambience, in particular the ASCC (Architectural & Site Control Commission), the Planning Commission, Conservation Committee and various Ad Hoc Committees formed from time to time to address relevant issues.
The question I've been asked is "What do I think about building on the Stanford Wedge property?" In short, it's Stanford's land to build on, but the fire risk must be managed with precautions during construction, especially in the dry season. Also fire risk for residents all around the property must be mitigated by creating defensible spaces and keeping them cleared. In addition, the property's vegetation needs to be appropriately cared for to reduce chances of an inferno. The traffic risk, while less is also real and must be mitigated by signage, crosswalks and driver education.
Who's It For?
Stanford University proposed to build 27 single-family houses and duets, plus 12 units (4 units on each of 3 lots) for low-income residents selected by the Town of Portola Valley. See more on the Town of Portola Valley's website Stanford's website Portola Terrace. On January 30th 2020, I attended a special meeting of the town's Planning Commission and on February 12th followed up with an email to the town planner, Laura Russell with my concerns. Environmental consultants have been engaged by the town to look at topics including biological resources, wildlife, fire, traffic, toxicity and more. The Notice of Preparation of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is on the state's CEQA website. The next stage is for a Draft Environmental Impact Report to be prepared from the consultants' findings which will be available for public comment and review.
It is a wonderful model when an employer builds for their employees. Facebook's Willow Village is such an example. I would favor the town helping smaller town employers who need accommodation for low-income workers. In some cases, these employers may create accommodation on their property. In many cases, they will be unable to do this, so the low-income housing on Stanford land is a welcome addition for the town.
Fire Risk and Mitigation
There is no question, that despite extensive analysis of the risk of fire with local Woodside Fire District knowledge and 2 fire modeling systems, that the entire Stanford Wedge could enflame Westridge and beyond, as noted by Woodside Fire District in various comments.
The good news is that the houses need water - so when they are built - given a fire break round the property, the risk of fire around the properties is reduced. Residents abutting the Stanford wedge property have expressed their concerns about fire risk, so it is essential that all houses above the new properties have adequate fire breaks around them to mitigate fire spread. Currently, Stanford is taking fire mitigation steps, with sensitivity to the habitats of dusky footed wood rats and nesting birds.
I am reminded of a weekend visit to Point Reyes many years ago after a devastating forest fire. The house we stayed in had no neighbors for quite a few houses on either side and we looked over a charred forest. The house only suffered slight melting of a free-standing hot tub because the owner had created a garden of sweet peas and other flowers, instead of woody shrubs and pines like those of her neighbors. This saved her house from damage. So fire mitigation at all Portola Valley homes, but particularly those surrounding the Stanford Wedge, whether property is built or not is essential to protect our community from devastation.
Traffic Risk and Mitigation
Another risk is traffic. On the one-hand, a shuttle bus and bicycles can help reduce the number of cars entering and exiting the property. On the other-hand the entrance is on a bend and it is likely to be hard to leave the development when cars and bicycles are flowing down Alpine Road, as they do after school opening and closing times.
Whether someone comes from a different lifestyle, has different views or has different origins, they deserve respect. It's sometimes hard to respect everyone. It's useful to have training, as we had extensively when I worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories, to recognize biases and prejudices against certain segments of the population. Confessing prejudices and telling of injustices we had observed, help clear the way for actions to hire, in some cases, a less-obvious candidate.
We've recently seen the impact of people not respecting the lives of people of color in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In Portola Valley, we have residents with the capacity to hire and promote the less-obvious candidate, showing them respect for their skills and abilities.
In high school, we discussed for an entire afternoon the question "What is the educated man?" - where man, means mankind (I attended a girls school). After great debate and discussion, we came up with the following "The Educated Man, is able to engage in a meaningful conversation about something with whomever they meet." This might be an enemy who says nasty things about you, a child who cannot read, an elder who cannot hear well or someone you've never met before. This is just one of the many aspects of respecting someone. You may disagree vehemently with their ideas, despise their morals and be repelled by their looks, yet each person deserves some respect.
For a town council member, this means encouraging participation in town dialogs by residents, listening to comments, being well-prepared for council meetings and engaging with town committees. Sometimes, there's a fear to let people speak up lest meetings go on too long, veer off topic or give them false expectations that their requests will be honored. By taking time to collect citizen input, and then decisively providing a response, challenges get addressed fairly and respectfully.
Angela Hey is a candidate for Portola Valley Town Council. She is an experienced technology marketing consultant who serves nonprofits, as a volunteer.