One of the reasons that my campaign focuses on Relationships is by building friendships and expanding personal networks, life can be much easier for people.
I hope by sharing a little of my background and experiences with training sessions to improve acceptance of the less advantaged we can try similar exercises in the town that go beyond dialog and are translated into action. The goal is to help the privileged come up with useful actions to help the under-appreciated, unloved or powerless. Also to help minorities navigate life more successfully with more joy and less pain.
I first came to the US as part of International Women's Year. IBM was wanting to attract more women to the computer business and decided to recruit two women from each of the European countries it operated in to be summer interns. IBM took the risk on me and I am very grateful they did as it opened my eyes to office life - I'd only worked as a cleaner, a factory worker and a supermarket cashier before that.
Four years later, Bell Laboratories executives were measured on their commitment to hiring diverse employees. I was hired because I was female, along with 3 other post-graduates. Once again, I was extremely fortunate to be hired because a director 3 levels above me was from the UK, saw my resume and took a chance on me.
Bell Laboratories and AT&T, by law had to have affirmative action training, so below I've listed some of the exercises we had as they can be modified for helping people understand how to treat the disadvantaged better.
Fast forward another 7 years and I was starting my consulting business. A client hired me and some of my subcontractors because they saw me, a female business owner, as a minority. I'm grateful someone, once again took a risk on me because of their diversity initiatives.
Exercise 1 - Getting People To Share Real Feelings
In this case, the goal of the exercise was to empower women. The lesson learned here is that it is not enough to share thoughts and feelings, each man had to develop a plan that would help empower women.
Our department at Bell Labs took a whole day for this exercise - it works best where the people know each other before hand - so if any employers are thinking what they can do for employees to help the less-advantaged this could be an approach.
EXERCISE 2 - Understand the Odd One Out
Exercise 3 - Understand Black Lives Matter
This was another of our compulsory Affirmative Action Trainings at Bell Labs - we were a small conference-room sized group led by a consultant who was African-American.
Exercise 4 - Dealing With People You Don't Like
Read "Coping with Difficult People" - a classic. Whether it's a difficult neighbor or town employee that is difficult to work with, this book is an invaluable source for how to work with others. I've also used software in my consulting business to profile clients and match it with my own profile and then the software suggests an approach to the client.
Exercise 5 - Giving People Self Esteem and Confidence
The aim of this exercise is to help people build relationships with clients and boost their confidence. As there are layoffs, Californians don't rank very high on LinkedIn's confidence list. It challenges you to think of yourself as a consultant.
In some sense we consult to each other as we build relationships in Portola Valley - so for Town Committees a workshop of this type to help members advise the town council could be useful. Even though at Bell Laboratories we didn't think of ourselves as consultants until after this exercise, in fact we were. We were advising telephone companies, helping them with strategies, systems and cost studies.
So here's a book to read and notes on my experience with the author. This is not my favorite book - but the group exercise was useful.
What Can We Do As A Town?
The Town has formed an Ad Hoc committee to help prevent wildfires. I look forward to working with them on their recommendations.
The town can also encourage residents to help prevent wildfires by holding seminars and working with organizations like Woodside Fire Protection District on training courses.
Town zones are essential for managing preparedness, helping neighbors evacuate safely and reducing fire risk locally. I encourage neighborhood groups to work on preparedness so residents can share any useful assets they have like a pool and pump, chain saws and hosepipes. Neighbors can also share recommendations on fire-safe plants and vegetation.
Planning For Any Risk
We have done a good job of identifying the Fire Risk in Portola Valley, we have done a less good job of being ready, although the recent fires have made people more aware. Each household needs to have an emergency plan that answers:
The town needs to continue the work of removing brush alongside roads, maintain trails and mow grass to reduce fire risk. The town could also consider renting goats for some areas to eat brush. The town needs to consider helping low-income residents remove brush from around their house.
I took the Woodside Fire Protection District training for how to reduce fire risk. It included removing loose leaves, getting rid of growth under trees, ensuring there's nothing below balconies and removing objects close to the home like pool equipment.
Roof and building materials also need to be considered - in line with town codes. Care needs to be taken with outdoor barbecue grills. Also on hot days, garden tools that are likely to get hot or create a spark should not be used.
I'd recommend that leaders in each Zone take FEMA's Incident Command System introductory course to understand how Incident Command works. This gives people roles - whether in the family or in the area.
Some homes in Portola Valley have found fire insurance to be very expensive or unavailable. So recommendations for insurers that will insure Portola Valley residents can be made by neighbors. An annual insurance check up is worthwhile.
It makes it much easier for insurance companies if you photograph contents of the home. Adobe Scan is a quick mobile phone app for scanning documents.
All residents need to know how to receive emergency communications. This information needs to be in documents for new town residents.
The town website needs to show residents clearly their emergency communications options:
For all the benefits that trees bring - oxygen, shade, carbon absorption - some species do present a fire danger. The town needs to help homeowners who want dangerous trees removed and cannot afford it. Maybe the town could contract with lumber companies that pay for the timber if there is sufficient, rather than arborists who will charge a hefty fee to remove them. Care would have to be taken with a lumber company, as they typically are used to felling trees that are not near people and houses. For some areas they could provide affordable tree removal.
House Exterior Safety
House Interior SAfety
Codes require smoke detectors in houses. Residents also need to consider having fire extinguishers in kitchens and near fireplaces. Candles are also a risk, so need to be extinguished. Sprinkler systems may also be installed.
In the recent Santa Cruz Mountain fire, the Pescadero Creek in Portola Redwoods State Park was guarded by fire fighters to make sure the fire did not cross it. It would be good to have wide firebreaks around the town, but even they will not stop a raging inferno. However, a 300 ft wide firebreak around K&S Ranch near Ano Nuevo saved the houses of the ranch when there was a roaring fire around it. There is a real danger a fire could roar down Alpine Road, as there are some highly flammable trees and dead vegetation in the woods. Windy Hill is getting overgrown and dense chapparal represents a danger. Controlled burns might reduce risk too. Goats or grazing cattle would help turn Windy Hill into a fire break. The town needs to work with Midpen to create a plan for fire mitigation. The California Range Management Advisory Committee can also help with ranching and cattle grazing, as there used to be on Windy Hill.
Incentives and Grants
The town needs to look into grants for fire mitigation.
Why Build Relationships?
I support any activities in Portola Valley that help neighbors build community. Our PVForum provides a resource that brings people together, despite some disagreements.
When I moved to Portola Valley, almost 30 years ago, I knew from my own upbringing in a similar-sized town that it would be hard to get to know people because we had no children. So I invited everyone who lived around us to a party. The late Van Judah said it was the kindest thing anyone had done for him since he arrived in Portola Valley.
It is very easy to get overwhelmed with work, chauffering children and scheduling family. We need Portola Valley to provide a community for rest and relaxation. Having a strong sense of community can help us when there are disasters and tragedies, but also when there are good times to be enjoyed together. The Alpine Inn reopening, gives us an example of where a local business has helped foster relationships between residents.
Town Staff, Council & Committee Relationships
I have worked on two committees - the Bicycle, Pedestrian & Traffic Safety Committee, and the Sustainability Committee. This has enabled me to get to know town staff and members of the Town Council. I want to encourage more residents to build relationships with the town through volunteering.
Welcoming The Newcomer
If you move to Portola Valley with a family that has children, you are likely to get to know other families with similar-aged children through the school system and through children playing together. If you come without children then it can take longer to know what facilities are available to residents. I propose we provide town events to welcome newcomers, as has happened in the past, where new residents can meet each other, town staff and officials. It is also an opportunity to showcase some of the services provided by the town, town committees and volunteer groups.
We have neighborhood watch groups and emergency preparedness neighborhoods. We need to make resilient neighborhood groups because in an emergency, neighbors will need to help neighbors. Where are those who cannot drive who might need a ride? Who would need help turning off their gas or water in an earthquake? Some neighborhoods have Friday night street parties, other neighborhood groups have get-togethers for special days like July 4th. We need to strengthen our neighbourhood relationships to increase neighborhood enjoyment and safety. Maybe neighbors can car pool, helping the town reduce energy use too.
The trail users have changed since they were developed. There are more mountain bikes wanting to use Portola Valley trails. Mountain bikes are useful for children riding to school. We need to work with the schools to find ways that children can bike together to reduce the number of cars going to schools. Safe Routes to School have been identified, but are they in the right place.
We need to look at whether we need parallel trails for horses and bicycles in some places, ensure crossings are well-marked and signage is appropriate.
To ensure that trail walkers and joggers feel safe, I recommend that a volunteer group arrange hiking meetups for town residents to increase social interaction.
Aging In Place
The Portola Valley Women's Club has held some Zoom sessions on Aging in Place. There are swimming pool activities open to all at Alpine Hills. Various town committees organize talks and events. We could still do more to help older seniors stay engaged and make new friends as old ones leave the community. We don't have a senior center in Portola Valley, and with many very active seniors, maybe we don't need one. However, it may be useful to have daytime activities in the town center for seniors to reduce loneliness and anxiety.
I believe in:
Putting Others First
In a "Me First" culture, I believe putting other's needs before ones own. In part, this comes from having three younger sisters, so much as I wanted to be "the boss" and get my own way, I learned at a very young age, that often it is better to let others know what they want and serve their needs first. So I took time out from my career to take my mother on trips when she was widowed and support my husband when he had a heart attack at a relatively young age. This is why I enjoy volunteering for the town - to help others who live here enjoy life as much as I have done here.
As a community of mainly privileged people, we have to think about who we can help - we have so many great initiatives born in Portola Valley - maybe you'll choose to finance penniless entrepreneurs, feed starving families or educate illiterate children. Who can we hire? Who can we finance? Who can we mentor? Who can we donate to? It's all very well having lectures and protests, to support the disadvantaged, but we need to work on actions that really make a difference and life people up physically, psychologically and environmentally.
I am grateful for our peaceful environment, beautiful scenery and welcoming homes. I believe a culture where gratitude replaces grumbling helps make life less stressful. See seven benefits of gratitude from Forbes:
Stewardship of resources
The council has to help the town staff use our resources wisely. We need to ensure that the town staff headcount can provide resources commensurate with our ability to raise revenues. Currently, the town has recently benefitted from the refurbishment of the Alpine Inn which contributes sales tax, as well as payments for permits due to a healthy Silicon Valley economy and newcomers who pay higher property taxes than longtime residents. Another cost is consultants and we need to make sure we have fair bidding processes that encourage minority-led firms to work with the town.
Freedom of Religion
Portola Valley's residents embrace many different religions and I believe in letting each person practice their own faith. We have laws in the US that separate religion and government which I respect and will honor, even though I observe that faith has a huge role to play in how a country operates. I believe a person's actions, decisions and values, are very often inspired by their religion.
Laws and policies restricting religious freedom are increasing worldwide. We must ensure religious groups are not harassed or favored. See a Pew Research Report on religious restrictions worldwide from 2007 to 2017.
As one brought up with Christian beliefs, I can bridge the wide cultural divides between fundamentalists and atheists, as well as between liberals and conservatives and between scientists and anti-scientists. I belong to Christ Church Portola Valley and am happy that we can share our car park with the town for large events, I also hope we can use our premises for emergencies, as we did recently when we sheltered 4 homeless families for two weeks in the church hall.
I believe that religions have a right to promote their product just like businesses, but if there are rules against discussing or promoting religious topics in social groups, I'll respect them.
The Brown Act ensures that town committee and town council discussions are public. I support this transparency. I also hope that new computer systems will help citizens find data and information from the town easily.
Portola Valley, as far as I know, is not "twinned" with any other towns. I'd like us to explore cultural connections to other towns. Portola Valley Presbyterian Church hosted a French concert from a town twinned with Palo Alto. Palo Alto YMCA twinned with a YMCA in Kerala, India. I believe there can be rich educational and artistic collaborations if we choose a town or village to be our twin.
Debating: Is It Still Fashionable?
Much has been written about the disappearance of the art of debate. See:
In high school, I formed our Junior Debating Society and found debates a good way to air differences between classmates. I attended Cambridge Union, the oldest debating society in the world as a student. I would like to bring a spirit of debate to our town, with representatives on either side of an issue preparing facts and figures about options. I also like Scenario Planning where a group presents options that people can vote on. The Alpine Corridor project used alternative simulations to great effect at their open meetings. I hope going forward the town can host public meetings where residents can debate issues, think through them carefully and then come to resolution. Not everyone will agree all the time, but we can respect those we differ with and agree to disagree.
My favorite toy as a toddler was putting shapes through the right slots in the lid of a plastic mailbox. Then I graduated to Soma Cubes making them from paper cubes, then trying to glue sugar cubes together as a child. I've developed algorithms - the steps needed to solve complex problems on computers.
In Portola Valley, it is important to have an approach to problem solving as we don't know what problems will hit us in the future. So one way for emergency management is to follow FEMA's steps of Prevention, Protection, Mitigation and Recovery. These steps can be taken at the household level, in the neighborhood, in the town and beyond. I would then encourage residents to take FEMA online courses to understand how to help the community in emergencies. These are the skillsets needed for an Emergency Operations Center (Source: FEMA's EOC Skillset Guide)
These roles can be used in the family - so you might have:
With a general approach to the specific risks of fire, earthquake, weather, shootings, cyberattacks, landslides, flooding, COVID-19, illness, death and more we can build a less worried, more relaxed town culture. I believe that with high-powered jobs, stressful times and high-achieving schools we need to make the town a place for our relaxation, exercise and wellness.
I love to explore alternative solutions to challenges like housing. I like to explore new places, and have now walked almost all the Portola Valley trails, biked much of the Bay Trail at the Bay's edge and hiked some of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
I've lived in the UK and Canada, as well as in the USA, where I've lived in New Jersey, as well as in California. I've visited many parts of the world. Some of the most primitive places I've visited are Northern Nigeria's , the Nepalese Terai and the Cook Island's Mangaia. Visiting many countries makes it easy for me to engage with people who are new to the area. I hope we can make sure all new residents are welcomed to the town with special town events.
I bring a spirit of exploration to the town and hope to work with town staff and committees to explore options for affordable housing and recreational activities.
I have lived in Portola Valley for almost 30 years, so can connect to many others in the community and beyond. I have led alumni groups for Imperial College, London and the University of Cambridge which give me connections worldwide. As a Silicon Valley consultant in technology marketing, I've worked with many different company cultures and diverse individuals. I welcome the opportunity to support those from different neighborhoods who commute to work in Portola Valley. I hope to make connections for the town with the County and other local governments to help us thrive.
I support the Conservation Committee's efforts to promote Portola Valley's natural environment. We need to make their documents more widely known. We received a Native and Invasive Plants list on arriving in Portola Valley.
I supported Portola Valley Neighbors United (PVNU) on its efforts to save the Frog Pond from having affordable housing placed nearby by creating a Photoshop picture of what housing could look like alongside this rural gem.
Risky Brush and Trees
What Do You Reuse?
, butWe are a very wasteful society, and when populations were small we didn't really care. Now we don't have enough for everyone, so we need to conserve resources and reuse items. On the other hand, it's good to support businesses by buying new products.
Each individual needs to decide what is sustainable for them. Sustainable doesn't just mean is it green, environmentally friendly and non-toxic. It means is it something I can afford?
So I encourage initiatives like PVForum and Freecycle.org (where we can use Menlo Park, Redwood City or Palo Alto sites) to find and offer goods. I encourage residents to compost their leaves and garden waste on site where possible. As a town we need to consider what happens to food waste - both for commercial establishments and in homes. Are there people in our community who are facing hunger? Many support food banks like Second Harvest, but what can we do locally? We had a Saturday plant sharing, many have excess fruit, how can we share it with those locally who live or work here and are in need?
California's AB-793, now law, requires 15% of plastic bottle material to be recycled by 2022, and 50% by 2030. I would like Portola Valley to follow Alameda, Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Davis, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Oakland, Richmond, and Berkeley and ban plastic straws which don't degrade easily and cause problems for sea creatures.
We Don't Know What the Next Disaster Will Be
We don't know what our next crisis will be as a town. However, we can be agile and flexible and ready to meet the moment. So I prize being flexible. This means having the ability to change one's mind based on emerging facts, law changes and new discoveries. It is traditional to think of politicians who change their position as being wishy-washy or weak-minded.
However, we have seen recently it is weak-minded politicians who cannot embrace facts and change their mind. For example, some politicians refused to advocate mask-wearing as evidence mounted that it was beneficial in reducing the effects of COVID-19.
I cannot predict the future, but I can say that I will be flexible to adapt to new requirements of town government as they emerge. At the start of my career I had 14 addresses in 15 years and had to live in many different neighborhoods and cultures, so honed an ability to adapt quickly to new environments.
PVCares is a volunteer initiative to help vulnerable households during COVID-19. I hope that the program, or a similar one can continue after the pandemic is over and we can have a team of volunteers to help those unable to help themselves in Portola Valley.
Empathy For the Elderly
We have a wonderful facility for older and incapacitated adults in The Sequoias. In normal times they occasionally offer events open to the public like concerts. Given that Portola Valley has an older population than most towns, we need to increase support for the elderly. Portola Valley Women's Club has been holding online sessions about downsizing, aging-in-place and Continuing Care Retirement Communities, like The Sequoias. Many older adults enjoy town seminars, so I hope to encourage them as a town council member.
Empathy For The Less-Able
Not many of our trails are designed for people with disabilities. As I found out before a hip replacement in 2019, not many of our trails have places to rest, although occasionally residents do put a bench on a trail. I'd like to see more benches put on trails to help those with limited mobility.
The paved trail alongside Alpine Road is suitable for a wheelchair, but there are not many places the wheelchair-bound can go. Also the town center campus is accessible, providing a place where elders can go to enjoy our town. Sidewalks in Portola Valley Ranch might also be a place to push out one's older relatives. As a town we need to think about where we can support outside activities for those whose movement is restricted.
What Does Excellence Mean For Portola Valley?
"Striving to better, oft we mar what's well." Albany, King Lear, Act I, Scene IV, William Shakespeare. We need to find a balance between striving for excellence and being paralyzed by perfection. I believe in aiming for excellence, perfection and the best outcomes, but then being pragmatic to get a solution.
A Vision for Excellence Drives a Good Solution
In my many years of consulting, I have learned that a pragmatic approach to solving a client's problem is to aim for an excellent report, then conclude it in a timely fashion to solve a problem. It may not make perfection, but it will be good enough and well-accepted. The same with town decisions. We may want the perfect place for low-income housing, and work for excellence in fire protection, terrain suitability, transportation analysis, wildlife preservation, yet have to make some compromises. By working through a framework devoted to excellence we can arrive at very good solutions.
What Is An Excellent Town Council?
An excellent town council needs to be trusted to:
Trust also comes from being responsive to residents' inputs, needs and safety. It is vital for the Town Council to carefully consider the budget. Inputs include taxes and permit fees paid to the town. I want to ensure that these funds are used wisely to keep our town beautiful and safe.
To help reduce town costs we rely on many volunteers. Many hands make light work - so we need volunteers of all ages to help our town so nobody feels overburdened with volunteer activities. I plan to encourage town committees who help residents thrive through exercise, the arts and town events.
Trust is built with clear communications and an eagerly embraced vision. Every employee at General Magic, where I worked in the 1990s, learned about the value of having an excellent vision. Some would argue it was the most important failed company in Silicon Valley. Be inspired by watching General Magic, the movie. The first products from Sony and Motorola failed, but engineers went on to develop iPhone and Android smartphones, as well as many other technologies that control our lives today. Clear communications come from having a clear vision which we can articulate in the town's General Plan. We need clear communications in emergencies. I can help the town communicate clearly to residents, as mayor Jeff Aalfs did in his letters to residents during recent fires.
Angela Hey is a candidate for Portola Valley Town Council. She is an experienced technology marketing consultant who serves nonprofits, as a volunteer.