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.
Angela Hey is a candidate for Portola Valley Town Council. She is an experienced technology marketing consultant who serves nonprofits, as a volunteer.