My Quiz page asks readers what Portola Valley Town Council should focus on. There have only been 9 replies, to date. Below are the results, so far. Let me know in the comments, your suggestions and ideas for how we address these topics, some of my ideas are below.
In the comments section:
Fire Risk Mitigation
Fire risks are uppermost on resident's minds. We need to work closely with Woodside Fire Protection District and Portola Valley's Public Works Department to help reduce the risk of fire. Building owners need to work on making homes fire resistant too by building defensible space, removing debris and making their building as fire safe as possible, both inside and outside. We can work on becoming a Firewise Community, as Portola Valley Ranch has done.
Open Space Preservation
Open Space Preservation is important to residents too. The town has an Open Space Fund. I support the efforts of the Open Space Acquisition Advisory Committee to raise funds to help the town acquire open space. Portola Valley Neighbors United is also interested in preserving the town's rural ambience.
Exercise and Sports
I'd like to help the Parks and Recreation Committee work on ideas for engaging residents in events and activities that help people build friendships and enjoy our facilities. The Pickleball initiative is welcomed. I'd also like to see a Tennis Ladder for the town. For $120 a year and some players we could set up a town ladder on globaltennisnetwork.com.
Support for Seniors and the Less-Abled
We need to think as a town how we want to help seniors age in place. We also need to consider the less-abled. The County has some resources to help us and there are also nonprofit organizations who can help. I applaud the PV Cares group and hope a similar service to seniors can continue. In particular, we need to support low-income residents who need help. We could have a Villages initiative to help people age in place. Villages are grassroots organizations promoting neighbor to neighbor support. I would support changing Portola Valley's Residential Estate regulation that only allows one paying guest (what do you do if a couple wants to rent?). This would help older citizens who need extra income to stay in their own homes.
Mountain Biking and Trails
We are fortunate to have high quality public schools in Portola Valley. In keeping with my theme of Creating Resilience, I am pleased the school has featured a session on Building Teen Resilience. I hope that worried parents will bring their concerns to the relevant bodies, teachers, school board, town council, town committees, counselors and friends so that undue stress does not cloud the ability for people of all ages to thrive in the town. We've seen amazing initiatives from robotics, to musical accomplishments, to caring initiatives from pupils at all the Portola Valley schools. I hope the schools invite the public to more events so children can be appreciated for their efforts.
Low-income housing in Portola Valley is a challenge, in part because of high land prices and zoning for single family homes. I am grateful to a resident for suggesting I read The Color Of Law, a shocking revelation into how people of color were barred from many Bay Area communities.
A couple of attempts at affordable housing have fallen through in my time in Portola Valley - at the Nathorst Triangle area and on Portola Road, where Windmill School bought the property that was Al's Nursery.
Enabling residents to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) is one option that lets homeowners have one or two rental properties (the 2nd inside their house) on their lot. Much depends on who would be willing to sell land for development, in which case for a sufficiently large subdivision an affordable housing agreement with the town would be required in line with State law.
Even though homebuying as a way to save is probably overrated - particularly for the future - as the big growth in home prices in the late 20th century was in part because both parents in a traditional family worked. However, the way many Americans generate wealth is to buy a house, so I'd be in favor of enabling homeowners to divide their house into two condos.
Here's an example, 1495 Homestake Drive, Aspen Colorado, where Unit 2 recently sold for $4.8M - so I don't believe halving houses would lower single family home prices in Portola Valley. The condos look like a single family home as shown in these pictures below, courtesy Compass. It would be hard to get really low-income housing this way, but it might make some houses more affordable for the lower-middle income buyer. in the next 50 years, I could see Portola Valley having homes that looked like single family homes, but were in fact, could be purchased as two attached dwellings.
If we really wanted to give a very low income homeowner a property to buy, then assume the prospective owner earns minimum wage of $13 an hour and works 40 hours a week and is paid for 52 weeks of the year. That means their income is $27,040 a year, $2253 a month. Then to be affordable, if they don't want to spend more than 30% of their income on a mortgage, it needs to be no more than $676 a month. That means at 3.75% and a 30 year mortgage they could afford a house price of $146,000. To build, without the land cost, it could easily cost $400 a sq. ft. in Portola Valley, which means you'd get 365 sq. ft., a studio. So I could see the town going beyond ADUs and dividing a home into a house with a condo, the land ownership might be retained by the main homeowner, but a separate dwelling could be sold and managed by the main homeowner as a condo.
To get a larger home, suitable for a family, one might consider modular, prefabricated homes. Affordable housing can require 5 to 6 sources of financing, according to SPUR.org (the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association).If we wanted to build 200 homes in a subdivision, then if there were 5 to an acre that's 40 acres, the area of a small farm. That's why we need a plan to think about where it would be possible to build and who might be likely to sell land for building.
Before we think about what we build, we need to first think about who we will build for. Will it be like the start of the 20th century, when people had servants quarters, in essentially ADUs. If we housed those with service businesses like gardening, cleaning, dog grooming and window cleaning in an ADU, it could reduce the traffic and add diversity to Portola Valley. Or would we prefer to house children of residents who grew up here and don't have enough to rent or buy nearby, maybe the elderly who want to age-in-place will want a low-cost home or perhaps it is best to help local businesses house employees by giving commercial property owners and landlords grants to provide affordable accommodation.
What do you think?
Since the town center was built, the community has benefitted from concerts, community picnics and barbecues. We've also had Portola Valley Women's Club Harvest Soiree, Town Volunteer Holiday Parties, Science nights and lectures at the Town Center. The Library has offered programs for young and old. I want to encourage a wide variety of town events, partnering with schools, places of worship, the Sequoias and community groups to ensure nobody who wants to have friends, feels left out.
We also need events to help us create resilience in our neighborhoods - Emergency Preparedness Drills, Neighborhood Watch Groups and other neighborhood events.
FEMA has online courses to help people understand how Incident Command Systems work. Some have called for a town safety coordinator, but we may be better paying for a grant writer to help us get grants to help with disaster management. As we saw in the recent Santa Cruz Mountains fire, neighbors helped neighbors around Ben Lomond, Davenport, Boulder Creek and Loma Mar. As a child I always thought a fire engine or ambulance would be available in a disaster, but there are relatively few when it comes to major disasters. So I support the Emergency Preparedness Committee and the town's radio station AM1680. I hope we can practice emergency drills which have been put on hold because of COVID-19.
Slowing Vehicle Traffic
We have a speed sign that shows messages and warns drivers of their speed. What do we want to do, put roundabouts on Alpine Road, have speed cameras, speed humps, more enforcement. One way to reduce speeding is to have a culture of drivers who won't exceed the speed limit as "pilot cars" that others have to follow. This reduces the overall speed. Another way, is for setting expectations before a trip as to the real time to get ready, make the journey, park and arrive at the destination. By allowing a few extra minutes, then drivers are not encouraged to rush. Driving at relaxed pace along Portola Road or Alpine Road enhances the town culture as a place for recuperating on returning from a hard day's work or strenuous activity.
How would you slow traffic?
Angela Hey is a candidate for Portola Valley Town Council. She is an experienced technology marketing consultant who serves nonprofits, as a volunteer.