Preservation of Principles in General Plan
Portola Valley's history derives in large part from its founders' vision of living in a place in balance with its natural environment and relying on volunteers to govern and contribute to the Town's well-being. Our General Plan is an extraordinary document, effectively serving as our Town's "Constitution." This expression of our community's common values serves as a compass for navigating the current challenges facing Portola Valley. When we look around our Town and see, primarily, the natural environment before we notice the buildings and infrastructure fitting well into that environment, we see a confirmation that Portola Valley's General Plan has worked effectively. As a Town Council member, I will do my best to respect the General Plan and apply the principles it embodies.
Volunteerism and Participation
After I joined the Trails and Paths Committee, I came to appreciate the importance of volunteerism to our Town, and the benefit of receiving direct input from Town residents on matters before our Council, Commissions and Committees. This broad community participation enables the Town to monitor evolving situations and create solutions to issues that are informed by residents' perspectives. During the pandemic, this tradition was challenged by a lack of in-person meetings and limitations imposed by Zoom meetings to enable all attendees to see and hear each other. It is vital that we return to in-person meetings of commissions and committees as soon as it is safe to do so (potentially in a hybrid manner so that those unable to join in person can continue to join via videoconference).
Additionally, all Town Council, Planning Commission and Architectural and Site Control Commission meetings should be accessible to all residents, in real-time and by providing fulsome minutes and video recordings of past meetings, so that our residents have meaningful opportunities to understand the history of and bases for the actions of our Town's governing bodies. Furthermore, I would support enhancing outreach by the Town to those residents who may not participate in the PV Forum or other online discussion groups to enable greater participation in and visibility into Town activities and discussions. We need multiple ways for residents to learn about and understand current agendas and approaching deadlines to enable participation by all residents in all Town matters that affect them.
Despite how challenging it can be for people to carve out time for volunteering, we have a wealth of talented and energetic residents who can and do contribute their time and truly make a difference to our community. We must foster this special attribute of Portola Valley by encouraging Commissions and Committees to be creative, resourceful, and vibrant and enabling broad-based participation in our Town government.
Portola Valley residents are well aware of the natural beauty of the Town, as well as the risks inherent in living close to the San Andreas fault, residing in or near canyons or other terrain posing heightened fire risks, and building on terrain with potentially unstable geologic characteristics. In particular, since the CZU fire turned our Town into a Mars-like environment, while we watched an orange-pink underglow edge up on the horizon under the dark gray smoke blanketing Portola Valley at mid-day, we have come to appreciate that fire risk is a very real threat to our Town. We need a comprehensive plan to address fire, earthquake, and landslide risks. We need to perform careful assessments of the areas in Town most at risk and develop procedures to prepare for and manage through any such natural disasters. To do so, we need to remember the Town's cutting-edge approach for developing sound analytical frameworks for planning in the 1970s, which leveraged the Town's extraordinarily talented scientific and planning experts, both voluntary and professional. To address these present-day challenges, we should similarly call on community members and engage advisors with relevant experience and background.
We face significant challenges for housing in Portola Valley. First, state- and regionally-imposed mandates require the Town to include in its Housing Element plans for affordable housing sufficient to meet our regional housing needs allocation, or our "RHNA requirements." Portola Valley's RHNA requirements for the 2023-2031 cycle have quadrupled from those imposed in the last 8-year cycle, and now require more detailed planning specifically for four different categories of affordable housing.
Second, the state has recently enacted senate bill SB9, which gives homeowners in single-family zones the right to build additional units or subdivide their land into two separate entities and sell one of the lots, regardless of the local zoning, subject to limited exceptions. This law effectively overrides local planning and zoning, significantly impacting our ability to plan housing programs tailored for our Town.
Third, residents of our Town have expressed a desire to have a more flexible approach for affordable housing. They desire more options for aging in place, for enabling their families to continue to live in Town, and for supporting local employees wishing to live closer to their work.
I was a member of the Town Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee for the prior Housing Element update, and more recently have served on the Ad Hoc Housing Committee on Town-Owned Sites. In addition, as a member of the Planning Commission, I have been involved in reviewing and crafting local regulations, including those implementing state-mandated housing laws. During meetings of these committees and the Planning Commission, I heard a wide range of concerns and perspectives from Town residents on housing. This background along with my general legal training will enable me to effectively navigate a rapidly changing legal framework for Town housing and to balance our legal obligations with solutions appropriate for our Town.
While there are many housing issues deserving the Town Council’s focus, one area I would consider prioritizing is further developing and enhancing the Town’s junior accessory dwelling unit (“JADU”) program, by exploring whether some combination of streamlined or priority review of JADU applications, subsidized fees for JADU applications and public awareness campaigns for these affordable housing options. Additionally, the opt-in zoning proposal currently included in our RHNA submission is controversial and risks setting neighbors against each other in a “race to apply” for a relatively few opt-in zoning slots that allow multi-unit developments in currently designated single-family zoning areas. Because local zoning enables communities to craft planning approaches that make sense for them, and because I believe that zoning should be carefully considered for the community as a whole, I do not support opt-in zoning as a solution to our housing needs.