top of page

Safety First

The first responsibility of Local Government is the Safety and Security of residents.   Portola Valley faces an existential threat from Wildfire and Earthquakes.

  • We must immediately review existing assessments of our Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZs) along with State Law and Cal Fire regulations. After appropriate public review of the data, legal requirements, and best practices, we should designate, by ordinance, the areas of Portola Valley that meet the requirements of VHFHSZs.   This could have been done any time in the last 14 years and has been neglected.  

  • We must work to incorporate the best available science (currently NIST 2205 ) into our building codes.

  • We must move to adopt best practices as defined by Cal Fire and WFPD for Risk Reduction Communities.  (see WFPD and State Regs)   At present, Portola Valley has implemented NONE of the ten best practices.  We should commit to satisfying these criteria as soon as possible, but no later than September 2023. 

  • Portola Valley was a national and world leader in innovating and adopting building codes and land use policy to mitigate geologic and seismic risk.   Instead of being a slow follower in fire safety, we should once again commit to being a leader in addressing Wildfire Risk. 

  • The risk associated with Wildfire and Earthquake leads to significant Safety issues with: Evacuation, Infrastructure, and Insurability. These should be some of our highest priority actions

  • We should agendize Public Safety at Town Council meeting at least bi-monthly to review important developments and discuss progress with residents.  

Government by residents, for residents

Portola Valley has always had a strong volunteer base that staffed committees and exercised great wisdom in the short and long term vision of the Town.  

Over the past several years, the Town Council has slowly but increasingly disenfranchised residents by weakening the committee structure.  The Town Council has shifted responsibility from committees to staff, rejected qualified resident applications who wanted to serve the community, rejected or ignored committee recommendations, and assumed decision-making responsibilities that used to be shared with resident committees.   

  • The Safety Element:  Town Staff and Consultants paid by the Town have been working on the Safety Element for almost a year.  A brief glipse of the work product was provided (with only 3 days notice) at the Emergency Preparedness Committee meeting on May 17, 2022 and the Geologic Safety Committee meeting on May 11.  In both cases, the committees recommended significant changes.  In March, the Chairs of the GSS, WPC, and EPC submitted a letter to the Town Council, with several suggestions to help in the development of the Safety Element and take advantage of the specific expertise of residents on these committees.  Although the letter was included in the agenda packet for the Town Council meeting of March 23, 2022, the Council did not respond to the letter and took no action.   I have been asserting in public meetings for well over a year, that the Safety Element needs to be completed and reviewed before the Housing Element.   Despite my pleas, and those of other residents, the Housing Element was completed and submitted without the benefit of an updated Safety Element.  

  • The Housing Element:  The Town Council created an Ad Hoc Housing Element Committee to develop the Housing Element.  While everyone should appreciate the hard work of the residents on this committee, let's  take a serious look at the constraints that were placed on the committee:

    • The committee was charged with finding a housing solution that met the requiremnts of RHNA and ABAG on the timeline created by Staff and Consultants.  The committee was not allowed to move beyond this charge. Meanwhile, the Town Council chose not to appeal the ABAG allocation despite evidence that the ABAG methodology excessively burdens high hazard communities. 

    • Staff controlled the agenda and the information that was presented to the committee. The only presentations to the committee were by Staff or Consultants paid by the Town.

    • No working subcommittees were established, despite repeated requests by committee members that they be formed to fully explore the complex issues.

    • When any conversations took place with property owners or institutions, those conversations were held with staff or Town Council members.   Committee members were excluded

    • All written changes/adjustments to the plan were written by Staff and Consultants with "input" from the committee. 

Pushing Back against Dangerous State Mandates

RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) and the organization that administers the allocations (ABAG - Association of Bay Area Governments) are, unfortunately dictated and mandated by law in California.  However, it is bad legislation and poor administration.  The laws were written by legislators and lobbyists with little regard for the unintended consequences for small communities in the WUI like Portola Valley.  We are a "corner case” with an insignificant population in the overall agenda 

But, the danger for residents is real. We face an existential threat from Wildfire and Earthquake and associated major problems of: evacuation, infrastructure, and insurability.  The addition of the mandated housing, a 15% increase in population in an 8 year period (compared to an estimated 3% growth over the past 20 years), will create an unacceptable risk for the Town and endangers the Safety of current residents as well as new residents. 

Meanwhile, California put forward RHNA numbers that the State Auditor concluded lacked process, reviews, evidence and support.   Julie Testa, council member from the City of Pleasanton, said “Unless HCD and DOF complete this work and correct their mistakes, there is no justification for punishing cities for failing to meet erroneous RHNA goals. The Legislature should suspend implementation of RNHA until the public is satisfied these problems have been resolved.” (April 6, 2022, California Alliance of Local Electeds. “California State Auditor Releases Scathing Report on RHNA Process, Report Finds Housing Goals are Not Supported by Evidence”.  Further information available here).

We should work to aggressively push back against the state mandates in every possible way.    For a list of statewide organizations that are working to address mandates see my "Useful web links" page.  

We can add housing in Portola Valley and we can add affordable housing, but we must do it within the constraints of Safety First.   This is a very challenging problem, but I believe that we must face our problems head-on, recognized them, work with the residents and within our legal rights to find a path forward.   During the  Town Council Housing Element meeting (July 13, 2022), resident comments were almost universally against the  Housing Element .   Non-resident Housing advocates were universally praising the plan.   To me, this says we are on the wrong track.  

bottom of page