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Portola Valley: Flag-raising starts town's 50th anniversary party

What if Portola Valley threw a nine-month party and everybody came? The next nine months will tell.

A rolling party gets going on Thursday, Jan. 16, with the raising of a flag to celebrate the town's 50th anniversary, and culminates on Sept. 21 with a giant get-together at Town Center.

The flag-raising is set for 4 p.m. at the Old Schoolhouse at Town Center. (Town Manager Nick Pegueros designed the flag.)

A 50th anniversary is usually a reason to celebrate. The question of how to do that for a town of 4,600 caught the interest of residents Danna Breen and Cindie White. They've been brainstorming for months, they said in an interview.

One reason to celebrate, they said, is to heal wounds. The past 18 months in Portola Valley have been notable for frayed tempers. The Town Council in mid-2012, moving to comply with a state mandate to plan for affordable housing, announced its intention to buy a former plant nursery at 900 Portola Road. Residents, particularly neighbors of the site, erupted in anger with claims that they had been insufficiently included in the process. The council's plan came to naught, but amid bitter recrimination.

In the spring of 2013, the community again found itself divided, this time on the question of resurfacing a soccer field with artificial grass at the private Woodside Priory School. The town is not shy about its longstanding advocacy of going green, though artificial grass, with no need to irrigate, has some green bona fides.

In a contentious 3-2 vote in March, the Planning Commission allowed the fake grass, to the joy of the Priory community and the distress of green advocates. Emotions flipped two months later when the council overturned the decision, also on a 3-2 vote.

"We were acutely aware of how much tension there is in town and that people were not getting along," Ms. Breen said.

What to do? Maybe an enjoyable and free-form review and celebration of the town's history, values and goals would be helpful to reorient and reinvigorate the community, they concluded. Pose implicit questions such as why Portola Valley looks the way it does, and what the legacy of incorporation has become. Get the schools involved, have fun in coming up with ways to celebrate, and then spend the year celebrating.

"It's been so fabulous," Ms. Breen said about the process so far.

An agreeable Town Council on Jan. 8 appointed an 11-member Ad-Hoc Town's 50th Anniversary Committee, with Ms. Breen and Ms. White as co-chairs.

Among the ideas that may have legs: summer concerts organized around a 1964 theme; scavenger hunts; a multi-generational game involving consultations with town elders; a spring cleaning and planting day; a star party; a commemorative song and poem; a bonfire; an equestrian event; a race that involves progressively different modes of transport.

"Everybody is kind of out there and has an idea and we're saying, 'Go with it.'" Ms. Breen said. "Come along. Come along and have fun and understand what living in the Valley is about."

If there's support for a skateboard race down Alpine Road, there will be a good faith effort to arrange one, she said.

"There are no rules," Ms. White said.

"And the circle (of participants) gets larger," Ms. Breen added.

There are presences online as well.

As for the celebration in September: "We didn't want it to be a gala and we don't want money to change hands," Ms. Breen said. There's been talk of a potluck, of a picnic, of a roasting pig and beans cooking over an open fire. There will be a barn dance. A caller for square dancing has already been arranged, Ms. White said.

Most important to the council is an actual calendar of events with dates, the members said.

Go to portolavalley50.blogspot.com to see a new blog about the anniversary.

Go to pv.beaucamera.com to see a website on "Portola Valley, Past and Present."

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