News - March 2, 2011

Portola Valley: Party this fall, but no blues or barbecue

by Dave Boyce

A wind hinting of change is blowing through Portola Valley.

For the second consecutive year, September will come and go without Blues & Barbecue, the annual festival the town has put on since 1997 to raise money for the purchase and maintenance of open space within town boundaries.

As was the case in 2010, the Community Events Committee is lacking sufficient volunteers to pull off this major logistical undertaking, Councilwoman Maryann Derwin told the Town Council at its Feb. 23 meeting.

Other factors Ms. Derwin mentioned include fatigue on the part of local merchants, who are asked every year to contribute items for auction, and a timing conflict with another big festival: the Portola Valley School District is celebrating its 150th anniversary on Oct. 1.

The council agreed with an idea suggested by Ms. Derwin and seconded by Town Historian Nancy Lund and former mayor Sue Crane that the school anniversary celebration stand in for Blues & Barbecue this year.

"As you present it, it seems to me very sensible to delay Blues & Barbecue," Councilman Steve Toben said after Ms. Derwin had finished. "It will draw us all (together) around an important historical event."

"We'll certainly come back to open space," Mr. Toben said, "but I think this works as a wonderful fall gathering."

Between 2002 and 2009, the blues festival contributed an average of $58,000 annually to the open space acquisition fund, with proceeds reaching $79,000 twice in recent years, according to town records. The balance in this restricted fund gets a significant boost every year of about $250,000 from a 2 percent utility users tax.

Councilwoman Ann Wengert, as she did in 2010, wondered aloud about the possible significance of volunteers not actually signing up to put on Blues & Barbecue.

Is the town's spirit of volunteerism as alive and well as it had been? "Just being interested in attending doesn't mean we're going to be able to pull it off," Ms. Wengert said.

"Hopefully, Blues & Barbecue will be ready to go next year with a bigger staff of volunteers," Ms. Lund said.

In another discussion on the question of adequate volunteers, the council noted that the Traffic Committee is down to two members. The committee is lacking a major issue to address, Mayor Ted Driscoll said.

It could have one soon. Mr. Driscoll said he plans to agendize a significant discussion on bicycle safety, in April if the schedule permits.


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