Almanac

News - April 9, 2014

Portola Valley council OKs in-house planning services

• 50 years of planning through Spangle Associates will end in December.

by Dave Boyce

The end is coming for the longstanding practice in Portola Valley Town Hall of using an outside consulting firm to oversee planning department activities.

Since its founding in 1964, Portola Valley has employed Spangle Associates of Menlo Park, whose officers have included former Portola Valley town planner George Mader, who is still on the board, and the current Town Planner Tom Vlasic, who has announced that he is retiring in December. Karen Kristiansson, who joined the Town Hall staff in July 2013 as deputy town planner, was hired away from Spangle.

The Town Council, at its March 26 meeting, concurred with a transition plan proposed by Town Manager Nick Pegueros on how to manage planning activities as the town recruits an in-house planning director, a process that could take up to a year.

The candidate will have strong technical planning skills and be "highly analytical, pragmatic, embrace town values, and possess strong communication skills to successfully navigate finely nuanced situations that will confront the Planning Department day after day," Mr. Pegueros says in a staff report.

Mr. Mader retired in 2010 after 45 years as Portola Valley's town planner, and Mr. Vlasic took over; he is now Spangle's sole planner. Will Spangle continue as a going concern when Mr. Vlasic retires? "I believe we will finish our service to the town at the end of this year then 'hang up the shingle' after over 50 years of professional planning services at many levels," Mr. Vlasic said in an email. "It has been a special run with some of the best clients any firm could wish to have."

The transition to an in-house operation has been underway since early 2013. Planning Technician Carol Borck was promoted to assistant planner, and the town hired Ms. Kristiansson.

Given the "steep" learning curve that has revealed itself so far in making the transition to in-house planning, along with property development applications becoming significantly more numerous and complex, contentious neighbor disputes, and more numerous and more complicated code-enforcement cases, the council agreed to Mr. Pegueros' recommendations:

• That he take over day-to-day management of the planning department.

• That Ms. Kristiansson be appointed interim planning director and work closely with Mr. Vlasic in the coming months.

• That the council allocate $75,000 through June 30 to potentially hire three consultants: one to take over updating the housing-element chapter of the town's general plan, one to assist with the influx of project applications and help craft policies and procedures for the transition, and possibly another to help with special projects, including finding and hiring a planning director.

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