Portola Valley lends residents $100,000 for road repairs
The Portola Valley Town Council stuck its neck out last week by agreeing to lend money to a group of residents before determining whether they will formally agree to set aside future funds to repay the town.
In an unusual series of votes Jan. 25, the council decided to lend $100,000 to the residents of steep and winding Upper Wayside Road for road repairs and maintenance. Wayside is a private road not maintained by the town.
But first, by a 3-2 vote, the council decided to hold off the loan until June, when residents could vote on raising their assessment fee to pay back the loan.
"I think I speak for the residents. We're disappointed in the specific outcome," resident Byron Shaw said, then asked the council to reconsider its decision to hold the loan until June.
June would have been too late, Mr. Shaw had argued. Finding a contractor in the summer is often tough. "If you call them now, they show up in a week," he said. "Call in June, they show up in October."
A minute or so later, a different 3-2 majority voted to reopen the topic. After a bit more discussion, the council decided 3-2 to lend the residents the money right away.
Making the loan never seemed an issue; the residents have repaid over half of a larger loan made for the same purpose in 2006. The split decisions turned on the loan's timing, and a public agency's instinct to do things by the book.
The residents, in recognition of inflation and to help pay off this new loan, had agreed among themselves to raise by 52 percent their self-assessed annual road maintenance fee. But state law requires an election and a two-thirds majority to enact the assessment. In San Mateo County, the next available date is in June.
With its decision, the council is lending money before ensuring that the residents have agreed to raise their assessment.
"I don't think it's a matter of trust" that the money would be repaid, Councilwoman Ann Wengert said before voting to delay the loan until June. "How can we advance those monies without certainty? How can we, as stewards of that public money, jump over that line?"
An early loan could set a precedent, and could put residents in a bind if the election misses the mark, she noted. "I very strongly feel that (waiting) is better for all of us," she said to Mr. Shaw. "You don't run the risk of alienating the town if something happens that you can't control."
"I guess I'm prepared to take it on good faith," Councilman Ted Driscoll said, then warned the Wayside Road residents in the audience to not expect another loan if they don't repay this one.
Prudence may have gotten the better of Mr. Driscoll as he ended up voting with Ms. Wengert and Councilman John Richards to delay the loan until June, with Mayor Maryann Derwin and Councilman Jeff Aalfs opposed.
After consulting with the Town Attorney, Mr. Aalfs moved to reopen the matter. Mr. Driscoll voted with the majority again, but this time agreeing with Mr. Aalfs and Ms. Derwin to lend the money now.