Portola Valley creates affordable housing panel
Affordable housing was a key topic again at the Portola Valley Town Council meeting Jan. 23 as the council tentatively discussed whether the town should look at transferring its housing obligation to another town. The council is forming a new committee of community volunteers to review affordable housing issues.
State mandates, updated every seven years, require all communities to provide housing that has the effect of establishing an economically diverse population.
The council voted 4-0, with Councilman Jeff Aalfs absent, to accept the allotted numbers of new affordable homes the town must plan for between 2014 and 2022. A staff report shows an allotment of 21 and 15 homes, respectively, for very-low- and low-income individuals and families — usually addressed by secondary units — and 15 homes for moderate income, which the county defines as $86,000 for an individual and $123,000 for a family of four.
Town Planner Tom Vlasic and his assistant Karen Kristiansson described these housing numbers as rational and reasonable.
Portola Valley's Affordable Housing Ad-Hoc Committee will meet on seven Tuesday evenings, starting in mid-February. A progress report is due in March and a final report due in mid-May. Interested applicants are asked to send letters to: Mayor John Richards at Town Hall, 765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028.
After Mayor Richards, with the council's approval, chooses the members of the committee — at least five and no more than nine — its job will be to think about and discuss: a) whether there is a need in town for homes for people of low and moderate incomes, b) a mission statement that would address the relevant legal requirements, c) ways to reconcile the town's low-density zoning with "the economics of affordable housing construction," and d) priorities in finding and evaluating sites for such housing.
"It's a lot of meetings in a fairly short period of time," said Councilwoman Ann Wengert, who has been the point person on this highly controversial issue for the last year or so. "It's going to be a lot of heavy lifting."
The council decided not to participate in the meetings, not even to the extent of having a liaison present, but will rely on the town manager and the committee chair to keep them informed as the discussion unfolds.
The staff report by Ms. Kristiansson hinted at the possibility that Portola Valley could negotiate to transfer some of its obligations to a neighboring community, where moderate-income housing is more common.
Councilman Ted Driscoll asked if Portola Valley could help fund a large housing development, for example in Redwood City. Ms. Kristiansson did not say such a deal was impossible, but that it would involve findings — robust reasons that make such an action necessary. "I think it's something we can certainly look into," she added.
There are critics, Councilwoman Maryann Derwin said, "who feel very strongly that rich communities should not be able to buy their way out of these obligations. Speaking personally, I don't think that (buying our way out) is in the spirit of the law." Ms. Wengert said she agreed.
The 2014-22 housing allocations for Portola Valley are "very low for us and we are very fortunate," Ms. Kristiansson said. "I hesitate to put forward that there are other alternatives. ... We need to move forward with these numbers that we have, and they are reasonable numbers."
Any swaps would have to be approved by the consortium of communities in San Mateo County, by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and by the state, Ms. Kristiansson added.
Louis Ebner, a resident and critic of the town's efforts so far, described the housing situation for people of low incomes as "unfortunate" but contested the notion that the trading of obligations is a bad idea. "I disagree with the characterization that this is off-loading necessarily," Mr. Ebner said. The objective, he said, is effectively using money for affordable housing. "I think you have to reach a little more broadly in thinking. It seems to be unfortunate to be slamming the door on possibilities before you've even had a chance to look at them and weigh them one against the other."
He questioned, for example, the notion that the nearly $3 million the town received for the sale of land designated for affordable housing in the Blue Oaks neighborhood is restricted to the current seven-year housing window. "Where could we do the most good for the people we're trying to help?" Mr. Ebner asked.