Woodside fire district turns up heat on Stanford housing plan | News | Almanac Online |


Woodside fire district turns up heat on Stanford housing plan


The Woodside Fire Protection District is weighing in on fire hazards it believes could be associated with a proposed Stanford University housing project in Portola Valley.

The project, which calls for 27 single-family homes and an additional 12 units of affordable housing, is proposed for a 6-acre site on the southeast corner of a 75-acre property that Stanford owns along Alpine Road near the intersection with Westridge Drive.

According to a Sept. 1 letter from then-Woodside Fire Marshal Denise Enea to the Portola Valley Planning Department, the property around the land that will be developed would be consistently difficult to clear of fire hazards that could imperil the development.

Enea retired at the end of December and was replaced by former Deputy Fire Marshal Don Bullard.

The property contains "steep and vertical canyons" that are "too steep for mechanical fuel treatments, and goat grazing has not reduced the amount of live or dead woody material," Enea wrote.

In addition, "the density configuration enables mature and immature trees which is conducive to a more rapid spread of fire within within the tree canopy," she wrote.

These characteristics pose a risk to homes on ridges above the property, including Westridge Drive and Minoca Road, and well as on the development site itself.

"Small housing clusters historically fare the worst in the wildland-urban interface," according to a 2008 article Enea quoted from the Real Estate Review, a journal dedicated to the development community.

Bullard led a community meeting on Jan. 28 at a private residence with a group called Portola Valley Neighbors United to discuss the fire district's concerns.

"The fire (district) doesn't think that is the best location to be putting in high-density housing because of the high fire severity zone," Bullard said in a phone interview. "It's a very dangerous place for fire. We should look for other areas for development that would be better, and we've suggested that the town do that."

There are significant risks to developing the site for the residents in the subdivision and for those in the homes above, since "fire travels uphill much like water travels downhill," Bullard said.

The uphill fire danger is greater if you have utilities, electricity and motor vehicles downslope, with much more activity and people living there, he said.

"The fire potential goes way up with that factor," Bullard said. "It also creates an evacuation problem in a fire with more people and more traffic and small, narrow, winding roads with a lot of people trying to get out in a hurry."

Although it has no direct control over the terms of the development, if the project is approved, the district is recommending a comprehensive vegetation management plan that would require strict defensible space around structures, native-plant-only vegetation and an agreement on how many acres would be cleared of brush and debris in the larger property every year.


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26 people like this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:34 pm

The Stanford "Wedge" housing plan would also create additional chaos along Alpine Road PLUS make emergency response times increase because of the virtual gridlock along Alpine Road/Alameda/Santa Cruz/Junipero Serra. Stanford needs to provide housing on the central campus, not in the surrounding jurisdictions, which places a huge burden on those jurisdictions.

26 people like this
Posted by Fire Chief
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:52 pm

Spot on Janet. Fire concern and problematic mitigation too important to allow a housing project better suited for the central Stanford campus. No benefit to anyone least of all Portola Valley. The PV Town Council needs to exert some influence to shut down this dangerous overreaching boondoggle.

18 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Seems to me that another 40 homes having access to Alpine road is a drop in the bucket. Compared to the 4000 or so homes already having access? These cars would be going in and out during various times of the day. Seems like yet another case of “we need more housing—just don’t do it anywhere near me”

12 people like this
Posted by Illuminati
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 12, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Awesome example of "not in my neighborhood" thinking - no consideration of benefits of having more kids to help fund the schools, some needed diversity, improved local partnership with Stanford etc.. This is the "land version" of fighting over those annoying planes that help drive the Bay Area economy. #PVprivilege at work

26 people like this
Posted by Fire Chief
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:22 pm

Readers need some ‘illuminating’ insofar as Stanford is a non-profit and would be contributing ZERO tax dollars to the PV school system but, rather, getting a ‘free ride’ on the backs of PV residents. Stanford needs to consider housing in their ‘own backyard’ (on campus) and educate their faculty children accordingly. Traffic is the ‘camel’s nose under the tent’! The fire concerns are real and to argue about other issues is nonsensical.

11 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:51 pm

The real problem with this development is that it is restricted to occupancy by Stanford faculty. No other neighborhoods in Portola Valley have occupancy requirements. This goes against the grain of what Portola Valley is all about and should be rejected unless it occupancy to open to everyone.

11 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 12, 2020 at 4:57 pm

The Sequoias is not open to everyone. Why should Stanford land be? Bad argument, @Member

17 people like this
Posted by Free ride
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:36 pm

If Stanford owns it, then Stanford pays no property taxes. It is a free-ride for Stanford and PV picks up the extra costs to supply schools, roads, fire and police.

I'm fairly sure there is enough land in the central campus area - particularly as they are pushing for a MAJOR increase in their General Use Plan.

13 people like this
Posted by @FreeRide
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Feb 12, 2020 at 9:13 pm

If Stanford offers these faculty homes in the way that it has offered all prior faculty homes, the faculty member will pay property tax at the full appraised value. Stanford itself pays the property tax during times when the home is not occupied (during renovations, for example). I have these facts on good authority, from faculty members who pay such taxes, and the faculty housing office itself

7 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 13, 2020 at 11:15 am

Stanford has strict limits on the square footage it is allowed to add to campus in Santa Clara County. This wedge in PV would be exempt from that since its in SM County- thats why they are pushing it. See below for an interesting article (somewhat out of date!) on how SC County deals with them:

Web Link

18 people like this
Posted by theater goer
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 13, 2020 at 3:30 pm

Dear “West Menlo”:
Note that there are NOT currently 4000 homes in Portola Valley. Rather, there are 4500 residents. So adding 40 more with perhaps 70-80 more cars would indeed make a difference on our narrow two lane roads that also carry many many bicyclists. We live in fear of the gridlock that is currently anticipated if ever an earthquake or fire struck.

9 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Feb 13, 2020 at 6:15 pm

“This goes against the grain of what PV is all about.”

What exactly is that? Expensive homes, high fences and security cams on the roads.

At least be honest that you just don’t want change and are afraid of anything that could upset your/our idyllic lives.

26 people like this
Posted by Enough is too much
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 13, 2020 at 7:07 pm

West Menlo - if you want more housing in your neighborhood then go for it. Us up on the hill are happy they way things are. That's right, we don't want the Menlo Park or Palo Alto type of change where roads are clogged, the wildlife has been decimated, the air is filthy, the people are snarky and the houses are stacked one on top of the other.

Menlo Park and Palo Alto have been destroyed. If only someone 20 years ago would have said "not in my back yard" your towns would be livable, not laughable.

John - if you really do live on Mt. Home then who are you to throw stones? Look at what Larry did to Mt. Home, and the massive mansions that followed. Talk about expensive homes and high fences, but I'm guessing you don't really live there, you only wish you do.

Now, if anyone has really read the article you'd see that the main issue here is fire danger. Read what the Fire Marshall has reported: it would be terribly irresponsible if not down right negligent of Stanford and the Town Council to approve this project. End of story. Call us what you want, but I don't want my neighborhood to burn down because Stanford wants to house a few professors.

16 people like this
Posted by Land grab
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 14, 2020 at 9:28 am

The timing of this is no coincidence—Santa Clara county said no to Stanford’s ridiculous plan so they’re trying to find alternatives. Let me remind those commenting who aren’t from PV that our town is FAR different from other towns like menlo, we only have three ways in and out and fire danger is incredibly high. We as residents are uniformly united against this proposal because of this big development that would create a huge safety hazard. Why doesn’t MENLO and PALO ALTO do their share because after all they’re closer to Stanford then we are... hypocrites.

8 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 14, 2020 at 12:48 pm

@land grab: Menlo Park is doing a pretty good job with Stanford in light of their building along El Camino where all the car dealerships used to be. Both office space and residential. Lots of it.

Where are the NIMBYs from PV when the millionaires and billionaires build their huge developments in Los Trancos? And PV can’t build and absorb 27 houses and 12 apartments? You are that overcrowded? Sorry—-not buying it.

9 people like this
Posted by a PV resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 15, 2020 at 9:06 am

To understand the restrictions placed on PV construction, read the town’s building guidelines and requirements available online. So, in addition to posing a serious fire hazard, why is Stanford exempt from adhering to those guidelines and restrictions?

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