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On new Portola Valley mayor's plate in 2022: housing, fire safety and improving communication with residents

Portola Valley Town Center, Sept. 14, 2014. Embarcadero Media file photo taken by Michelle Le on Sept. 14, 2021.

It looks to be a busy year for new Portola Valley Mayor Craig Hughes.

Major areas of focus for his term include planning safety and housing elements, along with updates to the fire code from the Woodside Fire Protection District.

There has been a degree of tension between residents and town officials over housing projects and fire safety. To try to ease some of this acrimony and communicate better, Hughes has proposed "PV Donuts," small group get-togethers with a council member and a host who invites about a half-dozen friends and neighbors to a 30-minute or hour long conversation on whatever topics the group wishes. The town will supply the donuts, the host will help assemble a group which isn't "all the usual people."

Craig Hughes. Michelle Le/The Almanac

"The volume and complexity of issues we need to address, primarily driven by state requirements, has increased dramatically over the last decade or so; we have tried to improve our public communications and systems for helping people stay informed and on top of as much of this as possible, but it's been increasingly clear that we need to do more in this arena," Hughes said in an email to residents on Jan. 13. He said the format and the way that many of existing meetings are set up limits the amount of back-and-forth and detailed discussion on complex issues. "This can be immensely frustrating to those who wish to help the town arrive at the best outcomes. Large meetings mean it's hard for everyone to get a chance to speak or be heard; small meetings can have limited impact."

Hughes said he got the idea for the coffee and donuts meetups when Councilwoman Maryann Derwin misspoke when talking about "PV Donates," calling it "PV Donuts."

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Hughes, a serial startup founder, joined the council in 2013. He last served as mayor in 2017, and noted that he'd heard from few of the roughly 500 residents who signed a petition last year wanting the fire district to take more control over development. That's part of the reason he wants to engage with the broader community, he said.

Development

By early February, the town expects to receive a draft environmental impact report from Stanford University for its proposed 39 housing units on part of 75 acres of its property often referred to as the "Stanford Wedge." Hughes expects construction on the project, called Portola Terrace, to begin by the end of the year if it's approved.

Renderings of the Portola Terrace project that's on the Stanford Wedge property. Courtesy Stanford University.

The town is also planning for a significant increase in the number of units it's required to designate for development. Portola Valley's 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for the next 2023-2031 cycle is a total of 253 housing units. This is compared to just 64 units last cycle.

Cities and towns across the state are also required to update their safety elements by January 2023. Updates cover not just fires, but earthquakes, floods and other potential disasters.

These projects will put strain on the town's already small planning staff, he said.

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"We have a lot of challenges coming, but none of them appear insurmountable if we roll up our sleeves in the PV tradition and do the work to keep our town on the path that we want to see it follow," he told residents in the email. "I look forward to sharing donuts with as many of you as I can."

Hughes said there are also major changes to state garbage collection laws, which will require "far more detailed" tracking of what types of garbage are collected and how they are processed. The town doesn't yet have systems in place for the required tracking, he said. Senate Bill 1383 mandates food scraps go into compost bins.

Within the next couple of months, the town government plans to start hybrid in-person/Zoom meetings once tech upgrades at the schoolhouse are complete. Because of supply chain issues, equipment has taken longer to ship to the town, Hughes said.

"It's been almost two years (since the council met in person)," he said. "I've become quite comfortable with Zoom meetings. You do lose something from being in person."

The remote meetings have improved the accessibility of council meetings, Hughes said. Historically, attendees had to come to the school house for meetings. If you had children who needed care or a job that doesn't let you out until later in the day, it was hard to show up.

Attendance has been higher, at around 15-20 participants, than in pre-COVID times when about five to 10 people would show up to meetings, Hughes said. There would be about 10 to 20 if a big issue was on the agenda, he said.

Since Hughes joined the council, the character of the town has changed, with a wealthier makeup of residents. Residents are a little less hands-on than in the past; for example, residents don't commonly present their building applications to committees anymore, a representative does, he noted. Residents are less prone to manage their own yards.

"The level of expectation of services from the town has been changing," he said. "How do we manage that while continuing volunteer civic engagement in our 50-year history? What people have traditionally done themselves versus what the town does."

Hughes said he hasn't decided if he'll run for reelection in November when his term is up. He is leaning toward running, since he enjoys solving the difficult problems the town faces, he said.

Hughes has an initial set of interested PV Donuts hosts, but the town is looking for more through the year. If you would like to be a host, email the mayor at [email protected]

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Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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On new Portola Valley mayor's plate in 2022: housing, fire safety and improving communication with residents

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 21, 2022, 11:11 am

It looks to be a busy year for new Portola Valley Mayor Craig Hughes.

Major areas of focus for his term include planning safety and housing elements, along with updates to the fire code from the Woodside Fire Protection District.

There has been a degree of tension between residents and town officials over housing projects and fire safety. To try to ease some of this acrimony and communicate better, Hughes has proposed "PV Donuts," small group get-togethers with a council member and a host who invites about a half-dozen friends and neighbors to a 30-minute or hour long conversation on whatever topics the group wishes. The town will supply the donuts, the host will help assemble a group which isn't "all the usual people."

"The volume and complexity of issues we need to address, primarily driven by state requirements, has increased dramatically over the last decade or so; we have tried to improve our public communications and systems for helping people stay informed and on top of as much of this as possible, but it's been increasingly clear that we need to do more in this arena," Hughes said in an email to residents on Jan. 13. He said the format and the way that many of existing meetings are set up limits the amount of back-and-forth and detailed discussion on complex issues. "This can be immensely frustrating to those who wish to help the town arrive at the best outcomes. Large meetings mean it's hard for everyone to get a chance to speak or be heard; small meetings can have limited impact."

Hughes said he got the idea for the coffee and donuts meetups when Councilwoman Maryann Derwin misspoke when talking about "PV Donates," calling it "PV Donuts."

Hughes, a serial startup founder, joined the council in 2013. He last served as mayor in 2017, and noted that he'd heard from few of the roughly 500 residents who signed a petition last year wanting the fire district to take more control over development. That's part of the reason he wants to engage with the broader community, he said.

By early February, the town expects to receive a draft environmental impact report from Stanford University for its proposed 39 housing units on part of 75 acres of its property often referred to as the "Stanford Wedge." Hughes expects construction on the project, called Portola Terrace, to begin by the end of the year if it's approved.

The town is also planning for a significant increase in the number of units it's required to designate for development. Portola Valley's 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for the next 2023-2031 cycle is a total of 253 housing units. This is compared to just 64 units last cycle.

Cities and towns across the state are also required to update their safety elements by January 2023. Updates cover not just fires, but earthquakes, floods and other potential disasters.

These projects will put strain on the town's already small planning staff, he said.

"We have a lot of challenges coming, but none of them appear insurmountable if we roll up our sleeves in the PV tradition and do the work to keep our town on the path that we want to see it follow," he told residents in the email. "I look forward to sharing donuts with as many of you as I can."

Hughes said there are also major changes to state garbage collection laws, which will require "far more detailed" tracking of what types of garbage are collected and how they are processed. The town doesn't yet have systems in place for the required tracking, he said. Senate Bill 1383 mandates food scraps go into compost bins.

Within the next couple of months, the town government plans to start hybrid in-person/Zoom meetings once tech upgrades at the schoolhouse are complete. Because of supply chain issues, equipment has taken longer to ship to the town, Hughes said.

"It's been almost two years (since the council met in person)," he said. "I've become quite comfortable with Zoom meetings. You do lose something from being in person."

The remote meetings have improved the accessibility of council meetings, Hughes said. Historically, attendees had to come to the school house for meetings. If you had children who needed care or a job that doesn't let you out until later in the day, it was hard to show up.

Attendance has been higher, at around 15-20 participants, than in pre-COVID times when about five to 10 people would show up to meetings, Hughes said. There would be about 10 to 20 if a big issue was on the agenda, he said.

Since Hughes joined the council, the character of the town has changed, with a wealthier makeup of residents. Residents are a little less hands-on than in the past; for example, residents don't commonly present their building applications to committees anymore, a representative does, he noted. Residents are less prone to manage their own yards.

"The level of expectation of services from the town has been changing," he said. "How do we manage that while continuing volunteer civic engagement in our 50-year history? What people have traditionally done themselves versus what the town does."

Hughes said he hasn't decided if he'll run for reelection in November when his term is up. He is leaning toward running, since he enjoys solving the difficult problems the town faces, he said.

Hughes has an initial set of interested PV Donuts hosts, but the town is looking for more through the year. If you would like to be a host, email the mayor at [email protected]

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