The nonprofit group Portola Valley Residents hosted a Town Council candidate forum at Portola Valley’s Town Center on Oct. 13, exclusively for residents of Portola Valley. All five candidates attended the forum for a meet-and-greet with the audience, followed by an open-mic Q&A moderated by resident Judith Murphy. The event was described as a "private meeting."
The Almanac's reporter was initially barred from entering the forum but then was allowed to cover the event with the support of one of the event's sponsors.
The event drew a full house, with some residents standing at the back against the wall. Residents were encouraged to ask questions and their names were pulled from a bucket, where residents had written them on a ticket that certified they were a resident of Portola Valley.
Resident Jerry Secrest asked candidates if they would rescind requirements in Portola Valley for electric appliances rather than natural gas ones. Almost all of the candidates stated that while they were in favor of household electric appliances for environmental reasons, they didn’t support mandating electric appliances for all residences. Candidates Mary Hufty, Judith Hasko and Craig Taylor all said that they would support encouraging the use of electric appliances in Portola Valley, but also support retaining existing gas appliances.
“(Electric appliances) are the way to go from an environmental standpoint,” Craig Taylor said.
Mayor Craig Hughes, who is running for reelection, said that the ordinance in place to adopt California’s Green Building Code does not apply to residents’ existing gas appliances, but would only mandate the use of electric appliances in the 253 new units slated for Portola Valley in the next housing element cycle, a requirement that he supports. Candidate Dale Pfau took a similar stance, saying that he would defer to the state on the issue, but added that more research is needed.
Resident Andy Browne told the candidates that Portola Valley is in need of a diversity of incomes through more housing opportunities, and asked for the candidates' stances on the topic.
Hughes said that the entire state is “chronically short” on housing and that it is critical to support diverse housing opportunities when companies aren’t staying in California since there aren’t enough workers. Hufty agreed that housing was critical, and said she wants to hit the ground running on building more housing without delay if elected.
“I miss the old Portola Valley that had a more diverse housing supply and I’m dedicated to getting this done,” Hufty said.
Taylor said that Portola Valley needs to consider multifamily housing, stating that “when the plumber moves out, a plumber doesn’t move back in.” Taylor said that Portola Valley is not an option for people of many income levels and careers.
Hasko and Pfau agreed that there should be more housing in Portola Valley, but said that the state mandates are not the way to achieve this.
“We need more diverse housing opportunities in town,” Hasko said. “Are the state mandates the way to get there? No.”
Hasko said that she wants to support aging in place and support for local workers, and Pfau said that the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers, which assigns the number of new units Portola Valley must plan for over the next eight years, are wrong, and the town's safety element needs to be prioritized before any new housing is built.
Resident Alice Shenk asked candidates for their opinions on instituting term limits for Town Council members.
Pfau said that he believed in a term limit of four to eight years, after which people can stick around with institutional knowledge to assist the council in decisions. Hufty agreed that two terms would be enough for council members because changes in power would make changes in the town.
“Why would we want a few people to know all the secrets?” Hufty asked.
Taylor also said that he supports term limits so that council members don’t burn out. He said that if people stay on the Town Council too long, by the time they leave they don’t want to contribute institutional knowledge to the new council.
Hughes and Hasko said that they did not endorse implementing term limits on the Town Council. Hughes said that Portola Valley can often see several election cycles without anyone running for a seat and that knowledge of the intricacies involved in running the town comes with time and experience. Hasko said that there should be a balance, but Portola Valley has a strong sense of tradition.
Residents of Portola Valley will be voting to fill three Town Council seats in the Nov. 8 election.