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Portola Valley reluctantly settles lawsuit alleging Brown Act violations

Original post made on Aug 3, 2022

The Portola Valley Town Council approved a settlement Monday to resolve a lawsuit against the town claiming its committee members violated the Brown Act, calling the decision an unfortunate but necessary move.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 3, 2022, 11:36 AM

Comments (8)

Posted by Jimboreno
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Aug 3, 2022 at 12:38 pm

Jimboreno is a registered user.

I doubt that naysayers of the proposed demolition of Ford Field in favor of a dense "affordable housing" project be considered an insignificant portion of the community--I would it's more like a majority.

Posted by stevlevin
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Aug 3, 2022 at 1:18 pm

stevlevin is a registered user.

This is a sad moment. Collegiality is a precious resource, and the harassment of our volunteer leaders by a small group of residents is a real setback. I can only imagine that this legal action reflects a strong polarization that has arisen between the residents and the Town Council regarding housing and growth, and it makes me especially alert and cautious regarding the new PAC that aims to unseat the current slate of leaders. I do not have personal relationships with any of the Town Council members, but I have the deepest respect and appreciation for their service. I hope we will collectively let them know that they have our full support.

Steve Levin

Posted by Bob Turcott
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Aug 3, 2022 at 5:06 pm

Bob Turcott is a registered user.

(1 of 2)

According to Mayor Hughes, the lawsuit was meritless and is simply a manifestation of bullying by a small group of selfish residents.

But is it possible that the suit reflects a deeper pathology in Portola Valley? One that is rooted not in an alleged sociopathy of its residents, but rather in a dysfunction of its government?

I’m personally aware of 5 different attorneys who have been retained by residents for issues related to town governance. I know of multiple independent clusters of residents who are alarmed by changes in the way the town is governed. I know of multiple residents who have reached out to Council members but had their concerns trivialized or worse.

Instead of blaming residents, the Mayor could immediately form a committee of neutral, respected members of the community to interview the plaintiffs and others in order to compile a list of suggested changes to process that would mitigate resident concerns and reverse the trend toward litigation.

The article quoted a portion of my comments at the TC meeting. For those that are curious my full comments follow:

"I applaud the Town Council for adopting this reasonable policy of prohibiting secret communication among committee members about an item under deliberation during a public meeting.

The demoralizing effect of such secret communication is obvious, and was documented by one resident in a poignant resignation letter, in which he described his great disappointment when he learned that colleagues on a committee were secretly maneuvering during the meeting for an outcome that was contrary to what he, in good faith, had been advocating publicly.

Posted by Bob Turcott
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Aug 3, 2022 at 5:07 pm

Bob Turcott is a registered user.

(2 of 2)

I especially want to applaud the residents who pursued this. Who at significant personal expense risked their reputations and standing in the community in order to insist that our town conduct its business legally.

That takes a lot of courage, and the residents of Portola Valley owe the plaintiffs a debt of gratitude.

It’s unfortunate that the policy prohibiting secret communication was not adopted at the beginning of this process. It would have saved a lot of time and expense.

But we can have some faith restored that deliberations in public meetings will take place publicly, as the Brown Act requires.

And we can also be encouraged that residents will insist on compliance with state law, even if that means resolving differences of opinion in the courts."

For the record, after I spoke Mayor Hughes indicated that the Town had offered the settlement at the beginning of the process.

Posted by PV Resident/ex volunteer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Aug 3, 2022 at 5:55 pm

PV Resident/ex volunteer is a registered user.

So sick and tired of certain residents in Portola Valley bullying neighbors and volunteers into submission with their conspiracy theories and misinterpreted information ad infinitum. Shouting louder or more often than others, does not make you right - Civility 101. Grateful that PV Forum allows users to block PVNU/PAC members et al, so we don't need to read their lies or witness their inability to read, think and then ask a question. The plaintiffs in this case deserve no thanks or praise, but I hope they are ready to PAY people to 'volunteer' in this town, when all the volunteers who were prepared to listen/be fair/consider the views of others have resigned their positions and left the bullies to simmer in their own vitriolic juices and spite. Disgusted that eight people did this to the Town, and that even though no malfeasance was found, the Town had to settle to prevent tax payers paying out even more in legal fees. 'Gratitude' is the last word I would use to convey my thoughts on this group of plaintiffs. I think they should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 3, 2022 at 8:53 pm

Brian is a registered user.

The Brown Act is pretty simple and if Portola Valley is like Menlo Park all members of City Committees and Commissions go through some form of Brown Act training, even the volunteers. Having a "Back Channel" communications that incused a majority of the committee or commission is a pretty clear violation. If one or two (or more depending on the size of the committee/commission) talk about topics in private that is OK (called Brown Act buddies) but a quorum is a violation. So if this chat was seen by the majority of the commission/Council it seems to me that it is a clear violation. Having volunteers for city committees and commissions is great, but they are also bound by the laws of California.

Posted by Craig Hughes
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Aug 4, 2022 at 5:25 pm

Craig Hughes is a registered user.

@Brian - there was no allegation that a quorum was involved in any conversation, nor indeed any evidence of such communications. The allegation was that ANY communication by text or email involving committee members during a meeting is a violation of the Brown Act - that no quorum need be involved.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 6, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Brian is a registered user.


I was not there and based my comments off the article above. I believe the evidence of the discussion was the screen shared by the committee member what showed the chat. Since there is not image of the chat in the article it is impossible to say if it included a quorum or not. It must have contained at least 2 members and a city employee. As I said above the Brown Act does allow a member to discuss committee/Commission or council information privately with another member as long as it does not constitute a majority of the committee/commission. The rules as I was informed are pretty simple and straight forward.

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