Tag Archives: Bob Brown

The Story of Incorporation, Part V

November, 1963: Despite failed attempts at both incorporation and annexation to Woodside, the drive for local control over local issues continued. Officers of the Portola Valley Association were spending countless hours giving Valley opinions to the County about the development plans that continued to pour in for the area. The advocates of incorporation and annexation were united in believing that the status quo would be the ruination of the valley. However, those who were happy to have the government remain in distant Redwood City were also persistent.

Merrill Morshead took his argument to the Palo Alto Times, declaring that “in the sound and fury surrounding the attempt to incorporate as a city, certain arguments against incorporation are not being expressed…As to land presently scheduled for development, it is an undeserved slur at our county supervisors and planning commissioners to assume that they will permit developers to desecrate the valley. On the contrary, with the more extensive resources available to the county, it is better equipped to plan and control development of the area than will be a relatively poverty-stricken city government.”

Alan E. Green chimed in, saying, “Why don’t you newspapers give the people of Portola Valley a chance to speak for themselves, instead of forever trumpeting the persistent squeaking of a few “little idler wheels” of the Portola Valley Association? … If I still have the right as a citizen of the Republic, to want a little MORE FREEDOM …in preference to a lot more unnecessary government, … I surely do wish that you would also find out [what most people want.]”

A glimmer of hope did exist if an incorporation attempt failed once again, an Ace in the Hole. In June of 1962, the Association had asked the County to prepare a Master Plan for the Portola Valley region. The County agreed to do this and applied for a Federal grant to help in financing, to which the feds agreed, allotting $40,000 for the project. Spangle and Associates was hired to prepare the plan, which was to emphasize maintaining the rural, single-family residential, and open space aspects of the area. Creating an urban open space preserve was to be the goal. When the plan was completed, even if the status quo remained, development would be monitored by the County in accordance with its dictates. [The plan was completed and put to use by the first Town Council. They also hired Spangle employee, a young George Mader, who served as Town Planner for almost fifty years.]

However, the Action Group for Local Control had plans for seeking incorporation once again.

Last Action Group Members

They had gained permission to circulate a petition to incorporate on November 19, just one week after the Woodside defeat. The strategy they devised was a one-on-one approach: contact every homeowner, armed with information about the benefits of local control.

Bob Katz was put in charge of organizing the volunteers who would fan out and canvass the neighborhoods. He created a pyramid approach with area chairmen who oversaw neighborhood chairmen. Each neighborhood chairman was responsible for contacting approximately ten homes. This precinct organization and the vigorous outreach of the neighbor to neighbor approach were important factors in the ultimately successful vote.

Three months later, on February 11, 1964 the Board of Supervisors received the completed petition. It contained 1070 signatures, representing sixty percent of those eligible to sign and fifty-four percent of the total assessed land value of the area to be incorporated.  John Bruning, the county clerk, stated that it was the most extensive petition for an incorporation that he had ever received during his long term in office (In addition to signatures, the document contained very explicit and detailed statements about boundaries, zoning, densities, and objectives, prepared by attorney James Morton and planning consultant Lawrence Wise.) The Board agreed that the signatures were proper and well in excess of legal requirements. And, there was not a majority of the assessed value in opposition.

Thus, the next step was a public hearing, scheduled for March 26 and April 9.  In the midst of a large number of supporters, several landowners expressed opposition, but they represented less than 50% of the assessed valuation. The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve the Action Group’s boundaries. They set an incorporation election date of June 23.

As it turned out, nine years after that first meeting to discuss how to reign in excessive development, the people of Portola Valley wanted to incorporate. They had attended countless meetings, received dozens of explanatory mailings on such issues as boundaries, local taxes, fire and police protection and water rights. As many as one hundred had served on committees, and another 250 had helped in one capacity or another.

On June 23, 1964, eighty-one percent of the electorate turned out to vote. 72.8% of the voters, 1061intensively-informed citizens, voted in favor of incorporation. Eleanor Boushey, Nevin Hiester, Bob Brown, Bill Lane and Sam Halsted were elected to the first Town Council.

first town council with captionPortola Valley officially became San Mateo County’s 18th incorporated community on July 14 at 5 PM when required paperwork was filed with the California Secretary of State, Frank Jordan. The first council meeting took place in the MUR of Portola Valley School on July 15. The councilmembers were sworn in by the County Manager, E. R. Stallings, and Nevin Hiester was elected mayor. The business of the new town began.  Various dignitaries and 120 summer school children were in the audience.  A dog slept on the stage.

In a triumphant and graceful report about the years of arduous, widespread volunteer efforts to create Portola Valley, Myron Alexander, Bill Lane and Nevin Hiester conclude: “Thus, the Town of Portola Valley came into existence with the desired boundaries intact, a Master Plan at no cost to the town, with planning control over the western foothills and an opportunity to maintain its residential character, open space and rural ambience through the political actions of its own residents and its own Town Council.”

Town Councils since then have maintained these values.  Here are the members of the 2014 Town Council.

2014 Town Council at Planning Retreat.
2014 Town Council at Planning Retreat.

The Story of Incorporation, Part III

 Realizing that the post-war boom roaring through the small towns of the United States was beginning to reach the valley, a group of seventy-five residents met at the Portola Valley School on January 13, 1955 to discuss how to “protect the rural character of the area, to defend it against intensive development, the population boom and urbanization.” They created an organization they called the Portola Valley Association. It was the first of many, many meetings committees and studies before Portola Valley became an incorporated town in 1964, thereby allowing residents to make their own land-use decisions.

   In 1955, few Americans worried about over-use of land, or about pollution, or environmentalism. Bigger was considered better. Earth Day demonstrations would not be held for another fifteen years, the Environmental Protection Agency would not come into being until 1970 and global warming was unknown, never mind a household word. Yet these citizens of the village of Portola Valley wanted to grapple with environmental and other and land use issues before irreparable damage was done.

By 1957, a committee composed of Horton Whipple, Bob Brown, and Albert Boissevain had prepared a 25-page report detailing problems based on increasing pressure from subdividers and commercial interests.

Bob Brown
Bob Brown

Their report used the approximate borders of the school district.  Their entire report was mailed to all residents.  Most read it, and many attended long meetings about growth and possible solutions. Democracy was alive and well.

A postcard poll followed. Results: 400 cards returned; 201 against incorporation,   50 for it, and 149 wanting to postpone incorporation.  The Association dropped plans for incorporation and focused on developing a master plan for the area and studying  the  possibility of annexation to Woodside.

Then John Francis Neylan, owner of 1500 acres above Portola Road, sold property  along the road to the Northern California Presbyterian Homes. They planned a retirement home on the site.

Sign showing the location for the Sequoias Retirement Community
Sign showing the location for the Sequoias Retirement Community

Although the plans were relatively modest, one feature alarmed residents: the introduction of sewers to the valley. Until that time, the sole use of septic tanks, which required large leach fields, provided a natural brake on growth. A sewer line, however, could make possible close, multiple hook-ups and small lots, even apartments. Canvassing by the Association showed widespread opposition to the complex, but the County of San Mateo approved the project, named by then the Sequoias, anyway. Here was significant proof that local control was the only way to preserve their valley. How best to accomplish this was the dilemma.

The Portola Valley Association proclaimed itself neutral with regard to what decisions should be made to achieve that goal; members considered it an information gathering body and a clearing house for discussions. The Association hired Griffenhagen-Kroeger, a highly respected consulting firm specializing in local governments, to study such issues as a description and costs of existing government service, the operating budget the proposed city would require, non-property tax revenues available, and fiscal consequences of annexation.  They presented their report in April.  More discussions. Democracy is time-consuming.

1960 Incorporation Map for the Town of Portola Valley
1960 Incorporation Map for the Town of Portola Valley, California

Meanwhile, a number of people within the Association continued to believe that incorporation was the only way to assure reasonable development in the valley. The Committee for the Incorporation had been formed in January and planned to go through the required procedures to bring a vote. The first step was to file a Notice to Circulate a Petition for Incorporation with the county along with a map of the proposed new town. The petition had to have signatures from at least 25% of the population within the boundaries, who represented at least 25% of the assessed valuation of that area.  That notice was filed with the county on February 1, 1960.

On March 4, 1960, John Francis Neylan (yes, the man who had sold land for the Sequoias) sent the first of many mass letters to the “Residents and Tax Payers of Portola Valley” announcing his intention to procure signatures of the owners of 51% of the land’s assessed valuation. Presenting such a petition to the Board of Supervisors would be sufficient to halt incorporation. His goal: “to stop the headlong rush into unknown taxes and turmoil.”

John Francis Neylan was a formidable foe to the Committee for Incorporation. He was the lawyer for William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the old San Francisco Call, State Controller, and twenty-eight-year member of the University of California Board of Regents.

John Francis Neylan
John Francis Neylan

Alexander Bodie, editor of the Palo Alto Times knew him well. He wrote: “He was a biased, opinionated and often an irritating  man  – I think he would have taken that as a compliment.” Neylan spoke of himself thusly: “Some people love me, some people hate me; no one within the sound of my voice is indifferent.”

The battle was engaged.

The Committee began circulating its petition to incorporate on April12. They needed 443 signatures based on 1772 property owners, and  representation of  $700,408 of $ 2,801,635 of assessed valuation.

Neylan fired off a series of letters, including response postcards.  He first garnered support of the large landowners; others followed. His frequent letters to the community, using words such as “sly and slick maneuvers, a dearth of intelligent arguments”, and “misrepresentations and fraudulent statements,” about the Committee to Incorporate were enormously effective.

On June 1, the Petition to Incorporate was filed with 548 names, 30.9% of residents who represented $717,104.50, 25.595 % of the assessed valuation of the proposed town. It was enough!  A hearing was set by the Board of Supervisors for September 15, at which time it was presumed that they would set a date for an incorporation election.

Meanwhile, Neylan had filed petitions of protest from 680 residents representing $1,305,815 of assessed valuation; it was $200,000 short of the required 51%. Since another 212 more protests had been filed at the last minute, the hearing was postponed so that the names could be verified.

In the end, on October 6, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution declaring that 55.2% of owners of more than 51% of the assessed valuation had protested. The incorporation attempt had failed.

John Francis Neylan had died on August 19.