Tag Archives: Nevin Hiester

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 Incorportion, Part IV

By October 1960 when the bid to incorporate was defeated, (owners of 55% of assessed valuation had protested) almost six years had gone by since that first meeting when residents met to start efforts to gain local control over local issues. Hours and hours of studies, meetings and surveys, and no progress. What to do, now that the impassioned protest of John Francis Neylan had convinced so many people that incorporation was a bad idea? Was incorporation really impossible? How about annexation?

Larry Lane expressed the worry about maintaining the status quo: “I think [county government] has done a good job of protecting the Valley so far. But we must face the fact that the Board of Supervisors will be forced to yield eventually to growing pressures for high density development here.”

Nevin Hiester echoed his concern: “The Board of Supervisors has lots of land to look after; we’re just a little part of it, a very small part of the whole.”

The fear was that the creation of SLAC would further open floodgates; applications were in for convalescent hospitals, Woodside was in a potential path for the Willow Freeway from Junipero Serra to Skyline; they might try to push the state to re-route it through Portola Valley. And there were those 1500 Neylan acres bought by real estate development company, Hare, Brewer and Kelley.

Nevertheless, some still preferred to rely on the county government. Hear the words of long-time resident “Big Louie” Kessich: “I think Portola Valley should be renamed Freedom Valley. …these people don’t realize how wonderful it is to have freedom from government. …You get a government here and pretty soon they’ll be telling you what you can do with your land and how to build your house.” Although others shared his view, especially large land owners, no one volunteered to research and present the case for the status quo.

However, when the Portola Valley Association created the Committee for Incorporation, they had also established the Committee to Study Portola Valley Development, directed to look into annexation to Woodside. The decision had been to try for incorporation first. While the Incorporation committee was gathering signatures, the PV Development committee was researching annexation. With incorporation a dead issue, at least for the time being, it was time to think seriously about annexation.

The Griffenhagen and Kroeger report had provided voluminous statistics about the two options. It turned out that there were several advantages to annexation. Property taxes would be a bit less than with incorporation. The cost of one government would be less than the costs of two. Woodside’s zoning ordinances would protect against high density development immediately; a new town would require time to put ordinances in place. The two towns had problems in common. A merged town could have wider influence over development in contiguous areas. A key benefit of annexation over incorporation would be that Woodside could change the proposed borders by only 5%; the county could set the borders of a new town wherever they wished.

Of course, there were disadvantages as well. Trying to govern too wide an area would mean too many compromises, and variances would be required. Individuality would be lost in the greater whole. The existing town might not be willing to modify its ordinances to suit the desires of their potential new townspeople. And, Portola Valley would be in a 4-3 minority. In fact, Woodside might not even be interested in considering annexation if a very strong majority of Portola Valley residents wasn’t in favor. And they weren’t.

In August of 1962, the Portola Valley Association formally voted to apply for annexation to Woodside. The committee assigned to study annexation, now called the Action Group for Local Control began preparing a document full of statistics for the Woodside Planning Commission. PV citizens began informal, exploratory talks with Woodside officials.

In April, 1963 the Action Group presented an application for annexation to the Woodside Planning Commission. The multi-page document, complete with charts, maps and detailed descriptions of every relevant issue and fact, excluded Ladera and Los Trancos Woods from the proposed boundaries, to make the application more favorable to the acreage ordinances of Woodside.

On June 6, in their report to the Woodside Town Council, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject annexation. A key objection was that PV large landowners had continued to be against the proposal. Stanford had asked to have its Biological Gardens of Searsville Lake removed from the boundaries. Ryland Kelley of Hare, Brewer and Kelley (owners of those 1500 Neylan acres) sent a letter protesting inclusion. “We do not believe that the joining together of these two large communities would provide a sound tax basis for proper community service anywhere within the new town. As owners of a large property it is to our interest to be under the jurisdiction of a governmental unit which is able to provide a high standard of services based on sound economic footing.”

Nevin Hiester: “This [rejection by the Planning Commission] is a crippling blow, but the Action Group will carry on the fight and ask the Town Council to rebut the report.”

And so they did. In June of 1963, the Woodside council delayed voting after hearing two hours of mostly pro-annexation comment. They wanted to hear more from Woodside residents. Petitions circulated around town presented predominately negative views of adding Portola Valley to their boundaries. More meetings followed. The council could reject the bid outright or choose to send the issue to the voters. (Portola Valley residents would then also vote.)

On November 13, 1963, the Woodside Town Council in a 5-2 vote gave a firm and final NO to the annexation of Portola Valley. One of the dissenters wanted further study of the implications of annexation. The other wanted the decision to be made by the voters rather than by the council.

Democracy is indeed a slow process. Almost eight years had gone by. However, events moved rapidly after this second failure to gain local control over local issues. On November 19, 1963, a week after the Woodside rejection, the Action Group once again got permission from the county to circulate a petition to incorporate.