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.

…………………Nancy Lund

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