Al Rathbun

The Rathbuns bought property on Corte Madera Road in 1949 and in 1957 moved to Alpine Hills into a house they had designed and built. They had purchased their 2 acres in 1951, property Al believes to be the largest lot in the subdivision. At the time, Golden Oak was paved only to the end of their lot. When they saw a rattlesnake on the road, they wondered how many others were lurking around their property.

Al Rathbun,  January 14, 2010
Al Rathbun, January 14, 2010

During the years when incorporation was being studied, Al carried petitions around the neighborhood, offering explanations about the advantages of local control of local issues and seeking signatures. He became a member of the first Planning Commission in 1964. At the beginning, the commission enforced county ordinances, which he says were lax and allowed almost anything, but they added more requirements as time passed. Even then they worried about the steepness of the slopes. He resigned because of a potential conflict of interest with his business, Earth Systems. He was also a founder of the Alpine Hills Investment Club, which, he says, was a ‘joke” at first, not making much money, but got better and was still in existence in 2009.

Marge Larkin

When the Larkins moved to the Bay Area because Ken was hired by Lockheed, they stayed at first at the Cardinal Hotel in Palo Alto. Marge had the responsibility of finding permanent housing. She toured the area with a realtor, looking for a house with some land and was discouraged until one day, they visited Portola Valley. It was a “spec house” on Valencia that attracted her attention.

Marge Larkin, January 14, 2010
Marge Larkin, January 14, 2010

Ken liked it too, although the steep price, $110,000, was beyond their budget. They liked it enough to take out a second mortgage. After about ten years, they found almost three acres on Golden Hills, built a house there and moved. “We always wanted to look out on land, not houses,” she says. She remembers meeting Sandy McKay and hearing his plans for a swim and tennis club. They were among the first to become members.

Crystal Hopkins

The Hopkins came in 1959 to Alpine Hills. Crystal’s husband told her to go out and find what she wanted.

Crystal Hopkins, 2009
Crystal Hopkins, 2009

She remembers that the view was like a picture. “You could look out and see the water of the bay,” she says. She remembers how bare the land was then, which made the views possible. Her mother kept a beautiful garden on the property, much admired by everyone.

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

Diane and John Vedder

Diane and John Vedder found Menlo Park prices too high for them when they were looking for a home in 1957. They now consider themselves very lucky to have found their Alpine Hills lot. In three months in 1959, they built their house.

_DSC9538 Alpine Hills_Jan_14_2010_diane_john_vedder
Diane and John Vedder with Crystal Hopkins in the background, January 14, 2010

Peak Lane was simply a chained-off fire road when they bought. By the time they moved in, it had been paved and declared a road. There were no trees at the top of the hills. There was an Alpine Hills Ladies Club for many years, and a group of young mothers took turns running their own day care center/preschools for their youngsters. They particularly remember with fondness the local postman. He knew everyone, took pleasure in delivering packages, never mis-delivered, and occasionally served as bartender at house parties.

Judy and Bob Falconer

When Judy and Bob Falconer were Stanford students, the unpaved lanes of Portola Valley were trysting places for young couples. Later, after they married and were looking for a home, they returned to those lanes. They talked to realtor Gordon Oberg who operated from a little house on the corner of Alpine and Golden Oak. who showed them property. To get up to the property they were considering, they had to get up a head of steam to make it up the gravel road.

Judy and Bob Falconer, January 14, 2010
Judy and Bob Falconer, January 14, 2010

They bought their lot in 1955 and moved in in 1956 when there were very few other houses. They paid $7000 for an acres and a quarter, “a lot of money,” they recall today. Many years later when they moved to Westridge, they were told that their Alpine Hills house was bulldozed and taken in pieces to Pacific islands to be used for other houses. When the driveway was being constructed at their new house, an remarkable Ohlone lance point was unearthed, dated by an archaeologist who specializes in the Ohlone from 2000 BC to 800 BC.

 

Jean and Ted Lamb

When Ted Lamb and his Stanford classmates visited Rosottis’ in the early 1950s, he says it was “wild country” out here. There wasn’t even a road leading up the hills across the road. After a stint in his family’s business, he returned in 1960 to find big changes in the area. Alpine Road had been realigned a bit, with part of a hillside cut away to accommodate the changes. And Alpine Hills had a road. He and his wife Jean bought land a house near the “Stanford Triangle,” that steep, wooded land extending, even today, between Westridge and the northern arc of the Golden Oak semi-circle.

Jean and Ted Lamb, April 3, 2014
Jean and Ted Lamb, April 3, 2014

Eight or nine or ten neighborhood kids would hike through the wilderness to get there to play—building hideouts, having “shoot-outs” and all kinds of fun. Working for the real estate firm of Cornish and Carey, in the early 1960s he learned of an offer by Mills College in Oakland to buy land behind Rosottis’ to relocate their campus. The deal fell through amidst valley plans for incorporation.  Because of so many various proposals for development,  without incorporation, “It would have been a disaster,” he says.

Documenting life and times in the Town of Portola Valley, California