Last evening, I attended the Portola Valley Planning Commission Study Session on ADUs. Turnout for this meeting was less than at the Town Council Study Session in July and only 2 residents made public comments.
At the meeting, Laura Russell, Planning and Building Director, and Arly Cassidy, Associate Planner presented the first 9 out of 17 sections of a Staff Report drafted to “assist the Planning Commission, Town residents, and any other interested parties in considering the Town Council’s list of preferred ideas” generated in July for promoting the building of ADU’s in Portola Valley.
The weightier issues of whether ADUs should be allowed on all parcel sizes and whether floor area limits should be increased were not addressed and are slated to be discussed at the next meeting in two weeks. In my opinion, it would have been more useful to have discussed these larger issues first, before getting into some of the smaller details.
While no decisions were made at the meeting, the Commissioners discussed each topic and various recommendations in detail and provided their opinions and directional guidance to staff as they continue to flesh out the issues. Although there was not agreement among the Commissioners on all topics, some themes emerged. There seems to be general approval for creation of an intermediary discretionary staff review process for many issues that might arise with ADUs. Right now, staff has only ministerial review authority and discretionary review is done at the ASCC level. Staff indicated that they have the expertise and time to perform a design review function. There was some disagreement about which matters should be the subject of this proposed new level of review. Commissioners requested more data on how much time and expense this discretionary staff review process would save. Also, the Commissioners made it clear that it is important to them that neighbors and concerned citizens be given ample chances to weigh in on the plans for proposed ADUs.
My sense was that several of the Commissioners are not fully aligned with the Town Councils’ desire to promote ADUs (or at least not to the same extent). There was much discussion about how ADUs will increase the intensity of use of a property. However, such increased intensity of use – more people having the opportunity to live in Portola Valley – is exactly the goal of the Town Council. Light spill seemed to be of particular concern. The issue was also raised in the discussion about basements in ADUs about how many people do they wanted individual ADUs to be able to accommodate – 1 or 2 or entire families? I anticipate that these concerns will be raised again at the next meeting as the Commission discusses increasing the floor area limits and allowing ADUs on smaller parcels.
Commissioners also noted that the ASCC has not had an opportunity to comment on the Staff Report yet. It will be interesting to see if the ASCC is willing to cede some of its design review authority to staff.