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Frequently Asked Questions

Main content start
  • General Plan, Zoning and State Density Bonus (Questions 1, 2, 3)
  • Project Benefits for the Town (Questions 4, 5)
  • Fire Safety (Question 6, 7, 8)
  • Circulation (Question 9)
  • Housing Details (Questions 10, 11, 12)
  • Sustainability (Question 13)
  • Archaeological Protection (Question 14)
  • Project Timeline (Question 15, 16)

1. How is Portola Terrace consistent with the Portola Valley General Plan and Zoning Ordinance?

Both the General Plan, including the Housing Element, and the Zoning Ordinance designate the Stanford property for residential use. Portola Terrace consists of 39 housing units, including 12 affordable housing units for community workforce households, and is designed as a clustered development on the relatively flat portion of the property along Alpine Road.

The unified plan for the entire 75 acres is also consistent with the Land Use Element. The plan is designed with extreme care and respect for the environment, including continued maintenance of the large oak woodland as open space.
Portola Terrace is also consistent with the Open Space Element and the Trail and Paths Element by maintaining the 69-acre oak woodland on the property for “visual pleasure” and by upgrading the existing Alpine Road Trail and adding the Portola Terrace Loop Trail to the Town’s trail network. In addition, the undergrounding of power lines, the deep setback of the housing units, and the planting of additional trees along Alpine Road all serve to reinforce the goals of the Alpine Scenic Corridor Plan.  

Portola Terrace meets the key goals of the town’s General Plan: 1) to preserve and enhance the quality of living for local residents; 2) maintain natural features, open space and rural quality; 3) minimize disturbances to nature and scenic vistas; 4) reduce exposure to fire risk; 5) provide safe evacuation routes; and 6) to implement the town’s policies in support of providing affordable housing.

2. What is the purpose of the California State Density Bonus Law that is utilized by Portola Terrace and how does the Law work? 

The California State Density Bonus Law is designed to increase the production of affordable housing throughout the state by making it economically and physically feasible to build. The law accomplishes this by allowing a housing project to increase the overall number of homes within a development when the project provides more affordable housing units than required by local ordinances.

The Density Bonus is a state mandate, meaning a developer who meets the requirements of the state law is entitled to receive the density bonus and other benefits as a matter of right. The State Density Bonus Law allows developers to use various incentives and waivers of local development standards to increase the total number of units in exchange for providing more affordable units than would normally be required. The law recognizes that the incentives and waivers are necessary to make the construction of affordable housing feasible even though they result in development standards that may differ from local laws.

3. How is Portola Terrace utilizing the State Density Bonus Law?

Stanford is utilizing the State Density Bonus Law to leave the vast majority of the property untouched and create a small cluster development of 27 homes for Stanford faculty and 12 affordable rental units for the community workforce, all tucked into a small corner of the site. The law only requires Portola Terrace to provide six affordable rental units, however, Stanford is volunteering to build six additional affordable rental units for a total of 12 to the town. As a result, 31 percent of the total housing units at Portola Terrace will be affordable housing units. 

In contrast, under the Town’s existing Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, Stanford is required to provide the town with three residential lots designated for future affordable housing. The Town of Portola Valley would then need to engage an affordable housing provider to fund and construct affordable units. However, since Stanford is utilizing the State Density Bonus Law, Stanford will fund, construct, and operate the affordable rental units as part of the Portola Terrace project under criteria developed by the town. 

The incentives and waivers that are permitted under the State Density Bonus Law and employed in Portola Terrace include a reduction in minimum parcel size, spacing between buildings, house and yard size, setbacks, parking, and right of way to allow for cluster development. The market-rate units are single-family homes and the affordable units are apartments as allowed under the law.

4. How does the use of the State Density Bonus Law benefit the Town of Portola Valley?

The Town will be able to provide more market-rate and affordable housing units for the community than would have been built without the use of the State Density Bonus Law. This helps the Town better achieve its portion of the Bay Area regional housing needs during a historic housing crisis.

Stanford University will design and construct 12 “turn-key” affordable rental units at Stanford’s cost. The town will not have to contribute any funds toward the affordable rental units.

And lastly, while the criteria used to determine the future occupants of the affordable units will be established by the Town of Portola Valley, the operation of the 12 affordable units will be managed by Stanford at no cost to the Town.

5. What other benefits in addition to building affordable housing will Portola Terrace provide the Town of Portola Valley?

Portola Terrace will generate significant property tax revenues, fees, and other taxes for Portola Valley, the local public school districts, and the Woodside Fire Protection District.

Fire safety will be improved for the surrounding residents and the community as a result of the vegetation management plan (VMP) for the large oak woodland and the new fire maintenance road that will reach previously inaccessible areas of the property as well as the design components built into the housing development. Those improvements include the:

  • undergrounding of the existing PG&E power line along Alpine Road;
  • provision of a 200’ defensible space, which currently does not exist, between the structures and the large oak woodland;
  • extension of an existing water line along Alpine Road, which will enable the installation of several new fire hydrants on the property to provide a source of water for fire equipment in the event there is a fire occurrence in the undeveloped portion of the property;
  • provision of a redundant source of water to the Westridge residential area in case of water line breaks or major fires in the area by interconnecting two separate existing water mains near the intersection of Westridge Drive and Alpine Road; and
  • construction of a fire maintenance road into previously inaccessible areas of the property to assist in the annual maintenance of the property and provide greater access for firefighters in the event of fire on the property.

Town residents will also have access to new and improved trails on the property: the proposed new Portola Terrace Loop Trail, which will traverse the eastern part of the large oak woodland and connect to the existing Alpine Road Trail, and an improved Alpine Road Trail, for which Stanford is dedicating additional land.

6. What is a Vegetation Management Plan (VMP)?

A VMP is a plan that is created to address existing fire hazards across a land parcel through fire behavior modeling, and to define mitigations to reduce the hazards identified during modeling. The same team of consultants that prepared the VMP was hired to prepare the scope of work for this vegetation management effort in consultation with Woodside Fire Protection District (WFPD).

7. How will Portola Terrace reduce wildfire risk and increase fire safety for the surrounding homes and the community?

Reducing wildfire risk and increasing fire safety is an important focus and benefit of Portola Terrace. Stanford retained a team of wildfire reduction experts to carefully analyze the existing conditions of our property, including topography, weather conditions, and the location of the different vegetation of the property. The consultants conducted detailed wildfire modeling simulations to understand how potential fires would behave on the site under current conditions and how the potential for hazardous wildfire would be eliminated with a series of vegetation management treatments. The team then prepared a detailed Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) to serve as a roadmap to eliminate the hazard areas on the property by controlling existing vegetation and removing dead vegetation that could potentially fuel fires on the property. The VMP will be implemented through site maintenance efforts conducted on an annual basis.

In addition to implementing the VMP, the Portola Terrace project will reduce fire risk by:

  • constructing a fire maintenance road into previously inaccessible areas of the property to assist in the annual maintenance of the property and provide greater access for firefighters in the event of fire on the property;
  • undergrounding the existing PG&E power line that runs along Alpine Road;
  • employing fire-resistant building design and materials to protect the entire project;
  • providing a 200-foot defensible space, which currently does not exist, between the structures and the large oak woodland;
  • extending a water line south along Alpine Road from the Westridge Drive intersection to bring water to the project site. The water line will also enable the Project to install several new fire hydrants on the property, which will provide additional fire safety for the project and a source of water for fire equipment in the event there is a fire occurrence in the undeveloped portion of our site; and
  • using the extension of the water main along Alpine Road from Westridge Drive to the project to create a redundant source of water for the surrounding Westridge residential area, thereby increasing fire safety for those residents. This will be achieved by interconnecting two separate existing water mains (that are currently fed from two separate sources of water) located near the intersection of Westridge Drive and Alpine Road. 

8. Is Stanford University currently maintaining vegetation on the property?

Stanford University has completed annual vegetation management as part of its ongoing stewardship of its lands.

9. Will Portola Terrace have an effect on circulation in the Town?

The Town of Portola Valley will independently assess potential circulation impacts of the project through the Environmental Impact Report process. The impacts, if any, are expected to be less than significant given the relatively small size of the development and the low number of daily trips to be generated. Stanford is committed to working with the town to mitigate any impacts that are identified in the EIR. 

Because most of the units in the project will be occupied by Stanford faculty, future residents are eligible for a variety of transportation initiatives through Stanford’s Transportation Demand Management program, all designed to reduce the number of single-occupancy drivers to and from campus. The program has been highly successful in decreasing the drive-alone rate and reducing traffic congestion in the region. Program components include:

  • An extensive Bicycle Program that includes bicycle infrastructure and amenities, safety training and classes, discounts for bicycle equipment and gear, and economic incentives for choosing bikes as a primary mode of transit.
  • Free commute (trip) planning to create a custom transit and/or bike plan from Portola Terrace to Stanford.
  • Stanford's rideshare program makes it easy for Portola Valley commuters to share rides in a van or car to work. Stanford has also partnered with ridesharing services that offer special pricing and services for Stanford commuters.
  • A Commute Club program for those who do not purchase a parking permit which provides a yearly cash bonus, free emergency ride home, and numerous promotions and contests to keep commuters engaged.

We do not anticipate the need for a dedicated Marguerite shuttle to the site.

10. How will the affordable housing in Portola Terrace serve the needs of lower-income households?

Workforce households—including those for teachers, first responders, health care workers and other essential service providers—are integral to our community yet face significant housing challenges. The 12 apartment homes will offer a range of studio, 1- and 2-bedroom units to fit different household sizes and income levels. The Town of Portola Valley will determine the specific household income levels for the affordable housing units to best serve the needs of the community and the area.

11. Why isn’t Stanford building these houses on the main campus?

Portola Terrace is one of many initiatives by Stanford to increase the local housing supply and to provide more housing for its faculty and staff, including housing developed on campus and in neighboring jurisdictions. 

This site has long been identified by the Town in its Housing Element of the General Plan as an appropriate location for Stanford affiliated housing and it is an ideal location for Stanford’s faculty given their preference for detached housing within close proximity to campus.

12. What will be the price range of the faculty houses?

Faculty are central to Stanford’s ability to be a leading research university, cultural center, employer, and health care provider. Portola Terrace provides subsidized housing options for faculty in one of the most expensive markets in the country. Stanford’s faculty housing program allows junior and other faculty to buy a home near campus.

There is not yet a decision about the prices for these new faculty homes; however, faculty homeowners will pay property taxes.

13. How will Portola Terrace be a sustainable project?

Portola Terrace will provide homes near the residents’ workplaces, whether at Stanford or in Portola Valley and the surrounding area. This will greatly reduce the commute distances for those residents, compared to a typical suburban development.  

Clustering the homes on the 6-acre portion of the site preserves land, which is the most environmentally sustainable of all development choices. Additionally, the homes will be Net Zero energy, all electric, have solar panels, and are designed with fire-resistant materials for longevity. The landscape will only use drought-tolerant, native plantings. The design for all homes follows Portola Valley’s Municipal Code regarding outdoor lighting, providing dark sky compliant light fixtures and their equivalent to direct light only where it is needed for safety and security and to prevent the nuisance of glare.

Environmental protections will be in place for wildlife habitats, including nesting birds, dusky-footed wood rats and California red-legged frogs as part of the Vegetation Management Plan for the large oak woodland. Historic and cultural resources will be protected and preserved as with any of Stanford’s lands.

And, creating a neighborhood with a diversity of households and incomes provides for economic equity, which is an integral part of sustainability and helps make the Town of Portola Valley more inclusive as a special place to live and work.

14. What steps is Stanford taking to protect potential archaeological materials on the site?

Stanford engaged a cultural resources consultant to ensure that no potential archaeological materials might be disturbed by construction of our project.

Several searches were conducted as part of that due diligence:

  • an archival search by the California Historical Resources Information System to determine if any archeological finds have been recorded on the project site;
  • a Stanford University record search by Dr. Laura Jones, Campus Archaeologist;
  • a search of the Sacred Lands File by the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC);
  • contact with five Native American individuals/groups recommended by the NAHC;
  • an archaeological field inventory of the housing site by a Professional Archaeologist;
  • a review of the built environment by a consulting architectural historian; and
  • a supplemental archaeological inventory of the proposed fire road alignment as part of the project’s Vegetation Management Plan.

Based on this detailed review, the consultant determined that the proposed project can proceed, no subsurface testing for buried archaeological resources is necessary and no archaeological monitoring is needed due to the low perceived potential for exposing significant buried resources during ground-disturbing construction. However, in the unlikely event that artifacts are discovered during the construction process, Stanford will have in place a series of procedures to respond promptly in a manner consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

15. What milestones has the project achieved and what is the remaining timeline for the review and approval of the project?

March 2016 - March 2019: Stanford attended Study Sessions with Portola Valley Town Council and community workshops organized by the Council
May & July 2019: Stanford hosted four community open houses to receive initial public input on the proposed housing development
September 2019: Stanford submitted formal project application to the Town of Portola Valley, including revisions to the initial design concepts in response to community input
September/October 2019: Town started formal review of the application and began environmental review under CEQA
Fall 2019 - Fall 2020: Town has been overseeing the preparation of an environmental impact report and review of the project, to culminate in public hearings
January 2020: Town held a Scoping meeting to get community input of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)   August 2021: Conducted site tours for Town Committee members and the general public
March 2022: Public Draft of the Environmental Impact Report released
*Early 2023: Public hearings expected to be held
As with all proposed development, the EIR includes a review of all environmental impacts, including traffic, schools, fire safety, seismic safety, open space, light spillover, etc. Findings for this project will be issued when the EIR is published. Comments on the EIR will be invited from the public and Town Committees prior to the EIR being heard at the Planning Commission and Town Council meetings.

*This timeline is projected and subject to change.

16. What is an Environment Impact Report?

A EIR is a document required under the California Environmental Quality Act to identify impacts and potential mitigations on the environment for development projects.