COWncil Roundup – February 14, 2012

March 8, 2012

On Valentine’s Day, the Town COWncil held a not-very-romantic, but useful, meeting. All the COWncil members were in attendance. We hope they made it up to their loved ones! Prior to the public meeting was held, the COWncil had a closed session to discuss potential litigation involving the Town. Apparently someone does not love them.

The COWncil interviewed Daniel Yost and Suzanne Muller for seats on the Planning Commission. Mr. Yost was reapplying for his seat in District 1 (Woodside Glens) and Ms. Muller was applying to represent District 7. Mr. Yost, having spent four years now on the Planning Commission, said he was of the opinion that the Planning Commission process was thoughtful and fair, that the Town Staff were fair and deliberate, but not all applicants end up happy. He reported that applicants say the process takes too long and is too expensive.

Ms. Muller has been in Woodside for ten years, and has served on various boards outside of our Town and on the General Plan Update Task Force as well as on the Open Space Committee. She holds business degrees from USF and her application stated that she has “a passion for land use issues honed through years of involvement…” Both applicants were approved unanimously, and then the COWncil approved the Cow-nsent Calendar – including an update on the Residential Design Guidelines (see our article here on this issue).

The meatiest part of the meeting was further discussion on the Woodside Fire Protection District’s policies on Fire Access roads. COWncil had spoken to Staff about this in early January, and had wanted more information about the issue; such as how many properties are affected and how much discretion the Fire District has in applying its rules. The Town has wanted to work with the Fire District on formulating a coherent policy that keeps the Town safe but addresses concerns about requiring residents to build wide roads that are served by narrower Town roads at a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars.

One resident sent in a note scolding the COWncil for scheduling the meeting on this important issue on Valentine’s Day ‘”Shame on you [the Town]”, “Are you trying to get a low turnout?” Well Valentine’s Day is not an official holiday and several residents did show up to urge the COWncil to intervene on this issue.

There were some division on the COWncil as to how to proceed. COWncil member Gordon expressed frustration with the process. She wants to help residents, not by getting around the law, but by figuring out good ways to implement it. She does not see the fire safety needs and our need to keep it “lovely” here as mutually exclusive goals. On the other side of things, COWncil member Shanahan several times asked about the possibility of leaving the authority of the Woodside Fire Protection District which he sees as “a special interest group” and letting Town officials be in charge of determining road widths and implementing fire regulations. This suggestion that was resisted by other COWncil members.

The COWncil as a whole seemed concerned of the possibility that the regulations are not being uniformly applied, and also that approvals and understandings granted now might not be upheld by future generations of fire officials if they were not written down anywhere.

The Town and the Fire District do seem to be caught in a sticky spot, with State regulations being more restrictive than the regulations currently imposed in Town. Several COWncil members expressed their frustration with regulations that seemed to be formulated for suburban cities, not rural Towns such as Woodside.

Strong support was given to the idea of trying to work regionally with our neighbors in unincorporated San Mateo County and in Portola Valley, to try to figure out with the Fire District ways of regulating driveways, private roads, and turnouts in a way that is safe but also doesn’t impose an onerous burden on residents. The COWncil members also quizzed the Town Attorney on the law, which is pretty complex with different state and local requirements.

The consensus was to do more research on the issue and begin to talk to our neighbors and the Fire District to figure out how to implement these regulations in a workable way. There are strong feelings on this topic and we will definitely see more fireworks before it is resolved.

This is an important issue for our Town with hundreds of residences on private roads and much of the Town served by very narrow roads. We encourage everyone to watch the discussion here on Mootube. Of course. we, at COW, will be following the issue.

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