Town Center History

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Construction of school at 765 Portola Road

July 14, 1964

Town Incorporation
From 1964 to 1975, Town Hall was located in the stone building formerly known as the Mangini tavern and picnic grounds, at the Alpine Hills Swim & Tennis Club.


Establishment of Town’s Geologic Program
Dr. Dwight Crowder, a Geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, (USGS), Town resident, and member of the Town’s Conservation Committee, recommended geologic mapping and adoption of development regulations to limit exposure to hazards.

Geologic Hazards Committee
The committee endorsed the recommendations of Dr. Crowder to the Town Council. Members included geologists with worldwide reputations, including Professor Ben Page (Stanford) and Dr. Robert Wallace (USGS) among others.


State of California Essential Services Building Seismic Safety Act

OVERVIEW: The Essential Services Building Seismic Safety Act sets standards to ensure that essential facilities can withstand seismic activity greater than non-essential services structures.

“Essential Services Buildings” are those which are used or designed to be used as a fire station, police station, emergency operations center, California Highway Patrol Office, sheriff’s office, or emergency communications dispatch center.


Mapping of the traces of the San Andreas Fault by Bill Dickenson of Stanford University.

Hiring of first Town Geologist, Dr. Arvid Johnson, (Stanford), succeeded by Dr. Jon Cummings and current Town Geologist, Bill Cotton.


Ad Hoc Geologic Committee

OUTCOME: Ordinance 1973-119, establishing fault setback requirements for the Town.

“The likelihood of surface rifting and accompanying ground motions of significant to disastrous proportions along the San Andreas Fault in the mid-Peninsula some time in the next few decades is a matter of general agreement among earth scientists. Accumulating evidence and growing tectonic theory continue to strengthen this view.”

George Mader, Town Planner
March 1972


H.J. Degenkolb & Associates Structural Engineers Report commissioned by PV School District to evaluate the seismic safety of the school buildings

FINDINGS: “ . . .The principal buildings (are) well designed to withstand the strongest earthquake shaking. In the case of shearing, caused by the movement of ground under a building, it was forecast that the entire building or large portions would collapse.”

March 7, 1973

Alquist-Priola Earthquake Zoning Act, State of California

OVERVIEW: Sets forth minimum fault investigation and approval requirements for all cities and counties. Requires fault investigations for subdivisions of five or more parcels and developments of four or more houses. The Act provides that no structure subject to its provisions be placed closer to a fault than 50 feet unless studies approved by the local agency support a lesser setback, but in no case may such a structure cross a fault trace.

“ . . .Ground rupture, strong ground shaking and ground warping are the main seismic hazards that threaten the existing buildings on the school property. None of the major buildings are clearly free of the threat of ground rupture and therefore should not be used for human occupancy. I would recommend that the Town abandon its proposal to purchase the school property, unless a detailed geologic investigation is undertaken. It should be made clear that even after an exhaustive geologic investigation, this property may remain to be of little value for public buildings intended for human occupancy.”

Bill Cotton, Town Geologist
Letter Report to Councilmember
John Wilson June 8, 1974


Town of Portola Valley Resolution No 500-1974

OUTCOME: Approved and adopted “Geologic Map” and “Movement Potential of Undisturbed Ground” and established land use policies for lands shown on the maps.

  • Mapping by State Geologist – Released Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zone Map covering Portola Valley
  • Adoption of Geologic Criteria for all Development in Town


Purchase of Town Center Site from the School District

Adoption of Seismic Safety Element of the Town’s General Plan


Town’s Administrative Staff locates in Administration Building


H.J. Degenkolb & Associates Structural Engineers Report on Town Center Structures (Commissioned by Town)

OUTCOMES: Town decided to limit occupancy in the Artists’ Studios and to create a flexible wall between Rooms 8 & 10, with storage only in Room 10.


Woodward-Clyde Consultants Seismic Investigation of the San Andreas Fault crossing the school site

FINDINGS: Confirmed the location of the Woodside Trace close to where surface fault rupture was documented to have crossed Portola Road in 1906.

July 26, 1992

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title II: Public Sector Services

REQUIREMENT: Title II prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against persons with disabilities or from excluding participation or denying benefits of programs, services or activities to persons with disabilities. Public sector entities should have completed a Transition Plan for barrier removal to guarantee program access by July 26, 1992.

January 26, 1993

Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II: Public Sector Services

REQUIREMENT: Public Sector entities must complete a full Self-Evaluation of all policies and practices by January 26, 1993.

January 26, 1995

Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II: Public Sector Services

REQUIREMENT: Structural changes that are required in the Transition Plan were to be completed by this date. The Town is currently not in compliance with Title II of the ADA.


Ad Hoc Town Center Facilities Committee

OUTCOME: Studied Town Center facilities and made recommendations to the Town Council concerning space allocation & improvements, as well as addressing ADA issues.


Town Center Master Plan – Scheme “C”

PROPOSAL: Add ADA-compliant restrooms to MUR; addition to Administration Building to make it ADA compliant; construct Emergency Services/Shop Building.

Renovation of Historic Schoolhouse
Complete renovation of the Historic Schoolhouse, including full seismic upgrade to meet current Building Codes.


El Nino Storms resulted in severe damage to Upper Alpine Road, causing the Town to temporarily forgo further planning for the Town Center.


Design of Portions of Scheme “C” (from 1997 Town Center Master Plan)

PROPOSAL: Add ADA-compliant restrooms to MUR and Historic Schoolhouse; addition to Administration Building to make it ADA compliant; construct maintenance facility/corporation yard.


Ad Hoc Town Center Facilitation Committee

OUTCOME: Developed Mission Statement for Town Center. Four conceptual schemes with preliminary ballpark costs were presented to the committee for review; of these Option “D” was chosen by the Council. We would attempt to rebuild the Town Center Buildings largely in place and over time.

Phase 1: Demolition of existing Town Administration Building; temporary office trailers provided for Town Staff to use; rebuild Town Administration Building in same location, behind the earthquake fault setback line. Demolition of existing science/nature room; relocation of science/nature room into classroom 8. Construction of a new Corporation Building and Yard on the vacant land next to the MUR. All other functionality and buildings on site retained.

Phase 2: Demolition of classroom building next to schoolhouse. Addition to the existing library to house the science room and natural history archives plus seismic upgrade of the library. Demolition of artist studios. Construction of an art room, dance studio and new, smaller artist studios (dance studio would be enlargement of green room in MUR). Seismic upgrade of MUR. Demolition of classrooms 8,9,10. Building a pavilion and opening of the creek.

Town Council approved contract for architectural design services related to Option D.

Due to the close proximity of proposed Town Center improvements to the mapped traces of the San Andreas Fault, the Town sought a Fault Investigation Analysis for the Town Center site. The analysis was undertaken by Geomatrix Consultants, Inc.

The Fault Investigation Analysis was submitted to Bill Cotton, Town Geologist, for geologic peer review. He concluded the report was inadequate and he recommended completion of trenching at the Town Center.

“As you are aware, the entire Town Center complex lies within the San Andreas Fault zone and indeed some portion of the existing buildings may lie astride the active trace(s) of the fault. As the Town Geologist, naturally our first recommendation would be to encourage the Town to consider alternative sites for the Town Hall that are not located within the San Andreas rift zone. If an alternative site is not feasible, we recommend that a very detailed fault investigation become part of the scope-of-work necessary for the new Town Center.”

Bill Cotton, Town Geologist
Geologic Evaluation Letter to Town Administrator Angela Howard
June 13, 2001

“Through the Portola Valley, and for about 3 miles northwest of Woodside, the fracture runs in a continuous and almost straight line. At a little distance, it looks as though a furrow had been run down the valley with a big plow. In places the earth has been piled up into ridges 2 or 3 feet high, and at other places fissures have been opened that measure 2 ½ feet in width.”

Tim Hall, Geologist, Member,
Geologic Safety Committee
(July 2001) quoting a report by Tabor about the 1906 earthquake

“We are certain that surface faulting has passed through the Town Hall site in 1906 and that it will happen again in the future, but we are uncertain as to when, where and how (pattern) it will do so.”

Bill Cotton, Town Geologist
July 27, 2001


Geomatrix Seismic Investigation of the nearby White Property (formerly Jelich) and land immediately south

FINDINGS: Clearly identified active faulting in the vicinity of the mapped Woodside Trace. The exact trend and location of the active Woodside Trace was not defined with certainty as it crossed the property. In addition, Geomatrix identified young surface faulting on the Spring Ridge property, located immediately south of the Lands of White.

Ad Hoc Fault Setback Committee

OUTCOMES: Recommended revisions to fault setbacks; sent to Planning Commission for review and adoption.

Request for Proposals -- Seismic Site Assessment, Town Center Project

SCOPE: Primarily focused on collection and evaluation of subsurface information to address the potential risk associated with surface fault rupture and ground deformation (tilting and warping). Estimation of anticipated levels of ground shaking from a ground-rupturing earthquake and recording of subsurface evidence of liquefaction.


Phases I & II Seismic Investigation by William Lettis & Associates

FINDINGS: The Woodside trace is not a simple, single through-going fault. It consists of a complex zone of deformation associated with tilting, warping, folding and brittle surface-fault rupture along northwest and northeast-striking faults.

Phase III Seismic Investigation by William Lettis & Associates

FINDINGS: Report reviewed by Town Geologist, and currently under review by State of California Geological Survey. Report findings indicate that active secondary faults do not cross the northwestern portion of the Town Center site. Preliminary input from the State Geological Survey is positive with respect to investigation findings.

“It’s very powerful, very clear evidence of a complex fault zone,” said Mr. Lettis (William Lettis, Ph.D. Geologist). He said that with the next big earthquake, the landscape of Town Center could warp by one to two feet, and the surface of the ground could break by one foot or more.

The Country Almanac
May 29, 2002

“Preliminarily, we have cleared a rectangular parcel in the tennis-court area that is appropriate for building.” said John Baldwin of William Lettis & Associates. “There’s no evidence of surface-fault rupture across the (tennis-court area of the) site within the last 1,000 years or so.”

Portola Valley Newsletter
Fall 2002


Ad Hoc Town Center Location Committee


  1. Current Town Center Site
  2. Orchard on Portola Road (adjacent to Town Center)
  3. Nathhorst Triangle (at least 2 possible configurations)
  4. Los Trancos Triangle
  5. Alpine Road @ Paso del Arroyo
  6. Rossotti’s Field
  7. Stanford Wedge
  8. Glen Oaks Horse Park
  9. Ford Field
  10. Country Offices
  11. Pollock Office Building


  1. Current Town Center Site
  2. Various Nathhorst Configurations
  3. Stanford Wedge

RECOMMENDATION: Current Town Center Site

PRINCIPAL CONSIDERATIONS: Cost, Site Area, Sequencing of Construction, Historical Continuity


Town Center Project Public Workshop (April 8, 2003)

OVERVIEW: The workshop was held to:

  • Inform residents about historic use of Town Center facilities, seismic evaluations conducted on the Town Center site, and committee planning efforts concerning the Town Center.
  • Identify concerns and issues pertaining to structural integrity, disability access, seismic setback and building code requirements regarding existing Town Center buildings; and
  • Provide an opportunity for dialogue between residents, Town staff and Councilmembers.

OUTCOME: Then-Mayor Driscoll asked for names of persons who would be interested in forming a committee to advise the Council on the Town Center Project. At the April 23, 2003 Town Council meeting, the Mayor, with concurrence of the Council, appointed a "Town Center Citizens' Advisory Committee."

Town Center Citizens' Advisory Committee

OUTCOMES: The committee formed two sub-committees: 1) Finance; and 2) Facility Function/Activities. The Finance sub-committee prepared a report titled "Finance Sub-committee Portola Valley Town Center Renovation Committee." Another task group prepared a questionnaire distributed to committee members, the results of which are titled "Town Center Citizens' Advisory Committee Questionnaire Results."

The committee of the whole, formed as small working groups, also prepared six site reports, which evaluated potential sites for location of a new Town Center. These site reports include:

  • Existing Town Center Buildings at Front of Site
  • Town Center Outside of Fault Setbacks
  • Ford Park
  • El Mirador/Town Center
  • Nathhorst Triangle
  • Stanford Wedge

Advocates of each site presented the site reports to the Council as unedited documents; no committee consensus was reached on the content of the reports.

Phase IV Seismic Investigation by William Lettis & Associates (reported to Town Council on February 9, 2004)

FINDINGS: Report reviewed by Town Geologist, and filed with the State of California Geological Survey. Report findings indicate that active secondary faults do not cross the southwestern portion (Russ Miller soccer field) of the Town Center site. Report also included a recommended building setback map. Input from the State Geological Survey is positive with respect to investigation findings.

Town and Library Staff Presentation Concerning Town Center Project (November 12, 2003)

OVERVIEW: Town and Library Staff gave a presentation to the Town Council that included:

  1. Heightened staff awareness of the dangers involved in occupying the existing Town Center buildings;
  2. Building code changes that had been adopted since the buildings were constructed;
  3. Lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (disabled accessibility);
  4. Lack of room for expansion in the existing buildings;
  5. Lack of heat in the maintenance shop;
  6. Problems and limitations with the existing corporation yard;
  7. Safety issues concerning the large expanse of un-tempered glass in the Library; and
  8. Potential loss of liability insurance due to the condition of the existing Town Center buildings


  1. Relocation of Town staff to a portable or modular office building
  2. Installation of protective film on the large Library windows


Town Council Approval of Protective Film Installation on Large Library Windows

Town Council Policy Decisions Concerning Town Center Project (February 9, 2004)


  1. The current buildings on the site represent an unacceptable risk, particularly in light of the most recent geologic investigations. The Town is exposed to unnecessary liability and uncertain future availability of basic insurance. And the buildings have aged to their full lifetimes and declined in health. They should be abandoned.
  2. There is room at the back (western portion) of the current site to safely and efficiently build a new Town Center complex, and to replace the current buildings with open recreation facilities. The most recent geologic investigations have fully confirmed this fact.
  3. The Town should endeavor to provide for all the current uses at a new Town Center complex, and generally continue to provide facilities that enrich the broadest spectrum of citizens, consistent with our economic capability to fund it.
  4. The Town Council should seek to fund these efforts, over time, out of running revenues, and avoid public financing, if possible. The next priority for funds should be public contributions. Only as a last resort should the Town attempt to raise further funds via bonds or other taxation.
  5. The construction of this process should be tackled in phases after an initial master plan, so that uses can be "rolled" from existing buildings to the new buildings, where feasible. The order should be to do the Town Administration and related facilities first, followed by the library and other cultural and recreational amenities second, with lowest priority going to uses serving few residents with special facilities.
  6. The Town is blessed with a wide range of valuable citizen expertise and therefore should involve the public in the master planning and design of the complex and its phases through the use of a public Charrette process.

Request for Qualifications - Architectural Services, Town Center Project

SCOPE: Requested submissions from qualified firms to provide architectural services to the Town including:

  • Development and implementation of a "Community Design Charrette" process;
  • Master planning of the Town Center campus; and
  • Preparation of design and construction documents for select Town Center buildings.

Town Council Policy Decisions Concerning Town Center Project: (March 24, 2004)


  1. Move as rapidly as possible to complete the new Town Center facilities. The greatest safety for our residents and staff is accomplished by placing them in permanent modern facilities built to the latest earthquake standards.
  2. As recommended by the Town Attorney, place appropriate signage on all buildings and revise disclosure forms. Place signs on all buildings describing the potential earthquake risks. Strengthen language used on the Earthquake Hazard Disclosure Forms.
  3. Limit the use of the MUR and any other facility at risk. Restrict use of MUR to Portola Valley activities only. No NEW class usage. No rental for weddings or non-town social events. Other rooms at risk should have no new usage approved.
  4. Enter into a 3-year lease-purchase agreement for a 3200 square foot modular as a Town Administration building. (Agreement approved April 28, 2004).
  5. Enter into a 3-year lease-purchase agreement for temporary modular classroom buildings. (Postponed)

Town Council Adoption of "Policy for Temporary Buildings Within Earthquake Fault Setbacks" (April 14, 2004)

Town Council Agreement with Siegel & Strain, Architects for Phase I, Architectural Services, Town Center Project (April 28, 2004)

Town staff moves out of former Town Administration Building and into modular Town Administration Building located next to the Historic Schoolhouse on the Town Center property.

Town Council sent each resident a "Summary/Checklist of Community Suggestions & Issues (1997-2004) Facilities, Features and Qualities of a New Town Center"

OVERVIEW: Requested each resident to place a check mark next to the facilities and policy matters that they felt were most important. Also provided an opportunity for residents to submit new ideas/proposals.

Phase I, Town Center Project, Siegel & Strain Architects and Goring and Straja Architects

A. "Community Design Charrette" Process

OVERVIEW: Siegel & Strain Architects, Goring and Straja Architects, and Public Affairs Management conducted a series of "Community Design Charrettes"

  • Work Session #1 - Town Center Project Introduction
  • Work Session #2 - Sustainable Design and Site Walk
  • Work Session #3 - Town Center Puzzle: Developing Site Plan Possibilities
  • Work Session #4 - First Draft Conceptual Site Plan

B. Master Planning of the Town Center Campus

OVERVIEW: Siegel & Strain Architects and Goring and Straja Architects refined a Master Plan for the Town Center campus through input received at the following series of meetings:

  • Town Council Special Sessions - September 8, October 13, and November 3, 2004
  • Planning Commission and ASCC Joint Meeting - September 13, 2004
  • Meetings with Town Committees - Weeks of September 13 and 20, 2004

The Draft Final Portola Valley Town Center Conceptual Master Plan was presented at a Special Town Council meeting on November 3, 2004 and accepted at a Regular Town Council meeting on November 10, 2004.