Guest Opinion: Remembering George Mader and the Role of Outsiders in the Portola Valley | New


I was saddened, like so many others, to learn of the recent passing of George Mader, the long-time urban planner and pioneer of Portola Valley.

But more than anything, I can’t help but reflect on George’s life with happiness and inspiration.

George lived to be in his nineties, had a wonderful family, a distinguished career and contributed immensely to the betterment of the wider community and the world. George’s contributions as a land use planner spanned the entire state and indeed the nation and the world. George served as chairman of the California Seismic Safety Commission and consulted on geologically safe building practices in places as disparate as Italy and China. As a Stanford professor and mentor to many young planners, his legacy and influence will long outlive him. It was indeed a long life well lived.

In 1975, as a neophyte community activist, I had the chance to meet and learn from him, and over time, I considered him a friend.

However, something is happening now that is heartbreaking. Too many who today claim to revere the General Plan of the Portola Valley and its history seem to have so little real knowledge of the course of that history, the continued development of the General Plan, and the role that professionals such as George Mader have played in all this.

After all, George was a committed consultant who did not live in the town of Portola Valley, like all the other members of his company who provided invaluable assistance to our town for many years. The same goes for almost all of our municipal geologists and other professional experts, who have provided essential knowledge and advice during our city’s 58-year history.

Recently, an aspiring candidate for our City Council, Dale Pfau, was quoted in the Almanac as saying “The Master Plan was originally written by volunteer residents”, whereas now staff and consultants “dominate” our City process. . Another candidate, Mary Hufty, criticized the role played by “non-resident municipal staff”. Both of these comments are very disconnected from the real reality of the Portola Valley’s history and present.

Probably no one played a bigger role in shaping Portola Valley’s overall plan than George Mader, a paid consultant who didn’t live in our town. Although Mader’s house was close to Ladera, it was not in the city.

While Portola Valley has benefited immensely from 1964 to the present day from many dedicated and selfless volunteers, what we have accomplished as a community has only been made possible by these volunteers working in synergy with experts from high-flying, who were dedicated consultants and cities. employees, very few of whom have had the good fortune to live in our city.

Moreover, contrary to what some seem to believe, the general plan of Portola Valley was not given from above by a few wise founders of the city in 1964 in its present form. As laudable as our founders were, our initial master plan would have seen Portola Valley grow to more than twice its current size. This only changed in stages over many years as our overall plan was improved. The work that culminated in this was made possible by non-resident consultants like George Mader, without whose expertise our general plan and associated policies and ordinances would never have been legally accepted.

Among the revolutionary changes developed by George Mader and other experts were the zoning of slope density, fault zone setbacks, and the avoidance of development on land prone to landslides. These changes not only protected public health, safety and welfare, but they also significantly reduced the amount of development allowed in the Portola Valley.

To hear this story and this beautiful tradition denied by those who were not there to witness it and did not bother to learn it is sad, and indeed it is a tragedy.

These “outside consultants” and city employees who do not live in the Portola Valley are now, as a group, derided for not being of local origin. If we in the Portola Valley become so parochial and nativist in our outlook, it not only violates a proud tradition, it does not bode well for our future.

At a time when our city is being tested like never before by onerous state requirements to provide affordable housing, we cannot afford to have a “residency” requirement to determine which experts we are. ready to listen. We should not shoot the messenger just because we don’t like the news she brings.

We have seen the disastrous consequences of ignoring expert advice nationally and internationally when it comes to climate change, a pandemic, and wacky conspiracy theories about who won our last presidential election, among so many other things. . If we allow this kind of narrow, non-fact-based thinking to infect our local democratic process, our future will be bleak indeed.

Jon Silver is a former Portola Valley Mayor and San Mateo County Planning Commissioner.


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