Portola Valley: Mayor Jeff Aalfs, challenger Sarah Wernikoff lead in early results | News

Portola Valley Mayor Jeff Aalfs and challenger Sarah Wernikoff are maintaining an early lead established on election night, with each holding 40.2% and 32.5% of the vote, respectively, according to San Mateo County Elections Office results last updated Wednesday morning.

Retired family physician Mary Hufty and technologist Angela Hey, who sits on the town’s Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, sit in third and fourth place, respectively. Hufty has received 20.5% of the vote, while Hey has 6.9%.

Aalfs said that, assuming the results hold, he was looking forward to “getting back to work for Portola Valley.”

“I’d like to thank the residents of Portola Valley for placing their confidence in me for another term,” he said in a written statement. “I want to congratulate Sarah — I look forward to working with her.

“I’d like to thank Mary Hufty and Angela Hey for running good, honest campaigns,” he continued. “I know you’ll both continue to participate in Town Government and I will continue to work with you.”

In an email to The Almanac on election night, Wernikoff thanked her supporters as she awaited final results.

Hey and Hufty had both conceded by Wednesday morning in statements to The Almanac.

“I look forward to continued leadership from Jeff Aalfs and welcome the school connections from Sarah Wernikoff,” Hey said.

“Throughout the summer and fall, the Town Staff has been supportive and fair handed, thank you,” Hufty wrote in a statement. “I look forward to continuing being honestly and fairly engaged for a unique and rural Portola Valley’s health and well-being.”

Wernikoff, a Portola Valley School District volunteer with a background in web-based product management, was the first candidate to pull papers for the Town Council race, deciding to run after learning that Ann Wengert, who has served on the council for 13 years, was not running for reelection. Wernikoff told The Almanac that she was also driven by a love for the town and recent work in state politics as the chief of operations with the Palo Alto-based organization Close the Gap California, which recruits women to run for office and helps them launch their campaigns.

Aalfs, who joined the council in 2011 and works in energy and green building consulting, had said this would likely be his last term if reelected. Both he and Wernikoff received the endorsement of all current council members and Portola Valley School District school board members.

Housing and wildfire prevention were major talking points for the candidates, especially in a year where the coronavirus pandemic underscored economic and racial inequities in the Bay Area and nationally and the CZU wildfires hit too close to home for Portola Valley residents.

With state mandates that could require the town to build 200 to 300 new housing units in the next decade, candidates recognized the prospect of building more housing will inevitably come before the council. All four supported building affordable housing in town, but candidates also emphasized retaining Portola Valley’s rural character as a high ongoing priority.

Candidates differed when asked about the proposed Stanford Wedge project, in which Stanford University would build 27 single-family homes for faculty and 12 affordable multifamily units on vacant property it owns along Alpine Road. Hufty did not support it due to concerns about wildfire hazards on the property. While the other candidates said more fire mitigation work may be needed on the site — and Aalfs and Wernikoff expressed doubt that the project would be approved should local fire officials deem the site inappropriate — they did not come out against the proposal.

In addition to tackling housing and wildfire safety related matters, the council can also expect to be involved in continued conversations about racial equity issues and policing moving forward. After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, the council formed a Race and Equity Subcommittee — made up of Vice Mayor Maryann Derwin and Councilman John Richards — that has spearheaded various efforts to engage residents and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office on issues related to policing, race and implicit bias, including creating a page on its website to collect public comments and launching a series of virtual town hall meetings on racial equity and policing in September. Last month the town hosted a virtual panel entitled “Policing, Race & Justice in the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office,” which included Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe and Rev. Lorrie Carter Owens, president of the San Mateo County chapter of the NAACP, among others.

Aalfs and Wernikoff funded their own campaigns, with each spending around $3,000, according to campaign finance documents filed last month. Hey and Hufty reported that they did not reach the $2,000 reporting threshold required to file campaign finance documents.

Council members in Portola Valley serve four-year terms and do not have term limits. The council has five members — Aalfs, Wengert, Derwin, Richards and Craig Hughes.

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