Portola Valley Ranch is a community of homes nestled in the hills of Portola Valley, approximately 30 miles south of San Francisco. Our development, surrounded by hundreds of acres of privately held open space preserve, was designed to harmonize with the natural environment.
Its approximately 350-acre open space preserve contains nearly 10 miles of riding, hiking, and jogging trails which connect to the county, town, state, and private nature preserve trail systems. These trails augment the rustic footpaths which form the internal circulation system between residential clusters. Many of the trails have been dedicated to the town and are open for public use.
In addition to the trail systems, the project has a 7-acre recreation center. It includes a clubhouse, a recreational pool, lap pool, tennis courts, vineyard, two duck ponds, an orchard, a community vegetable garden, a picnic area, barbecues, and additional parking for guests. Our common areas and shared recreational facilities are administered by our HOA, the Portola Ranch Association.
About the Ranch
The site for PVR was purchased in 1974, construction began late in 1975, and the first homes were occupied in December 1976. The natural landscape, native vegetation, and wildlife have been preserved to the maximum extent possible. The Ranch features several hundred acres of open space, miles of riding, hiking, and jogging trails, two pools, tennis courts, a vineyard, a playground, a gym and a common recreation center.
Living in Community Close to Nature is an informational brochure designed for prospective buyers and real-estate agents, highlighting the benefits and responsibilities of living in the Portola Valley Ranch.
PVR is located on the San Francisco Peninsula in rural Portola Valley, a community which has vigorously preserved its rustic character through stringent land use control.
Two preschools are within 2 miles of the Ranch. Corte Madera School, which is adjacent to the Ranch, serves 4th through 8th graders. Ormondale School , only 2 1/2 miles from the Ranch, serves kindergarten through 3rd grade. High school students attend either Woodside or Menlo-Atherton High School or any one of the private high schools nearby. PVR is 10 minutes from Stanford University in Palo Alto.
Nearby access to Interstate 280 places the project within 30 minutes of downtown San Francisco to the north and the city of San Jose to the south.
Located in the Santa Cruz mountains, PVR has a superb natural setting, with spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, the Stanford University campus, and the surrounding forested mountains and foothills. The preservation of these unique vistas has been assured. A portion of the Ranch foothills to the west is permanent open space area, while the remaining area to the west is either owned by an open space association or is subject to strict development controls. The land to the south of the site is occupied exclusively by nature preserves, while the land to the north and east is part of the town of Portola Valley and thus subject to its development review.
The site is characterized by rolling hills which contain virgin oak woodlands, meadows, streams, and ponds. Soils are primarily clay and sandstone. Wildlife is abundant and includes deer, bobcats, raccoons, and a wide variety of birds. The site is bisected by the famous San Andreas fault. Development has been limited to the foothills to the east of the fault, with the foothills to the west containing the site’s wilderness preserve.
For much more on the community, its history, resources, and related sites, please visit the Town of Portola Valley.
Many Ranch residents are executives from high-stress professions who are attracted by the Ranch’s concern for the environment, its low-maintenance features, the convenience and variety of at-home recreation, and the privacy and quiet provided by the open space and wilderness area. Often they have left homes with pools, tennis courts, traditional landscaping, and large lots in order to escape the climbing energy and water bills and the high upkeep time required. Residents are sophisticated, health-conscious, and energy conscious and range from empty nesters to singles to families with children. Homeowners enjoy the low-key, relaxed lifestyle, pleasant quality of life, low-maintenance living, recreation, open space and proximity to Stanford University.
Every lot owner is a member of the homeowners’ association. The association, a nonprofit California corporation, is chartered to maintain all recreational facilities, open space, and cul-de-sac island plantings, to administer the common facilities, to assess and collect dues, and to enforce the covenants, conditions, and restrictions. The association administers a continuing informational program which includes a monthly newsletter to keep residents up to date on Ranch events and to remind them of regulations. It also functions as a social body, hosting monthly cocktail hours, a gourmet picnic, hikes, and related events.
The association includes a Design Committee, composed of a minimum of three members, which approves homeowners’ exterior home changes, lot improvements, and landscape plans, thereby assuring design continuity and the implementation of the basic development concept. Design guidelines have been prepared by the committee to assist homeowners and to make certain that they are fully aware of the overall development philosophy.
Planning & Engineering
The overall planning objective has been to minimize the disruption of the natural environment. All man-made elements have been organized into as close a relationship as possible with nature. By clustering homes on less than 100 acres of the site, approximately 350 acres have been left as permanent open space to provide views, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Homes have been grouped around a series of cul-de-sacs, with each cul-de-sac grouping planned as a unit. The site’s rolling terrain and the greenbelts of mature oaks screen adjoining clusters and provide a high degree of privacy for residential sites. The cul-de-sac groupings have also created small neighborhood intimacy and security within the larger community.
The land has served as the natural planner, with land contours determining the placing of roads and the cul-de-sac neighborhoods. Roads have been placed along ridge lines, thus eliminating all but the most minimal cut and fill. Roads have been kept narrow (22 feet wide) and the amount of impervious surface has been minimized. Carports, garages, and off-street parking bays have been provided, thereby eliminating street parking and permitting narrower streets. Rustic paths have been provided instead of sidewalks. These paths integrate the various clusters, and feed into the network of hiking, jogging, and riding trails in the open space area.
Individual homes have been carefully sited to maximize views and privacy, to avoid the disturbance of natural site features, such as trees, shrubs, rock outcroppings, and overland waterflow, and to provide optimum weather control by capturing the most sun and the least wind. Homes are located on approximately 1/2 acre lots. However, all homes and streets were sited before property lines were laid, allowing maximum flexibility in siting. The irregular lot shapes permitted by the town were also critical in achieving the ideal siting of each home. In many instances, homes were redesigned to save trees or other natural features.
A natural surface drainage system has been employed instead of conventional storm sewers. Stormwater is converted into natural or man-made streams which feed into several natural collectors – two ponds and many small creeks. Mini-dams and rock-filled channels have been used to break water flow velocity. In addition, a German technique called wattling (which encourages midstream plantings of willow and alder) has been used to reduce runoff velocity. These techniques, together with the minimization of impervious surfaces, have allowed water to seep down into the soil to replenish the subsurface water table, a critical factor in the drought-prone climate. The use of drip irrigation and native plant landscaping has also reduced water use. In addition, water conservation has been stressed by providing several home water-conserving devices, such as low-flow shower heads, faucet aerators, and low-flush toilets, and by providing two pools at the community recreation center instead of individual pools for each home. The project’s water conservation program has reduced water use in the development to less than one-third of area norms.
Another key factor in preserving the site’s natural setting to the maximum extent possible was the use of a totally natural landscape plan. All landscape plants, both existing and newly planted, are natives. Trees and shrubs have been set in natural groupings, with groves of trees growing in natural patterns across lot lines. No fences or formal hedges are allowed. Thus, there is a sweep of visual continuity from the forested open space to the residential clusters. The native plants are hardy, disease resistant, and drought tolerant. Once established, they use 70 percent less water than conventional gardens, an important aspect of the water conservation program. They also require significantly less maintenance than conventional landscaping and serve as one of the project’s low maintenance features. In addition, native plants have allowed wildlife to remain by providing food and protection.
In order to minimize the disturbance of the natural terrain and vegetation, to cope with geologic considerations, and to take advantage of slope potential, pier and grade beam construction has been used. Homes have been stepped up and down the sloping building sites (2 1/2:1 slopes are typical). They have been designed with simple forms and clean lines, and are visually open structures which minimize the interference with views.
A basic cube design has been used minimizing energy used for summer cooling and winter heating and providing maximum flexible strength in the event of earthquakes. However, no two homes look alike. Over two dozen basic floor plans have been designed with variations in the number of rooms and their placement, level changes, roof lines, carports, garages, deck and trellis design, and roof and siding materials. To achieve harmony with the natural setting, earth-tone paints and wood finishes such as redwood, cedar, and fir have been used. This allows the units to be unobtrusive from a distance, while at the same time providing variety within each residential cluster. By building within oak groves and providing additional native plantings, the homes will ultimately blend totally into the natural landscape and the visual impact of the project on neighboring communities will be minimized.
Homes have been designed and oriented to give maximum privacy while retaining spectacular views. Private courtyards and sheltered entryways provide street-side privacy, while skylights, clerestories, and large expanses of glass provide light and airy interiors and views of the mountain horizon and overhead tree canopies. A continued design theme has been to blur the dividing lines between indoor and outdoor, natural and manmade. The skylights provide natural light, and large wooden decks encourage outdoor living. Natural earth tones have been brought inside through the use of wood beams and handmade tiles on entry and bath floors. Large, open floor plans provide flexibility and encourage multiple uses.