Proposed ballot measure would limit City Council’s ability to sell land

McKenzie Park in Los Altos. Photo from the city of Los Altos website.
McKenzie Park in Los Altos. Photo from the city of Los Altos website.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

A group of Los Altos residents are preparing to collect signatures for a November ballot measure that would stop the city from selling more than 7,500 square feet of public land without voter approval.

Jim Jolly, who is leading the effort, said he remembers working for Intel in the early 1970s, when there were only two buildings off of Bowers Avenue in Santa Clara. The rest was open fields, he said.

“The pressure to just build more and more houses for more and more employees is intense and doesn’t seem to be diminishing,” Jolly told the Post, referring to expansions by tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple. “And they have deep pockets.”

Jolly says he wants to keep the city from losing public land to the pressure to expand. Currently, the sale of public land is at the whim of City Council.

“Sometimes you get (council) members who are more ‘Let’s keep Los Altos as much as we can the way it is’ versus ‘Let’s change it and put three-story buildings downtown,’” he said. “We have very little park open space for our citizens, and the complexion of our council changes periodically.”

A 2012 report showed that Los Altos had less than 1.6 acres of park land per 1,000 residents. Palo Alto and Mountain View each had more than 2.5 acres.

Menlo Park had almost 1.7 acres per 1,000 residents, San Carlos had more than 5 acres and Burlingame had almost 3.3.

The exception of pieces of land of up to 7,500 square feet allows the city to sell utility or traffic easements, which usually aren’t controversial, Jolly said.

Jolly has lived in Los Altos since 1977, but said some of the volunteers who will be collecting signatures are newcomers. The title of the proposed measure is Protect Our Parks and Public Lands.

2,000 signatures needed

Volunteers will need to collect about 2,000 signatures in order to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Jolly said he doesn’t want to see the city sell off plots of land to support downtown commercial activities or to build new and affordable housing developments without voter approval.

The initiative would allow these lands to be rented for up to 180 days per year.

Controversy over the sale of public land has popped up in Los Altos several times over the last few years.

“There’s a lot of people who are trying to get their hands on our park land,” supporter Roberta Phillips told the Post.

Wojcicki proposal criticized

Personal genomics pioneer Anne Wojcicki’s development company, Los Altos Community Investments, pulled their 91,200-square-foot First Street Green office project on Oct. 11 after some were critical of a private company buying and developing public land.

The three-story, 77,000-square-foot building was planned for 101-151 First St. and on a 14,200-square-foot portion of Public Parking Plaza No. 7.
The plaza would have done away with 67 parking spaces at the public lot and moved them into a three-level underground garage proposed as part of the project.

In 2014, 57.4% of voters approved Measure N, a $150 million bond measure for the Los Altos School District to expand and upgrade schools, upgrade classrooms and labs, update technology and construct or equip classrooms and schools.

The idea of using the money to building a new elementary school at Hillview Community Center was proposed, but didn’t succeed.

“It’s really giving the voters an opportunity to decide the future of our parklands and public lands,” Phillips said.

3 Comments

  1. Is this a joke? Parks are more important than people (teachers, nurses, police officers, etc.) having to commute 2 hours to work because of the lack of local housing? Talk about NIMBYism and lack of empathy for people who can’t afford a 3 million dollar home in the area. BUILD UP AND BUILD HOUSING. There is a housing CRISIS and it’s time people take that seriously or are prepared for their schools and services to suffer when people start refusing to make the commute, or have they not noticed that that has already started happening? Look at the teacher turnover at Los Altos elementary schools where teacher pay is abominable in comparison to cost of living.

  2. >giving the voters an opportunity to decide the future of our parklands
    >and public lands

    Very good, and timely too! the tax paying voters have the right to decide the future of their parks and public lands. Not a City Council-by-fiat or a majority of one, especially when the Mayor has been reported to bully other council members and yell at residents, and certainly not when the Council and City staff have a past history of shenanigans and funny dealings with their favorites involving the sale and disposition of public lands.

    The previous commenter’s demand–“BUILD UP and BUILD HOUSING”–is pure nonsense. What are they smoking? Are we to throw out the quality of life we paid our hard-earned money for owing to this manufactured “housing crisis” which is likely to vaporize when the next recession hit? All one has to do is remember 2001-2004 and 2008-2010 to conclude this “housing crisis” would not be the issue it is, with “For Rent” and “For Sale” signs everywhere.

  3. I agree, it is time residents woke up to assert their rights to public lands and spaces. What I’ve come to conclude is that any time someone claims “Housing Crisis!”, “Affordable Housing!”, “Local Housing for school teachers, public servants” it is time to reach for and protect our wallet.

    Some years ago Los Altos citing the need for affordable housing for local teachers and police officers and firemen relaxed code for second living units. How many of those second living units were rented out under affordable housing? how many to local teachers etc? ZERO!
    You think they’d do any better now if the City was allowed to use public spaces and parks “for affordable housing for teachers and police officers etc”? Especially after the complete collapse of City staff and Council’s credibility owing to their own actions? If you do I have a bridge to sell you! Real cheap.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.