Los Altos City Council puts measure on the ballot to compete with citizens initiative

Los Altos officials wanted to give city property to Los Altos Community Investments to build this 77,000-square-foot office building on First Street last year. The development company, headed by Anne Wojcicki, pulled the proposal last October. But a citizens initiative that has qualified for the November ballot will require all similar sales of city land to receive voter approval. Illustration by EHDD Architecture of San Francisco.
Los Altos officials wanted to give city property to Los Altos Community Investments to build this 77,000-square-foot office building on First Street last year. The development company, headed by Anne Wojcicki, pulled the proposal last October. But a citizens initiative that has qualified for the November ballot will require all similar sales of city land to receive voter approval. Illustration by EHDD Architecture of San Francisco.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

The battle over public land is heating up in Los Altos, where City Council has moved ahead with a ballot measure to compete side-by-side with a citizens initiative on the November ballot.

Both would prevent the sale of city-owned land or re-designation of a park or open space without voter approval, but the city measure would only require a four-fifths council vote to lease city land. The citizens initiative would require a vote of residents to enter a lease.

Mayor Jean Mordo and Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins fought to make it easy for council to enter or renew a lease without voter approval, with Mordo championing the Downtown Vision Project that could include a new theater, hotel or workforce housing on a city-owned parking plaza.

“We have a vision plan for downtown, and the vision is a way that we found to keep the village character while providing more vibrancy,” Mordo said. “You can provide more vibrancy by adding four- and five-story buildings all over downtown. That is not what we want, so we have developed this vision which says ‘let’s keep low-profile.’”

The downtown plan, Mordo said, would involve three-story buildings in the core and four-stories outside.

“Nobody wants to lease for 99 years a parking plaza to a developer for him to make money,” Mordo said. “If there was a way to prohibit that and keep it simple, I would like to.”

In October, 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki’s development company, Los Altos Community Investments, pulled its plans to build the First Street Green, a large office project downtown. The building would have encroached onto a public parking plaza.

Council’s measure criticized

Five supporters of the city ballot measure spoke in public comment. One supporter of the citizens initiative, Tom Ferry, spoke in its defense after others accused it of being misleading.

Bruins emphasized the need for simplicity in the ballot measure, and invoked the nation’s representative system of government in arguing that voters should trust council — not every decision needs to go to the vote.

She said that council was trying to “make up for the sins of past councils that we’re still trying to hold ourselves accountable to” and asked that voters “trust that the elected people are listening and we’re going to do the right thing.”

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