BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Now that 2,900 Los Altos voters have signed a petition for a ballot measure to prevent the City Council from selling public land without voter approval, the city appears to be offering them what they want in a counter-proposal.
Council voted unanimously last night (June 12) to put the citizens initiative on the November ballot, then directed City Manager Chris Jordan and City Attorney Chris Diaz to write its own counter-initiative.
But after residents criticized the counter-initiative for only applying to parks, the city decided last night to revise it to prevent the sale or transfer of any public land, mirroring the citizens initiative.
It’s unclear why the city will put a counter-initiative on the ballot that appears to hit the same points as the citizens initiative.
The city’s counter-initiative would also require a vote for long-term leases of 10 years or more. And voters would have to approve any changes of public land use, other than to turn public land into a park.
Long-term leases of city-owned property would be renewed without voter approval, unless the new lease would change the nature of the use.
Jordan and Diaz will return to council with a draft of the initiative later this month.
Mayor Jean Mordo said the citizens initiative was “essentially very complicated” and had “lots of issues.”
Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said she was “disheartened” by the “accusation, maybe, that elected officials in the city of Los Altos are planning and talking about high-rises.”
She disputed a claim made by 38-year resident Rishi Nakra that the city had considered putting a high-rise building at the Civic Center and a conference center in the middle of a nature preserve.
“I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Bruins said. “I’m having a hard time resonating with ‘the sky is falling’ here.”
Bruins said she supported the notion that Los Altos’ parks need to be saved, and touted that the council had prevented the Los Altos School District from putting a school at Hillview.
A previous council sold land at First and Main streets downtown, which Councilwoman Jan Pepper acknowledged was a mistake. She said the citizens initiative indicated that voters didn’t trust the council to sell public land judiciously.
“I’m sad that you all mistrust us,” Pepper said. “We were elected by the community.”
Mordo said the point of the city’s initiative was “to put forward a proposal that responds to 99% of what the people want,” adding that “they don’t want the park to become something else.”
“But negotiating with a bunch of people who made a petition is going to take us forever,” Mordo said. “We understand their concern. We understand what they want.”
First Street Green
Council acknowledged that other than parks, residents behind the citizens initiative are looking to protect the city’s downtown parking plazas.
Last year, 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki’s development company, Los Altos Community Investments, pulled its controversial First Street Green office project, which would have encroached onto a city parking plaza.
The citizens initiative would also reclassify Hillview Park as parkland in order to require voter approval for its sale.
Mordo said some future council — “God forbid, none of us would do that” — could vote to approve an office building on one of the downtown parking plazas, which would disturb residents who are committed to the city maintaining its quiet downtown.
“Unless you restrict that, they can do it. You have to protect the plazas,” Mordo said. “The main land we have other than the park is the plazas.”
But Bruins downplayed the importance of protecting the plazas, arguing against imposing new restrictions on the council. She said she thought the council was “killing what we have said we want to do downtown,” referring to “Downtown Vision,” the revitalization project the city has been exploring with consultants.
Council members also discussed the idea of putting a theater downtown.
“To protect the plazas, the asphalt, I think is absurd,” Bruins said. “I just don’t want to sit here going down this rathole. I think we’re going to be tying our hands again.”