Los Alto council drops idea of putting competing land measure on the ballot

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

A citizens initiative to keep the city of Los Altos from selling city land without voter approval will not face a competing measure from the city, council decided yesterday morning (Aug 7).

Council voted 4-1, with Vice Mayor Lynette Lee Eng opposing, to instead look into changing the city’s general plan or zoning code without going to voters.

The change would prohibit the sale or development of city parkland or open space without voter approval — but unlike the citizens initiative, wouldn’t protect other city land zoned as “public and institutional.”

Public and institutional properties include the Civic Center campus, the location of City Hall, and the library, police department, historic apricot orchard, the Bus Barn performing arts theater, soccer and baseball fields, the youth center, and Hillview Community Center.

Other public and institutional properties include McKenzie Park, the Woodland Library, the fire station at 10 Almond Ave., Blach School, the Tiny Tots daycare center and several of the parking plazas downtown.

Nancy Phillips, a supporter of the citizens initiative, said Los Altans should still vote for the initiative in November because it protects all city land — not just parks and open space — and would be more permanent than any change the council makes.

“The initiative is going to be permanent. When it gets voted on, the only way it could be changed is by another citizenry vote,” Phillips told the Post. “A future council, with a vote of three people of the five that are currently sitting on the dais, can essentially wipe out whatever protection that the previous council did.”

The citizens initiative would also require a vote before the city leases out any land, a controversial development issue as the city seeks to enliven its downtown with its Downtown Vision project.

Leasing city land could allow the city to develop new amenities such as a new performing arts center downtown.

A similar ballot measure in Sunnyvale lost by 368 votes in 2016 after the city sold 3.5 acres of Raynor Park, including its community center, to the private Stratford School for $14 million.

Former Mayor King Lear called the Los Altos citizens initiative “evil” when speaking in public comment at yesterday’s meeting.

“In 66 years, this city has never sold parkland, open space, to my knowledge,” Lear said. “This is an extremely — I would say evil — initiative to kill local government to a major extent.”

Lear argued the initiative flies in the face of the city’s representative democracy, in which the city government makes decisions about issues that the public doesn’t have time to study.

“The public has no time to look at the complex tradeoffs and issues and make these kinds of decisions,” Lear said.

Dennis Young, a former Hillview Community Center Project Task Force member, called the initiative “duplicitous and false.”

Phillips took issue with Lear’s assessment, pointing out that even if the city has never sold parkland or open space, it has made unpopular decisions with public land in the past. In 2008, the city sold a downtown parking lot at 400 Main St. for $3.1 million to the Jeffrey A. Morris Group, spurring a lawsuit and complaints that the city had undersold the land and done so without much transparency.

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said she opposes the citizens initiative because it would tie the city’s hands when making land use decisions.

“We always kind of cringe because of what the state has done,” Bruins said. “Unfortunately, the ballot measure that’s moving forward does the exact same thing.

3 Comments

  1. An “evil” initiative to “kill local government” ? Really? letting people decide if the city sells land is “evil” ? Making deals behind closed doors with developers fits the label of “evil” a little better.

  2. Jeff Z asks the right Qs and highlights the silliness of those objecting to (Los Altos) residents attempting to protect what they own: the public lands. To describe their efforts as “evil” and to cry the sky is falling down only goes to emphasize the need to constrain those with the power to dispense with what does not belong to them but to the public. And to think they are now considering changing the Code and Zoning to still give them that authority…in the face of this initiative that takes away that power…out out out with these scoundrels drunk with their own power!

  3. >Making deals behind closed doors with developers fits the label of “evil”
    > a little better.

    As does changing the Code to benefit developers and current Council members. [See Code change re Accessory Structures and ADUs in a manner that directly and explicitly benefits two council members, including Jeannie Bruins, with nonconforming accessory structures.]

    Where is King Lear and his cohorts in calling “evil” and demanding accountability on that and other instances where staff and Council without due transparency sold public lands to their favorites, contravened the Code to allow their favorites what is prohibited others?

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