BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Los Altos residents will have at least two new council members after this month’s election — maybe three — which could change the city’s direction on issues such as new development and police.
Two councilwomen, Mayor Jan Pepper and Jeannie Bruins, will be termed out this year meaning their seats on council are up for grabs. Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng is running for re-election in a field with six newcomers.
Three of the seven candidates are real estate agents. Three of the seven are appointees of the current council on city boards or commissions.
Here are profiles of the seven candidates.
TERRI COUTURE, a Realtor, is running after living in the city for over 50 years. Couture, 67, said she wants to continue the city’s work in making roads safer for bikers and pedestrians. She applauded the council’s decision to remove former city attorney Chris Diaz who she said did not advise the city correctly.
Couture said she wants the city to communicate better with residents if she is elected. She is proposing that City Hall create a list with contact information for all residents using information from local organizations.
“This list needs to be organized so all residents can be alerted to each issue, meeting and programs considered,” she said.
She said she would consider increasing height limits for buildings along El Camino to help the city meet its assigned regional housing numbers. She said any heights should be kept to the minimum possible and said the council must protect the privacy and quiet enjoyment of adjacent neighbors.
KULJEET KALKAT, a city Financial Commission member and a Realtor, wants to put more funding into maintaining city parks and buildings. He wants to increase affordable housing in the city by allowing mixed-use developments in commercial areas.
Asked what the worst thing council has done, Kalkat responded: “Our current council has not been respectful, responsible, or careful with our city’s funds, especially in terms of unnecessary excess spending on lawsuits.”
And the best? “The current council offered support to our small businesses during COVID-19 which was good news, although even that was a small action.”
He said he supports the Downtown Vision Plan, approved by council in 2018, but it must be “translated into clear goals in regard to housing, office, retail and services. As the plan starts taking clearer shape, we will have a better idea about the need for a parking structure or not.”
He has been endorsed by the Alliance of Past Mayors of Los Altos, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors.
LEE ENG said if she is re-elected she will continue to advocate for local control over Los Altos’ planning and development. She said she wants to “defend” single-family neighborhoods and is interested in acquiring additional open space to expand city parks.
Lee Eng said the city currently has five-story buildings along El Camino that have included Below Market Rate housing. She said she isn’t interested in seeing anything taller than that.
She said she is proud to have led the adoption of an ordinance to restrict small 5G towers in residential neighborhoods, parks and near schools. Lee Eng said she is also proud she advocated to have Below Market Rate units remain BMR units in perpetuity, and that she helped increase the school crossing guard budget to provide additional crossing guards.
She has been endorsed by the West Bay Residents Coalition, the Los Altos Residents, the Los Altos Neighbors and the Friends of Los Altos.
SALLY MEADOWS, a Planning Commission member, also said she thinks El Camino zoning standards should stay the way they are.
Meadows, 61, a retiree from the biopharmaceutical industry, said she wants the city to use its money more wisely and not waste funds on lawsuits.
The city has been sued by multiple developers for rejecting projects. A judge said this year that the city broke three state laws and acted in “bad faith” when it denied an application for a five-story apartment and office building at 40 Main St.
“We need strong legal support to advise council on the pros, cons and risks of decisions, especially when involving new state laws, even if we need to bring in an expert specialized on these new laws,” said Meadows. She said city workers might need more training on new laws.
Meadows said she is interested in seeing how the city’s police department compares to reforms being made at the county level. She said she wants to see anti-bias training for police officers and more data on police stops.
Meadows has been endorsed by the Los Altos Women’s Caucus, the Peninsula Young Democrats, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the Silicon Valley Stonewall Democrats.
ALEX RUBASHEVSKY, a Realtor, said he wants to let residents have more freedom to remodel their homes and pursue a more “steady and aggressive” open streets initiative to help businesses.
If elected, Rubashevsky said he would “ease planning subjectivity on residential remodels, help businesses safely access customers with a more steady and aggressive ‘open streets’ initiative, work with developers to meet our (state housing) goals and with the increased revenues, funnel it all back into the community and provide more community services for our residents.”
Rubashevsky, 34, said he’s disappointed that the council has lost “millions” in litigation the city had no chance of winning.
Downtown, he said Los Altos “will need to grow taller and we will need to provide more parking. The city should work with developers to provide these amenities when the larger buildings go in.”
SCOTT SPIELMAN, a city Parks and Recreation Commission member who is also a pastor at Shoreline Community Church, was the only candidate to condemn the sitting council’s decision to hold meetings in the Youth Center rather than City Hall for most of the past year.
After the pandemic started all meetings were moved online. Meetings were moved out of City Hall because Bruins said the council chambers triggered her asthma.
Spielman, 71, said the Youth Center was uncomfortable for residents and the city spent too much, $5,000 a meeting, on the sound systems and raised platform they needed for the meetings.
Spielman said the city must accommodate people with asthma but moving the meetings was not a reasonable accommodation.
“Now, as the last several months of the shelter-in-place order have demonstrated, city council meetings can be effectively attended remotely,” he said. “Thus, this was a reasonable ADA accommodation that the complaining council member should have accepted.”
Spielman had other criticisms of how the city has been running. He said contracts with outside vendors are often ignored, which lead to the city missing the deadline on getting competitive bids for garbage collection and getting stuck with a bad contract. He said meeting agendas are often overloaded and don’t focus on priority items. He also said he opposes the city’s gas ban.
Spielman said he doesn’t think the city’s police department is in need of reform, but he said it needs more transparency.
JONATHAN WEINBERG, a member of the city Parks and Recreation Commission, said he will lobby the Los Altos-Mountain View School District to allow residents to use their pools if he is elected.
Weinberg, 49, also condemned the city’s entanglement in lawsuits like the one over 40 Main St.
He said he thinks the current council ignores the advice of city commissions and city workers, substituting their own opinions in the place of “expert” ones. He said council meetings are “terribly inefficient” and run too late.
He said he is glad the current council banned synthetic pesticides from being used in city parks and held a policing town hall. He said he thinks the city should collect more data on traffic stops and explore if residents could receive better non-emergency services from sources other than the police department.
“I have never been questioned by a member of the LAPD nor had a negative encounter with a member of law enforcement but I realize my experience may not be the same as others,” he said. “I believe our police department is honorable and does an excellent job protecting the public, but there have been abuse of force policing issues in the United States for a very long time and law enforcement must adjust its methods and training to meet changing expectations.”
He has been endorsed by the Alliance of Past Mayors, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, the Santa Clara County High School Democrats of America and the Silicon Valley Democratic Club.