By Braden Cartwright
Daily Post Staff Writer
Los Altos City Council will consider removing or disciplining a planning commissioner who requested that council create new rules for the Rancho Shopping Center without getting an OK from the rest of her commission.
Commissioner Kate Disney asked council in a letter on Sept. 8 to authorize the Planning Commission to study rules on noise, lighting and landscaping at Rancho before an apartment complex goes in.
She said she wants a requirement that the developer keep retail on the first floor.
Disney may have violated the rule that prohibits commissioners from requesting that the council add an item to its agenda, City Attorney Jolie Houston said in a report to council.
Agenda requests must be done by a vote at least three commissioners, Houston said.
Vice Mayor Jonathan Weinberg asked on Sept. 12 to schedule a discussion about disciplining Disney. Mayor Sally Meadows and Councilman Pete Dailey supported his request.
Council will talk about allowing housing at Rancho and disciplining Disney at Tuesday’s meeting.
Disney didn’t return phone calls or text messages requesting an interview yesterday.
It used to be OK
Roberta Phillips, a resident who is supportive of Disney, said Disney was on the Planning Commission years ago, and commissioners used to have more leeway then to write to council.
“It’s probably something she wasn’t aware of,” Phillips said.
Council could’ve pulled Disney aside and told her that she did something wrong, and it would’ve likely ended there, Phillips said.
Disney’s current term ends in September 2026. Council can remove commissioners, with or without cause, by a majority vote, Houston said.
Council passed new rules for commissions this year.
For example, the rules say commissioners have to start all public comments with, “I am a commissioner, but I am speaking on behalf of myself and my own personal beliefs,” unless they’re the commission’s official representative.
A dissenting opinion
The Planning Commission voted 4-1 on Sept. 7 to change the zoning rules at Rancho Shopping Center to allow for a housing-only development.
“Since only one council member attended last night and meeting minutes often do not capture the essence of discussions, I wanted to email the rationale for my ‘no’ vote,” Disney wrote on Sept. 8.
Allowing residential-only developments at Rancho and Woodland Plaza, another shopping center anchored by a Lucky, could “obliterate” the city’s commercial districts, she said.
Disney and other residents are pushing for a requirement to have retail on the first floor.
Commissioner Susan Mensinger asked if the city could do this at the Sept. 7 meeting.
Development Services Director Nick Zornes said yes, but the city would have to revisit the requirement if housing doesn’t get built at Rancho by 2027.
But the more pro-development commissioners didn’t go along with Mensinger’s idea because they said it went beyond what council was asking them to do.
City bound by state mandates
The city is bound by the 2023-2031 Housing Element, a state-mandated plan to allow for nearly 2,000 new homes in Los Altos over the next eight years, Zornes said.
If the city doesn’t change the rules at Rancho as the plan committed to, then the state could fine or sue Los Altos and take away local control, Zornes said.
The property owner, Stephen Vidovich, won’t necessarily build the housing, but the city is dropping a restriction on floor space that effectively prevented any new development.