Positions

We live in a great City!

I have lived in Los Altos for 31 years and I want it to continue to be a great community. Greatness doesn’t happen with complacency; it happens with elected officials who make good decisions and are committed to maintaining the excellent quality of life we enjoy. I have done that as your representative on the City Council for the last four years, and I will continue to do that for the next four years.

Open (and Good) Government

I am committed to good government that is transparent and inclusive.

Transparent

City Council discussions and decisions must be made in an open process with ample opportunity for public review and comment.

I sponsored the Open Government Ordinance, which was adopted by the City Council in 2014.  This does the following:

  • Requires that City Council agendas be posted 8 days in advance of the meeting, and published in the Los Altos Town Crier on the Wednesday before the council meeting.  This alerts the entire community on what is happening at the council, providing sufficient time for community members to make their views known on what’s coming before us.  (In contrast, the Brown Act requires that the agenda be posted 72 hours [3 days] in advance of the meeting.)
  • Requires commercial development proposals to install “story poles” and a larger sign on the proposed site.  Story poles outline the height and mass of new buildings, providing a visual definition of any proposed buildings.  The sign must be no smaller than 4’x6’ and include a graphic of the proposed project.
  • Requires that all regular and special meetings of the City Council and the Planning and Transportation Commission, which are held in the Community Chambers, be video taped.  All meetings of other Commission meetings must be audio taped.
  • Requires that all public record requests be posted on the city’s website.
  • Creates a standing Open Government Committee composed of two council members, on which I currently serve.

Inclusive

To make decisions that represent the whole of Los Altos, it is imperative that people express their views and are heard.   One of my objectives is to increase community engagement.  In the summer of 2014, I helped initiate a Community Engagement Roundtable.  This roundtable focused on the processes used to engage residents in city issues and was very well received.  At this roundtable, we described the methods that the City of Los Altos uses to get information to the residents, and also had speakers from Mountain View and Palo Alto to describe the methods they use.

The speaker from Mountain View described their neighborhood programs.  City staff and council members regularly meet with different neighborhoods to update them on capital improvement projects planned for their neighborhoods and also to talk in general about the city.  The city also provides a small amount of funding to encourage neighborhood block parties, so that neighbors get to know neighbors.

The speaker from Palo Alto described new online tools they use to get feedback from their residents.

As a result of this Community Engagement Roundtable, the City of Los Altos started employing additional online methods of communicating with the residents, including using NextDoor to push out city-related news, Open Government to survey residents opinions on selected topics, and a weekly City Manager update.

A second Community Engagement event was held in the spring of 2016, with two meetings held at two schools, to reach the parents of school children.  A number of parents attended and important feedback was received.  However the City Council voted to disband the Community Engagement effort after these meetings.

I feel there is additional effort we can make to improve the processes for engaging the residents of Los Altos.  I look forward to working more on additional ways of reaching residents to keep everyone informed about our city and community.

Building Consensus

Los Altans have many varied opinions about our City. By treating each other with respect, and really listening to each other, we can move toward a consensus on major policy areas that most people will support.  For example, about half of Los Altos residents think we need more vibrancy downtown and about half think it’s just right.  Talking this through, and starting first with where we all agree, should provide a means for us to build consensus on how to proceed.

Strategic Forward Thinking

We must think strategically about the long-term effects of today’s decisions which will be with us for many years. Buildings last for 50 to 100 years . . . and once a tree is pulled down, it is gone forever. Which people are affected by decisions, and what are all the possible responses they might have? We need to understand all possible ramifications of a decision by comprehensively engaging all potential stakeholders. I use this type of thinking in my professional work, and I bring these qualities to our City Council.

An Updated Vision for the Downtown and the Civic Center / Community Center

The Civic Center – we know the Hillview Community Center needs to be replaced, but clearly the approach taken with Measure A was way off.  But there is support for a new community center.  We need to take a different approach.  We need to be open to other opportunities.  We need to look at public-private partnerships, bring Los Altos Hills into the discussion, and talk to philanthropists.   And we need to develop a vision that looks holistically at the downtown and the civic center together, in order to connect these two special places in our town for the benefit of our residents and businesses.

There are very few places left in our area where there’s open space and an orchard.  I think we should protect our open space and have places where people can get away from the Silicon Valley rat race.  Once you develop open space, it’s gone forever.

We need to look at how we can finance a refurbished community center and civic center.  With a comprehensive 10-year financial plan, we need to look at the funds the city currently has, where capital projects need to be addressed, such as roads, stormwater, and park maintenance, and then ask, how much do we have left?

I support using existing funds to maintain and upgrade the existing Hillview Community Center while we develop a vision for a combined downtown / civic center specific plan with a phasing and funding strategy that has stronger community consensus.

Vibrant Commercial Areas

There are seven unique commercial areas in town. We need to work together – residents, business owners, and property owners – to ensure commercial areas meet our needs, and reflect our community values. There must be economic vitality for our businesses, ease of walking and biking, safe traffic patterns, adequate parking, environmentally sustainable development and infrastructure, community gathering spaces, and beauty. Our community is filled with intelligent people with lots of interesting ideas. I will encourage community input to discuss these ideas to develop creative solutions.

Downtown

Downtown Los Altos has seen a number of new projects completed on First Street.  There are mixed reviews, with some people liking the new buildings and others concerned about the First Street “canyon”.  As I talk to people throughout Los Altos, there is general agreement and desire for greater vibrancy, including more variety in restaurants and unique stores for browsing and shopping.   Our downtown is a unique place that is family friendly – a safe place for our children with more places for families to feel comfortable.  The Third Street Green has been a great success, and demonstrates the support for open park-like, community gathering spaces downtown.

With so much shopping taking place on-line, I’m looking forward to an economic study of our downtown that will enable us to understand what kinds of businesses can survive.  In this evolving economy, what is the right mix of office, retail, restaurant, and service businesses?  As we gather that information, we can modify our zoning as needed to encourage a mix that will thrive in our community, while focusing on a downtown that serves our community first.  We don’t want to be Mountain View or Palo Alto, with the resultant traffic and crowds.  Families and others choose to invest in homes here and stay here because our town already is good – so we need to figure out how to provide a thriving downtown that appeals to all the age groups in our community – children, teens, young families, empty-nesters, and seniors.

I look forward to the downtown visioning process that the council has started.  We will be looking at three to four scenarios as starting places.  I support finding the balance that maintains our unique “village” feel while supporting a vibrant and economically viable downtown that meets the needs of our residents.  Fortunately, the consultants have been asked to look at the “connection” between downtown and the civic center.  Once the visioning is completed, the next step is to develop an EIR for the entire site, codify it, and have our city planning and building staff follow it.  This will then provide the direction for existing and future property owners to proceed with updating their buildings to create a vibrant, economically viable downtown that our residents want.

Should we leverage our other city assets?  Can we do more with our parking plazas?  Some have suggested that we have a developer build some affordable housing with underground parking for the residents and the public?  Others have suggested building a movie theater/live theater on one of the plazas?   We need to have a discussion on how we define and prioritize Los Altos-specific “public benefits”, and then insist on having developers provide real public benefits for our community.  Other cities do this, and we need to follow that lead.

Downtown Building Heights

Please school to the bottom to read my reasons for supporting the recommendations of the Downtown Building Committee to lower residential and commercial building heights in the downtown while the visioning process is going on.

Loyola Corners

Soon the council will be looking at an updated Specific Plan for Loyola Corners.  With the new Loyola Bridge, the traffic patterns are likely going to change.  I believe it’s important to listen to the neighbors.  There is an opportunity to update Loyola Corners and be creative about how this unique area evolves over the next few years.

Affordable Housing

As we’ve seen this enormous economic recovery in Silicon Valley, there is a huge need for affordable housing.   The El Camino Corridor seems like one of the best options we have within Los Altos to do our share.  This is also the most appropriate area for allowing more density in housing.  I support having the city council look at this business area and determine how we can do our part to provide more affordable housing within our boundaries.

A couple years ago, the city adopted an updated Housing Element that defines how we allocate and monitor affordable housing units.  We also need to make sure the Housing Element is being followed properly.  How is the public made aware of affordable units?   How is someone selected to rent or purchase an affordable unit?  How are the units tracked after someone rents or buys?  This is a subject area that I want to focus on in my next term.

Environmental Sustainability

In Los Altos, I strongly supported the ban on single-use carryout bags for shopping.  This ban was adopted by the City Council in July of 2013.  This was repeated throughout the county, and now we are all used to bringing our own cloth bags for shopping.  This is a huge success in reducing the use of plastic and the litter that these plastic bags create in local streams and streets.

Los Altos has already taken steps to improve the environment through the adoption of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in December 2013, which I heartily voted to support.  The Climate Action Plan defines a goal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 2005 emission levels by the year 2020.  The total amount of emission reductions needed to achieve this is 15,640 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

In 2015, I led the council discussion and support to have Los Altos join the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority, which is a Community Choice Energy program for Santa Clara County.  Community Choice Energy provides our residents and businesses with cleaner and greener electricity at competitive prices to PG&E.  This is also the easiest and least costly measure for Los Altos to achieve our climate action goal in 2020.  The Los Altos Climate Action Plan now needs to be updated to include the Community Choice Energy activities as one of our measures.

The next step is to look at the other measures in the Climate Action Plan to set the next goal beyond 2020.  I would like to see our building codes revised so that all new commercial buildings and remodels must include electric vehicle charging stations and solar photovoltaics.  If we do any improvements to our city buildings, they should also be at least LEED Gold.  Through my efforts, we included the consideration of hybrid vehicles for the city fleet in the CAP, a few of which have now been purchased.  I would like to have this provision strengthened so that more vehicles are hybrid or electric.

With transportation as one of the highest contributors to GHG emissions in our town, the city was able to utilize grant funding to install six EV charging stations in 2013.  I support installing additional EV charging stations, moving more of our city fleet to clean vehicles, and encouraging more biking and walking of our residents through implementation of our Pedestrian Master Plan and Bicycle Transportation Master Plan.   I also try to model the behavior we try to encourage, and often walk and ride my bike around town!  And fortunately, we have more bike racks downtown, including artistic bike racks through the fine efforts of our Public Arts Commission.

I supported the city reducing its use of water during the drought, although I think it’s very important that we make sure our beautiful trees receive enough water to survive these drought years.

In the last year, we have also successfully modified the waste collection in our business districts so that recycling and composting bins are now available for business use.

In three of the past four summers, the city has collaborated with local business and property owners to host the State Street Green and the Third Street Greens.  These have been very successful events, bringing many families and residents downtown to enjoy these temporary city parks.  I support looking at opportunities to work with our property owners to make this type of park a more permanent part of our downtown experience.

My entire professional career has been focused on protecting the environment through the use of more renewable energy.  Currently, as the new CEO of Peninsula Clean Energy, I am able to move the entire county of San Mateo to a 50% renewable and 75% greenhouse gas free electricity portfolio.  And in a few years, hopefully we can move this to even higher numbers.  I also serve as one of four elected representatives from Santa Clara County on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, where I consistently vote for cleaner air and improved public health through regulating polluting industries in the 9-county bay area.

Complete Streets / Dealing with Traffic

Complete streets looks at streets that serve not only cars, but also pedestrians and bicycles.  I support more emphasis on making our streets safe for all modes of transportation – cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. Each neighborhood has its own particular concerns about traffic that should be considered when changes are proposed. Traffic calming in one area of town may create a new traffic problem in another.

As companies continue to grow in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and and Palo Alto, we feel the effects with increased car traffic moving through our town.  Traffic apps send drivers down residential streets.  I support increased vigilance on our part to monitor these traffic patterns.

We also need to closely monitor programs sponsored by the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to ensure that their proposals will not further impact traffic in our neighborhoods.  For example, I oppose VTA’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit project on El Camino for two main reasons: 1) it is extremely expensive ($223 million) for a minimal amount of increased bus ridership, and 2) the VTA has failed to demonstrate how this will not result in additional cut-through traffic in nearby residential streets.

Neighborhoods – Prepared and Safe!

One of the initiatives I started in 2014 was increasing Community Engagement, as described above under Inclusive Government.  One of my goals is to encourage neighborhood groups to actively engage with the City Council in determining the future of our City. Knocking on doors and talking to people throughout our town reaffirms that each neighborhood has unique concerns that need to be heard by the Council. Some neighborhoods already have neighborhood associations, Neighborhood Watch groups, or are using yahoo groups or nextdoor.com. I would like to establish associations in all neighborhoods so that they can actively participate in city decisions that affect 1) their specific neighborhoods and 2) the city as a whole.

The Los Altos Community Foundation has kick-started Los Altos Prepare, which organizes neighborhood blocks to be prepared for the inevitable earthquake.  The city, along with the fire department, supports this effort.  I would like to see Los Altos Prepare cover 100% of our neighborhoods so that everyone is ready when the big one hits.

The Los Altos Police Departments sponsors the Neighborhood Watch program, where neighbors keep an eye on what’s happening on their streets.  I would like to see this program expanded to cover 100% of our neighborhoods so that we’re all looking out for each other.

Each neighborhood in Los Altos is unique and we need to preserve the qualities that make them special. As proposals are made to change neighborhoods, each situation needs to be considered individually, as one size does not fit all. I will encourage active participation and input from residents in neighborhoods so that all views are heard and good decisions can be made.

Schools – the City Council and the LASD

During my four years on the council thus far, I seized every opportunity I could to work with the Los Altos School District.  Three such opportunities presented themselves.

(1) A few years ago, I worked with an ad hoc group consisting of a council member from Los Altos (me) and Los Altos Hills, and school board members from LASD and BCS to develop a list of possible sites for the LASD to site a new school.  We presented our results to a subset of LASD school board members and the superintendent.  It appears that nothing was done with that information.

(2) As a council member, I volunteered to be on the City/School Committee, which meets quarterly to discuss items of mutual interest to both groups.  As a result of this, I became the representative on the Public Lands Subcommittee, which looked at the existing land that both the city and the LASD have to determine if a tenth school site could be founds.

(3) As a member of the Public Lands Subcommittee, consisting of 2 council member and 2 school board members, and which ran from 2015 to 2016, we took a deep dive to look at 3 sites: Egan, Covington, and the Civic Center.  After learning much more about the land assets that both the City and the LASD have, it became clear to me that the LASD, with 117 acres of land had more than sufficient property to better utilize their existing land, and possibly site two schools on the 18 acre Egan property by subdividing that site.  Compared to the City of Los Altos, which has only 67 acres of parkland, and at a ratio of parkland to residents far lower than neighboring communities, it didn’t make sense to provide 4 acres of civic center property for a non-equivalent school on a site where there are so many adults and adult activities going on.

I think the best next step is to have a joint meeting with the full Los Altos City Council and the full Los Altos School Board to discuss mutual issues.  Only when you have the entire boards can you have a discussion that is going to provide results.  A minority of council and/or school board members on a committee doesn’t guarantee any success, as they cannot commit their full board/council to anything.  Thus having the entire board/council at a joint meeting is the next step to improve relations.

Downtown Building Heights

Unfortunately the vote on the downtown building heights (city council meeting of October 25, 2016) is a polarizing issue in this town. It’s unfortunate that it is a polarizing issue, as we need to work together to make our downtown as great as it can be.

I hope that voters will look at my full record over the last four years to determine whether they vote for me or not. There are lots of issues that come before the council such as open government, saving the senior commission, listening to residents about the Stevens Creek Trail, and so on, where people appreciate my stand. And many many people have told me how much they appreciate that I voted to reduce the building heights downtown.

So let me explain why I voted the way I did on the downtown building heights.

We are starting on the downtown visioning process and some people wanted the decision on the building heights to wait until the visioning is done. And I initially had that position too. However, I think the visioning is going to take longer than we expected and in order to avoid having another bad building go up in the meantime, my vote to lower the height to 30’ for commercial buildings was essentially a moratorium-type vote. However, to put a real moratorium in the downtown is unpalatable because we already have a moratorium on Loyola Corners, which has gone way longer than it was supposed to go. We are setting a moratorium on El Camino and hopefully that will get lifted quickly, but it always seems to take longer than we expect.

Setting the height at 30’ feet for commercial buildings gives us time. And lowering the height to 35’ for residential projects avoids having a developer use the density bonus law to put in a 58’ tall project with only a minimal number of affordable housing units. No one seems to be in favor of another project like that.

According to the city, there is only one project that is interested in moving forward at this time in the CD and CD/R3 area, and that is the LACI (Los Altos Community Investment) project proposed for First Street and Parking Lot 7.  I have not seen the plans for the LACI project, but they are offering a huge public benefit with the half-acre park and underground parking. So if they choose to propose a building that is higher than 30’, they are offering a large public benefit. This will force a real discussion about what kind of public benefits the city should be asking for and looking for, not only on this project, but from all other projects that come before us in the future. And by setting the bar high for public benefits from other projects that come after the LACI project, this can only make our downtown better.

Look at the so-called “public benefits” the city has received on other downtown projects. The record is miserable. This will force all of us to have a real discussion on what public benefits we should be getting in the future, what other cities get compared to us, and allow us to actually get them.

Others are concerned that by changing the height, we’re sending a bad message to the development community that Los Altos can’t be trusted because we’re continually changing our heights. The height was raised 6 years ago to 45 feet. So even with the huge economic boom we’ve had, developers haven’t been running to Los Altos because they can go up to 45’ on the CD and CD/R3 streets. So may be they aren’t interested in developing here or maybe something else is going on, but it doesn’t appear that making this height change will have any effect on whether developers are going to come here or not.

The sky is not falling in Los Altos. The people from LACI haven’t put on their running shoes and headed out of town because of this vote. They know better than that. I am meeting with Kelly Snider next week, after attending their open house to learn more about their proposed project.

Once we finish the visioning process, perform the economic analysis, and engage the public in a meaningful way, we might decide to change the heights. And that’s fine with me. And hopefully we will also have some better policies on what kind of public benefits we expect to get.

I stand by my vote, as I believe it will make our downtown better in the long-run and will have no ill effects in the short-run.