Highlights of this City Council Meeting which you won’t find anyplace else!
Minutes of July 30, 2019 Council Meeting
Mayor Lee Eng asked that the minutes of this meeting be amended to reflect that the bid for the new Community Center was not just the “lowest bidder” but that it was the “only bidder.” The amendment was agreed upon.
Commercial Retail Sales Zone Amendments
The meeting featured a discussion of the wording to implement the Council suggestions for “slightly” revising Ordinance No. 2019-462, the Commercial Retail Sales Amendments (CRS) that were provided to Staff at the August 27thCouncil Meeting. The CRS is the downtown area bounded by Main Street, State Street, and 1st Street between Main and State. Council adopted the CRS Amendments in order to provide for more flexibility in the code due to a changing business climate in town. The Planning Commission had already approved the amendments to the Ordinance before Council adopted them last Meeting. After some reflection, Council decided that a few additional amendments should be made and proposed rewording of the code concerning Office/Admin space, specifically asking why animal clinics are thrown in with Medical/Dental. Council wanted animal clinics to have a separate entry. Council Member Bruins felt that not having an explicit ban on call centers was a mistake the Council should remedy. The Council also struggled to find the original meaning of a provision covering buildings over 7,000 sq. ft. and then to find where the provision belongs in the ordinance. Council pointed to the Ordinance’s failure to provide for how long cocktail lounges can remain open. Council also resurrected its desire to ban hair and nail salons in the CRS as well as daycare facilities. The emphasis in the CRS was to be on fitness and the arts, dance and health. However, the City Attorney reminded Council that changes of this magnitude would have to be presented to the Planning Commission again for their approval. This meant a delay until sometime in 2020. After much discussion, Council Member Bruins asked if Council could give direction to Staff to process applications for uses on State and Main that are not approved but that Council intends to approve at some point because there are empty storefronts that need to be filled preferably before Christmas. She noted that, “the Village Stationaries are waiting for a decision to come out of this Council,” stressing how urgent this matter is to Downtown property owners and others. The City Attorney advised that strategy would not be legal. At that point, Council directed staff to draft amendments to the ordinance that bans call centers, bans hair and nail salons (except maybe from the second floor?), separates out animal clinics from medical/dental which are included under office/administrative services and to exclude day care centers from the CRS. If the Council approves the amended ordinance, it will go back to Planning Commission and would not be scheduled until early 2020 at best. Finally, because Council wanted some progress on this front, they decided to pass the ordinance that was in front of them – the one Staff had prepared for their consideration and approval at this Council Meeting (after a 2 ½ hour discussion). The vote was: AYES Council Members Fligor and Enander, Vice Mayor Pepper and Mayor Lee Eng; NAYS: Council Member Bruins. See
City’s response to the Grand Jury Report on VTA
Then began a discussion of the recent Grand Jury report into the Governance of the Valley Transportation Authority. See this article in the SJMN for background. Council Member Bruins, who has been on the board of the VTA for 6+ years, (note, all members of the board are from the various city councils served by the VTA) requested approval of a response that she drafted in place of the report drafted by City Staff. She believes a more nuanced response should be submitted. The City’s response to the Grand Jury report is required by law and is due by Monday. The report will express the views of City of Los Altos regarding the Grand Jury’s statements regarding the governance of the VTA board. Council Member Enander believed it to be sparse when compared to responses by Palo Alto and Mountain View and asked that drafting the response be delegated to Vice Mayor Pepper and that she add additional content similar to that submitted by those two cities. Council Member Bruins explained why she supported her version of a response and after much back and forth, Council voted to delegate drafting of the City’s response to Vice Mayor Pepper who was charged with tweaking the response as had been discussed and to send it to the presiding Judge after showing it to only the mayor and a staff person as time was of the essence. The response drafted by City Staff with the direction of Council can be found here. The response drafted by Council Member Bruins was only made available to Council and Staff.
Council Votes against hiring a Lobbyist for Sacramento Housing Bills
The next item of interest was the discussion concerning hiring of a lobbyist to represent the City in Sacramento in all housing legislation. Council Member Enander briefly reported on SB330, AB1487 and other bills being acted upon in these last days of the legislative session. Ms. Enander presented the case for the City hiring a lobbyist arguing that, in reality, it is the only way the City has any chance of influencing the outcome of housing bills in Sacramento. Mayor Lee Eng strongly supported the City hiring a lobbyist for all the reasons presented by Council Member Enander. Council Members Bruins and Fligor strongly opposed hiring a lobbyist. Ms. Fligor wants Council to form a subcommittee comprised of herself and Council Member Enander who would call the various politicians in Sacramento and advise them of Los Altos’ position on pending bills. Council Member Enander advised that in her opinion these calls would be ineffective. Instead it’s crucial that the City have a lobbyist who could speak directly with the key legislative staffers who advise the senators or assemblymen about whether there is support or not for their position from constituent cities. Vice Mayor Pepper reiterated that it might be better to share a lobbyist with other similarly situated cities. Council Member Enander advised that the cost to the city of having its own lobbyist would be approximately $50,000 per year. (At the August 27, 2019 Council Meeting, the Mayor of Cupertino advised that Cupertino pays approximately $76,000 per year for their lobbyist.) The proposal for the City hiring a lobbyist was voted down by Council: NAYS: Vice Mayor Pepper, Council Members Bruins and Fligor. AYES: Mayor Lee Eng and Council Member Enander.
Other items of interest included:
Council Member Enander reported that the City needs to add an automatic development fee escalator that is tied to an established index to the appropriate City ordinance as soon as possible before one or more of the housing bills pending in Sacramento prohibits cities from doing so. The “automatic development fee escalator” would be part of an amendment to the appropriate ordinance that the Council could pass which will automatically raise development fees in line with the designated index without Council having to vote every time it wants to raise the fees because voting to raise fees will be prohibited by certain housing bills pending in Sacramento should they pass. She also advised that there is a housing bill pending in Sacramento that would bar collection of property taxes from any low-income project. Council Member Enander cautioned that Los Altos derives most of its revenue from property taxes and this bill or one like it could impact the City’s ability to collect revenue. (This is two more examples of the loss of Local Control!!)
There will be a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Community Center on October 8 at 10:00am.
Future Agenda Items:
The ad hoc committee for the Friends of the Library met and visited two possible sites for the permanent location of the FOL. A site at the Woodland Acres Library and another site on the City campus were visited. A permanent location for FOL will be discussed in the future.
Council needs to address the zoning concerns of residents in the Commercial Transit (CT) Zone. Vice Mayor Pepper stated that Council declined to tackle creating a Specific Plan for the CT Zone 1 ½ years ago because it would take too long. She noted that Council would now be finished with the task if they had moved ahead then. Council expressed interest in changing the zoning code to prevent the type of buildings being built there. But one Council Member noted that all of the space in the CT Zone now has pending applications to build these buildings so it’s too late for Council to make a difference. Vice Mayor Pepper wants to make ordinance changes to provide for bigger setbacks and more parks. She wants to “light a fire under this issue” in order to move it quickly.
Council determined that it needed to look at its priorities and take action quickly so it doesn’t miss another boat. Staff was directed to meet individually with each Council Member in order to expedite this process and try to obtain agreement on priorities.
Mayor Lee Eng asked for the scope of the contract with the ADA consultant, Rachel Shaw, be discussed. Vice Mayor Pepper said she wanted the report first. Council Member Bruins was “absolutely against” having this item on the agenda. Council Member Enander explained that Council needs to know what the next steps are after the report is submitted; who will make the ultimate decision; how will the consultant factor in “public access” in her recommendations and report – will she consider “public access” at all; what are the steps that draw this process to a close and what is the overall time frame. Council Member Fligor asked if the consultant could write a memo for Council in order to provide answer to these questions and confirmed with City Manager Chris Jordan that this memo can be made available to the public via a Public Records Act request. In fact, Chris Jordan advised Council that he would direct Ms. Shaw to watch this portion of the Council Meeting so she could have direct access to Council’s concerns.