Allow us to point out what many visitors to city council meetings already know: A double standard applies to members of the council versus members of the public.
The council usually allots members of the public two or three minutes to say their piece. Councilmembers often remind speakers to keep their comments brief and on point. Then, when it’s councilmembers’ turn to talk, all time constraints go out the window. More often than not, councilmembers tend to ramble on, leaving us to wonder why the time clock doesn’t expire on them as well.
Recent Los Altos City Council meetings illustrate this dynamic perfectly. During the May 28 meeting, councilmembers went round and round for nearly two hours discussing a downtown parking study, ultimately voting simply to accept the data in the report. Councilwoman Megan Satterlee criticized city staff for falling short of her expectations on the parking study, after she and the previous council had directed the study last year and failed to set those expectations in the first place.
Why waste $160,000 of the city’s money and the staff’s time on a study when it’s not what you ultimately wanted?
Then came the June 4 council meeting. This one lasted more than four hours – with only three items on the agenda. In one laborious exchange, two councilmembers even wasted time debating the use of the word “small” to describe certain land parcels as part of a relatively trivial letter. They spent 35 minutes overall on that letter, which should have been approved as a consent item.
We understand that this is a new council, with two newly elected members learning the ropes and three veteran members expected to take on more assertive roles (this includes our 26-year-old mayor, Jarrett Fishpaw). We accept that there will be growing pains and some missteps along the way. And yes, we do appreciate attention to detail.
But efficiency and a solid understanding of priorities are also important, and these objectives are what the current council needs to work on most.
Years back, Mayor Lou Becker instituted a rule that council meetings would adjourn by 11 p.m. – no ifs, ands or buts. More recent councils have recognized the 11 p.m. deadline in theory, but in practice don’t always enforce it. We suggest sticking to a hard-and-fast 11 p.m. adjournment.