The construction of a two-story shed for the Los Altos History Museum drew the ire of one councilmember, prompting a two-hour discussion last week on the city’s internal administrative approval process.
The discussion occurred at the council’s Jan. 7 special meeting – scheduled as a continuation of its Dec. 14 annual retreat.
City Manager Marcia Somers told the Town Crier that the museum storage shed – located on the civic center campus – was constructed approximately nine months ago after it was “inadvertently” approved at the administrative level instead of undergoing the public review process.
Somers specifically noted that the city’s Historical Commission initially reviewed the project but that it should have continued moving up the city’s approval ladder – ending with a final vote by the city council. Instead, the shed’s construction was approved at the city staff level after the lone round of commission review. She attributed the item’s approval to a staff miscommunication.
“There was no ill intent,” said Somers, who apologized for the administrative error at the outset of the discussion, which also included Assistant City Manager James Walgren. “It should have gone to the council because it was built on public property.”
The error prompted Councilwoman Val Carpenter to initiate a discussion on the city’s internal approval process. Reached by the Town Crier, Carpenter said she only learned of the shed’s construction via a personal inquiry by a resident. She added that knowledge of the item was a matter of transparency.
“It’s on public land. … How is it that this didn’t go through a full public process?” asked Carpenter, who noted that she initially sought a discussion on the item in April. “I never want to be surprised by anything that happens in the city.”
Carpenter also sought information on other projects approved at the city staff level, including the redevelopment of 242 State St., formerly the home of Ristorante Il Porcino. The new-look space is currently the site of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s “Project Los Altos” exhibits.
Somers noted that the administrative-level approval of 242 State St. fall within city regulations, which allow internal approval of redevelopments if the existing structure is increased by 500 square feet or less.
The lengthy discussion included review of other small projects approved by city staff, including a pool at The Terraces at Los Altos. Ultimately, the council opted for just one change: that any projects or changes related to the city’s downtown parking supply be brought to the council for review and final approval.
“In general, I was glad we finally got a chance to talk about it. … I think we did make some progress,” Carpenter said.