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GreenTown's growing pains include member resignations

Last week saw major developments – and growing pains – for the non-profit environmental group GreenTown Los Altos.

GreenTown just received a $75,000 renewal grant from the Packard Foundation to help in its mission to implement sustainable practices locally. This follows a $35,000 Organizational Effectiveness Grant awarded in September designed to help improve its administrative structure.

GreenTown also switched its fiscal sponsorship from the Los Altos Community Foundation to Acterra of Palo Alto. Acterra, a non-profit organization, provides financial and legal oversight for non-profit projects that are not yet 501(c)(3) organizations.

“It’s very common for the structure of a startup organization to evolve as it grows,” said Arnold Ambiel, a member of the GreenTown advisory group. “The changes GreenTown Los Altos is undergoing present an opportunity to re-evaluate and strengthen the organization.”

But at least half the advisory group felt differently. After the Acterra move, five of the group’s 10 members resigned their positions at GreenTown’s Oct. 20 monthly meeting.

Nancy Manning was among those who resigned.

“There was a difference in opinion on what a non-profit is and how it should be run,” she said.

Manning wanted to see more of GreenTown’s budget go directly to programs.

“As GreenTown grows and evolves, we expect there will be differing opinions regarding the direction of the organization,” said Paul Blumenstein, a GreenTown Los Altos leadership volunteer.

Curt Riffle, part of the advisory group, said there were many “pros and cons” to joining Acterra, and that it was a difficult decision.

“Moving to Acterra provides many new opportunities with a shared environmental focus,” said Kacey Fitzpatrick, executive director, GreenTown Los Altos.

Steve Anderson, who also resigned from the advisory group, said he’s been working with Fitzpatrick since the group’s early days and celebrated the organization’s first coup in convincing Los Altos city officials to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and pledge to audit the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Anderson was an advisory group member for nearly two years.

In any decision that split the group, Anderson said, there should have been additional discussion and a delay in the vote. Acterra charges substantially more to administer GreenTown’s 501(c)(3) status.

“It’s about what we should be doing and need to be doing,” he said. “Number one, I felt bad leaving the organization. On the other hand, it seemed like a weight was lifted from my shoulders.”

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