The Los Altos City Council took the following actions at its March 25 meeting.
Community engagement subcommittee approved
The Los Altos City Council unanimously approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to explore potential improvements to the city’s public engagement practices.
Introduced by Councilwomen Jeannie Bruins and Jan Pepper, the effort aims to address one of the council’s 2014 goals – to examine best communication practices by other cities, review the effectiveness of Los Altos’ current community engagement methods and identify any problems that may exist.
The review also seeks to assess Los Altos residents’ awareness and use of various engagement options currently made available by the city.
The councilwomen initially presented the effort in September 2013 but were asked at the time by their colleagues for additional details about the scope of the committee’s work before taking action on the item.
The ad hoc committee, headed by Pepper and Bruins, will include two public forums “where residents can tell us how they use the communication (and) participation channels that we have right now,” Pepper noted.
The forums, which will be publicly noticed by the committee, will likely be scheduled in May – one each at Hillview Community Center and Grant Park. The committee plans to return to the council in late June with any findings and recommendations.
“We’re looking at a pretty aggressive schedule, but we’re willing to do that work,” Pepper said.
Prior to voting in favor of the committee’s formation, Mayor Megan Satterlee noted that she was “much happier” about the project’s direction this time around, despite voicing some concerns, including the use of city staff time on the task.
A report by Pepper and Bruins on the review said the public forums would include breakout sessions to gather input from a “large number of (participating) residents who represent the full demographic and geographic diversity of Los Altos.”
The report added that the ad hoc committee intends to use an experienced, independent facilitator on a volunteer basis to conduct the forums.
Council reduces benefits
The council voted unanimously in favor of cutting back some of the benefits it receives through the city.
The council approved eliminating existing life insurance policies of $25,000 per councilmember – saving the city approximately $300 per year. In addition, councilmembers agreed to pay full premium costs for any dependent added to their city-provided health plan.
Reimbursement for dental expenses will be limited solely to councilmembers as well.
“The purpose of life insurance is that if you die unexpectedly, that loss of salary doesn’t negatively impact your family. This coverage of $25,000 significantly exceeds the salary or stipend we receive, so it doesn’t seem to be in line with the intent,” said Satterlee, who noted that councilmembers receive $300 monthly stipends for their service, per state law.
Satterlee said she sought a reduction in part to discourage future council candidates from running for office solely to gain medical and dental benefits. She called the ability to add dependents without members bearing their full premium costs “excessive.”
“This is not an urban myth,” she said. “I’ve had people explicitly tell me (health benefits) is what motivated them to run for council. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a good reason to be on council.”
According to a city staff report, the city currently contributes between $658 and $1,636 monthly for council medical premiums. Councilmembers are also eligible for up to $1,635 in dental reimbursements annually.
Eligible dependents maxed out at $1,090 per year before the council’s March 25 vote.
Overall, the report noted that expenses for council benefits – which also include costs associated with conferences, trainings, meals and travel – could range between $18,000 and $124,635 for any given year.