Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
An overflow crowd attends the joint Los Altos City Council- Los Altos School District meeting May 29.
Last week’s joint meeting between the Los Altos City Council and the Los Altos School District led to heavy debate over the use of Hillview Community Center as a future school site.
The overflow crowd at the May 29 meeting included a group of vocal parents who said the city’s community center was the most practical option available in the district’s search for a 10th school site.
District officials are considering a bond measure for the November ballot that would fund the acquisition and construction of an elementary school.
The district is also hammering out an agreement that would locate Bullis Charter School on one of its existing campuses – Almond, Gardner Bullis, Santa Rita or a portion of Covington – within the next two school years.
District representatives and the council pledged to collaborate on exploring various site options and to hold further public discussions.
“We clearly needed to spend some time with each other educating one another about our concerns, which I think we’ve accomplished,” district Trustee Doug Smith said. “I was personally encouraged by the conversation at the end, where folks started to feel some urgency about at least figuring out whether or not (Hillview) is a viable solution.”
The letter that wasn’t
Discussions turned tense at times, particularly when the council requested a letter from the district assuring that it would not invoke eminent domain to acquire property. That led to a terse exchange, with district President Mark Goines telling the council that assurances expressed at the meeting should suffice.
“We have no plans to use eminent domain or to send you a letter about it,” he said.
District Trustee Bill Cooper added that a signed assurance was a “disservice to the people who elected us.”
“For us to sit here and just blanket-sign a commitment that would preclude us (from) one of the avenues that we would never, ever want to go down would be incredibly irresponsible for us to do that at this point in time,” he said.
After Goines continued to question the need for the letter, Councilman Ron Packard responded bluntly.
“Because you want our cooperation, and if we know there’s a sword hanging over our head, then it impacts the level and the quality of cooperation,” Packard said.
Hillview and other options
A large majority of parents and residents who spoke at the meeting favored Hillview as the site for the district’s 10th school.
Smith noted that public support of a bond measure – which needs at least 55 percent approval to pass – would increase if the district identifies a 10th school site before November.
“What we have to do is essentially eliminate variables as quickly as we possibly can on many different fronts,” he said. “If it turns out we can solve the site question fastest, great. That’ll make it much easier to put a bond measure on the ballot.
Other suggestions included Rosita Park and properties in Los Altos Hills. Shared-use options and land swaps were mentioned as well.
Councilman David Casas said he understands why district parents see Hillview as an acceptable option, but added that other residents should have their say, too.
“It’s not just the people who show up in the room to speak,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to represent the individuals who do not show up, who do not email us. … Everybody has a stake in the discussion.”
Mayor Val Carpenter added that while opinions on sites may vary, the best way to get there is through an open, collaborative process.
“We did agree to continue to explore options for a 10th school site,” she said, “although we may prioritize those site options differently.”