Los Altos City Councilmen David Casas and Ron Packard are seeking clarity on rules of future engagement with the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.
The city will request a legal opinion from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) on engaging the district board without “violating or participating in the violation of any of the conflict of interest laws.”
At issue, according to Packard, are FPPC conflict-of-interest regulations that preclude elected officials from participating in decisions that could affect the value of their property if located within 500 feet of the item discussed.
In a prepared statement at the council meeting July 24, Packard said he would have needed to recuse himself during a joint city-Los Altos School District meeting in late May if discussions focused on the closing of a school.
He then questioned whether the regulation also applied to board President Mark Goines, who “apparently participated in the selection of various schools that could be selected for closure, even though one of the selected schools is less than 500 feet from his residence.”
Packard lives within 500 feet of Almond School – one of five schools listed by the district as a potential Bullis Charter School site.
According to the FPPC’s regulation index, Chapter 7, “A public official has a conflict of interest if the decision will have a reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on one or more of his/her economic interests, unless the public official can establish either: (1) that the effect is indistinguishable from the effect on the public generally, or (2) a public official’s participation is legally required.”
Packard also noted in his statement that Goines “recently and publicly criticized the Los Altos City Council,” referencing a June 18 district board discussion about the city’s request for a letter, stating the district’s intent not to invoke eminent domain for a 10th school site, such as Hillview Community Center.
“We want the city to talk with us about it – that is all we are asking for,” Goines said at the time. “To delay that conversation would be a dereliction of the council duties and it is very upsetting.”
Reached by the Town Crier, Goines said Packard was “entitled to his opinion” on the matter. He added that he still “doesn’t understand why there has been no engagement” on Hillview as a potential 10th school site.
“I’ve been very clear with the council about helping us find a school site for two years now,” Goines said. “Their not responding to it is a dereliction of their duties. I still believe that.”
Goines said he doesn’t believe the district board is in violation of any FPPC conflict-of-interest regulations.
“Our perspective as a board has been that discussions around school boundaries and school attendance is not a conflict of interest,” he said.
The item will be considered at a city council meeting this month.