Wed07302014

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Schools issue, downtown prove hot topics at candidate forum


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Los Altos City Council candidates, from left, Jon Baer, Megan Satterlee, Jan Pepper, Jeannie Bruins, Anabel Pelham and Jerry Sorensen, attend a Sept. 27 candidate forum at Los Altos High.

Six candidates pleaded their cases for one of three open seats on the Los Altos City Council during a forum on “Downtown Vibrancy and Sustainability” Thursday at Los Altos High School.

Approximately 200 local residents attended the Los Altos Forward-sponsored forum, which featured questions from a panel and the audience on issues ranging from development to public-private partnerships and the council’s relationship with the Los Altos School District.

Frequently visited topics included the economic viability of the downtown area and ways to find collaborative solutions to the city’s problems. Some candidates responded with boilerplate language about increasing “feet on the street” to boost downtown businesses, while others took the question further and presented solutions.

Suggestions presented included Anabel Pelham’s proposal to develop a core plan that includes a battery- or natural-gas-powered shuttle between downtown and Foothill College, free WiFi access and an intergenerational community center. Pelham is a professor of gerontology who serves on the Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Senior Commission,

When asked how late downtown businesses should remain open, candidates offered a host of specifics, but all favored making Los Altos more vibrant in the evenings. Candidates suggested a theater and jazz club as attractions that could draw visitors to the city’s current mix of retail offerings.

“It’s not up to the council to decide how late things stay open,” said Jerry Sorensen, a local management consultant who expressed a desire to increase local businesses’ engagement in city policy that affects them. “Businesses will stay open for as long as they can make money.”

Candidates overwhelmingly identified Loyola Corners as another area of the city that needs attention.

If elected to the council, entrepreneur Jan Pepper said she would promote involvement from neighbors in all seven of Los Altos’ “micro communities” by encouraging the council to use Yahoo Groups to communicate traffic and other issues.

When asked how they would secure a 10th campus for the Los Altos School District, the candidates generally offered the solution of developing a fair process that includes all stakeholders.

Jeannie Bruins, former Planning Commissioner, advocated an ad hoc leadership team to resolve the ongoing dilemma.

“With multiple jurisdictions, we have limited options,” she said.

Incumbent Councilwoman Megan Satterlee, running for a second term, echoed the need for a cooperative leadership task force to build consensus and reach an agreement.

“It’s our responsibility to heal the community over these issues,” she said.

Jon Baer, Planning and Traffic Commissioner, said the council should be more proactive in the process of finding and evaluating properties for an additional school campus. His recommendation included a collaborative effort with representatives from affected municipalities and agencies.

Although many members of the audience arrived adorned with campaign buttons promoting their favorite candidates, some were still making up their minds.

“There are three open seats, and I like four of the candidates,” said Virginia Roberts, a voter from Los Altos.

To watch a video of the forum, visit the Town Crier’s Town Tube at www.losaltosonline.com or youtube.com/watch?v=QR1U3VeRSz4.

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