Los Altos Hills council reconsiders, donates to CSA

It required two appeals, but Los Altos Hills City Councilman George Tyson managed to change most of his colleagues’ minds and secure a $5,000 donation for Community Services Agency early Friday morning. 

George Tyson

“After last time that we met and the proposal for a $5,000, one-time donation to CSA met with no other support, I have to say, it didn’t even occur to me that we couldn’t support this,” Tyson said, explaining his decision to rehash the topic.

He is a volunteer and donor of the Mountain View-based social services organization, which counts approximately 16 Hills residents among its beneficiaries. Tyson first proposed the donation – meant to help CSA during the COVID-19 pandemic – while participating in a May 28 joint meeting between the council and town’s Finance and Investment Committee (FIC).

Last week, at the tail end of a marathon city council meeting that began Thursday evening and extended until 12:45 a.m. Friday, Mayor Michelle Wu and council members Roger Spreen and Kavita Tankha reversed their positions and voted in favor of the donation. Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan praised CSA – and others like it – but reiterated her objection to giving taxpayer money to charities of the council’s choosing.

“These are all such needy organizations; they are all so worthy of every dollar,” she said. “But it’s my assertion that those dollars come out of the pocket of the individual – not from tax dollars that have been collected with the expectation they are to be spent on services.”

Holding up her checkbook, Corrigan offered to personally split the $5,000 donation among council members, but a long silence followed the suggestion.

Tyson explained the donation is more about the gesture than the actual dollar amount.

“There’s a message here. … Are we part of this broader community?” he said. “And does that mean that it helps inspire people to give individual contributions? Absolutely. I’m hoping so.”

Courtenay C. Corrigan

Despite the late hour of the often-heated discussion, residents representing views on both sides of the argument chimed in during the teleconferenced council meeting.

The council’s reversal of opinion follows some public ridicule – and support – of its denial of a Los Altos Chamber of Commerce request to match Los Altos’ $250,000 donation toward a small-business, COVID-19 relief fund. At the May 28 meeting, council members agreed to give $5,000 to the fund. They also agreed to make a one-time, $5,000 addition to the $11,500 already budgeted for the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) in the coming year.

Los Altos Hills leaders differentiate CHAC from other charities because the town has a formalized Joint Powers Authority agreement with the Mountain View nonprofit, and they have a voice regarding its governance through Tyson’s service on the board of directors, Corrigan explained Friday.

Council members agreed developing a town policy for regulating future charitable donations is a prudent idea.

Planning commissioners selected

Pre-COVID-19, names scribbled on paper and passed to the city clerk kept council appointment votes anonymous. Teleconferenced meetings can’t facilitate such luxuries, however, and council members were forced to audibly name their selections for three vacant Planning Commission seats during a slightly awkward segment of last week’s meeting.

They unanimously agreed Birgitta Indaco should continue in the seat she has occupied since February, following former commissioner Jim Abraham’s resignation, but split votes among the five remaining candidates, with Jim Waschura and current commissioner Jitze Couperus emerging victorious: Spreen voted for Simran Arora and Waschura; Tyson voted for Couperus and Waschura; Corrigan voted for Waschura and Arora; Tankha voted for Couperus and Joan Sherlock; and Wu voted for Couperus and Waschura. Candidate David Marta did not receive any votes.

Jitze Couperus

Corrigan interrupted the roll call confirming Couperus and Waschura to again lobby for Arora, a Stanford University student working toward her doctorate in computer science. Spreen echoed her appeal.

“I hate to lose an opportunity like this to really add a new vibrancy to that group and show that the new demographics, the new generation in this town, can be a part of it,” Spreen said.

Both Corrigan and Spreen praised Couperus for his institutional knowledge and many years of service to the town, but suggested planning commissioners should be subject to term limits; Couperus has served two, four-year terms.

Survey exposes committee conflict

Discussion about introducing new faces to town leadership roles continued near the end of the meeting when Spreen delivered an update on information he and Corrigan have uncovered as members of an ad hoc subcommittee tasked with exploring ways to improve standing committee effectiveness.

With City Clerk Deborah Padovan, they created a survey for committee members and staff members to suss out sources of friction between residents and employees as well as detractants to participation. They’re still tabulating the results but have identified some common themes among the existing 30 or so responses, including communication issues and the burden of training to meet the state’s open record and meeting laws.

“I think some change is necessary, and that’s difficult,” Spreen said. “We are getting by, but I think we can do better, and I think there are some exciting ways to make that happen more efficiently.”

Spreen proposed joint meetings between the council and committee chairs and, separately, the council and staff, to go over the data. Potential solutions, entertained by the council previously, include requiring council appointment for associate members or even disbanding some committees altogether. The council Friday decided against approving an amendment to the town’s standing committee resolution requiring appointment so as to explore the topic more later. Prior to the meeting, 17 committee chairs and co-chairs signed a letter to the council expressing concern and support for postponing the decision. 

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