Los Altos council hears from police critics

Los Altos City Council discussions last week saw renewed – and unanswered – calls from current and former residents to reduce police department funding in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this month. 

Meanwhile, Mayor Jan Pepper questioned why funding for the evaluation of expanding the police station was considered a higher priority than building a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Public comment at the June 16 meeting was dominated by requests that the council review the city’s police budget and internal operating structure.

Los Altos High School graduate Maya Acharya expressed her disappointment in what she called a history of anti-Black racism at the school. She said money could be better spent on working to break down social biases on campus, close the achievement gap and encourage affordable housing to stimulate greater diversity.

“Adding another school resource officer to LAHS will not help. ... It doesn’t support students,” Acharya said. “(Other) alums feel they often intimidate and make students feel uncomfortable. ... Instead of criminalizing our students, we should be looking for other ways to use our money.”

Fellow Los Altos High grad Ishaan Parmar brought up examples in other cities of direct change being made, not only in terms of police funding, but in restructuring police priorities. He noted, for example, that San Francisco leaders announced police would no longer be responding to noncriminal calls.

Mayor Jan Pepper thanked each speaker after his or her time expired, but the council offered no comment on the students’ statements.

“I am aware that the council has many priorities, many things to juggle, but this is frustrating,” Parmar said. “The city council is asking questions about whether or not funds are being used reasonably in regard to capital improvement and road maintenance, all of which are very important things, but are not raising such questions about the police.”

The city’s law enforcement policies were scheduled as a topic of discussion when an ad hoc committee organized by Pepper was due to report to the council at Tuesday night’s council meeting, which occurred after the Town Crier’s Monday print deadline.

Prioritizing projects

The 2020-2021 budget as of last week included funds for an additional school resource officer. The public safety budget currently accounts for nearly half of the city’s general fund expenditures. The council did not comment on the requested staff change.

Still, city leaders opted to delay the authorization of a $200,000 evaluation of the police station, labeled in budget documents as “annual civic facilities improvement.”

Councilwoman Neysa Fligor reasoned it would be smarter to do the assessment at a time when the council could afford to take action on the findings sooner rather than later.

Pepper added that she was peeved the station study was included as a priority, while the design and construction of a new EOC was not, even after the council had directed it be prioritized.

“This is very disappointing to me. Our city needs this new public building,” resident Harry Guy said, referring to staff’s recommendation to delay the EOC.

Longtime volunteers with programs such as the Block Action Team and the Community Emergency Response Team in Los Altos, Guy and his colleague Art Whipple were dismayed by the news that progress on the project nearly halted after the council asked for a “rapid” approach. The design is approximately 90% completed, according to engineering services manager Jim Sandoval. The design must be finalized and other documents must be mocked up before the project can go to bid. Guy recounted staff reporting that the design was 75% completed at a Feb. 25 presentation.

“We really need to start spending money in places where it’s not very popular,” Whipple said. “I would like to see the council (doing) the talking the talk with emergency preparedness walk the walk.”
Despite Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng’s opposition, the council reprioritized the EOC over the police station.

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