The three Los Altos City Council candidates endorsed by the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce addressed the chamber during a meeting Oct. 6, discussing how they would help the city partner with the local business community and their views on Proposition 15, among other topics.
The chamber endorsed Sally Meadows, Kuljeet Kalkat and Jonathan Weinberg earlier this month out of a slate of seven candidates running for three open council seats in the Nov. 3 election.
The candidates were asked how they would deal with the ongoing issues that local businesses face given the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we made a good start in March when the council approved the Open Streets,” said Meadows, referring to the downtown street closures that ended in September. “But we need some permanent solutions.”
Those solutions should come after the business community tells the council what its needs are, according to Weinberg.
“The goal of the council is to provide a lifeline so our businesses can stay afloat, they can continue to employ people, serve the needs of the residents and provide taxes for city coffers,” Weinberg said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Kalkat, chairman of the Los Altos Financial Commission, stressed that it is the city’s responsibility to help businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic because the revenue generated from sales tax is essential to the city budget and is not just “charity.” He added that while the city did provide $5,000 loans through its Small Business Relief Fund to 67 local businesses this year, most of the businesses have survived through larger federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Kalkat added that the worst-case scenario would be another shutdown later in the fall if COVID-19 cases spike again.
“That’s the time when most retailers make their profit,” he said. “We need a task force now, to start thinking about that worst-case scenario.”
The three candidates agreed on most topics during the hour-long discussion, but there was some variance among opinions on Proposition 15, which would tax commercial and industrial properties worth more than $3 million based on market value instead of purchase price.
Kalkat and Meadows opposed Proposition 15, while Weinberg supported it. Kalkat was concerned about the higher tax rate resulting in tenants having to pay more, especially those who have signed a triple net lease, where the renter is responsible for all ongoing property expenses.
“I don’t think this makes sense,” Kalkat said. “It’s going to hit people who rent the space. It’s cloaked as a way to stick it to the rich landlord, but the reality is, it’s going to hit the people who rent the space, so it’s unfortunate.”
Meadows noted that the $3 million threshold is “way too low” and that the tax would impact mom-and-pop stores in addition to the large corporations it is intended to affect.
Weinberg concurred that the criticisms presented were valid, but he believed Proposition 15 would benefit the state overall and incentivize redevelopment of older downtowns like Los Altos’.
“It is not a perfect piece of proposed legislation,” he said. “But it’s one I’m going to be saying ‘yes’ to. In the grand scheme of things, while it may not be great for Los Altos, a ‘yes’ is a better result for the state than a ‘no.’”
In a press release announcing the endorsement, the chamber wrote that Meadows, Kalkat and Weinberg would “best represent the interests of business in Los Altos.”
“A core function of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce is to ensure that the interests of business are being represented in the public policy decisions of our community leaders,” the chamber wrote. “The chamber is dedicated to supporting a strong business climate, promoting business attraction, growth and retention, and fostering pro-business public policies that advance the economic agenda of Los Altos.”