Other Voices: Los Altos City Council routinely flouts the law

The city government of Los Altos, and in particular its Planning Commission and City Council, is inexcusably hostile toward its citizens and toward development. In an email blast July 8, the city announced: “Los Altos City Council (to) Appeal Court Ruling on 40 Main Street Case.”

In this case, the applicants, 40 Main Street Offices LLC, first applied in 2018 for permission to construct a mixed-use building with office space on the ground floor and residential units on the floors above at 40 Main St. At hearing after hearing, the applicant was sent back to make revisions to the application to conform to an ever-moving target.

Eventually the developer was left with no alternative but to appeal to the Superior Court for judicial intervention. After lengthy proceedings, the Superior Court judge concluded the city “acted in bad faith as defined in the HAA (Housing Accountability Act) because its denial (of the application) was entirely without merit.”

These are not words that a judge bandies about lightly. “Bad faith” is a serious allegation. “Entirely without merit” is an appalling abuse of the processes of law.

So, after the city spent tens of thousands of its citizens’ money fighting this hometown developer, and getting unequivocally smacked down by the court, the city has the temerity and bad judgment to spend more money on what is certain to be a frivolous appeal. 

The city’s email blast concludes with, “The City Council remains committed to increasing the diverse supply of housing in Los Altos while ensuring that all projects comply with the City’s local zoning and safety requirements and with State law.” A more disingenuous statement has rarely ever been made.  The Los Altos City Council routinely flouts the law, when it even bothers to learn the law, in order to promote its “return to the 1940s” agenda.

For example, in 2018, I submitted an application for an accessory dwelling unit. These units are encouraged and promoted by the state as being one important piece of a solution to the current housing crisis and crisis of unaffordability. The city’s ADU ordinance was in conflict with state law.

The state law allows for ADUs up to 1,200 square feet, but restricts an attached ADU to no more than 50% of the main dwelling to which it is attached. The Los Altos ordinance made no such distinction between attached and detached ADUs, so when I applied to build a 600-square-foot ADU – half the maximum size mandated by the state – on a property with a 1,000-square-foot bungalow, the Planning Commission denied the application, citing such inane arguments as, “Nothing prohibits you from building a larger house, then you could have a bigger ADU.”
An appeal to the city council was received with deaf ears. It was repeatedly pointed out to the council that its ordinance was in conflict with the state law and was therefore voidable.

Then, after again spending thousands defending an erroneous legal position, agenda item No. 8 for the council’s July 14 meeting was “Repeal and Replace Chapter 14.14 of the Los Altos Municipal Code (Accessory and Junior Dwelling Units).” The replacement text adopted: The Planning Commission recommended that the maximum square footage for an ADU remain at 1,200 square feet. Additionally, the 50% threshold that currently limits ADUs in the 2018 ordinance, per direction from the State Office of Housing and Community Development, can only be applied to attached ADUs. The language has been modified as such.

So, once again, city “leaders” buried their heads in the sand and ignored the law, only to once again be slapped down by authority of the state of California.

This conduct by our city officials is an abuse of power and a senseless waste of our financial resources. Vote them out and get some council members capable of intelligent thought and reasoned analysis.

Peter Brewer is a Los Altos resident.

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The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at [email protected] Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

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