There has been a recurring theme in the community that three Los Altos City Council candidates (Lynette Lee Eng, Scott Spielman and Terri Couture) are “resident-centric,” while three others (Sally Meadows, Kuljeet Kalkat and Jonathan Weinberg) will be beholden to developers.
This claim (a) doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and, more importantly, (b) falsely suggests that “residents” and “developers” are competing in what is ultimately a zero-sum game.
To the first point, none of the council members who will be elected can be beholden to a group of Los Altos residents in any meaningful way. Endorsements don’t bind the hands of those endorsed. The Brown Act ensures, other than closed meetings in which litigation or personnel matters are discussed, that all meetings are announced, agendized and publicly accessible.
In Los Altos, we have a high rate of citizen participation and our council discussions and outcomes are thoroughly covered by both the Town Crier and the Daily Post. In short, unless you don’t trust the integrity of the candidates to abide by applicable state law, there is simply no mechanism by which “compromised candidates” can ram through decisions without ample deliberation, discussion and visibility.
The more important point, however, is the false notion that our council can either support residents or support developers. The fact is that the vast majority of Los Altos commercial property owners are local residents striving toward a business climate in Los Altos that attracts appealing stores and services. Those who decry property owners unfairly label them as “developers,” with the implication that a developer seeks to take advantage of the poor yokels in our community by squeezing every last drop of profit from a project, then hightailing it out of town while leaving behind a massive, fetid building generating only traffic and blight.
This implication couldn’t be further from the truth here in Los Altos. The vast majority of our commercial property owners own only one or two parcels and often have owned them for decades. Many have their offices or businesses at their properties. And few of them seek to redevelop their properties in a meaningful way. To my knowledge, not a single person accused of dirty politics in the recent Friends of Los Altos posting “House of Mirrors” had anything whatsoever to do with any of the controversial projects built on First Street or El Camino Real in recent years. The people castigated in that piece are active in Los Altos Community Voices, Los Altos Property Owners Downtown, the Los Altos Village Association, Los Altos Forward and other local groups whose missions are largely to work toward making Los Altos an attractive destination for both businesses and customers. These are the businesses where we dine, work out, get groomed, shop and tend to our legal and medical needs. A healthy environment for business in Los Altos primarily benefits the residents of Los Altos.
Don’t believe the claims by a few that if it’s good for property owners, it’s bad for “residents.” The truth is that what’s good for Los Altos business is good for Los Altos residents, and those who own commercial interests here have plenty at stake in helping to elect competent, thoughtful candidates to our city council.
Bill Sheppard is a Los Altos resident, member of the Los Altos Community Voices Steering Committee and former member of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.