The recent merger (consolidation?) of the newly formed Friends of Los Altos (FOLA) and the 14-year-old civic organization Los Altos Neighborhood Network (LANN) left us puzzled.
A July 28 press release, which did not state plainly that the merger folded LANN into FOLA, gave the vague reason that the deal was in the “best interests of the community.” In fact, the move appears to be in the best interests of three former Los Altos councilmen, David Casas, Ron Packard and Lou Becker. Members of both boards, the three essentially made the merger happen.
Granted, LANN seemed to be dying from a lack of resident participation. Perhaps FOLA will provide a shot in the arm to encourage residents to re-engage. But the focus here is transitioning from civic to political. What emerges is a political action committee (PAC), a 501(c)(4) organization whose function undermines the transparency that Casas and others so often tout as vital.
“White papers” under the FOLA heading – but likely without a specific author named – will replace the informational LANN newsletter. And under a PAC, people can support candidates anonymously. We’re worried about a loss of accountability. Will we be seeing anonymous “findings” and opinions under FOLA? Will donors to campaigns hide behind FOLA?
Don’t get us wrong: We appreciate FOLA members’ interest in improving the community and giving residents a voice. And FOLA does offer some transparency by listing names, photos and contact information for its board members on its website. But FOLA will gain more credibility if members take the transparency a step further. This means opening its meetings to the public, as LANN did. This means giving authorship to articles, as LANN did.
We hope that FOLA will end up being an excellent community resource. And the three aforementioned ex-councilmen (and current Councilwoman Val Carpenter, involved but not officially named) bring a wealth of experience with their knowledge of local issues. However, they should remind themselves that they can help best by really listening, not assuming that they know best. Otherwise, they run the risk of political gamesmanship. If they’re parsing words like “merger” and “consolidation” to convey a certain image, then they’re already heading down the wrong path.