A local resident leveled a conflict-of-interest complaint against Mountain View City Councilman John McAlister last week, casting doubt on the council’s decisions regarding the Los Altos School District’s acquisition of land for a 10th campus.
Mountain View resident Ellyn Berner wrote in a letter that McAlister’s vote on the district’s 10th site constitutes a conflict of interest because he co-owns Stepping Stones preschool, located on the Covington School campus, which leases land from the district.
McAlister voted June 27 to grant the district decision-making authority for what to put on the 10th site, without direction from the city of Mountain View. Other council members wanted to require that the district place a neighborhood school on the site. The final vote was a narrow 4-3 in favor of the district’s discretion.
McAlister said he thinks the complaint comes from the Bullis Charter School community, which wants the land designated for a neighborhood school, not Bullis Charter School.
“I believe their goal is to have me recuse myself so I won’t vote the way they don’t want the decision to go,” he said. “If I had voted to make it required to be a local school, I don’t think any of this would have taken place.”
McAlister did not declare his ownership of or income from Stepping Stones on his statement of economic interest for 2018 because it is outside the jurisdiction of the city of Mountain View, he said.
Berner’s letter focused on an earlier action: the council’s Jan. 16 vote to authorize the city manager to execute a memorandum of understanding between the city and the district that established a framework for a transfer of development rights process, which was designed to support the district’s acquisition of a new site. Berner, who was not available for comment, wrote that it was in McAlister’s personal interest to push for the district’s acquisition of a 10th site, because if the 10th site is built, then the preschool is likely to remain on the district’s Covington campus, so business would be uninterrupted. Berner reasoned that if the 10th site were not built, then the district would have to redo one or more of the current sites, which could include Covington, potentially disrupting Stepping Stones’ operations.
According to Berner, had the council not supported the district’s acquisition of a 10th site, “Stepping Stones would likely be forced to relocate to another LASD site or, more likely, to a private facility, and could likely lose a significant number of its customers and revenue.”
Berner wrote that McAlister’s previous votes on the 10th site should be considered void.
According to the Mountain View City Council attorney, conflicts of interest fall under the jurisdiction of the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the state’s Attorney General. The commission will review Berner’s complaint and determine whether it warrants an investigation.
Read Berner's letter of complaint.
View McAlister's statement of economic interest.