An event aimed at determining how the city of Los Altos could communicate better with its residents and vice versa drew more than 80 participants Aug. 12.
City officials hosted a two-and-a-half-hour communications roundtable at the Los Altos Youth Center – an effort spearheaded by Los Altos City Councilwomen Jan Pepper and Jeannie Bruins. Los Altos Public Information Coordinator Erica Ray, Palo Alto Director of Development Services Peter Pirnejad and Mountain View Administrative and Neighborhood Services Manager Linda Lauzze presented examples of current public engagement practices.
Attendees shared their preferred methods of communication and worked in groups to discuss ways the city could improve dialogue with the public.
Reached by the Town Crier, Pepper said she was thrilled with the turnout and the varied opinions residents expressed.
“The feedback I got from a number of people is that they really appreciated the event and the chance to talk about these things,” said Pepper, who listed improved public communications among her priorities during her 2012 Los Altos City Council campaign. “It was great – we didn’t know if five people would show up or 100. Fortunately, it was closer to the latter. I think it shows that people in the community care about this subject and want to make this an even better place to live.”
Attendees offered city officials a variety of suggestions that could enable clearer back-and-forth communication and broader participation in the city’s decision-making process for projects. Residents suggested using a mix of electronic and more traditional methods of public communication for publicizing meetings and other matters, noting that some segments of the city’s population rarely use computers daily.
“That’s basically recognizing that our demographic has a large age spread,” said Bruins, who added that suggestions from residents could prompt greater educational opportunities about how city governments operate and other topics of interest.
Some participants expressed frustration with the processes of formal city meetings, such as public comment time limits and restrictions on city officials that prohibit them from commenting on items not placed on official meeting agendas. Others said they simply wanted more innovative ways to participate in city meetings without necessarily being physically present.
“I basically heard that residents feel that we need to expand our channels of communication,” Bruins said.
Pepper said several residents suggested the city seek feedback regularly from the public.
“In other words, more methods and options for residents to weigh in on decisions,” she said.
Additional residents’ suggestions solicited the city’s help in establishing neighborhood associations and networks and for councilmembers to hold weekly office hours or host periodic outreach events to offer residents an outlet to speak openly about neighborhood issues.
Pepper said she’s preparing a summary of the event that she expects to present to the council in the near future.