Los Altos Community Coalition looks to engage diverse constituents

An upcoming Los Altos Community Coalition-sponsored panel on community benefit programs will feature officials from Redwood City discussing how they collaborate with large developers to ensure that new buildings become part of the fabric of the city.

The panel, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on March 17 at the Los Altos Library, is part of a series that invites local residents and guests to share how they confront the challenges facing their cities.

Breaking the deadlock

For Shali Sirkay, LACC co-chairwoman, the purpose is fairly straightforward. Many of the issues Los Altos faces – building heights, school sites and parking – have been problems for a long time. LACC members hope to break the deadlock by bringing new voices to the table.

“What we’re trying to do is have meetings around specific groups, and have speakers that can speak to these issues,” she said.

LACC hosted a previous discussion on operating small businesses in downtown Los Altos. A future panel will focus on schools and health. These are new issues for Sirkay, even though her family moved to Los Altos a decade ago.

“We have lived here since 2007, and as a parent in this community, we were not looped in,” she said. “I want to involve more constituents who have not maybe been involved before.”

Sirkay also serves as executive vice president of the Los Altos Mountain View PTA Council and leans on her professional skills to build a community around issues, rather than one divided by them. With a background in public health, she reviews best practices to apply them to a diverse crowd.

“I love getting a diverse array of people at the same table talking,” she said. “I haven’t seen a lot of that happening.”

Sirkay emphasized that LACC meetings are not about employing politics, but rather getting people on the same page.

“The neat thing about the coalition is that it is nonpartisan and neutral. All opinions are respected,” she said. “We don’t try to push any vision on anyone – our purpose is to educate people.”

An offline conversation

Unlike online forums such as Facebook or Nextdoor, LACC is designed to burst through the filter bubble.

“If your only source of information is what you read online, you may have a very different point of view than what actually exists,” Sirkay said.

Tamara Fagin, the outgoing co-chairwoman of LACC (David Rock holds the other co-chair seat), pointed to different age and geographic segments of town that they are trying to bring together.

“We’re trying to do a panel of teens, a panel of seniors and a panel of people who live in south Los Altos to understand how downtown is important for everybody,” Fagin said.

Rock called LACC a “big tent.”

“LACC has consciously kept its meetings open to organizations in the community,” he said.

Sirkay agreed, adding that the point is not to define segments of Los Altos demographics as different, but to see where they overlap.

“There are issues that are particular to (different groups), but I don’t want just parents coming to the school-age session,” she said. “It is important that we have all these people learning what is important to another group.”

Rock said Sirkay’s experience enables her to further this educational goal by drawing people who aren’t usually involved in local politics into the dialogue.

“She is a big believer in getting the young families in town much more involved with the issues that affect all residents, including vibrancy in the downtown,” he said. “Shali is also very committed to doing what’s in the best interests of the city.”

The end goal is to squelch the binary debates and open a larger conversation.

“I love the diversity of opinions that we have here,” Sirkay said. “That is what will make for a very rich and productive discussion. But I don’t want people to see this issue as black and white. It’s not ‘yes on this and no on that.’”

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