When it comes to ranking goals for Los Altos Hills, maintaining public safety is city council members’ top priority. That proposed area of focus received all five council members’ votes, the only one to do so at a Feb. 23 goal-setting workshop.
Voting by each affixing six colored-dot stickers to presentation board paper, council members ranked “employee value proposition,” “pathways” and “road maintenance” next in importance (three votes each), followed by “community engagement,” “code enforcement,” “effectiveness and transparency of advisory committees,” “facility and space needs assessment” and “sanitary sewer system district oversight” (two votes each).
Council members did not make any firm decisions during the workshop, facilitated by management consulting firm Management Partners of San Jose at a cost of $4,800. They will use the consultant’s report about the discussion to affirm top priorities at a future council meeting and set strategies for tackling them.
“We want to see where there is consensus, provide some definition and develop a preliminary roadmap, if you will, for moving forward,” said meeting facilitator Nancy Hetrick of Management Partners.
The voting tended to reflect pet projects council members have long championed from the dais: Councilwoman Michelle Wu cast the sole vote for “internet connectivity,” and Councilman Gary Waldeck’s green dot sat solo beside “address cut-through traffic and speeding.”
“Facility and space needs assessment,” relating to the potential expansion of the town hall campus, a project Mayor John Radford has advocated, garnered only two votes – his and Councilman Roger Spreen’s.
“I’m actually just shocked at my council members,” Radford said. “One of the only long-term, strategic things that we should be thinking about is our facilities and space plan, and three of you couldn’t even find one out of your six spots to put it on there. It looks like we’ve got a nice, short-term, what-are-we-worried-about-in-the-next-years strategy, and long-term planning has kind of gone out the door. I’m being a bit negative here, but I’m actually just shocked at the voting results.”
Notably, “implement organization assessment work plan” received zero votes; council members authorized $44,000 last year for a Management Partners report listing 25 recommendations for improving town operations. The report’s first recommendation, eliminating, consolidating or reducing town advisory committees, infamously drew ire from volunteers who took it as a slight meaning their contributions were not valued. (Both Waldeck and Wu cast votes for “effectiveness and transparency of advisory committees” during the Feb. 23 workshop.)
Residents weigh in
Although the meeting was open to the public, it took place during regular work hours and fewer than a dozen residents attended. Some who did offered their own priority suggestions: public safety (Allan Epstein), town beautification (Duffy Price), helping seniors remain in their homes (Nick Dunckel), the continued allocation of resources to maintain and enhance town-owned open space and parks (Susan Welch), maintaining the town’s openness and friendliness (Carol Gottlieb), preserving high property values (Kjell Karlsson), maintaining the town’s existing pathways (Les Earnest) and finalizing the long-languishing Master Path Plan update (Ann Duwe).
The update is a critical guide for town officials to determine where paths are needed, according to Duwe, a Pathways Committee member.
“Half the decisions have been hanging fire since 2005, and I think it’s unconscionable that we don’t make final decisions about those difficult areas,” Duwe said. “We owe it to our constituency to make final decisions and then act on them.”
In a 2016 community survey the town commissioned from Godbe Research of San Mateo for $30,000, residents ranked potential town improvements on a scale of zero (not at all important) to three (extremely important).
They placed “providing additional sheriff’s patrol services” first with an average weight of 1.69, followed by “undergrounding utility lines” (1.66), “providing high-speed internet to underserved areas” (1.62), “providing town maintenance of private roads” (1.32), “expanding the municipal sewer system to underserved areas” (1.24) and “building a new community center near town hall” (0.74).
Radford noted that residents were not apprised of the cost associated with each of the projects. Ramping up law enforcement, for example, has cost the town approximately $360,000 per fiscal year. Undergrounding utilities would cost millions.
It is significant that residents weighted each of the potential improvements below a two, Hetrick said during her slide presentation.
“Overall, people are very satisfied with the services that are provided and the quality of life in Los Altos Hills,” she said.
“This is our ‘I love me’ slide,” Radford said, provoking laughter.