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Los Altos Hills council weighs additions to scrutinized advisory committee rules

The Los Altos Hills City Council at its June 21 meeting will consider adopting new advisory committee rules, the current absence of which one local land-use attorney recently described as holding the town to a “lower standard” compared to neighboring communities.

New edits to the town’s Standing Committee Resolution are expected to include limiting residents’ membership to some committees and requiring annual training of committee chairs. To help eliminate bias and promote transparency, council members may also direct staff to add a question to committee membership applications pertaining to potential conflicts of interest and to create an online feedback process through which residents may submit comments and concerns about committee actions.

“It’s not just that it’s our obligation to build good governance,” Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan said at the May 17 council meeting. “It’s our obligation to make sure anyone doing business with us is confident.”

San Francisco attorney Timothy A. Tosta has been a vocal critic of the town’s current committee structure. He claims his clients, the owners of a Natoma Road property, have been unfairly targeted by members of the town’s Open Space Committee, which is charged with promoting the acquisition and maintenance of conservation space and easements. The Ko family wishes to subdivide the 18-acre property they purchased for $18.5 million in 2015 into nine lots. But three long-term Open Space Committee members who live adjacent to the Natoma property have fought the subdivision through means that include failing to properly recuse themselves from committee proceedings related to the project and secretly retaining counsel to oppose the project, according to Tosta.

“I think you ought to have a greater conformity with the best practices of other governments in the area, and I think the absence of these kinds of rules is holding you to a lower standard,” Tosta told council members as they pondered Standing Committee Resolution amendments at their April 19 meeting.

In an interview with the Town Crier last week, Open Space Committee member Kit Gordon said she refutes all of Tosta’s claims against the committee.

“The town looked into Tosta’s allegations and did not find any misconduct by committee members,” she said.

Based on council members’ discussion at the May 17 meeting, the new Standing Committee Resolution edits will likely limit residents from concurrently serving on more than one of three committees involved with town development, an often-contentious issue with the potential for significant financial impacts: the Environmental Design & Protection, Open Space and Pathways committees. The handful of members already serving on multiples of the three would be grandfathered in.

Residents both praised and questioned the proposed changes. Pathways Committee member Bridget Morgan applauded the constraints on committee membership as well as another resolution council members considered but largely rejected: limiting Environmental Design & Protection, Open Space and Pathways committee membership to residents without personal or financial connections to members of the council and Planning Commission.

“My belief is 100 percent in the goal of good governance in Los Altos Hills, and I do not believe that those goals of good governance are always served well given the structure and the practices that we have in place now,” Morgan said.

As in August, when the council approved new resolution language governing committee term limits, Environmental Initiatives Committee member Pat Lang expressed dismay at the imposition of yet more restrictions on volunteers.

“Why are you trying to restrict the giving that these people are doing?” Lang said. “I don’t understand that.”

The next Los Altos Hills City Council meeting is scheduled 6 p.m. June 21 at town hall, 26379 W. Fremont Road.

The agenda, when finalized, will be available online at losaltoshills.ca.gov/129/Agendas-Minutes.

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