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Los Altos council meeting flows from plea to a plea for action

Five hours after Mayor Lynette Lee Eng tapped her gavel to signify the start of last week’s Los Altos City council meeting, she and her council colleagues decided to take only public comments on the final agenda item and weigh in at the next regularly scheduled meeting.

The five councilwomen discussed several issues at length Feb. 26, with local residents chiming in on three items in particular: the council’s process for disciplining or removing a city commissioner; a request that the Valley Transportation Authority provide additional bus routes for students; and an update on work conducted by the North County Library Authority Redevelopment Task Force.

Elephant in the room

On a narrow 3-2 vote, the council voted to establish norms and procedures for disciplining or removing a city commissioner. The newly adopted policy requires that if three or more council members “wish to agendize the discipline or removal of a certain commissioner, the item will be placed on a Council agenda.”

While council members and city staff didn’t mention the apparent catalyst for the change – the recent arrest of Planning Commissioner Alexander Samek on a DUI charge – one resident did.

Sixteen-year Los Altos resident and attorney Howard Loo recounted the CHP report provided after Samek’s Nov. 30 DUI incident, noting that several officers risked their lives when they surrounded Samek’s Tesla as it traveled down Highway 101, using the car’s technology to safely guide all parties to the side of the freeway.

“The circumstances of Mr. Samek’s arrest are so egregious that council should have removed him immediately,” Loo said. “Yet not a single (council member has) publicly called for his removal. A full vote is three months past due.”

Loo cited an article from a local publication to praise Councilwoman Neysa Fligor, who allegedly requested at the council’s January retreat that Lee Eng demand Samek’s resignation, and to criticize Councilwoman Jan Pepper, who initiated the motion at the Feb. 12 council meeting to establish the norms and procedures and refrain from disciplining Samek until the council adopted a policy.

Residents who elected the council, which “touts transparency,” should know where each member stands on Samek’s future on the commission, Loo argued.

“Apparently you have something in common with Mr. Samek,” Loo said, addressing Pepper. “You, too, are asleep at the wheel. Wake up.”

After public comment, Fligor and Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins backed Pepper’s move to establish norms and procedures, with Fligor pointing out that the procedural language was not targeted toward any one commissioner. If any commissioner – a volunteer – were going through such a “public embarrassment,” Pepper argued, there should at least be a council majority vote to discipline or remove him or her.

Lee Eng and Councilwoman Anita Enander dissented.

Bus routes

The council requested Feb. 12 that city staff draft a letter to the VTA requesting that it find ways to serve more students at local schools on its existing bus routes. The request stemmed from a VTA presentation on proposed transit system modifications and an update on the VTA’s route map as it waits for the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension into the South Bay.

Currently, Bus Route 51 bypasses Homestead Road through Los Altos via Foothill Expressway to reach De Anza College in Cupertino. The route returns to Homestead Road by North Stelling Road, denying students from Cupertino Middle School and Homestead High the opportunity to board. Those schools, according to parent Nanette Jackson, do not offer shuttle services.

“We have tried asking the Cupertino school district for (bus services) for the middle school (during) several meetings,” Jackson said. “They always just come back saying that there’s no budget for it, no bus drivers, and (mention) the high cost of living in the area. So we try to think of all the other options that are available to us, and VTA is a good, logical option.”

Bruins argued that the letter to the VTA would be “premature” and “ill-timed” because it requested that the VTA study the route further, when VTA representatives had conducted an analysis before presenting route updates to local leadership groups.

Lee Eng countered that several recent situations in the city, including the canceled flashing stop signs on Los Altos Avenue, proved to be a lesson that further analysis could always be done.

The council ultimately voted unanimously to send the letter.

Library task force

After a round-robin discussion among the council, North County Library Authority Library Redevelopment Task Force Chairwoman Cindy Hill and Santa Clara County Library District community librarian Marlene Iwamoto, the council unanimously gave the task force the green light to continue its work.

A handful of representatives from the NCLA task force and their partners at the Los Altos Library Commission, the Los Altos Library Endowment and the Friends of the Los Altos Library highlighted their work over the past 18 months researching the potential construction of a new library, which Hill said they knew was “a multiyear project, not a council priority.”

Hill invited the council to share concerns about replacing the oldest library in Santa Clara County’s system, and questions about funding dominated the conversation.

Before the task force was formed, Los Altos city officials made it clear that they would not provide any funding for the project, Hill said, which is why the NCLA joined forces with three library-supporting partners. Hill and her comrades did not come in search of funding, she told the council, but for support to continue their study in the “investigation stage” before moving into design once the Hillview Community Center overhaul is complete.

Task force representatives arrived armed with data supporting a library expansion, noting that visits have increased 15 percent in the past five years, with 70 percent of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents holding library cards.

In addition, Los Altos Hills City Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan reminded the Los Altos council that while the library may seem like a “dying dinosaur,” it is quite the opposite – a commodity that serves the entire community.

“I have now drunk the Kool-Aid and I love our libraries,” Corrigan said. “We (have) one of the top systems in the country, right here in our backyard. … We’re just asking you to agree, as Los Altos Hills (did the previous week), that this is an asset we value.”

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