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Doing more with less: Limited staff resources dominate Los Altos council, commissions conversation

The Los Altos City Council discussed several projects in the works with five of its commissions May 7, but discourse invariably circled back to each commission’s frustration with limitations caused by the city’s shrinking staff.

Transferring Manny Hernandez from his role as Recreation and Community Services director to serve as Municipal Services director removes him from his staff liaison position with the Parks and Recreation Commission, lamented members of that commission. In addition, two seats on the commission must be filled as soon as possible to support their workload, according to chairman Jonathan Weinberg.

Deputy City Clerk Sarah Henricks left the city in March, largely unnoticed, and Environmental Commissioner Don Bray said he was unsure whether he and his fellow commissioners were informed they had lost their staff liaison upon her departure.

On top of that, council liaison Jan Pepper cannot attend Environmental Commission meetings because the North County Library Authority meets at the same time.

Janet Harding, chairwoman of the Senior Commission – which is supported by city staff and a council liaison – said she felt her group was “not doing enough.” Council members offered reassurance after she listed the commission’s accomplishments, including hosting the recent Spring Fling event and the transportation reimbursement pilot program.

As exasperation mounted, City Manager Chris Jordan referenced the budget for the upcoming financial year, set for consideration at Tuesday’s council meeting, held after the Town Crier’s press deadline.

The budget proposes hiring an additional person to fill Henricks’ role and encompassing the liaison position.

‘Ruffing’ out a plan

Commissioners relying on one another to fulfill the duties outlined in their work plans have been forced to choose which projects to prioritize.

For the Parks and Recreation Commission, that meant devoting most of their time in the past year to researching and gathering data on a dog park and off-leash hours.

Weinberg reported that the Parks and Recreation Commission voted at its April 10 meeting to accept the recommendation of McKenzie Park as a site for a fenced-in dog park, largely because of the absence of nearby residential property. The action will enable Hernandez to develop proposals for two pilot programs for which the commission plans to gather community feedback: the fenced-in dog park and off-leash dog hours at two yet-to-be-determined parks.

Hernandez said public input has already trickled in via comment at two meetings dedicated to a potential dog park as well as via email and phone calls. If a firmer plan shapes up, the council requested that notices be mailed out citywide because the project would affect areas beyond the 500-foot perimeter of the park – the area usually targeted for notification.

“Whenever you address one site, you’re going to get people around that site and you have a potentially skewed public voice there,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Stewart Eckman said in support of broad notification. “If there is a study session to discuss all of these (options) and we go outside the 500 square feet and use all the publicity we can, I think you have potentially a more balanced view.”

Rising with the tides

The Environmental Commission faces the task of updating the city’s Climate Action Plan, an issue that has been tabled for years and “severely needs an update,” Pepper said.

The commission also prioritized weighing in on ongoing efforts such as the Hillview Community Center’s new design and the city’s Shoulder Paving Improvement Policy. Commissioner Laura Teksler updated the council on recent outreach conducted, including working with school administrators to encourage anti-idling efforts.

Mayor Lynette Lee Eng suggested reaching out to the Youth Commission to help educate the next generation on green policies. Teksler replied that local, concerned teens like the members of the Youth Commission are already taking steps to do so.

“I actually think the young people probably know more,” Teksler said with a laugh.

Changing lanes

The Complete Streets Commission appears to be overwhelmed; its role has been more reactive than proactive, acknowledged Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins. As developments rise up around the city, commissioners have no way of acting fast enough to address the traffic that is sure to follow.

The perspective has to change from monomodal to multimodal – or, from only looking at the perspective of those traveling in single-occupancy vehicles to those walking and biking – according to Commissioner Suzanne Ambiel, and the commission must be willing to take heat from those she called the “property value” neighbors for only being concerned about how proposed street changes will affect them.

Council members pointed out at the conclusion of the sessions with the commissions that there is plenty of passion to address the tasks at hand.

“I’m thrilled to hear the level of commitment and expertise you all have for tackling the bigger, broader problems,” Councilwoman Anita Enander said. “This can only help us.”

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