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Los Altos council appoints committee to sort out Friends of Library housing, adds meeting times

The Los Altos City Council took action June 25 to provide solutions to two pressing issues: the impending lack of space for Friends of the Library of Los Altos and the extraordinary length of regularly scheduled council meetings.

The volunteer-run Friends of the Library – a nonprofit organization that raises funds for library collections, facilities and programs through periodic book sales, among other fundraisers – will soon have to vacate its allotted space at Hillview Community Center, set to undergo a rebuild.

The Friends have been using space on the civic center campus for more than 40 years at no cost.

The free storage space has been what kept the Friends program alive for such a long stretch, said Mary Jo Kelly, outgoing president of the group, at the May 14 council meeting. Without city assistance, the Friends would have nowhere to stow their pallets of books and other media.

After some debate, the council unanimously approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to develop recommendations for short- and long-term housing for the organization.

Acknowledging the number of volunteers and supporters of the Friends who attended the June 25 meeting, the council addressed the item early in its agenda. By the time council members moved on to a proposal to add extra meetings to their fall calendar, the gathering had hit the four-and-a-half-hour mark.

All booked up

Kelly launched her plea for a plan for the Friends by recognizing the number of programs housed on the civic center campus. After Los Altos History Museum Executive Director Elisabeth Ward spoke at a May council meeting about the possible negative impact installing temporary storage sheds between the Los Altos Police Department and the museum campus could have on the growth of museum programs, Kelly and her peers met with Ward in an attempt to get on the same page.

The Friends even invited two museum representatives to serve on the ad hoc committee Kelly advocated for. In the end, the council voted to include one museum representative, two city council members and two Friends representatives. To get results, Friends members also connected with Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins.

“I thought it was a positive meeting,” Bruins said. “I think we all walked out with big, huge smiles on our faces.”

While coming together to “sit at the same table,” as Bruins described the union, likely resulted in the idea of forming a committee, Friends volunteer Duncan MacMillan was perplexed that not one of the five council members had visited the Friends’ operations, despite frequent invitations, to familiarize themselves with the cause.

MacMillan highlighted the volume of work volunteers take on each week, an effort he said City Manager Chris Jordan had not taken into account when drawing comparisons for a presentation to the council. Jordan likened the Friends of the Library to programs in cities he previously served in West Linn and Lake Oswego, Ore. – organizations that raise approximately $27,000 and $50,000 per year, respectively. The Los Altos chapter, on average, raises approximately three to five times as much, MacMillan calculated.

“My ask during public comments … , that the council go on record by roll call about whether the operation could reside on campus/in the (community) center under any circumstances, was not answered,” MacMillan wrote in an email to the Town Crier after the meeting.

For now, the five-member committee is charged with returning to the council’s meeting Tuesday with recommendations, at a minimum, for the short-term fate of facilities for the Friends.

Productivity is key

After a series of long meetings, the council explored opportunities to shorten them. The issue was the 16th agenda item at the June 25 meeting.

Since the year began, approximately eight of the council’s 12 bimonthly meetings have run more than four hours long. The marathon sessions are not lost on council members; at their June 5 mid-year retreat, they discussed adding extra meetings to level out the workload.

Council members agreed to schedule additional meetings beginning at 6 p.m., not to exceed two hours in length, Sept. 3, Oct. 1 and Nov. 5. By city ordinance, the council holds routine meetings at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. The ordinance will soon be tweaked, as it is “completely inflexible,” Jordan said.

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