The Los Altos City Council last week unanimously authorized entering a lease agreement with Friends of the Library of Los Altos that will guarantee the nonprofit organization remains on the civic center campus.
In exchange for the city paying for power consumption for the space, Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said Friends would be responsible for “all capital costs.” The costs were defined as those to establish power, for maintenance and for additional site-preparation expenses for the 330-square-foot portable and sheds Friends has been renting and occupying on the land between the Los Altos Police Department and the Los Altos History Museum.
Once formalized, the lease will remain in effect until either party wants to terminate it, City Manager Chris Jordan said. The temporary lease Friends had signed with the city was set to expire Dec. 31, or when the new Los Altos Community Center is completed, whichever came first.
The council’s decision Jan. 28 came after approximately two hours of discussion. The initial motion by Mayor Jan Pepper called for the city to provide Friends space on the civic center campus until a proposed new main library is built – an estimated three to five years – with the city covering all costs. After the motion failed, the council elected to take a break.
The dissenting council members – Bruins, Lynette Lee Eng and Anita Enander – suggested continuing the item. Bruins and Lee Eng said they had different visions for what an ad hoc committee, appointed in July to find solutions to the space problem, would accomplish and the kinds of determinations it would make. Enander said there were too many issues up in the air, specifically financial details about the proposed sites, that she didn’t feel comfortable with.
Pepper responded that she did not care to follow a trend that was problematic for the council in 2019, when they “just kept bringing things back and back.”
Friends volunteer Duncan MacMillan, one of two Friends representatives who served on the ad hoc committee, was on the same wavelength.
“We stay or we go, let us know,” MacMillan said, alluding to one of a handful of options the organization has considered as it awaits its fate: dissolving and donating funds in reserves to the Los Altos Library Endowment.
Lack of consensus
The city staff report stated that the ad hoc committee could not agree on which of the four final options presented should be used as space for Friends. In the end, no recommendation was provided to the council other than to hear out city staff’s presentation and give direction on what the next steps should be.
Members of Friends submitted a revised report with comments on committee staff liaison Manny Hernandez’s draft, claiming that the ad hoc committee was not given the opportunity to review the option that ultimately would be brought before the council Jan. 28.
Friends president Margaret Brooks and vice president Catharine Kristian presented the case for their organization, which raises an estimated $150,000 annually for the Los Altos libraries. If moved off-site or forced to pay rent or additional operational fees, Friends would at a minimum have to change its business model to eliminate quarterly book sales. Those sales generate approximately 40% of the organization’s revenue, Kristian said, noting that the group was recently deemed the highest-grossing branch of all Friends of the Library groups in the Bay Area.
A Change.org petition Friends launched a few weeks ago asking the council to keep the group on the civic center campus with sufficient room to function and enough money to maintain its charitable output has garnered approximately 4,500 signatures.
A few council members disagreed with what they felt was an emerging narrative that lack of support for Friends’ exact wishes meant they did not appreciate the service the organization provides for the community.
“We are supporting the Friends no matter what,” Lee Eng said in remarks that met with laughter, groans and shouting from Friends volunteers in the audience.
In other action, the council:
• Authorized Jordan to accept a $160,000 Senate Bill 2 grant from the state, which staff members Jon Biggs and Guido Persicone said would be used to hire a consultant to formulate objective design and development standards for the city of Los Altos.
• Introduced and waived further reading of amendments to miscellaneous zoning code and planning process amendments, as recommended by the Los Altos Planning Commission, with the exception of a noticing radius increase to 1,000 square feet for development projects.
• Received an update on Santa Clara County’s Foothill Expressway Widening Project, which will affect Los Altos commuters traveling on the San Antonio Road to El Monte Avenue stretch, and approved a permit fee waiver to the county on the day the county’s Board of Supervisors approved contracts and funding for the project.