Los Altos council candidates discuss struggling businesses, fiscal responsibility

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Andrew Yee/Special to the Town Crier
Candidates for Los Altos City Council discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected businesses during a meeting with the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.

The seven candidates running for three seats on the Los Altos City Council presented their platforms to the local business community Wednesday morning (Sept. 2) at the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee Meeting, touching on issues surrounding fiscal responsibility and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on businesses.

During the virtual session, each candidate had seven minutes to speak. Lynette Lee Eng, the lone incumbent running for re-election, sent representative Angie Cardoza, director of the Greater San Jose Chamber of Commerce, to read a statement in her stead, as the councilwoman was unable to attend due to her job as an essential worker. Cardoza pointed to the current council’s initiative to close parts of Main and State streets as a means to help downtown businesses and stressed finding creative methods for a safe reopening.

“Our downtown and business communities are the backbone of our city, bringing vitality and service to residents,” Cardoza said.

Some candidates challenging for seats agreed that the Open Streets program has benefited downtown businesses, though there is a need for further action.

“The impact has been quite good,” said candidate Kuljeet Kalkat, chairman of the Los Altos Financial Commission. “I see the tide is turning, people are showing up downtown. But as the temperature falls, we need to try some new ideas.”

Many local businesses have received Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government, as well as grants from the Small Business Relief Fund set up by the city. But candidate Alex Rubashevsky, a realtor, said that giving money to people won’t be sufficient unless businesses are connected to customers.

“Open Streets is a great start, but we need to do a lot more,” Rubashevsky said. “We need to incentivize more small businesses to be able to stay open, provide more space for them and more parking.”

Candidate Scott Spielman, the current vice chairman of the Los Altos Parks and Recreation Commission, said he would urge the small-business community to brainstorm with the council a few ideas that can be implemented immediately. The issue of how the city, chamber and small businesses can work more effectively together is a pressing matter, according to Spielman.

“Our local businesses have suffered greatly during COVID, and I commend the work that council and the city have done, in conjunction with LACF (Los Altos Community Foundation), to give grants to the tune of about $370,000 to small businesses,” he said. “I don’t think it’s enough.”

‘Strict fiscal discipline’

Candidates also talked about wanting to be more fiscally responsible.

Jonathan Weinberg, a member of the Los Altos Parks and Recreation Commission, expressed concern over the number of lawsuits the city is involved in over housing disputes. Los Altos is behind on meeting its housing-need allocation figures and is in court battles after denying approval for housing-related applications.

“When we don’t meet our legal obligation, we lose the ability to control the shape and scope of development in our city,” Weinberg said. “Our leadership’s failure to address this issue has led to continued litigation.”

Candidate Sally Meadows, a member of the Los Altos Planning Commission, said the council has ruled against its own zoning code and state laws, resulting in litigation.

“When we make rulings that are not consistent with our own zoning, we will lose lawsuits or be forced to settle them,” Meadows said. “This is very expensive.”

Candidate Terri Couture, a realtor, stressed “strict fiscal discipline.”

“We must realize the impacts and the uncertainties of this pandemic, and also the declining revenues for our uncertain business climate,” Couture said.

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