Mayor Neysa Fligor introduced a resolution at the March 23 Los Altos City Council meeting denouncing anti-Asian aggression, intimidation and violence, ongoing narratives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to take immediate action based on the recent increase in the number of reported hate crimes and acts against Asian Americans, both nationally and locally,” Fligor said.
On March 16, a white man shot and killed eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian Americans.
Locally, Fligor pointed to an anti-Asian incident last year at a Los Altos post office.
The council unanimously agreed to pass the resolution, deemed “urgency” because the item was added after the council agenda was published.
Discussion of Halsey House continued last week. Council members agreed to schedule a study session to address questions, review technical information and discuss the decision-making process influencing the future of the historical but decaying building in Redwood Grove.
The 98-year-old structure faces one of four fates outlined by city staff at the council’s March 23 meeting: restoration of the entire exterior and renovation of the entire interior; partial renovation and partial demolition; complete demolition; or mothballing, an option that would leave the building in a state of hibernation until city leaders make a decision.
Before the study session takes place, however, the council will consider amending a $50,503 contract the city signed with Architectural Resources Group, a firm hired to generate a historical structure report; the council desires additional technical and process information.
Associate city planner Sean Gallegos anticipates the extra work would cost between $5,000 and $15,000.
City staff members hope to return to the council with a contract amendment at the April 13 meeting.
School proposal denied
All five council members agreed last week to deny a conditional-use permit that would have allowed the Los Altos Chinese School to operate out of Foothills Congregational Church. The church is located at 461 Orange Ave. on the triangular wedge of land between Orange and Lincoln avenues. School leaders may modify their application, however, and return to the council at a later date.
After demolition of Hillview Community Center displaced the school, it relocated to a temporary site, Los Altos Lutheran Church on El Monte Avenue.
Space is tight at the Lutheran church, said John Miller, a representative of Foothills, and there isn’t room for the after-school Mandarin Chinese immersion program the Chinese School offers for Los Altos School District students.
Council members said they were influenced by comments members of the public – most of them residents of the Orange Avenue neighborhood – made. Both council members and residents said they do not think an accordion fence, a barrier meant to keep children and their toys out of the road, is a sufficient safety measure. They also worry about the school generating additional traffic congestion and parking problems in the area.
If situated at Foothills, the school could accommodate up to 75 preschool and after-school students between noon and 6 p.m. weekdays.
Paving the way for theater
Despite strong objections from some of her colleagues, Fligor managed to collect the three of five votes she needed to send an official message to the public: The city is willing to support the formation of a working group of residents to explore the possibility of creating a new Los Altos theater.
Fligor said she personally loves the idea and that Vicki Reeder, president of the board of directors for Los Altos Stage Company (formerly Bus Barn Stage Company), has expressed interest in shepherding such an investigation.
The council is not, however, making a determination about a theater now, Fligor cautioned.
“We want to make sure,” she said, “a group doesn’t spend months exploring this, hiring consultants and then coming to the city to say, ‘We have this proposal for a Los Altos theater. We would like to place it on city-owned property or use this city resource,’ and for us to say, ‘No. Why did you waste your time doing that?’ I really want this to be a potential public-private partnership.”
Councilmember Jonathan Weinberg provided Fligor with one of the three affirmative votes.
He described the city’s existing Bus Barn Theater as “woefully inadequate” and said he likes the idea of a new, state-of-the-art venue.
Along with Vice Mayor Anita Enander, Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng voted against taking the action.
“You don’t even have a group identified,” Lee Eng said to Fligor. “It’s premature, and I am concerned that we’re setting a bad precedent. … We’re on a very slippery slope here. A theater might be great, but let those people form their group, let them make their proposal and let them present it to us. I think that’s the way it’s always been, (and) I just think we’re opening up a Pandora’s box here.”
Some members of the public encouraged Fligor, but resident Roberta Phillips was not among them. She said the city has more important matters to wrestle with, such as building state-mandated, low-income housing as well as creating more parking now that downtown parklets for outdoor dining have claimed spaces.
“Just giving a blessing is tantamount to saying, ‘Yes, we really, really want you to do this,’ without taking into consideration some real needs that we have as far as housing and as far as parking,” Phillips said.
The council meeting ended at 1:19 a.m. March 24. Near the middle of the meeting, as Fligor anticipated a late-hour finish, she suggested continuing a housing element annual status report until next month. Her colleagues agreed.