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Run for the Hills: Westwind Barn, disaster preparedness among issues in campaign for LAH council

Photo Joe Hu/Town Crier

Westwind Barn is a source of debate among Los Altos Hills candidates. Some candidates feel the historical structure is put to good town use while others see it as a waste of money.

Three of five seats on the Los Altos Hills City Council are open to six candidates running in the upcoming Nov. 4 election. Mayor Jean Mordo, seeking another four-year term, is the only incumbent in the race. Candidate Toni Casey has served more than eight years on the council, three as mayor, with her last term ending in 2002, and John Vidovich ran unsuccessfully for council in 2006.

The three new faces in Los Altos Hills elections – Ginger Summit, Rich Larsen and Jim Abraham – may be unfamiliar as candidates, but they're not new to town politics.

Summit has served on the town's pathways committee for eight years and helped develop the trails corridor plan and subsequent walking map. She is a regular at council meetings.

"It's my responsibility as a resident," she said.

Larsen took the lead in his West Loyola neighborhood to push for a Hills' annexation, which succeeded in late 2007. He was instrumental in negotiating with local authorities to develop a sewer project for the area's 55 residents – a final hearing for city council approval is scheduled Oct. 23.

Abraham is a member of the town's emergency communications, undergrounding and emergency preparedness committees and was recently appointed a planning commissioner.

Abraham and Casey are running as a slate, backed by the Los Altos Hills Civic Association.

Mordo, Summit and Larsen aren't running as a slate, but agreed their philosophies are closely enmeshed and complement the others' ideals. Friends of the Hills has endorsed the three for council.

Vidovich is running as an independent and seeks no endorsements from any individuals, agencies or organizations, he said.

"I'm the only independent candidate not running on a slate," Vidovich said, "and I'm not pandering to special groups."

Despite where candidates stand with each other, it's how they stand on the issues that matters to voters.

Parks and recreation

Referencing the town council's recent promise to match up to $880,000 of a Supporters of West-wind fundraising effort, Casey said she opposes using tax dollars to upgrade and renovate the deteriorating facility. Abraham thinks it's a waste of town funds.

"It's a black hole the money goes in," Abraham said. "It costs the town in litigation, maintenance costs and insurance. It's an asset that is now wasted."

Both argue too few residents use the equestrian facilities to justify its cost to the town. Casey favors putting the issue to voters on the March ballot. However, Mordo said a ballot initiative would cost up to $150,000.

Mordo and Summit are passionate about Westwind's value to the community. Mordo said approximately 40 percent of Los Altos Hills residents use the facility and recreational activities aren't limited to equestrian programs.

"For me, it's a made-up issue," Mordo said.

Summit said the town's management of Westwind has been a success.

"Given adjustment time, it's going to work out," she said. "It will be divisive if it's on the ballot. This town has gone through too much rancor."

Mordo said 30 percent of the Little League players who use the town's fields are from Los Altos Hills – 70 percent from Los Altos. Nobody complained that the town allocated more than $1.3 million to improve the baseball fields, he said.

Casey supports the Little League fields, she said.

Vidovich said the town has the responsibility to maintain Westwind and upgrade it to meet safety standards.

"It's a valuable town-owned asset," he said.

Vidovich said he plans to donate $3,000 to $5,000 to help fund Westwind's retrofit and restoration, redirecting funds from his own campaign.

Summit said she has rung 1,700 doorbells since announcing her campaign.

"That doesn't mean everybody was at home," she said.

However, she was surprised at the increasing number of young families – the parks and recreation department can play a pivotal role in offering programs and strengthening the community, she said.

Abraham said there should be more recreational choices for school-age through high-school-age youth. He'd like the town to install soccer and lacrosse fields.

Disaster preparedness

Most candidates agree residents can't be too prepared in an emergency – particularly in a fire or an earthquake – the likeliest dangers facing Hills' residents.

"How could you be against preparedness?" Mordo said.

Summit and Larsen echo the mantra. Larsen advocates expanding the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and implementing dead pine tree removal, and Summit advocates creating safety networks.

"People should know their neighbors," she said.

Abraham, too, favors expanding CERT training for town residents and updating emergency communications, while Casey maintains that fire hazards – existing along roads, hillsides and ravines – must be cleared.

Property rights

The pathways project is Summit's baby, so it's obviously near and dear to her heart. Summit argues that the pathways offer residents and emergency vehicles alternative routes in case of disaster. Moreover, they provide safe routes for walkers and joggers, away from traffic and auto exhaust.

Larsen uses the paths for workouts, jogging in training for various triathlons he enters. Mordo believes this is another nonissue. He said only one pathways issue has come before the council in the last four years.

But Abraham isn't fond of the site-development policy that ensures a pathways system – landowners must agree to an easement for a public right-of-way if they want permits to build, or pay an in-lieu fee, he said. Vidovich, too, is a staunch ally of property rights and against the pathways trails.

It's the overpopulation of deer that has Casey riled.

"Deer attract cougars, carry lyme disease and contribute to the sudden death of our oak trees," Casey wrote in a town mailer. "Deer fencing must be allowed."

Abraham said property owners should be allowed to build fences 6 feet high.

"That's the real hot-button issue for me," he said. "Property rights."

Moreover, Casey and Abraham want to revisit the slope/grading policy. Abraham said site-development guidelines restricting building on certain slope grades again limit property owners' rights.

"The restrictions are not supportable," he said.

Casey said technological advances in building and engineering mandate that the policy be revisited.

Summit said the town's general plan is fine as it is, allowing for open space and development.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's my Constitution," she said.

While she respects property owners' rights, Summit also advocates respecting neighbors' rights. Established residents' views have been adversely affected and rain runoff re-routed by epic building construction, she said.

Summit disagrees with building bigger houses on steeper lots.

How the candidates stack up

What determines the candidates' ballot order?

In accordance with state elections code, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen conducted a random alphabetic drawing Aug. 14 to determine name placement on the Nov. 4 ballot for all candidates statewide.

If a candidate's last name starts with an "X," it's second only to a contender with a last name beginning with "R." An "M" was drawn on the third round – incumbent candidate Mordo will top the ballot, as well as any other references in Los Altos Hills correspondence or documents listing the council candidates, according to City Clerk Karen Jost.

The process eliminates preferential treatment for candidates in ballot placement. Keeping the listing consistent throughout the election ensures staff neutrality.

Following Mordo's name, in ballot order: Summit, Larsen, Abraham, Vidovich and Casey.

Contact Mary Beth Hislop at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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