The majority of the Los Altos City Council accused Vice Mayor Anita Enander and Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng of doing an end-around at Tuesday’s meeting by presenting a housing analysis from a nonprofit policy group that three council members had already rejected as controversial.
Mayor Neysa Fligor and fellow council members Jonathan Weinberg and Sally Meadows were clearly exasperated over what was intended to be a presentation from Enander about crafting a city response to the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers. RHNA determines housing goals for each city, with targets set by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) per direction of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Los Altos' current target is 477 new units by 2023, ballooning to 1,948 units by 2031.
Enander used what the council majority deemed a debatable analysis from the Palo Alto-based Embarcadero Institute. Fligor, Weinberg and Meadows claimed that the information was not presented to city staff or other council members prior to the Feb. 9 meeting. At the Jan. 26 council meeting, the three rejected using the Embarcadero Institute analysis as a basis for discussion.
“The fact that the majority of us said we did not want a presentation from the Embarcadero Institute strikes me as an ambush and disrespect of the full council decision,” Fligor said.
“I am enormously disappointed in the presentation that we just received,” Weinberg added. “This council made very clear, I think on two separate occasions, that we were not willing to listen to a presentation from the Embarcadero Institute. … The council did not want to give that kind of credence to what was a disputed and controversial group.”
Weinberg said Enander and Lee Eng “specifically orchestrated a scenario where you could undermine and eviscerate the will of the majority of the council. … I think there has been a lot of damage done.”
Residents who spoke at the meeting, along with council members, also questioned the procedure that allowed Gab Layton, president of the institute, to give a presentation basically refuting critics who have referred to her nonprofit as a “NIMBY think tank.” Four supportive residents ceded their time to speak, allowing for Layton’s 10-minute presentation.
“This gambit of residents ceding their time to (Layton) is a misuse of that norm,” said resident Pete Dailey. “That’s for a neighbor who represents a number of neighbors who have a similar point of view and want to express it.”
In response, Enander said she was directly addressing the agenda item calling for “potential city responses to the proposed (RHNA) allocation for Los Altos.”
“The way we would need to kick that off would be to get a very good grounding in what was in the RHNA, why it was there, and where I thought the best possible way to approach a response would be,” she said.
Enander suggested that instead of a direct response to ABAG, the council should develop a coordinated response with other cities.
“That’s not what we saw,” Fligor said. “That was not your presentation. That was the most disappointing part of this.”
Lee Eng underlined the importance of discussing the city’s RHNA strategy sooner rather than later. She said the presentation was not “orchestrated.”
Meadows wasn’t buying that assertion.
“How else would the co-founder of (Embarcadero) magically show up and get 10 minutes on the agenda?” she said following the meeting. “Anita even says that she talked to them earlier and told them how to do it. This was a huge violation of the norms around majority opinion and potentially a violation of the Brown Act to have a non-agendized presentation/discussion.”
At Fligor’s recommendation, the council tabled the item, allowing Enander and Lee Eng to do a “do-over,” as Fligor put it, with the directive that information be presented to staff and fellow council members prior the council meeting. No specific future date was announced.
“This has been really shocking,” Meadows said at the meeting. “We’ve been working effectively together. … It’s really going to take something to pull us back together again.”