Los Altos mayor and city council candidate Jean Mordo found himself defending the actions of the current council at a Sept. 17 candidates forum.
Fellow candidate and city Planning Commissioner Anita Enander chided the mayor and council for being fiscally irresponsible. Mordo led the charge for a $34.7 million rebuild of the city’s community center – nearly $10 million more than the initial budget.
“I’m concerned about the direction of our city – that’s why I’m running,” Enander said. “Our mayor’s approach seems to be that we are rich – we can borrow and do everything.”
Mordo shot back later during a question-and-answer period at the forum, which was co-sponsored by several local nonprofit groups.
“There have been some innuendos by some candidates saying that we are in a precarious situation, that we have to be careful about our money … but I can guarantee you that we are still very conservative even with the $35 million we are spending on the community center,” he said.
Mordo said the city has suffered in the past by saving money while its buildings and roads went undermaintained.
“I’m glad we are spending the money we can afford to spend,” said Mordo, who has worked in the past as a corporate chief financial officer. “We have $60 million-plus in the bank and it’s earning 0.6 or 0.7 percent a year, whereas the cost of everything is going up 5, 6, 7, 10 percent. … Construction is skyrocketing, so I’m glad my colleagues and I have agreed to go ahead and invest before the money loses its value.”
Mordo and Enander’s exchange highlighted the differing philosophies among the five candidates, who are vying for two seats on the five-seat council in the Nov. 6 election.
Enander and fellow candidate Teresa Morris emphasized a conservative approach and preserving Los Altos’ residential and business communities, while Mordo and candidates Nancy Bremeau and Neysa Fligor espoused more progressive approaches – striking the balancing act of making improvements while retaining the current quality of life.
Morris, a Loyola Corners resident since 2002, said she and her husband were attracted to the “safe and quiet neighborhoods and small-town feel.” Concerned with the lack of residents’ input in development proposals, she co-founded Los Altans for Neighborly Development in 2005. She said the name “is indicative of what I stand for.”
Enander said she’s lived in other nearby cities prior to Los Altos before concluding, “We live in the best city in the Bay Area.” She wants to make sure it stays that way by finding “innovative ways” to manage growth, ensure safe streets and conserve open space. One of her main goals is working on the 2020 General Plan, the city’s “Constitution,” which dictates direction for decades into the future.
Mordo, who served on the Los Altos Hills City Council for eight years, has lived in Los Altos since 2013. He is finishing his first four-year term in Los Altos.
“I’ve found it challenging and frustrating, but satisfying when achieving important goals,” he said.
Regarding city growth, he sees “tradeoffs between vibrancy and serenity. … Preserving character while ensuring economic viability for downtown is possible.”
Bremeau has worked on three Safe Routes to School projects and establishing a teen center at the new community center. Her efforts led, in part, to the city purchasing Lincoln Park from the county, and establishing an in-lieu fee for public art while she served on the Public Arts Commission.
“I work on these projects not because they are good for me, but because they are good for our community as a whole,” said Bremeau, who added that she aims to rebuild trust between the council and the public.
Fligor, an attorney, touted years of experience on boards ranging from the El Camino Healthcare District Board of Directors to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which has prepared her for a stint on the council.
She described her leadership style as “collaborative, reasoned and thoughtful,” a style that has won her the endorsements of eight former city mayors.
The dividing line among the candidates was apparent during discussion of the recently approved Downtown Vision plan and the resident-initiated Measure C.
Differences in vision
On the Nov. 6 ballot, Measure C would require voter approval of any major transaction of city-owned land larger than 7,500 square feet, including sale, lease or rezoning.
Morris and Enander support the measure – Morris said she collected signatures to get it on the ballot – while Mordo, Fligor and Bremeau oppose it.
Differences also were apparent in discussing the Downtown Vision plan. Morris and Enander took issue with it, while Mordo, Fligor and Bremeau favored it.
Enander said one of the “biggest risks” with the plan concerned parking – some options involve conversion of downtown parking plazas into pedestrian areas, with construction of residential, commercial and parking structures.
“If we don’t manage how we do this and sustain parking, we are going to hurt our downtown businesses,” she said.
Bremeau and Mordo added context by emphasizing that the Downtown Vision is a guiding document – not intended to be implemented as a whole, but “a la carte,” as Mordo put it. Fligor also dispelled concerns about immediate development, noting that the plan spans 25 years and came about as a result of surveys and numerous other outreach efforts.
The forum, held at Los Altos High School’s Eagle Theater, was sponsored by Los Altos Community Foundation, the Los Altos Community Coalition, Los Altos Forward, the Center for Age-Friendly Excellence, GreenTown Los Altos, the Los Altos Women’s Caucus, the local branch of the American Association of University Women and Our Next Library Committee. To review comments from the forum, visit youtube.com and search “Coast Oak Films.”
Another Los Altos council candidates forum, sponsored by the local branch of the League of Women Voters, is scheduled 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Los Altos City Hall, 1 N. San Antonio Road.
A full overview of Los Altos City Council candidates, along with the Town Crier’s endorsements, is scheduled for the Oct. 10 edition.