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LA voters to weigh in on fate of land use, hotel tax legislation

While discussion of Measure C, the Protect Our Parks and Public Lands initiative, has dominated the local political landscape, residents will have the opportunity to vote on a second measure in the Nov. 6 election.

Measure D, the proposed Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), would increase the maximum hotel tax rate from 11 to 14 percent of the fee paid by a hotel guest for occupancy of any lodging, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters’ “List of Local Measures.”

Los Altos City Attorney Chris Diaz further explained Measure D in his impartial analysis by clarifying the TOT would be imposed on occupants of a room or hotel space for dwelling, lodging or sleeping purposes for a period of 30 consecutive days or less.

The existing 11 percent TOT has generated approximately $2.7 million annually for the city’s general fund to pay for Los Altos services and programs, Diaz said. He estimated that a 14 percent TOT would provide an additional $740,000 annually.

Mayor Jean Mordo, who wrote a letter in support of Measure D that appears on the city’s website below Diaz’s review, claims that the measure would direct more money to the general fund without increasing taxes paid by residents and businesses.

“With excellent public schools, unique neighborhoods and beautiful natural surroundings, our community is thriving,” Mordo wrote. “However, there are many infrastructure and beautification projects the city would like to invest in to improve the city.”

Mordo emphasized that the measure would not immediately increase the TOT to the maximum of 14 percent, but it would give the city the option to do so, enabling Los Altos’ TOT to reflect those in surrounding areas – Palo Alto, for example, already has a 14 percent TOT and is considering 16 percent. He also reminded voters that the Los Altos City Council unanimously supports the measure.

Currently, there is no analysis against Measure D posted on the city’s website.

Council, candidates split on Measure C

Council members may have reached consensus on Measure D, but both the current council and the five candidates running for two open seats on the council in November are split on where they stand on Measure C.

Candidates Anita Enander and Teresa Morris told the Town Crier they support Measure C, while Neysa Fligor, Nancy Bremeau and incumbent Mordo oppose it.

According to the Registrar of Voter’s guiding document, if passed, Measure C would require voter approval of the sale, lease or “certain changes in use of certain land” designated as “Parks,” “Other Open Space” or “Public and Institutional” in the Los Altos General Plan.

According to Diaz’s impartial analysis of Measure C, passage of the measure would mandate voter approval in four scenarios: (1) any change in the list of uses the general plan allows on land with a “Parks,” “Other Open Space” or “Public and Institutional” land-use designation; (2) the sale or transfer of city-owned land with one of the three previously listed designations; (3) the lease or other disposition (including granting of a license or easement) of city-owned land with one of the three designations for longer than 180 calendar days; and (4) changing city-owned land with one of the three designations to another land-use designation (with the exception of “Public and Institutional” to “Parks.”)

Measure C qualified for the ballot after a group of local residents gathered nearly 3,000 signatures in an effort to change the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance. In response, the city council considered placing an opposing measure on the ballot but ultimately opted to direct staff to draft amendments to the general plan and zoning ordinance to pre-emptively allay residents’ concerns.

The proposed general plan amendments, slated for discussion at Tuesday’s city council meeting, after the Town Crier’s press deadline, would require voter approval of the sale, transfer of title or redesignation of city-owned lands with only the “Parks” and “Other Open Space” designations on the map in the general plan. The council adopted the introduction and first reading of the amendments at its Sept. 25 meeting.

On the city’s website, an argument for Measure C, a rebuttal to the supporting argument, an argument against Measure C and a rebuttal to the dissenting argument are posted for voter consideration.

Those in favor of Measure C, listed as Jim Jolly, Elizabeth Reeves, Tom Ferry, Michael Ellerin and Nancy Phillips, branded the measure as a positive for the future.

“We can’t assume the council, whose members change every two years, will protect our lands,” the coalition states in its letter of support. “That’s up to us. In the face of intense overdevelopment, we must be stewards of our lands, protecting their integrity and ensuring their survival for future generations.”

Those against Measure C, represented in the written statement by former Mayor Marge Bruno, argue that the measure is “a misguided waste of taxpayer time and money.” Bruno notes that Los Altos has not sold parkland in its 66-year run, but instead has a history of purchasing and protecting public lands. She cited the acquisition of Lincoln Park in 2016 as an example.

According to attachments from a June 12 staff report, the measure, if passed, has the potential to impact the leases of 33 city-owned properties, including the civic center campus, the fire station on Almond Avenue, 10 parking plazas, Redwood Grove and Shoup, Lincoln, Village and Rosita parks.

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