Running for Los Altos City Council back in 2012, I had many ideas of what I wanted to accomplish. My priorities were open government, a vibrant downtown and updated civic center, greater environmental sustainability, more affordable housing and safe neighborhoods.
As a candidate, it’s easy to have a perspective that “the existing council is just not effective” and “I’m going to change it for the better.” However, once you’re on the city council, the complex reality sets in. No one individual can force anything through. At least three of the five council members need to agree for anything to pass. So progress is slow, additional ideas from fellow council members and the public are woven into even better solutions, long deliberations take place and compromises are required. In fact, that’s how our system of government is designed, to make slow and steady change, rather than fast and radical transitions.
Looking back on the past eight years, we made significant progress on the priorities I outlined. On open government, we now issue the city council agenda eight days ahead of the meeting, including publishing it in the Town Crier the week before the meeting. We require story poles for new large developments so that residents have a visual outline of what is being proposed and can now weigh in before decisions are made. We started holding neighborhood meetings where council members and city staff listen to residents, and also provide information on city construction projects that most closely affect them.
We also adopted a Downtown Vision plan, and as one of the silver linings of the pandemic, implemented and enjoyed extensive outdoor dining this year. We have a beautiful new community center under construction and will open the doors in the spring.
Regarding environmental sustainability, in 2013 we instituted a single-use plastic bag ban for shopping. Since 2017, we receive 100% carbon-free electricity as members of Silicon Valley Clean Energy. We adopted forward-looking building codes for new construction to power our homes and businesses using clean electricity. As part of our transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, we also adopted building codes to install electric-vehicle charging capability for these new homes and businesses.
We’ve increased the required number of affordable units for new multifamily housing projects. And just last month, I was so excited for Los Altos to pen an agreement in partnership with the county to build a 90-unit all-affordable housing development at 330 Distel Drive, the first such development in Los Altos.
On neighborhood safety, we now support Los Altos PREPARES, to assist neighborhoods in forming Block Action Teams, where neighbors help neighbors when “the big one” hits. We’ve expanded the reach of Neighborhood Watch programs, with 25% of the city now covered.
We carefully listened to our residents at a Policing Town Hall in the summer. In response, we created a Citizens’ Police Task Force, and at our last council meeting moved forward on instituting more accessible and less-threatening processes for citizens to register complaints (and commendations) about the Los Altos Police Department that also increase accountability and transparency.
Much less visible to residents, council members also serve on numerous regional boards. I had the pleasure of serving on the North County Library Authority board, which provides extended library hours for the Los Altos main and Woodland Branch libraries, and is starting to envision a new library.
At the Cities Association of Santa Clara County, mayors from each city meet monthly to advance countywide issues. Early on, we worked in concert with other cities to increase the minimum wage in Los Altos and throughout the county. We also insist on our fair share of transportation funds for this part of the county to keep our streets well paved and traffic lights coordinated, lobby the Federal Aviation Administration on aircraft noise and coordinate messaging and testing sites for COVID-19.
I also had the opportunity to serve on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board for five years, tackling clean air issues, particularly with regard to the Lehigh Cement plant in nearby Cupertino.
The council also spends significant time examining and approving the city budget to assure fiscal responsibility and make sure the basic services of government that we all depend on are running smoothly: public safety (police and fire), sewers, roads, stormwater system and garbage and recycling collection.
As we look forward, I’m confident this next city council will continue the progress we’ve made on environmental sustainability, affordable housing, downtown/commercial center vibrancy, safe neighborhoods and open government. The to-do list never gets shorter; it only gets longer as we continually endeavor to have Los Altos be the best it can be. I hope we expand our outreach to residents and have 100% of the city covered by Block Action Teams and the Neighborhood Watch program.
And I have to say, one of the most gratifying parts of being on the city council and serving as your mayor in 2015 and this past year was getting to know so many wonderful people in our city: amazing and tireless volunteers, dedicated and resourceful business owners, and excellent city staff. I know from firsthand experience with you that we are a very talented, thoughtful, caring community that believes in community service and giving of ourselves. Thank you for all you do to make Los Altos so special. I treasure the friendships and special connections we have made and look forward to a less busy schedule to enjoy more time together.
Jan Pepper is mayor of Los Altos.