City Council Parks & Rec

New Los Altos Proposition for November Ballot – Prevent Park and Public Land Improvements

A local proposition seeks signatures to prevent leasing and improving city owned recreation resources
Written by lalahpolitico

Supporters of a Los Altos proposition for the November ballot  — which if passed would have the effect of preventing improvements to parks and city-owned public lands — first announced their effort publically via the Daily Post. It printed a”news” article Monday, April 9.  We respond critically to the article, line by line, below.

The City Clerk received the 15- page Los Altos proposition, which makes numerous amendments to our “city constitution” aka the “General Plan 2002-2020,”  on March 28, 2018.  Thereafter City Attorney Chris Diaz prepared a non-partisan title and ballot summary and mailed it to the proponents April 12, 2018.

Per the city attorney, this is what the Los Altos proposition really does.


Once the proponents publish in the Los Altos Town Crier both the non-partisan ballot summary and the partisan “Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition,” they can seek the ~2,000 signatures required to get it on the November ballot. [However, they could take longer — up to a year – and put it on a latter ballot.]

Here is honey tongued language the proponents are using to sell the proposition to you all.

Please don’t impetuously sign their petition. Take the time to read the Los Altos proposition and think about it.  Take the time to wait for local community groups to weigh in.



Palo Alto Daily Post, Ap 9, 2018

From the Daily Post April 9, 2018

“Proposal would restrict city land sales”

Daily Post Ap 9 2018, Allison Levitsky, Staff Writer


“A group of Los Altos residents are preparing to collect signatures for a November ballot measure that would stop the city from selling more than 7500 feet of public land without voter approval.”

Part True

– not limited to stopping ‘selling’…actually, stops the city from transferring, leasing, re-designating, or permitting different uses than in the General Plan
–  public land…actually applies almost exclusively only to city-owned land not public land such as school district owned land.  A school district can do anything it wants. Churchs are the same land use as the Civic Center, so changing uses for a church apparently would also require an election.

“Jim Jolly, who is leading the [Los Altos proposition] effort, said he remembers working for Intel in the early }1970s, when there were only two buildings off of Powers Avenue in Santa Clara. The rest was open fields he said.”

True, but irrelevant

…I worked in the Triangle too. There was still a field growing strawberries within a mile of my office, till Cadence bought it one year later.  So it had been an “open field’ when it was strawberries but was obviously zoned commercial/office and was not expected to remain ‘open’ and undeveloped.

Daily Post April 9, 2016

“The pressure to just build more and more houses for more and more employees is intense and doesn’t seem to be diminishing,” Jolly told the Post, referring to expansions by tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple. “And they have deep pockets.”


There is pressure to build housing because more employees have been added than housing units in the surrounding area over several decades. And also because exclusionary cities like Los Altos are zoned 99% only for detached single family homes.  Yes, those giant companies do have large cash flows…fortunately Menlo Park has leaned on Facebook and Mountain View has leaned on Google to build housing near their expanding offices. It’s a start. The City of Los Altos Housing Element Plan does not meet its state mandated housing unit production quotas. What’s new is the state now has the authority to punish the City for this failure to perform. What won’t help much with the quota shortfall is an below-market-rate  “group home” on a City parking plaza.  This unpopular idea has always been given lip service but backburnered by all city councils. Group homes such as that are a General Plan use for the plazas. So this proposition does nothing to prevent that proposal from rising again and again before city council without voter approval.

“Jolly says he wants to keep the city from losing public land to the pressure to expand. Currently, the sale of public land is at the whim of City Council.”


Where is this pressure? There is pressure on the City from exactly one Los Altos voter to “expand” housing – a group home for “workforce housing” – on a City parking lot. No City Council has done more than give this idea lip service. The council has NEVER sold off city-owned land zoned for civic/community, park or wild open space. It was the “whim” of a recent council to finally BUY Lincoln Park from the County.

Image: Council Complexion is well, complex

The ‘complexion’ of this Council was “keep it pretty much the same.” BUT IT raised First Street and El Camino height to 45 feet. It also sold city-owned retail-mixed use land to Jeff Morris at 400 Main Street.

“Sometimes you get (council) members who are more “Let’s keep Los Altos as much as we can the way it is” versus “Let’s change it and put three-story buildings downtown,” he said.

Part true…

That’s a vast oversimplification.  The last Council that was “keep it the same” actually changed First Street to 4 stories and ditto for El Camino {Packard council}. The current council which is more “let’s change it” actually lowered First Street height as requested by the Downtown Building Committee. However, the majority of the current council (Mordo, Prochow, Pepper, Bruins, Eng) does entertain the notion of moderately increasing vibrancy downtown per the yet  to-be-finalized findings of the recent Downtown Visioning process.

“We have very little park open space for our citizens,


The proponents of this Los Altos proposition constantly confuse citizens by conflating the recreation concept of Parks with the concept of Open Space. In recreation-speak “parks” means land with developed amenities including courts, fields, event spaces, tot lots, etc.  “Open space” typically means undeveloped wild lands, left quite natural with some dirt trails or stream channel paths or shoreline levee paths. Per the 2012 report cited by proponents,  the City of Los Altos open space category also includes golf courses, unlike most other surrounding cities I could find. Actually the City of Los Altos contains ZERO open space land, because the Los Altos Country Club Golf Course is located on privately-owned County land. When the proposition proponents say city-owned “open space” they seem to mean any vacant land with nothing on it to attract visitors except maybe some grass. Actual Los Altos city-owned inventory of land includes plenty of “Public and Institutional”, and  “parks”, but no “open space.”

“..and the complexion of our council changes periodically.”


But the council complexion does not change all that much. All council candidates end their campaign pretending to be moderates. Once they win, they can be very responsive to whoever shows up to complain or to beg at council meetings.

Image: Extract From 2012 City Report
that Los Altos proposition supporters misstate.

Oh, if you calculate apples to apples, it looks like Los Altos is somewhat above average… like Lake Wobegon. The more real Los Alos figure is 3.81 acres per 1000 population.

“A 2012 report showed that Los Altos had less than 1.6 acres of park land per 1,000 residents. Palo Alto and Mountain View each had more than 2.5 acres.  Menlo Park had almost 1.7 acres per 1,000 residents, San Carlos had more than 5 acres and Burlingame had almost 3.3.”

Mostly False…

The proponents of this Los Altos proposition claim Los Altos has 1.6 acres of “park” per 1000 population although many cities include school lands in their park land acres. The 2012 report that the proponents cite also says in that in the case of Los Altos that 2.29 acres for schools can be added to the city-owned 1.6 for a total of 3.81 acres per 1,000.  That 3.81 acres is more of an “apples to apples” comparison between surrounding cities. That means the 2012 report actually shows that Los Altos is among the better-endowed cities. The 2012 report the proponent cites does not adjust for the many other differences among cities in how each defines their parks, open space, and recreation facilities.   The MV Park Plan actually mentions that Almond School and LA High are a recreation resource for the MV Higgins neighborhood.  The Palo Park Plan counts Stanford University fields. A redo of the Los Altos inventory should add in not just schools, but also Rancho San Antonio which is adjacent to the City but also probably all of the Los Altos Hill pathways which are adjacent.

“The exception of pieces of land of up to 7500 ft.² allows the city to sell utility or traffic easements, which usually aren’t controversial all.”


This seems like a meaningless, irrelevant exception in the tortuous language of the 15-page Los Altos proposition. An easement on city land means the utility or neighbor already has the legal right of access. Think of the Hetch Hetchy pipeline, or flag lot home driveways, shared driveways…  I suppose it could emerge that there needs to be a brand new easement on city-land somewhere? Something underground we don’t yet know about? But wait a minute, not every small lot would involve a utility easement. There is that triangle at Springer & El Monte which serves as a mini-park. It is probably just 7,500! Oh no, could it be sold to a private preschool without a approval from the voters!


“Jolly has lived in Los Altos since 1977, but said some of the volunteers who will be collecting signatures are newcomers.”


Many people in their 40’s and 50’s who have recently moved into Los Altos appear to have done so because of its exclusionary, growth suppression zoning [and the school districts]. I sound them out about this and that; some younger people definitely dislike many aspects of “vibrancy.”

“The [proposed]  title of the proposed ]Los Altos proposition] measure is Protect our Parks and Public Lands.”

Mostly false…

A more honest proposed title for this Los Altos proposition would be Prevent Parks and Public Lands Improvements. And the City Attorney has ignored the subliminally worded title requested by the proponents and instead has assigned the following non-partisan title to the measure.

Intiative General Plan Amendment Measure Requiring Voter Approval of the Sale, Lease or Certain Changes in the Use of Certain Land Designated as “Parks,” “Other Open Space” or “Public and Institutional” in the City’s General Plan’. – City Attorney Chris Diaz

Image: Purple Public & Institutional Land, some is city-owned

This is the Los Altos land use map the Proposition refers to. That light blue-purple denotes Public & Institutional zone. It includes city zoned downtown parking lots, the whole Civic Center, and a lot of private churches.

Los Alos Proposition…”2,000 signatures needed”

“Volunteers will need to collect about 2,000 signatures in order to qualify the [Los Altos proposition] measure for the November ballot.”


Los Altos is a general law city and just uses the State rules about the local initiative process.  2000 is about the right percentage of registered voters in the City. Proponents will have to place an ad in the Los Altos Town Crier which “publishes” … a Notice of the Intention to Circulate Petition and a non-partisan 500 word Ballot Summary written by our City attorney. Then they can start collecting signatures.

“Jolly said he doesn’t want to see the city sell off plots of land to support downtown commercial activities or to build new and affordable housing developments without voter approval.”


99.9% of the land the city owns now is zoned PCF (Public /Community Facility) as shown in the 2002-2020 General Plan Land Use Element. The allowed uses of our current city-owned land include among other things… (Parks) parks, fields, courts, event spaces; (PI) Government, academic, community services, city-parking and group home uses. Clearly the city-owned parking plazas downtown – with their parking — already “support downtown” private, profit-making entities. To my knowledge, all public-private partnership projects that were ever proposed for using the current city-owned Public Institutional parking lot land downtown have always been based on some kind of land-lease, never a sale. Would constructing a city-sponsored group home for workforce housing require a voter approval with this proposition as Jolly seems to say? No.  Group homes are already a permitted use on Public-Institutional land per the General Plan, so I can’t see how this proposition can trigger voter approval on a group home on city land. It remains at the “whim” of a council.

Image: Children’s Corner remaining at Hillview…
the Impetus for the “180-day  lease” maximum?

Some critics of this Proposition –  Prevent Park and Open Space Improvements  — say the whole thing was triggered by the activists who fought the notion that the 40 year tenant preschool – Childrens Corner —  should be allowed to enjoy a long term lease – at a market rate rent – by prepaying $1M rent upfront to help fund the new community center.

“The initiative would allow these lands to be rented for up to 180 days per year [no more than 180 to the same tenant].”


This 180 day lease maximum is perhaps the most pernicious part of the Los Altos proposition. The city-owned library building is LEASED to the Santa Clara Library System. Do not the Los Altos Stage Company and History Museum have some kind of a longer term lease? And of course the 40 year-long tenant, the Children’s Corner, has had longer leases than just six-months. And for years and years,  Mountain View Los Altos Adult Ed has had a long-running lease at the old Hillview as it has provided courses catering to 55+. In addition, the proposition proposes to prevent the City from ever entering into a 1 year, 10 years … 55 years land lease, which is a very common arrangement for taking advantage of public-private partnership financing. [Often direct financing through a COP or bond can be cheaper however.] Limiting leases of city-owned land or facilities to 180 days per year is just nuts.  Imposing such a limitation would severely crimp the provision of diverse and appropriate community services by 3rd parties.

This 180 day lease maximum is perhaps the most pernicious part of the Los Altos proposition.-Lalahpolitico

“Controversy over the sale of public land has popped up in Los Altos several times over the last few years.”

Mostly True…But misleading

There was exactly one recent controversy. It was over the sale of city-owned retail-office land, not over the sale of park land, public&institutional land or open space.  It was over the sale of 400 Main {next to Safeway} which was/is zoned retail-office like the rest of Main Street. Years ago a downtown property owner sold the lot– former home to a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a used furniture store –  to the city, allegedly with the hope, it would be used as a city parking lot/structure to benefit downtown commercial owners. But the lot was zoned retail-office-mixed; several city councils could have rezoned it as Public&Institutional but did not. In the 90’s the City proposed selling it to operate 1) as a theatre or 2) as a hotel. There were no deals that gelled at that time, not so much because of controversy as because of lack of economic attractiveness. No one suggested it should be a soccer field or anything like that to my knowledge. [A search on for Morrisgate, or 400 Main will turn up many posts.  Here’s a letter that reveals part of the controversy.

Los Altos History Museum is a non-profit tenant on city-owned land. Did they pay for the land they now occupy?  Don’t we want to continue to leverage private non-profits that provide community benefits…without voting on it incessantly?

“There’s a lot of people who are trying to get their hands on our park land supporter Roberta Phillips told the Post.”


What is the meaning of “get their hands on” by this proponent of the Los Altos proposition? Buy, land-lease, facility-lease, rent? The only leasing of city-owned land at this time is occurring on the 18 acres of the Civic Center which is all zoned Public and Institutional which includes community services uses such as a community center, performing arts and academic uses such as a preschool and a county library as well as a museum. Numerous organizations already have “got their hands on” Civic Center land and facilities…organizations like the SCCL library, History Museum, Los Altos Stage Company, Children’s Corner Preschool, MVLA Adult Ed,!!!  Would Ms. Phillips like to list the all the new entities that are trying to “get their hands on” land at the Civic Center in some kind of duplicitous manner? I can’t think of any. Well, except the Los Altos School District expressed interest…see below.

Palo Alto Daily Post, April 9, 2018

Wojcicki proposal criticized

“Personal genomics pioneer Anne Wojcicki’s development company Los Altos Community Investments pulled their 91,200 square-foot First Street Green office project on October 11 after some were critical of a private company buying and developing public land.”

Key Falsehood…

First Street Green was NEVER going to BUY any public land. It did offer to REDEVELOP some public land surface as park land and public land subsurface as public parking for free. BTW the city-owned parking plaza No. 7 is not “park land” but rather Public-Institutional land. The office-park project would have involved some lease of city-owned subsurface land for office underground parking on the lower levels.

The quashed LACI office building project was to be entirely on private land. Only the cafe patio was going to infringe on the parking plaza 7 surfaces a bit.  Some people felt the office use generated too much traffic, but were ok with the same mass being housing instead…not necessarily a group home.  The developer was donating the cost of converting parking to a park.  It would have always been OWNED by the city.

“The three-story 77,000 square-foot building was planned for 101-151 First  St. and ON a 14,200 square-foot portion of Public Parking Plaza No. 7.”

Key Falsehood…

The BUILDING was NEVER at any time going to be ON 14,500 square feet Plaza No. 7. It was ON parcels 101-151 First St. The planned public café, with public restrooms and free meeting room, did want to extend outdoor patio seating into the Plaza 7 parklette by a very modest amount. Criminal? Come on! Not. I’d say a majority of the people who opposed this LACI project did so because they don’t like office.  They said if it were housing with the same size building and with the same parklette and similar underground  parking that was ok.  They did NOT necessarily object to the land lease of city land; just the permitted office use on the private parcels 101-151 First St.

“The plaza would have done away with 67 parking spaces at the public lot and moved them into a three level underground garage proposed as part of the project.”

TRUE...but cherry picking the facts

It would have “done away with” 67 dreary parking spaces…replacing them with an inviting parklette…and moving the 67 public stalls to the first level of underground parking.  It could have added up to 40 more public stalls to the existing 67 too.  The office building parking was on the lowest levels. Lalahpolitico: Aren’t we so joyful Wojicki gave up on her idea and now through our cunning political action we have preserved that dreary parking lot for more decades of convenient ugliness? PRO -Post about First Street Green Office project.   CON – Post about First Street Green.

a 2016 scheme to locate 900 student BCS on the Civic Center actually was given the time of day by City Council in 2016… till Council realized that LASD has much more land than the City!!!



Schools scare tactic…

“In 2014, 57.4% of voters approved Measure N, a $150 million bond measure for the Los Altos School District to expand and upgrade classrooms and labs, update technology and construct or equip classrooms and schools.”


And the School District has yet to issue any bonds it is authorized to issue.  And of course, we are going into a higher interest rate environment now…[Latest post on the 10th site acquisition process.  Lalahpolitico: Now open for more community engagement including another newfangled online engagement system.  Better than the Conteno one we hope]


“The idea of using the money to build a new elementary school at Hillview community Center was proposed but didn’t succeed.”

TRUE…but misleading

After the Measure N LASD bond passed, Trustee Tamara Logan was offering to provide some or all of the funds for the City to tear down City Hall and to build 4 stories on that footprint – one ground level for city hall offices, and the upper floors for Bullis Charter School. So does this mean the Proposition proponents are in favor of that 4 story idea?  Unknown. Earlier ideas the District proposed…include eminent domain to buy the 6.6 acre parcel on the Civic Center that is known as Hillview in order to construct a school for BCS there. LINK TO BCS on Hillview. When the District stopped threatening eminent domain, the District still insisted they really, really needed the Hillview Parcel. The City counter-proposed that the District place two schools on Covington and feel free to use the city-owned Rosita Park as school green turf. So how do the proponents ACTUALLY feel about granting the Hillview parcel to the District for a 900 student school? They ain’t for it!.  You can watch Roberta Phillips speak against letting LASD use city-land here on this City Council Meeting video of March, 8, 2016. Go to time 3:52:50.

“[Los Altos proposition] It’s really giving the voters an opportunity to decide the future of our parklands and public lands,” Phillips said.


Opportunity to decide! Transparency! Public Engagement! Hurrah! Not so fast…The Los Altos proposition is snookering voters, letting them believe if there could just be a popular vote, their particular idea…such as for putting a school on Hillview – probably BCS  – could surely succeed.

But guess who would lead the ‘No on BCS at Hillivew’ campaign? – the very supporters of this “Protect our Parks”Los Altos proposition –Lalahpolitico


Who is driving the Los Altos proposition?

Neighbors “in proximity”…will turn out and vote against improvements that would benefit the larger community

The 15 page Los Altos proposition Section 1.C.4 states their actual goal –“…aims to expand public open spaces…by empowering the voters who visit, use, and live in proximity  to these resources to approve any efforts to terminate their use as parks, or open spaces or [use as] other public property.”

Proponents want to prevent any improvements to any city property than intensifies the use of that city amenity, and especially to reduce use by non-Los Altans.–Lalahpolitico

Proponents tend to live in proximity to major “city resources” and do not welcome traffic and crowds. This is a narrow interest group trying to snooker our broader community into preventing improvements and evolution of our city-owned recreation resources.

The proposition prefers that New Hillview Center be used only for “civic” purposes as encouraged by the General Plan. Who decides who will be allowed to rent the 250 seat new Hillview Community Room for their all day event? Is Rotary and Chamber of Commerce civic?  Are private weddings civic? Weddings are expected to be a hefty source of city revenue.

Who decides what is SIGNIFICANT? This Los Altos proposition initiative applies to ….any public space  (or any space over 7,500 square feet?)  or any action that would SIGNIFICANTLY impact public use and access to city-owned lands … by requiring voter approval for that action.  That action could not simply be taken by Council or staff. This seems like a vague unenforceable language which could lead to litigation.

Examples of Changes requiring an election? These following actions on any public space – transfer, lease over 180 days, re-designation, uses other than allowed in the 2002-2020 General Plan – would trigger a popular vote.

Could the space at Rosita Park change without a vote? Suppose Council would like to fund a skate park instead of the current tennis courts? What about building a Senior Center on Rosita run by Avenidas memory care? Could the City storage next to MacKensie park be turned into a police station without a vote?

Some of our neighbors are lying with statistics and honeyed words to “protect” their homes… but actually improvements to parks near them would probably increase their property values…but they don’t like the crowds.  I have sympathy, but they bought that property. A reasonable person should expect changes. The rest of us deserve recreation improvements we can afford as a city.

Requiring a Popular Vote = Stall, Delay, Kill Public land Improvements
vs. time-tested City-manager/City Council representative government

Right now zoning and permitted use changes of our city resources via  our time-tested City-manger/city council form of government require a minimum of  4 months but usually take 6 months or more.  There must be two “readings” at the Planning Commission and two readings at the City Council. Plus there must be funding.  Often an improvement just gets put on the Capital Improvement Plan for implementation in future years. There is plenty of notice to the public and multiple opportunities to say No.


A popular vote will require perhaps as little as 6 months but perhaps up to 2 years.  Why? Because the proponents don’t want to call any special elections which cost around $500K to hold. Turnout can be very low on local issues, but especially in a special election. That means it’s mostly the voters … “who live in proximity”….”to the resource” which is to be improved….or the principled NIMBY’s and tax-cutters … who will turn out to VOTE DOWN the improvement. They don’t like that the improvement increases the intensity of use, the number of visitors, the number of cars near them, and perhaps the city headcount and the operations budget.


This Los Altos proposition throws sand in the already slow-moving gears of our time-tested city-manager/city council form of representative governance.

How many voters really feel informed enough to be making these land use decisions via a plebiscite?

Who has the time to be called on to vote so frequently?  Only the voters who live in proximity to whatever “resource” is under consideration for improvement.  Or politics junkies.

Are we tired of letting the tail wag the dog, letting the minority thwart the greater good for the larger community?

Don’t sign this pleasant sounding petition.  To use a hackneyed phrase, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to thwart the civic and park improvements we deserve and can afford.

Resources: the Local Politics

a DAILY POST”news” article Monday, April 9.

The proponent’s 15- page proposition, which makes numerous amendments to our “city constitution” aka the “General Plan 2002-2020,”

City Attorney Chris Diaz prepared a non-partisan title and ballot summary and mailed it to the proponents April 12, 2018.

The  proponent’s  “Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition,”


Recalling LASD effort to use City-owned land…

March 8, 2016 City Council….


March 8, 2016.. about the public speakers   is the video where is the time stamp,  Mac, must use Chrome….Roberta Phillips at 3:52:50  advocating for NO Los Altos School District use of Hillview


Resources: some Park Plans…of Cities

City of Los Altos 2012 Park Plan. See page for the table with findings, many of which can’t be reproduced. It’s ok for hand-waving and for inspriational talking points, but not relying for serious decision making and planning. Lalahpolitico would urge the PARC to add a redo to their work plan in future years.

City of MV Park and Open Space Plan 2014 . This excellent plant places an emphasis on identifying recreation resources near each of the designated negiborhoods. This approach is worthy of imitation. Resources can be city, county or non-profit owned or leased.  It differentiates between resources a neighborhood can walk or bike to vs. resources that city residents can drive to.

“Mountain View is a small and compact city, about 12 square miles in size, with a population in 2013 of 76,260…There are close to 1,000 acres of park and open space land in Mountain View, divided among 39 park sites that include 18 mini-parks (1 undeveloped), 13 neighborhood/school parks, 5 neighborhood parks not associated with school sites, 2 community parks, and 1 regional park (see Appendix 1), as indicated in the Parks summary table below. Although categorized this way by the City, they are, collectively, all neighborhood and community parks within the meaning of the California Government Code.”

San Carlos

list of parks  is the low down on the Big Canyon and Eaton Parks ….offer more than 73 acres of natural open space….. report any safety hazard.

private non-profit Foundations:

Both Burlingame and San Carlos have park foundations that seem to raise money for park improvement projects…that are in the cities’ Capital Investment Plan (CIP)

Imagine that… a foundation for the purpose of INCREASING the intensity of use of recreation resources by making them more attractive and active!!!



About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.