City Council

March 24 Council – COVID 19 tolling ordinance to stop land use planning activity?

3 council members when there would be 5 Los Altos City Council
Council Meeting with social distancing - room for only 3 plus staff
Written by lalahpolitico

At the March 17 Special City Council meeting, Council Member Lynette Lee-Eng was very interested in examples of cities that had stopped or dramatically curtailed their planning and permitting processes because of the COVID 19 crisis. She cited Mountain View. As of March 17 the City of Los Altos was still processing permit applications and doing building inspections.  Now the March 24 agenda includes a discussion item, a tolling ordinance…

See also our comprehensive notes on the March 17 Council Special Meeting with a discussion of some of the emergency measure.

At the March 17 Special City Council meeting, Council Member Lynette Lee-Eng was very interested in examples of cities that had stopped or dramatically curtailed their planning and permitting processes because of the COVID 19 crisis. She cited Mountain View. As of March 17 the City of Los Altos was still processing permit applications and doing building inspections.  Now the March 24 agenda includes a discussion item, a tolling ordinance…

8. Consideration of an ordinance tolling the process and approval of land use applications

Lalah had to google ‘tolling land use’ and found that New York City is doing a tolling ordinance as part of its emergency measure. Read all about it here. 

NY — Mayor de Blasio Issues Executive Order Tolling New … › publications › ny-mayor-de-blasio-issues-e…

EXCERPT: The tolling of the City’s timeline for ULURP brings greater uncertainty to a process already wrought with variability, and will likely delay the start of many development projects currently in the ULURP pipeline. As the city continues to grapple with the need for construction of more affordable housing, the suspension of ULURP due to the COVID-19 crisis will further impede the creation of much-needed affordable units throughout the city in the near future. We will continue to monitor the effects of the mayor’s order on the city’s land-use processes as the state of emergency remains.

Lalahpolitico: Don’t panic, this is just a discussion item for Tuesday, March 24, but one wonders for example if it might apply to ADUs – accessory dwelling units -since they must be ‘ministerially approved.’  Will it affect the neighbor of the Duchints First Street project, a housing project which was seemingly approved last week?  I understand the fairness argument that is harder for people who object to a project – and we know there are a lot of them – to show up to object during this crisis. Especially since so many of them are senior and have pre-existing conditions. But I think of the young people whose lives are on hold. 



UPDATED March 25, 2020 – no need for tolling- demand is down

At the Council Meeting on March 24, City Manager Chris Jordan, and Community Development Director, Jon Biggs, explained that “demand is down” for city planning services.  Therefore there is no need for a tolling ordinance at this time.  If demand should turn up again during the ‘shelter in place’ conditions, staff will let council know about it. At such a time, a tolling ordinance could be considered. Lalahpolitico: I guess developers and homeowners are not using the COVID-crisis as a cover for ramming through a lot of development. 



Looking backward now…Below are Highlights from the March 17, 2020 City Council Meeting

City Manager Chris Jordan, and the City Council made a COVID-19 Emergency Declaration.   Then they discussed measures that are being taken and discussed the future.

City Measures

Kim Mosley – Chamber of Commerce Measures

POLICE ENFORCEMENT of “Shelter at Home”

WHAT IF IT LASTS 8 months?

PLANNING FOR FUTURE COUNCIL MEETINGS – Opportunity for more public engagement



City Measures

Jordan explained that the police department is changing its scheduling to try to keep cops apart.  This is in order to keep a ‘deep bench’ in case some sicken. A similar kind of scheduling distancing to keep a ‘deep bench’  is being applied to City maintenance workers.  The first priority includes a focus on sewer maintenance and fixing potholes as well as storm drain clearing. 

Mission Trail  trash collection is operating normally, except sadly some recycling lots are closed. 

The City extended its contract with its cleaning service for the police station and city hall. Both are now being cleaned 7 days a week with an extra mid-day cleaning. 

All city recreation activity programs are ended.  There is no rental of any city facilities. Realizing that seniors of the City’s program are now homebound, food delivery is being planned.  This effort with require volunteers. [who aren’t seniors?]

All City planning processes are continuing for now.  However, it will be done digitally. If documents arrive on paper, no one will be touching them for a couple of days. Other city functions are also continuing.  Accounting Payables activity  is continuing.  Payroll will be processed remotely. IT will also be delivered remotely.  HR is remote – thankfully negotiations with two labor groups are also possible remotely.  Our public Information officer is also working remotely.

Parks are still open, but we are having to decide what to do about playgrounds with play structures.  Should we just yellow tape them? 

[Lalahpolitico: Gov. Newsom is allowing construction of public buildings and housing (public? affordable? private?) housing to continue. Also allowed are repair activities of plumbers, electricians, etc.  Some Hillview Ave. neighbors of the Los Altos Civic Center were hoping  that Community Center construction there would be halted, but alas for them, No. FYI a number of neighbors around there have indicated privately that they wished that old Hillview School was just torn down and NOT REPLACED. They feel more open space would have been better for the community than more programmed activity and more visitors. ] 

Lalahpolitico: The Los Altos Libraries, the History Museum and the Stage Theatre are all closed.  [AB 5, the anti-gig bill was already killing community theatre which relies on freelancers, and now COVID.]

Kim Mosley – Chamber of Commerce Measures

Kim Mosley spoke by phone to Council. Mosley has reached out to Kim Cranston at LAPOD (Los Altos Property Owners Downtown).  Businesses are concerned about making rent next month and in coming months!

The Chamber is scrambling for ways to support our retailers and restauranteurs. Its online dining guide lists restaurants that are taking orders for take-out.  Curbside-pick up is an option at many.  

Council member Neysa Fligor said she and her family had just tried curb-side pick-up of take-out and it was fast and convenient [and COVID safe of course.]

At this meeting, Ms. Mosley reported that the local grocers – Andronicos, Draegers, Safeway – had not seen  any surge shopping. 

[Lalahpolitico: as of Friday the 19th, Safeway 1st street has senior hours 6an to 9am. I went on Friday just before 9am and the number of shoppers was no more than I have seen on any typical Friday morning at that store. I did see 2 other shoppers besides me wearing face masks and gloves. Toilet paper was gone, as were cleaning supplies. Butter and cheese inventory was very, very low with the majority of  those product shelf slots empty. Eggs were nearly out of stock. Milk was somewhat picked over. There was plenty of meat and vegetables. I did not peruse canned goods which looked quite full as I glided by. ]


Ms. Mosley said the Chamber is hoping to organize an online gift card program for downtown retailers.  The idea is to purchase cards now online, cards you would only use much later [if at all?]. 

Council Member Anita Enander said that for those downtown retailers she frequents regularly, she is trying to continue her spending at those establishments by buying gift cards. 

[Lalahpolitico:  If you like “downtown pretty much the way it is now”  with its very few retail vacancies, and with stores you frequent, you should follow CM Enander’s example. Buy some gift cards — online if necessary. If you don’t support your regular downtown vendors now, please don’t whine next year when downtown is hollowed out, blaming it all on the ‘landlords.’  BTW, this only applies to you if you have a real regular income – a pension, a ‘mega employer’ and are not a freelancer with a now-empty dance-card. ]

Disruption of Charitable Food for the Poor

The Director of the CSA/CFA said restaurants who used to be a reliable supply of excess foodstuffs are not so much now.  Plus the soup kitchen volunteers were overwhelmingly COVID vulnerable seniors, and they are staying home. The organization is seeking alternatives.

POLICE ENFORCEMENT of “Shelter at Home”

CM Neysa Fligor asked Police Captain Krause how the ‘shelter in place’ order was being enforced.  He replied that the police are looking for “voluntary compliance.”  Recall that driving for necessities like food and medicine is allowed.  Also allowed is walking for exercise. Walking inside the ‘necessary’ retailers is allowed, but expect to stay 6 feet apart from the nearest shopper. 

[Lalahpolitico:  However, the police may give you a warning if your compliance is skating on thin ice.  For example, a few folks shooting some hoops at Almond School were asked  by the police to ‘move along.’  Over at LAH, dog owners had congregated one by one to play ball with their particular dog.  But upwards of 30 owners were there on over an acre. They were asked to move along. ]

WHAT IF IT LASTS 8 months?

CM Fligor asked what if the pandemic continues into the summer and beyond.  City Manager Chris Jordan replied,” I don’t know.”

CM Enander Compliments City Communications

For those residents who may not have modern communications equipment and knowhow  – Channel 26 viewers? – the city has good old-fashioned signage.  There is now a large A-frame outside city hall, loaded with the kind of emergency measures information most of us are getting from the City web site and maybe some email notifications. Certainly, construction and repair contractors still getting work in town need to know how to pull those permits! 

Los Altos City Council March 10 Jeannie Bruins

The video recording camera and mic – the set up used in the LACY building March 10 and prior has superior video resolution and good audio. Here a snapshot from the video as seen on Facebook. Facebook processes uploaded files, streamed files.

PLANNING FOR FUTURE COUNCIL MEETINGS – Opportunity for more public engagement

 Only 3 council members were  seated on the dais: Lynette Lee Eng, Jeannie Bruins and Anita Enander. That’s because of the 6 feet apart requirement of the “shelter in place’ order. The only staff in the chamber were City Manager Chris Jordan Deputy City Manager Jon Maginot, and interim City Attorney Jolie Houston. 

Not present in the Chamber were Mayor Jan Pepper and CM Neysa Fligor. Instead they were teleconferenced to each other and to audio in the Chamber via using the ZOOM application on their computers. Pepper and Fligor  could SEE and hear each other on Zoom. They could see and hear a feed of the chamber in another computer window. 

Meanwhile, in the council chamber, the 5 people there – Lee-Eng, Bruins, Enander, Jordan, Maginot – could hear Mayor Jan Pepper and CM Neysa Fligor  BUT NOT SEE THEM. And the public viewing  live or later on tape, COULD NOT SEE PEPPER AND FLIGOR EITHER.  Sadly there also were intermittent audio issues feeding the audio back and forth between ZOOM and the chamber.  Mayor Pepper complained of a lot of line or background noise when she listened to the chamber audio.  The audio from Zoom to the chamber sometimes dropped out – Ms. Fligor may have had some “user operator errors.” But there was definitely room echo and reverb that was distracting. 

City Attorney Jolie Houston explained what CA Attorney General was saying about the Brown Act vs. the need for social distancing at public meetings. Here is the guidance she received. 

First, It was ok for some or all city council members to teleconference in using ZOOM of other system, but each council member had to be physically present in the jurisdiction, put a sign “public meeting” on their door,  and leave their door accessible.  Second, the City had to provide some public place  – separate from chambers was fine – for the public to assemble and give public comment.  

Mayor Pepper explained that this meeting of March 17 to pass an Emergency Resolution was a Special Meeting and required only 24 hours notice.  To Lalah’s knowledge, no member of the public assembled anywhere for this meeting, but instead up to six people did phone in from their remote location.  They were put on phone hold, and unmuted by Jon Maginot when it was their turn to comment. Speakers included the Director of CSA, Ms. Mosley from the Chamber of Commerce, and Roberta Phillips who was Lee-Eng’s 2016 campaign manager. 

The discussion shifted to when to and how to conduct future council meetings.  Council agreed to let Mayor Pepper and the City Manager decide whether the meeting of the 24th should be postponed/canceled in order to get the logistics worked out.


It is possible to make it look like each council member is in the chamber

To work out logistics, — if it is decided to use ZOOM for all or some City participants — Neysa Fligor suggested some practice sessions. 

Council agreed that agenda items should be ‘streamlined’ [reduced] as much as possible, mainly including  items of interest to the public. 

Council explored some alternatives for taking public comment during council meetings. Recall that for now the State attorney general is saying a location must be provided for the public to assemble and for using appropriate technology to make a public comment.  Here are some articles from the LA Times explaining the outdoor tent the City Council of Los Angeles used recently. Los Angeles Council stayed inside in their historic chambers.  The public shivered in the white tent, waiting their turn at the mic. 

L.A. City Council meets while public gathers outside in tent … › california › story › los-angeles-city-council-coron…

When L.A. City Council meets, the public will comment from … › los-angeles-city-council-meeting-remote-streaming

Officials erected a tent outside L.A…. – Los Angeles Times … › latimes › posts

Here is Jeannie Bruins on March 17 as viewed through the City website right-click pop up frame. The aspect ratio is correct. Ms. Bruins is not distorted. However, the resolution is poor – see the jaggies on the edge of her sweater. In contrast, Facebook processes the file and can get rid of them. Youtube probably would do the same.

Los Altos City staff pointed out that the City already receives a lot of written public comment via email. CM Bruins suggested that Deputy City Manager Maginot could read the emails into the record during council meeting – a practice she said she’s heard other cities use.  Mr. Maginot said he’d rather not. CM Fligor pointed out that some people who send email will not want it read outloud during a meeting. 

[Lalahpolitico:  Letting people make public comment in the days BEFORE a meeting, comment that will have audio, whether that comment is in their own voice or that of a reader, really reduces the “effort cost and inconvenience” of that public comment. There will be excess demand.  It would be unfair to have such NON-REALTIME audio read into the record, when other members of the public may be making the effort to show up in REALTIME, whether that be in a tent outside chambers, or waiting for their turn from home on a ZOOM teleconference call.  

[Lalah is not saying, don’t allow people make little <3minute recordings of their public comment, and submitting the file in some manner days before a council meeting. By all means try it.  But realize that if selfie instagram/youtube public comments become popular, there will need to be a mechanism to ration playback during council meetings.  A lottery?  Maybe also require a written transcript? It sounds like a part-time job!] 

CM Enander  pointed out that before a council meeting, the CMs regularly email questions to staff about items on the upcoming agenda.  She suggested that all the CM questions and the staff answers be posted online for the public.  Lalahpolitico:  Sounds good to me. 


CM Lee-Eng said that Mountain View was postponing  processing the planning processes for new development . Chris Jordan said Sunnyvale is not processing any commercial planning, but is processing housing. 

Lalahpolitico:  The underlying point Lee-Eng seems to be making is whether or not Los Altos should be continuing all its planning processing as it was of March 17. Would she like to see all development paused? I dunno. To learn about a range of local responses of the construction industry and city planning and city inspection staffs…See the March 23 Mercury Article

CM Enander said the budget definitely needs to be on an agenda. 

Jean Bruins distorted by tech glitches

Here is Jeannie Bruins, captured on the Council Chambers low res camera, with the file uploaded to FB. She looks distorted.  FB got the aspect ratio wrong – did somebody not prep the file / the stream setup correctly?- but FB did a good job fixing the terrible edge jaggies on Bruins white sweater. See above photo.


Jeannie Bruins argued for letting each council member choose whether she wanted to be in council chambers or remote on ZOOM. [Lalahpolitico: but only max 3 can be there – so they would draw straws?]

Mayor Pepper suggested that everyone on Council plus staff needed to practice with the technology.  She said she understands the command “to shelter in place” to mean stay home.   She wanted staff figure out if they can be ready for the March 24 meeting – ready with ZOOM, ready with a more robust public comment process, etc..

Lalahpolitico:  Mayor Pepper seemed to leaning to having all council members and staff hold meetings via ZOOM. 

Lalahpolitico: A Rant. The video of this March 17, 2020 meeting was soooo bad. The video shown on the gracious web page was very low resolution. The video which appeared on the City’s FB page was somewhat better-FB processing improved it.  .  Pepper and Fligor – participating remotely – could see the council chambers and the people therein in one computer window and in another window they could see each other on Zoom. The public could NEVER SEE PEPPER OR FLIGOR.  The audio from people inside chambers was good.  But the public comment audio – Skype? – was well, a telephone speaker phone?  Pepper complained of hearing lots of background and reverb.  Fligor was cut off for a while – perhaps user error? Yes, everyone needs some practice runs.

IF they all move to the ZOOM platform, I would expect the public can get a nice HD screen feed for any screen they have at home, and audio as good or bad as each council members computer microphone. Why do we have to keep using the kludgy audiovisual gear that is in chambers and the granicus service! 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

UPDATED March 25, 2020 – Lalah was wrong – 1st Zoom council meeting March 24, 2020, was technically bad

The video was poor.  Does every Council Members have an old and ugly laptop camera?  Audio was very rough. The built-in mics on those laptops/computers are really bad. Perhaps some CMs have slow internet too. Were some trying to use their phone over wifi? The very latest models could be ok, couldn’t they.   Probably the city needs to get $300 of gear for each CM to augment their remote IT gear.  Sadly the whole world is upgrading their home telepresence set-up. Popular gear is out of stock.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The MVWhisman school district does its streaming and video-recording with a single webcam and a single laptop to YOUTUBE live and for archiving.  It’s better than our status quo here. [BTW, mics and webcams are selling out online almost as fast as toilet-paper. All churches not already streaming are getting into streaming. ] Does this council feed really need to go out on kmtv channel 26?  There must be as many or more viewers on Facebook?  Can we get some data on that please?


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.