Point made

3/17 UPDATE: This column was published in the Wed., Feb. 17 edition of the Town Crier.

Disclaimer: This is not a BCS-related blog post per se, though it is schools-related

The Los Altos Town Crier is published (and delivered by mail) weekly on Wednesday, and the new edition is usually available the prior Tuesday afternoon. The Town Crier solicits submissions of up to 500 words from local residents for its “Other Voices” column, and I submitted the sentiments below last Thursday for tomorrow’s Feb. 10, 2016 edition:

After 8 years, progress toward civic center redevelopment is endangered and progress toward relieving elementary school crowding is stalled. I attended the Jan. 28 meeting of the City-Schools Ad Hoc Public Lands Committee, which discusses how public lands can best be used. I liked much of what I heard from the committee and from members of the public who came to share their thoughts about proposals. I’m grateful that the city and school district are meeting to discuss land use, and I want to elaborate on comments I shared that night. In 2012, the relationship between the City and LASD had deteriorated, due largely to tension between personalities on both sides. I (and others) campaigned for current Council members and Trustees, with a goal of electing people who could rebuild the relationship between the city and the district. All the candidates we interviewed in 2012, including Bruins, Pepper, Satterlee, Luther and Taglio assured us that they shared our goal of rebuilding this relationship. In the years since that election, I’ve lobbied them in person and in this newspaper to fulfill this promise, but progress toward improved partnership has been painfully slow. At the Jan. 28 meeting, I realized that lack of clarity about community priorities may be the root of the problem. Our civic leaders slog through a constant stream of petitions from niche interest groups, but they have not taken the obvious step of conducting a large scale survey of community attitudes about land use and development. I believe political courage and faster progress can come from a clear mandate from the community. I may be a passionate activist supporter of the apricot orchard at the civic center and for city swimming pools at Egan and Blach, but my priorities may be out of step with the majority of our community. When the City of Los Altos purchased Hillview School from the Los Altos School District more than forty years ago, it faced a similar dilemma: should Hillview be developed for recreational or residential purposes? According to a Town Crier article from that time, niche groups were petitioning the city for soccer fields, baseball fields and tennis courts, while raising bond funding for redevelopment seemed unlikely. Maybe some things haven’t changed much since, but what was really different then is that the City hired a firm to conduct a professional survey of community attitudes about Hillview use. We’ve seen how niche interests can distort local public policy, so today’s civic leaders should arm themselves with data on which to base decisions that affect the entire community. We’re not in a completely data free zone, since two referenda have been held in the past fifteen months: the Measure N School Facilities Bond election and the Measure A Civic Center Redevelopment Bond election. 70% of our community voted for new schools while 70% of the community voted against the last civic center proposal. A proper survey of community priorities will cut through the noise and illuminate the path forward.

As it’s Tuesday afternoon, I picked up the new TC and read this Other Voices column:

TC_Other_Voices_Pt1_2016Feb10TC_Other_Voices_Pt2_2016Feb10

The author of this week’s Other Voices column, Robin Chapman, represents one niche interest in our community and accuses the Los Altos School District of attempting to “take our civic center.” This is exactly what my column was talking about, and it’s a problem.

WHOSE civic center? OUR civic center? Who does Chapman represent? Am I a member of Chapman’s niche group? How many total community voices does this column speak for? Has Chapman bothered to ask the various generations of Los Altans what they cherish about their town and whether they want those things preserved? I’m guessing not.

Every generation grows up in a different Los Altos—and a different Bay Area—and I’d like the young Los Altos families of today to love and cherish their home town just as my wife did when she and her brothers grew up here in the 1970s. The things today’s Los Altans want from their home town are probably different than in decades past.

Chapman’s Other Voices column makes the point of my own column perfectly: our civic leaders are inundated with niche interest-group petitions that distort efforts to understand holistic community priorities.

And at the risk of reading too much into the selection of this particular column for this week’s edition of the paper, knowing that I submitted a starkly contrasting view of this same issue, it’s telling that the Town Crier chose to publish this niche perspective. Perhaps such editorial choices by the Town Crier are part of the problem our community faces.

I’ll also mention that I didn’t rely only on the Town Crier to propagate my thoughts about a community survey of public land use, I sent my survey idea directly to all the members of the LASD Board of Trustees and the Los Altos City Council—and Cc:d the TC.

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