Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It Takes a Village: If You Can Keep One

State Street and Second, Los Altos, California.

The little town where I grew up turns 60 years old this year.  From its beginnings, the city government went to a lot of trouble to keep it from developing into just another suburb. The city worked hard at keeping its sense of place.

Nestled up against the Coast Range, built along the now-long-gone Southern Pacific "Daylight" rail line to San Francisco, it kept strict height limitations on its downtown, and limited residential lot size to no less than a quarter acre.

The result is the picture you see above. A truly amazing contrast to the congestion in nearby Mountain View (home of Google) and Palo Alto (home of IBM and Stanford U).

At least it was until our present mayor came into office five years ago and collected a group of "stakeholders" to parlay about changing the zoning downtown.  Though 99% of tax revenue in Los Altos comes from the people who own homes here, our mayor wanted to encourage a business boom downtown.

Now that she and the rest of the City Council have rezoned downtown to "encourage development" we have what I saw today adjacent to the parking lot of our local drug store. As I pan from the new building, my camera goes over to the back of our (mostly one-story) Main Street buildings and then returns to the 45' structure:

Now, our city council is going to spend $25K of our tax dollars on a survey to "ascertain how the community uses downtown currently, how satisfied residents are with the downtown as it exists today, and what additional changes they would or would not favor."

Odd, isn't it? That, in a city of just 9,000 voters, city council members couldn't just walk around and talk to people and "ascertain" the answers to these questions in a couple of weekends?

I haven't heard one resident say these oversized structures are a good thing for our community.

Odder still:  if you really cared what the residents thought--wouldn't you have taken this "survey" first?  Before you made the changes? Odd indeed.

The application to other communities?  Government has a very sensitive ear to the money men and the business community.  The average taxpayer? Government perceives our views as something to be managed with "outreach" and "marketing."

All I can say is I hope local residents give these survey-takers an earful.  But why is it I fear the questions will be rigged to "ascertain" a pre-ordained result?

The corner of Main and Second, one story building looking toward the four-story structure looming in the distance.

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