Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Big Win for Taxpayers and their Orchard

Los Altos City Council Meeting, April 10, 2012

It was raining last night as I drove over to the City Council meeting and my spirits were pretty low. The council was set to announce the results of its "opinion survey" about its proposed new Civic Center Complex.

I had been one of those surveyed--for about half the call, I thought the mayor was having me on--and I found the questions to be slanted, cooked up, and designed to produce a desired outcome. I feared the worst.

I parked my car next to our city's apricot orchard, which in its uniqueness surrounds our City Hall. Previous councils for half a century have designated it a City Landmark and pledged to maintain it for all time.

Its trees and horticulture have been badly neglected by this council and why not, since one member called it: "A sub-optimal use of the site." I wasn't looking forward to a meeting with people of that mindset.

But the results of the survey, as I watched it unfold, stunned and cheered me. I tore up my "speakers card" and decided any comment would be superfluous! Support among the public to bulldoze this site and spend $81M to obliterate our history did not reach the threshold needed for a bond issue. Not in August. Not in November.

Though the council members looked like wealthy children whose rich uncle had just taken away their toy train, they had to face the facts: Los Altos voters, at least those polled by Godbe Research (I did not make up that name, though it sounds Dickensenian) were not fooled by the ham-fisted marketing tactics used to push this project.  The research did not show that the orchard was a factor. But I think it was, anyway.

Tell me what you think? It has been in bloom along with the wild mustard surrounding it this spring while the research has been conducted. And though the city had the mustard roto-tilled several weeks ago--something that is never done until later in the season--we did get to see it and enjoy it when it was at its peak. Which, as luck would have it, coincided perfectly with the dates of the survey.

Goes to show you that politicians who don't get out of their cars to look around, may miss some key political messages the universe is sending them.

Yes, we wrote letters, pointing out the size of this project. The cost of this project. The lack of transparency of this project. The tax increase it would levy on every household for thirty years.

I can't tell you what made the difference. But the city lobbied us all very hard, and spent a lot of our money to do so.

I have an appointment this a.m. so I can't write more--and will write more later. But ...

The rain last night, that so caused my gloom, watered our precious orchard too. It fell, as the Bible says, on the just and the unjust alike. Last night, when I parked my car, it was falling to water that orchard. 

Can't wait for those other guys it rained on to take down that blankety blank sign. 

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Jack said...

Decades ago, my dad watched from the 'inside' as a future governor of Oregon was pre-selected by the Machine Boys at a private meeting. Back at the office, he asked his mentor, Why do we even bother to vote? The mentor said, 'Because, old boy, every once in a while we beat the b****rds.' How incredibly exciting to see that at least once more, it has happened again. The power of the people shines brightly in Los Altos! Remember 'Chinatown', though - big money will keep lurking around the sides, currying favor, closing off options, seeking a way to inject its pestilent control and profiteering leeching tentacles throughout the body politic, manipulating the press, forming "People for a Clean Los Altos"-type front groups to press its agenda, and, smiling, will surely find itself bloated and victorious, smugly celebrating the numbing of the apathetic masses, should those who rallied to the orchard's defense allow themselves to be distracted with pretty baubles, or deceived by agenda-laden promises. All GLORY to the people of Los Altos!

Robin Chapman said...

Well, I just had a friend say she felt in the next few decades we could count on the orchard being demolished. Obviously, we have to keep our eyes on the characters we elect. They really do think they know best and we don't.

Jack said...

In 1977 I took a state and regional government class, jointly taught by a future mayor and future head of Metro; their philosophy at that time was officials are elected to guide people for their own good, even if they don't have the vision to see for themselves. We gained much from each of them, I recognize, but that doesn't absolve us from keeping a sharp eye in defense of our interests. An eight-story combined condo, office and shop complex would generate far more tax revenue per square foot for Los Altos than the beautiful flora and fauna now present, and if it were a privately held property, the US Supreme Court already held that the local government on that basis can just take it. Some states, starting with Florida, fought the ruling; maybe California joined the action. In this case, its thanks to the actions of interested and informed citizens like you that Los Altos is at least temporarily safe in this instance.

Robin Chapman said...

Now, we have to find a better way to protect our history ... because this plan may not be dead. It may just be in a coma.