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Where is Los Gatos going?

February 20, 2013

It seems to me there has been this constant theme in Los Gatos town politics for the past several years that people who get paid by the town’s taxes to run the town government are doing a bunch of stuff that the town’s people don’t support. In doing so, more of the town’s tax money is being spent to rectify many the staff’s mis-steps.

I first got involved in all of this bureaucratic gobbley-gook when Gardino’s attempted to get permission to expand. I’ve never owned real estate nor have I had any kids, so the usual concerns people have that involve them in town politics, having homes and kids, have never really been one of my concerns. When I get involved it’s more like the idealistic crusader for some unrealistic, idealistic cause. I surely am not privy to the nuts and bolts workings of town government. However, since the era of Gardino’s expansion, nearly concurrent with the Netflix expansion (or the more politically correct the “Albright Project”) and the Ditto’s Lane brouha, I have kept an uneducated eye poised towards the local political workings.

I have chosen to live in Los Gatos because I want to be able to look over my shoulder and always catch some vista of the redwood spiked ridge line of the Santa Cruz mountains, darkly standing against the clear sky blue or the damp, foggy gray. I hate skyscraper canyons and suburban wastelands. I live in Los Gatos for its small town security and its quaint provincial attitudes. I want nothing to do with urban gangs and the urban plethora of abuses; child abuse, elder abuse, spousal abuse, animal abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, abuse of authority and abuse of self, etc. I want none of it. I live in Los Gatos for its attention to cleanliness, order and appearance. I want nothing to do with the squalor and indifference of urban/suburban America. I am proud of the Town of Los Gatos, and I am proud of the past efforts of my fellows to make this town something to be proud of.

Now, getting off my soap box, I do pay attention when someone wants to screw around with this town. In my teens and early twenties I traveled this Pacific Coast looking for another rural, agricultural valley to move to after the devil himself, San Jose’s City Manager, A. P. “Dutch” Hamann, steamrolled over hundreds of acres of farm communities to install tract houses by the thousands. These “tract houses” needed to service the workers of his forthcoming urban paradise (Note to the past, “it’s not much of a paradise!”). I searched the coastal ranges for a replacement of the Almaden Valley lifestyle but I never found it, it was just very special. In the end, I settled into the town next to the Almaden Valley, Los Gatos. Make no mistake, I am very tenacious about keeping this town as close to home as possible, a home which, for all its simplicity, had a life style, indeed, very much closer to paradise than anything else that I’ve seen for a long time.

So, when I heard of the possibility of a five story building being built in the town limits (a building, which, if I got the info correctly, may have been designed with only five actual floors but which really would have stood as high as any common eight story building), I looked into the details of it. When high-density housing was proposed to be installed in an inappropriate location, I checked it out as well. I heard many other people making objections to these projects. I listened to critics and supporters and decided if I were to take any sort of action on such issues, no matter how inconsequential my action might be, I should educate myself enough so as to make sensible, informed decisions.

I certainly don’t have all the details, but it seems to me that the way this town manager sort of government works, in the simplest terms, is something like this; the people of town elect a town council. The council hires a town manager. The manager hires a staff to help him run the town. The council tells the manager what the Council wants to get done for town and he assigns his staff members to make it happen. The council cannot direct any of the staffers, only the manager can do that. The council can only direct the manager. As I understand it, in Leos Gates, the Council can only talk to the Town Manager and the Town Attorney.

Drawing from this understanding, it looks to me that the town is run by an entity, basically a business, who is buying and selling town resources. The only connection between the town residents and this business is the interface between the Town Manager and the Town Council. The staff of the town government seem to have no responsibility to the town’s people or to the Town Council, only to the manager. In days gone by, many of the town staffers not only worked in Los Gatos, but lived here as well. Perhaps in those days, accountability and responsibility by staff was more a function of social pressures than legal ones.

I remember reading in the Los Gatos Weekly that the Netflix/Albright deal proceeded for eighteen months with no one outside of the Town Staff knowing anything at all about it. From what I can find out, the Town Council never directed the Town Manager to explore such a project. Isn’t this simply the greatest of hubris or am I reading it wrong? On top of that, by the time this project was put before the Planning Commission, the staff or the developer had invoked some sort of “Planned Development Zoning” which allowed the project to bypass the Town’s General Plan which was written by the people of Los Gatos, forbidding projects from building as high as the developer wanted. It strikes me that this exceeds hubris and is just seems down and dirty. It’s not like the people of LG don’t know what they want and and leave things vague, no, they specifically said they don’t want buildings that high in their town and staff simply side stepped that limit. It would seem to me that someone in the staff should have gotten their hands slapped by the council or someone for taking too much initiative. Well, that didn’t happen, not by the Council anyway, but by an ad hoc group that stopped the project with a lawsuit which cost the people of the town even more in resources on a questionable project.

There are people in town who have a much greater grasp of all this who have listed many such instances where the Town Staff has headed off in their own direction and end up with more questionable efforts derailed by public opinion and loss of town resources, for no good reason. It also seems to me that the will of the people of Los Gatos is known, but staff simply refuses to acknowledge it. Not that the will of 30,000 people is unanimous, but even minority voices should be acknowledged.

A few years ago, several people approached me and asked if I’d help establish a volunteer phone directory of people and places in Los Gatos. The cell phone industry has fragmented and diversified phone companies and their directories so that no one directory has all the numbers. This group had the idea of slowly building one “all inclusive directory” just for Los Gatos. Inclusion in this home grown directory was strictly on a volunteer basis for both businesses and individuals. The building and maintenance of the directory would also be on a strictly volunteer basis. There would be no cost to town, it was strictly a community service. I called a community relations person on the town staff and she wouldn’t listen to more than two sentences when she said “People can google for numbers. The town would not waste the money,” and hung up on me. Well, not true, there is still no central place to find individual’s numbers. So, I ask again, how interested is the town’s staff in the town’s people, not simply its resources that can be bought and sold?

Many times, watching Town Council meetings, I’ve heard numerous residents complain about how unresponsive and insular town staff is. Boy, did I just get a good dose of that. I don’t know enough about town politics to make any credible suggestions as to how to rectify things but I do know one thing, if I had a choice between a business running town that doesn’t seem to care much about residents or a business running town that does care about residents, I’d sure choose the one that does care. But, you know what? There is no choice. We are stuck with what we have. Perhaps, one first step would be for staff to take the town’s people more seriously and at least listen to ideas and comments, and to take them seriously, much more seriously, before we see more overcrowded Council meetings and law suits burden all of the town’s workings and good will.

I am certainly no “know it all” about such things as government. I do, however, like to think of myself as intelligent and well considered. If anyone would like to educate me further on how the town is supposed to operate, I welcome such an education. If I’ve got it wrong, I’d like to make it right. However, if one’s values are simply different from mine, well, I’ll consider a discussion about what is good and what is bad for you, and differently, for me, but only as long as such discussions remain calm, rational and reasonable. I refuse to participate in emotional, dramatic, sword swinging arguments. Such things as that, I walk away from.

The phone call I made to the community relations staffer who told me to google for phone numbers, her reaction did not kill the idea for the Los Gatos phone directory. That idea, and a few more, have moved forward and have been developed to the point where we are now proud to preview the Los Gatos Art Bridge web site including its blog, book, listings of people and places, past events, current events and a lot of tall tales about our town.

Check it out at

lgartbridge.com

and let us know what you think.

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2 Comments
  1. Larry Arzie permalink

    Yes your right, I enjoyed this. Once point. There is no such thing as a cute in stone regulation in the general plan, that why it is called general. Anything and I mean anything can be changed by the Town Council, The have already changed hight limits for Netflix on the original building.
    Have fun writing more.

  2. Chris permalink

    Your message captures the dysfunction of the Town government well. Town staff/management have been hiding controversial projects behind closed doors, so that public input becomes an afterthought that won’t derail their plans… think Albright, affordable housing, gun sales.

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