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San Jose Mercury News - Friday, Sep. 20, 2002

Preservationist comeback noted in Los Altos Hills

By Chuck Carroll
Mercury News
As the Los Altos Hills City Council grappled with official business Thursday night, a number of residents who frequent those meetings were next door.

They were plotting the election of candidates who would halt the current council's plan for a new Town Hall they say is too expensive and gaudy.

The side-by-side events are another sign that the once-waning influence of the town's preservationist crowd is on the rise.

On Thursday night, council members heard from City Attorney Steven Mattas about the town's open-space policy options -- a reaction to a different group of residents' demand that no town-owned open space or recreation fields could be sold without a majority vote in a townwide referendum. That group is pushing to qualify an open-space initiative on a ballot sometime next year.

In a sign that the city council is sensing the public mood, all members expressed at least some support for an open-space initiative.

Next door to Town Hall, at Mark and Ronda Breiers' place, dozens of residents were on hand for a ``Path to Victory'' coffee. That group also is demanding a townwide advisory vote on the council's controversial plans for a $5 million California Mission-style Town Hall vs. an alternative design that they say would cost half as much and would better fit the town's rural character.

Alan Bien, an organizer with Los Altos Hills Watchdog, said the group sent a townwide mailer with both Town Hall designs asking for opinions. The mailers arrived in Thursday's mail, and Bien said he had gotten responses 18-1 against the town's proposal on the first night.

Residents complain that the council gave residents little opportunity to weigh in on design before they approved a plan they say violates the town's own height limitations.

They are rallying behind candidates Dean Warshawski and Breene Kerr, and against planning-commission members Janet Vitu and Bill Kerns, who endorsed the council's Town Hall design.

Council members say residents have had plenty of input and that it's too late to back out now.

Several council members have come under an intense barrage of criticism in the past few months over what critics call the majority's arrogant, take-no-prisoners attitude on a number of land-use and quality-of-life issues.

The council's stance on the new Town Hall, a proposal to scale back the number of future off-road pathways, the possible sale of town-owned open space and an overall suspicion that only the wealthiest residents have the council's ear are the issues that are galvanizing the preservationists.

Said resident Jim Downey, ``The glue that ties them all together is the unbelievable arrogance of those people.''

 

Contact Chuck Carroll at ccarroll@sjmercury.com or (650) 688-7598


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