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San Jose Mercury News - Friday, October 3, 2002

Council OKs land measure

By Chuck Carroll
Mercury News
The Los Altos Hills City Council on Thursday approved putting a measure on the ballot that would give voters veto power over the sale and rezoning of certain town-owned vacant properties.

A citizens group working on its own open-space proposal criticized the council's plan and greeted the move with suspicion.

Craig Breon, director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, which is working with the group, called the council plan ``sloppy'' and political and vowed to offer a competing citizens' initiative.

The council postponed action on a request by Bill Kerns, a city planning commissioner and council candidate, to split his 21-acre property in two so that a home could be built on the smaller parcel.

The competing open-space proposals would each require the sale or rezoning of town-owned land to be approved by voters.

The proposals differ in at least two major ways, leaders of the citizens group said before the meeting.

The council plan, sponsored by Mayor Bob Fenwick and Councilwoman Toni Casey, would cover many more town-owned parcels than the citizens' initiative, which deals with only the largest open spaces and recreational spaces. And, where the citizens' ballot initiative would designate Rhus Ridge and Juan Prado Mesa Preserve as permanent open space, the city's plan would not change those lands' current designations as low-density residential and open space conservation area.

The issue of town-owned open space arose as a concern when then-Mayor Casey pushed for an inventory of town-owned land with the idea of sparking discussion on whether those lands were being put to their "highest and best use" for the entire community. After the inventory was completed, a majority of council members and others said the idea of selling the Westwind Barn property should at least be considered, as long as the barn and its activities could be moved next door to the Byrne Open Space Preserve.

Some residents were appalled at the suggestion and began organizing an initiative that would tie the council's hands, if they can collect enough valid signatures to qualify it for a ballot next year. In the wake of the uproar, most council members have expressed support for giving voters a chance to veto any proposed sale or rezoning of certain public lands.

Nancy Couperus, a leader of the citizens group Los Altos Hills Outrage, suggested the council was trying to "co-opt" the group's ballot initiative by including more parcels in its proposal to make it appear more sweeping. Los Altos Hills Outrage left many smaller parcels out so that the group wouldn't appear greedy, she said.

A special election would cost up to about $50,000, while adding a measure to the November 2003 ballot would cost about half as much.


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

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