Myth Busters

The power brokers are trying everything they can to mislead and scare you. This is common and to be expected with citizen initiatives that would restore power to the residents. Don’t be fooled. As soon as Measure C passes, they’ll change their tune. Meanwhile, because the opposition gives you scare tactics, here are more thorough answers.

Weren’t people misled during signature collection?
Myth: Weren’t people misled during signature collection – speaking only about parks and not mentioning other public lands? Fact: No. Signatures were collected by fellow Los Altos residents who volunteered their time. There were no paid collectors. They used a sheet to explain the initiative, and carried all documents required by the registrar of voters. The bold title of the promotional sheet was: “Protect our Parks & Public Lands.” There was no intent to say it was limited to parks, particularly since some of our sports fields that look like parks (at Hillview) are not actually designated as parks. It is possible that some who signed the petition only remember mention of parks, but that does not mean that public lands were not also mentioned. There was no need to hide that fact because the Hillview ball fields, apricot orchard, and parking plazas are just some of the important public/institutional land covered by Measure C.
Won’t Measure C unreasonably impact public work contractors?
Myth: Won’t Measure C unreasonably impact public work contractors who need access over public land for more than 180 days? Fact: No. Access rights do not “alter the public character of the land” and are likewise exempt from voter approval. Whatever timeframes might be required to provide access are therefore irrelevant. This myth is another erroneous scare tactic.
The language is ambiguous, with unintended consequences.
Myth: The language is ambiguous, with unintended consequences. Fact: Measure C reflects the concerns of many Los Altos residents, but the actual wording was prepared by a premier law firm, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, a long-time expert in preparing public sector ballot initiatives and dealing with local government land-use issues (check out http://www.smwlaw.com/news/accomplishments). The final language was reviewed by their panel of senior partners to make sure it lacked the ambiguities or unintended consequences now claimed by the opponents. It certainly is not “poorly written.” It is easy for anyone, especially those who want to block the measure, to claim that it is legally ambiguous, but that does not make it so.
We should be able to rely on our elected officials. Isn’t this an attack on our representative democracy?
Myth: We should be able to rely on our elected officials. Isn’t this an attack on our representative democracy? Fact: No. The California Constitution provides for citizen initiatives to PROTECT democracy. In a representative democracy most decisions are left to the discretion of the elected officials, who are expected to study the issues and make good decisions. These same democracies, however, especially at the local level, often have a few significant and irreversible decisions that must first be approved by the voters. It seems reasonable to treat the loss of city land from public use as we treat bond issues and major tax increases: by requiring voter approval. The significant time, money, and energy spent by our City Council in support of Measure A, their decision to put it before the voters at substantial expense to the City, and the overwhelming defeat by more than 70% all indicate that our elected representatives can be out of touch with the vast majority of Los Altos residents. Accusations of being undemocratic for not trusting our public officials on these irreversible land use decisions ignore our true democratic principles.
How does this affect the Downtown Visioning process?
Myth: How does this affect the Downtown Visioning process? Fact: Our current Mayor Mordo was the Council’s lead speaker for Measure A, a bond measure to authorize the City to borrow $65 million to fund over $100 million in improvements to the Hillview Community Center. After being resoundingly rejected by over 70% of Los Altos voters, he has now turned to what he calls “monetizing” the City’s land to generate money and promote private development. That means selling, leasing, or entering into unknown public-private partnerships where ownership or long-term control of the property is lost to public use. He led the Council in adopting the Downtown Vision plan that would replace most parking plazas with commercial development. Unlike the bond measure, this could be done without voter approval – unless Measure C is passed.
“The City Council has never sold parkland, so we don’t need Measure C.”
Myth: “The City Council has never sold parkland, so we don’t need Measure C.” Fact: We need to protect our parks AND public lands in the future. Development pressures are greater than ever before. Multiple efforts to develop, sell, or lease several Los Altos parks were turned back in the past ONLY after outcry from residents. There is no guarantee future city councils would act the same. Measure C is a forward-looking process for residents to affirm or reject such plans in the future. Residents of various neighboring cities also thought that their elected officials would never sell or lease public parks. After the city councils did so, the residents created initiatives similar to Measure C, most of which passed. But it was too late to undo the prior loss of their public land. We don’t want that to happen here. “But City Council is planning to amend the General Plan to protect our park land, so Measure C won’t be needed, right? The ordinance City Council is working on would require approval for sale of any park. It stops there, leaving two flaws: It doesn’t protect parkland from leases nor does it protect any public/institutional land such as the parking plazas or Hillview. One benefit of Measure C is that it includes the ball fields at Hillview, for example. Whatever this Council does, the next can undo. In contrast, Measure C can only be changed by another vote of residents.
There will be a lot of elections that will cost up to $500,000…
Myth: There will be a lot of elections that will cost up to $500,000 or else we would have to wait up to 2 years for an election under Measure C. Fact: Elections should be RARE unless Council is planning to sell or lease a lot of our public lands in ways they have never done. Of the 13 leases identified by the city as being in force – going back over 40 years – ONLY ONE would have required a vote. If the city is planning to SELL the land for PRIVATE use, it requires a vote. NONE of the land that would be covered by Measure C has been sold – yet. So why the scare tactics? There are four elections each year by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. If the city plans well, they will combine any required vote with another election and the cost will be less than $50,000, not the outrageous $500,000 claimed by opponents of Measure C. Los Altos has NEVER paid that for an election – even when Council called a special election to try to pass Measure A in 2015 (which failed). If Council wants to sell or lease a multi-million dollar piece of PUBLIC land for PRIVATE use, $50,000 is a small price to pay for our residents to decide whether to give up our public land. Why are the opponents of Measure C misleading and trying to scare the public? What do the special interests and power brokers have planned?
Measure C will interfere with Library and Fire Station leases and renewals.
Myth: Measure C will interfere with Library and Fire Station leases and renewals. Fact: Measure C does not affect the fire stations, libraries, Neutra House, History Museum, LASD maintenance yard, etc. Measure C doesn’t touch existing leases now, or upon renewal, or in the future, as long as the property is used for a public purpose. Leases only require a vote if the lease would PRIVATIZE the Public land. That is the whole point of Measure C – to give residents the final say on whether to PRIVATIZE OUR PUBLIC LAND. For example: As long as the PUBLIC library is used for PUBLIC purposes, there is no need for a vote on any lease or renewal – or even for a new lease if there is a new building. If the city wants to lease PUBLIC land to a PRIVATE entity that fundamentally changes the public character of the property, that action would require a vote. Read the text yourself: “This Initiative Applies Only to Actions that Would Significantly Impact the Public Character of Lands Owned by the City of Los Altos.” ( Section I, C.5.) Measure C requires “voter approval for actions that would effectively privatize these shared spaces….” (Section I, C.5.) Measure C requires “voter approval for actions that would alter the public character of these lands” (Section I. B.)

In summary, Measure C is a well-written initiative that clearly and repeatedly says that it will apply only to actions that would “Significantly Impact the Public Character of Lands Owned by the City of Los Altos,” actions that would “effectively privatize” City land (See Initiative, Section 1, Findings, C.5.), and “alter the public character of theses lands (See Initiative, Section 1, Effect, B). 

It will not affect any current leases or agreements, or any amendments or renewals, as long as there is no significant change in the public character of the land and its use. Such actions should be rare, and a vote for them should be easily planned for minimum expense, given the magnitude of the potential permanent loss of the public use of the land. For five months, opponents have tried to find some basis for opposing this residents’ initiative. They have failed. The real purpose of their efforts is to scare people and thereby retain complete control over public land in the hands of three council members and their cronies. Don’t let their false claims sway you. Vote YES on Measure C.