Los Altos meeting turns ugly
Council member argues with high school district over transparency
The long-awaited joint meeting Monday between high school district trustees and the Los Altos City Council began with a discussion on drug and alcohol use and ended with a clenched-teeth exchange over "transparency."
Council members and trustees of the Mountain View Los Altos High School District had been planning the meeting for months, hoping to share their thoughts on numerous issues affecting both governing bodies: substance abuse among teens, parking and transportation, mobile food vendors and transparency in governance.
Some council members had concerns about transparency after trustees had shown reluctance to televise the joint meeting. Although the Los Altos council broadcasts all its meetings, the school board does not.
The issue, which had caused tensions leading up to Monday's meeting, erupted after council member David Casas suddenly announced plans for a pilot program, sponsored by his own employer, Johnson & Johnson, to broadcast 10 school board meetings on the local community television channel, KMVT.
The tapings "will set the opportunity for the public to decide if there is a need," Casas said. "What is good about [the tapings] is they are going to trigger some dialogue."
The announcement surprised everyone, and touched off an angry exchange between Casas and the trustees — and disavowals from his fellow council members.
"This is news to all of us as well," Mayor Val Carpenter said on behalf of the council.
Casas said no official plans had been made, but that the 10 tapings — free to the school district — would allow KMVT to pursue more community relationships, while serving as a model for other high school districts. He acknowledged that other council members were not involved in planning the pilot program.
Still, school board members thought the announcement was tactless at best.
"Why wouldn't you come to a board meeting, where normal people would do this," trustee Susan Sweeley said. "It is weird."
"Why pick us," wondered school board president Judy Hannemann.
Casas said he started looking into the idea after a meeting with Hannemann and trustee Phil Faillace. At that meeting, Faillace said he would be interested in learning more about the pilot program if a private sponsor could be found. It will cost an estimated $9,660 for KMVT to tape 10 programs.
Both groups eventually agreed to continue the discussion at the next district board meeting on Monday, June 23.
Mobile food vendors
In a less heated discussion Monday night, the council decided not to pass an ordinance prohibiting street vendors from selling food around Los Altos High School, despite a push for the ordinance by the school district.
The district had in mind one vendor in particular, who drives her mobile food truck to the perimeter of Los Altos High School to sell burgers, fries, sodas and other "non-conforming" foods. Without the ordinance, she will be allowed to continue visiting the school, which district officials see as problematic.
New state regulations say such non-conforming foods must be sold "off of and away from school premises." Local educators say the district could lose funding for its free and reduced-price lunches if the school does not comply with this rule.
"We have to be supportive of the intent of the law," trustee Joe Mitchner said. "To look the other way seems disingenuous."
"Right now we are not conforming to the law, and they do audit," Hannemann said.
In Mountain View, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting vendors from approaching Mountain View High School.
Although the state law specifies the food cannot be sold near campus, it does not clarify how far away vendors must be. Los Altos council members said they didn't want to pass an ordinance without knowing specifics.
"Until we have further information, it is not clear to me," Mayor Pro Tem Megan Satterlee said.
Council members and a public speaker also worried that the ordinance could discriminate against students who cannot afford cars or leave campus to buy lunch.
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