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Santa Clara County, CA November 2, 2004 Election
Smart Voter

Position on Campaign Issues

By Jean H. "John" Mordo

Candidate for Council Member; Town of Los Altos Hills

This information is provided by the candidate
Protect the rural character of Los Altos Hills; Bring back Public Education; Conserve Open Space; Maintain Pathways; Defend Property Rights; Update the General Plan;
Protect the rural character of Los Altos Hills. Most of the newcomers, as well as most of the long time residents have chosen Los Altos Hills for its natural beauty and rural character. We want to protect and enhance this unique environment, and avoid having it turn into an overbuilt suburb, with excessively large structures. The look and feel of LAH is what makes our properties valuable. They are the envy of other more developed Towns in the Bay Area. The vision I have is a friendly Town, without high walls or fences, with pathways for hikers and horses, and kids walking to school or to friends' houses. We need to protect the legacy that we inherited from our founders, and that we want to leave for our children.

Public Education. My vision for our Town, outlined above, includes having public education back in Los Altos Hills. While I have a lot of respect for the quality of both school districts serving our Town, nothing replaces having a school in our neighborhood. It is a vibrant part of the community, and a place to meet people and make friends. For a Town like ours that has no business district, a public school is a key asset to avoid turning into a lifeless bedroom suburb. We have a very able and committed Public Education Committee, and I look forward, as your elected councilmember, to support resolving this issue in a way that brings back public education in Town, without forcing any solution on certain parts of our community.

Open Space. One of the key elements of this rural character that we cherish is the open space that we enjoy. I was actively involved in the Open Space Initiative that was endorsed by the residents, and adopted by the Council, to protect the Town owned open space parcels, the largest and most important of which are Byrne preserve and Westwind Barn. I am the Treasurer of Supporters of Westwind Community Barn, a non-profit organization that was formed last year to raise funds for the refurbishment of this unique community asset, and have taken an active role in raising over $100,000 for this cause.

Open Space Conservation Easements. The topography of our Town, which makes for its natural beauty, also makes it challenging for construction of residences. As most of the relatively flat lots are already built up, more building is taking place on sloped lots, sometimes up to 40% or even higher slopes. When we build on highly sloped lots, we should be conscious of the impact on erosion and wild life habitat. One of the ways our General Plan and our ordinances allow us to do this is by requiring open space conservation easements when high slope or creek side lots are developed. As a planning commissioner, I have supported this approach, and I pledge to continue supporting it as a Councilmember.

Pathways. As part of my vision for LAH, pathways are an important element. Part of the covenant we enter into when we move here, is that we agree to each sacrifice a modicum amount of control over our property for the common good. The common good is a wonderful network of interconnected, largely off-road pathways that can be safely used by all, including children and senior citizen, to hike, walk their dog, or simply go to friend's houses. We have a highly dedicated Pathway Committee, which has spent close to 2 years (many of them much longer), making sure that the current map of pathways and easement is correct. They are scheduling a series of hearings with the residents, starting in August at the Pathway Committee level, continuing in September at the Planning Commission level, and culminating sometime this winter at the Council level. This process is designed to identify and fix the issues of the existing plan, and ultimately, publishing a new plan that is a consensus of the residents. I support, and will follow at the planning commission level, an approach of listening to the resident's issues and trying to resolve those concerns to the best of my abilities.

General Plan-Land Use. Our General Plan, which is like our "Constitution", has not been significantly revised in years and is woefully out of date. We currently face a number of issues on which we cannot find guidance in the General Plan, such as, among others:

  • Building large, institutional buildings such as private schools in residential zoned areas;
  • Using a public school building for non-public school;
  • Building super-sized residences;
  • Building on very steep slope, highly visible lots.

One of the results of such ambiguities is that the Town staff cannot give stronger guidance to applicants, often resulting in disappointments and costly delays in the permitting process. I support the Fast Track process. We need to strengthen it, though, to give better guidance early to applicants so they do not waste time and money unnecessarily.

I support the one-acre minimum for lots in Los Altos Hills and the current land use ordinances. I favor reviewing and updating ordinances as necessary to alleviate misapplication. Additionally, the residents should be notified (in accordance with our laws) to any changes that are anticipated.

Property Rights. I am a strong believer in property rights, for all property owners, newly arrived as well as longer-term residents. As a Planning Commissioner, I have witnessed too many situations where applicants do not get what they want, and are frustrated that their neighbors or the Town object to some of their plans. Each of us may find ourselves on either side of such hearings at one point or another during our life here. This is why I believe it is very important to take a fair, objective, ordinance based approach that would avoid the risk of favoritism. It is also important to use commonsense and moderation. In other words, I support "good neighbor's rights" on issues of development.

Safety. LAH, because of its topography, vegetation and seismic characteristics is a challenging environment in case of a disaster such as an earthquake, or a fire. As a Board member of the Red Cross, Palo Alto Area Chapter, I am very conscious of the need to be prepared. I intend to champion disaster preparedness training for Los Altos Hills residents, in cooperation with our Town staff Steve Garcia and the Los Altos Police Chief, Don Johnson. I will work with the Los Altos Hills County Fire District in their efforts to implement "firewise" mitigation measures for wild land fire protection to minimize potential private property (residential) losses.

Water Water usage is a critical issue in Los Altos Hills. Water is currently in sufficient supply, but the situation could change at any time. The last time this happened, the cost of water increased by a factor of 20. This translates into thousands of dollars per month for the high water users, or a lot of dead plants. In any case, on a longer term basis, our development needs in the Bay Area will exceed our water supply. We need therefore to educate homeowners in landscaping with low water plantings and other water conservation techniques. The City Council should lead this effort.

Town Hall. I have worked with the New Town Hall Committee to help steer the process that resulted in designing and approving a reasonably sized and priced edifice. The proposed building style has the overwhelming support of the citizens, who spoke loudly to have a lower profile, less expensive building that blended more in style with the rural character of the Town. I am also active in raising donations from the residents through the Donor Wall Committee, for which I am Treasurer, and from foundations. These additional funds are to provide some of the niceties that are not included in our "Spartan" budget, such as landscaping, decoration, artwork, and a solar electric generation project that will make the new Town hall a model of "green" building.

Under-grounding Utilities. We have a very able and enthusiastic under-grounding Committee, which has been working hard to evaluate how to address the issue of under-grounding public utilities. Under-grounding utilities, especially electric, is not a luxury meant to just make the Town look prettier, which of course it would. It is primarily a safety and reliability issue. Downed electric lines in the winter often result in power outages of days, sometimes as long as a week. Because of our topography, we are more subject to outages, and longer ones, than many areas. Besides the serious inconveniences to all, it is a safety hazard for older residents, who may have to put up with frigid houses for days. In the dry season, downed lines are a fire hazard. In the past downed electric lines, in both Northern and Southern California, have caused several fires, some large and tragic. The cost of massive and total Town under-grounding is high, and frankly, not affordable in today's economy, especially given our spending on Town Hall. I support however, the Committee's efforts to develop a demonstration project utilizing the PG&E 20A funds and some Town money.

Infrastructure. In addition to under-grounding we are facing a number of infrastructure issues:

  • Sewers: large sections of our Town have no way to connect to a sewer, and if they could, no right to connect to one. This is an issue that suddenly appears if your septic fails or you want to expand your house and have no room for an expanded leach field. It can be very costly, or plain impractical to proceed. I pledge to work with the neighboring Towns to try and make significant progress on this issue;
  • Roads and Pathways: A lot of our roads and pathways need work, and we should address this need as soon as the budget permits, and we feel that we can prudently use some of our reserves;
  • High-speed Internet and cell phone coverage: I will work diligently to accelerate upgraded service in our community.
  • Solid Waste: This is another area where the Council should show some leadership. We can work with our garbage collecting company to improve the sorting of recyclable waste.

Fiscal stewardship In these times of town revenue decline, we need more than ever use smart and exercise prudent fiscal management of our resources. My background as Chief Financial Officer of large corporations prepared me for the task of dealing with complex financial situation, working with multi-functional teams. I also have an engineering background, and I am comfortable dealing with technical issues. Our Town needs to modernize its technology, as we have a hard time keeping track of Town assets such as easements, and sometimes risk losing them.

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