Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Hard Decisions: Board Election Dates

I am grateful to the community's trust in me as an elected official. It's a strange concept- I rarely think of myself in terms of being an "elected official", except perhaps when I get an official piece of correspondence.

The possible parcel tax election has made me keenly aware of the costs of running an election. For us to place a measure on the ballot can cost anywhere from ~$50K on up to $600K. The relative cost depends on how many other organizations are running an election that would coincide with ours, and therefore share in the printing and other costs.

Over the past several years, more and more agencies have moved their elections to even-numbered years, leaving fewer and fewer folks like LASD in the odd years. We recently were notified that the last agency with whom we share an election is also considering moving to the even years. That would leave LASD bearing the entire cost of running our own elections for our Board of Trustees.

At our upcoming board meetings, we'll consider a measure to move the election cycle for the Board to align with the rest of the community elections. This move would save the district $700,000 over the next 5 election cycles.

On one hand, I don't like the idea of elected officials changing the terms of their own service. It feels like the fox in the hen house. The reality for me, though, is that serving on the school board is a community service. There's no "power trip" in doing this. Saving $700K means preserving another teach for the better part of a decade.

There is a possible middle ground (vote to make the change, but make the change effective with the next election cycle. ) That would cost LASD roughly $300K to cover the existing board. That’s three full-time teachers. It’s an option, but it clearly has a price tag also.

When the City Council made this change, it rankled some people in our community. That's why I'm making the effort to post this commentary now, before we take any action. I'm interested in community input on this issue. If you feel strongly about whether the board should stick to the odd years and spend the extra money, please let me know. Likewise, if you think that we should move to the even years, I’d like to hear it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why I voted to kill the Water District project

Voting against a public works project is hard to do- esp. when it doesn't come out of your budget, and it is as important as a flood control project is. Thousands of families could be impacted by this decision. It wasn't something I did lightly.

Some quick background: The Santa Clara Valley Watter District proposed lowering the athletic fields at Blach by 10 feet to create a flood basin. In the event of a major flood, the basin would slowly fill with water, which would protect about 3,000 homes downstream. The funding was already approved by voters in a bond passed several years ago. The district would have received upgraded sports facilities, and the Water District would have borne the cost of any cleanup in the event of a flood.

Shortly after the vote, someone said to me that we might have been playing politics with the vote. Although this has been a multi-year journey to get this far, neighbors around Blach school recently stepped forward to voice their opposition to the project. I have to admit, their arguments did not sway me. I heard people say things like "the protected people are mostly Mountain View, so let Mountain View figure it out." I heard a lot of unscientific debate about the artificial turf the Water District was willing to install. Folks were concerned about the inconvenience of the trucks during the construction project.

All up, those arguments felt like a lot of NIMBY to me, which was disappointing. I genuinely believe we have a duty to help protect our neighbors. The same folks who felt this was a "Mountain View problem" would not be happy if the SCVWD suddenly didn't provide Los Altos with drinking water.

What it really came down to for me was space. The Los Altos School District is facing unprecedented pressures on our campuses. Enrollment this year has already grown at twice the pace predicted by our demographer. Each year, our campuses seem to be bursting at the seams. To me, it just wasn't prudent to tie up 7 acres of land in a long term agreement that we couldn't change. The District doesn't have enough property as it is. Locking up 7 acres in a water project just wasn't responsible to the students of our community.

I sincerely hope that the Water District finds another way to complete this project. There were several other alternatives that have been studied that might also be feasible. With a bit of work, I believe one of those other options would allow them to fulfill the project goals and help them protect additional homes from flooding. In the meanwhile, it's back to the job o educating our kids...

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Ideas in Education

We have been partnering with Sal Khan for a little while. We're his "pilot program" for Khan Academy, which is an effort to bring learning to as many people as possible. We're running an active pilot, and hopefully helping Khan tune how it works. He is something of a rock star in ed reform circles, because of the huge impact he's having. Locally, we've integrated his work into a handful of classrooms and are excited at the progress we've seen.

There's a good article by Fortune magazine that provides some good context.
(Article here)

There is also a lesser-publicized blog, which is something of an ongoing discussion between Khan and the students and teachers.
(Blog here)

I have to admit, I was not actively involved in setting this up. Hats off to our administration and the teachers involved for getting this going, though. It's EXACTLY the sort of thing I've been talking about locally for a while. We're here in the heart of the Silicon Valley, near a major research institution and some of the more inventive minds of our generation. We should absolutely be an incubator for new ideas like this. I'm thrilled that we're working with Sal, and wish him (literally) a world of success.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blach Neighboorhood Traffic & Los Altos City Council

Last night I attended the Los Altos City Council meeting. The special session was called to discuss a consultant report on traffic in the Blach School neighborhood.

I serve on the LASD/City committee, so I have followed this discussion pretty closely. We've had a number of problems around Blach, made progressively worse as streets on each side of the school tried to make it harder for folks to use those routes to access the school.

I'm not unsympathetic to the concern. In some of the comments, I hear genuine concern for student safety, which is my #1 priority in these discussions. Unfortunately, each time residents have asked the city to take measures to reduce traffic on one street, it gets worse somewhere else.

I was pleased with this study in particular because it looked at the entire situation as a whole. This is the only reasonable way to distribute the load of 500 students who need to get to their neighborhood school. The consultant recommended several key steps, which I have urged the city to adopt:

  • Place a special traffic light at the intersection of Miramonte and Covington to ease congestion at that intersection

  • Create a class I bike path on Covington to separate students from vehicular traffic along this very busy road.

  • Create a Class I bike lane on Carmel Terrace to facilitate safe bicycle access to the rear of the school

  • Remove the "No Stopping" restrictions along Carmel Terrace and Altamead Dr, and make several improvements that would facilitate safe drop offs at the rear entrance to the school

  • various other improvements to other approach roadways, crosswalks, and intersections around the school

  • Through pure luck or misfortune, I wound up being the first person to provide public comments last night. What I said then was only reinforced by the 30-or-so speakers who came after me. I told the Council that there is no such thing as a perfect plan, but that I urged them to adopt as many of the consultant's recommendations as possible, and to do so with as much speed as they could muster. People will undoubtedly object to various aspects of the plan: Some are concerned that a traffic light might "bring more traffic". Others want to adopt all of the changes except the one right on the street where they live. Nonetheless, I urged the council to take action now.

    In May 2010, we had a student-car collision near Blach school. I am very, very concerned that if we don't act soon, we will have more such accidents, some with permanent and perhaps fatal consequences.

    I appreciate how difficult this is. Thirty years ago, Los Altos was a rural community. Now, though, the community has grown substantially, and the volume of traffic is here to stay. Asking to keep one street closed just pushes the issue to other streets, and increases the concentration of students somewhere else. We owe it to our fellow residents, and their children, to ensure they have safe routes to school. The answer to that lies not in keeping one area free of student traffic, but in opening as many pathways to the school as we possibly can. I hope that we can all work together to improve student safety and access to this important neighborhood school.