Sunday, August 26, 2012

City Council Endorsements

It is that time of year again- election season.  One of the interesting bits about serving on the school board is that folks ask me which candidates I think should fill various offices.  I'm always flattered by this- come November, I'm just like everyone else- I get one vote, and that's it.  However, to the extent that my service on the School Board means that I interact with other elected officials, I'm willing to share my thoughts.

It is too early for me to have decided which candidates I will support for the City Council race in Los Altos.  In a strange twist of politics, though, I've started to hear that others are making statements about what it takes to get my endorsement.  For the record, such comments by anyone other than me are irresponsible, and folks should consider carefully whom the speaker is.  So far what I've heard has been a gross distortion of my views, and I'm disappointed that people in public life, or contemplating public office, would behave in such a manner.  Our community deserves better.

So, how will I be evaluating candidates?  It's a fair question.  Here's my current thinking. (Like everyone else, I may expand on this thinking before I cast my vote.  That's why candidate forums are so helpful!) 

I have tried to provide examples from my own background so that my perspective is more clear, but that isn't to say that my path is the best way- it's just for context.

Understanding of the Issues
Leading our city requires understanding of a complex set of issues- everything from budgets and long term revenues to zoning and land use.Candidates need to have a grasp of a wide range of issues, not just be focused on one specific thing.  That knowledge can come in many ways.  Some may rely on years of service through government commissions.  Others may have experience through community groups.  Regardless, show me that you have thought about the breadth and depth of what our community needs.

When I ran for school board, I had served on a number of committees in the District, and I'd been attending Board meetings for quite a while.  Sometimes candidates crop up who have a limited area of interest (like language immersion, or the BCS debate).  If you have a wider view, you'll be more effective on the many other decisions you'll need to make. 

Have a vision.  Be willing to execute on it.
Steve Jobs once famously said that if you asked members of a focus group about the design of an iPod, they would tell you that they are happy with their Walkman.  Government is not be a popularity contest.  This isn't to suggest that we disregard the will of the electorate.  Rather, it is to say that sometimes we need to have a bold vision, then work hard to build consensus to support that vision. 

One of the things I have wanted to accomplish is to establish a solution to the BCS issue.  The LASD Board has invested a lot of time in that issue recently, and we were willing to discuss with our community some pretty bold proposals to achieve that goal. 

Respect our history, but be willing to move forward.
This may be a variant on the prior point, but it's worth expanding.  Our community has a rich tradition- the town is celebrating a milestone birthday, and we are fortunate to have many community members who have been here for a significant portion of their lives.  We also have to look to the future, though.  Over 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers worked incredibly hard to create a framework for how our country should function.  Then the very next thing they did was design a process for amending the Constitution.  They recognized that societies change, and if we don't change with it, we will fail.  It always amazes me that we live in a place that is literally world famous for innovation, yet we seem to struggle with even the slightest change in our community.  I value our past (I live in a house built in 1909), but I also want us to think forward to what we need in the future.  We need to develop a strategy to keep Los Altos relevant in the coming decades.  A steadfast focus on preserving the status quo will only guarantee that we are a museum sitting in the midst of other vibrant communities.

Likewise, I have a strong interest in us challenging the status quo in our classrooms.  I've been highly supportive of the efforts of our administration and staff to truly innovate, to develop completely new ways of educating our students.  Under Superintendent Baier's leadership, we've pioneered programs that have literally become world famous.  We continue to consider what our next move is- how we should continue to evolve to inspire passion in our students for a lifetime of learning.  It would be easy to rest on our laurels, and appease the folks who want 4th grade to be just like it was when they attended school, but that's not how you stay on top. 

What about Hillview?
The elephant in this discussion is Hillview.  I've made no secret that I'd like to discuss the future plans for the community center.  That implies understanding what the current and future uses for the space might be, and discussing ways that we can meet those needs.  There may actually be more than one option- not just the plan drawn up already.

Some folks that I've talked to have said that they want us to find land in Mountain View, or Los Altos Hills.  We will certainly be pursuing that, but we have to look at Los Altos as well.  Addressing our city council, one community member said it very well:  "This is your brand.  It is the Los Altos School District."  If the city government does nothing but approve new housing units, but doesn't help to solve the growing school population, they're not considering the entire picture.

 I have no idea what the final solution might include.  It might be Hillview, but then it might be some other parcel of public or private land.  I'd like to work together with the City Council to find ways to help the growing number of students, and the families who move to Los Altos for our schools.  If I choose to endorse a candidate for City Council, it won't be because I've already stuck a deal with them- it will be because I believe they possess the skills necessary to serve all residents of our city, whether they are seniors, school children, or anyone else. 

I look forward to a healthy debate of the issues.

Have a Vision.  Lead.  Serve the community.