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  • Jeffrey Siegel


So Much at Stake

While so much is at stake like never before on the national political stage, there is likewise much at stake here in Los Gatos with our local upcoming elections. The historic turnout for local elections is low, and Los Gatos is no exception. What that means is that your vote counts far more than you might otherwise imagine. In local elections, a winner is often decided by a few votes. The dysfunction that has plagued our present town council has been costly, in economic, public safety, and cultural terms. Even prior Los Gatos town mayors have lamented how disappointing this particular crop of town council members has been, but with the election right around the corner, and with your help, we can turn this situation around.

Three Excellent Candidates

The good news is that we have three candidates that are excellent, have the experience, the knowledge, and the passion to make a real difference, and in fact, that is what has propelled them to run. They understand that if you are not part of the solution, by definition, you are part of the problem.

This is why the los Gatos Historical Society has made it a priority to take a stand in this all-important election, that will have a significant impact on the quality of life, and indeed, possibly life itself with escalating wildfire risks, for the residents of our historic neighborhoods, who collectively are at greatest risk of wildfire given our proximity to the surrounding mountains.

Please take a few minutes to acquaint yourself below with the key election issues facing our historic neighborhoods and the candidates that we are endorsing, because they care about the issues that are most crucial to residents of our historic community, who have been woefully under-represented by the current town council. With your help, we can turn this situation around and make great strides in a short period of time.

The Los Gatos Historical Society had advocated before the present Town Council several times for Wildfire Safety, Economic Vitality, and Historic Preservation. On those topics, our efforts were thwarted by mayor Jensen who saw the minimal efforts undertaken along the Highway 17 corridor as sufficient despite our educating her with the facts that much of our historic neighborhoods are situated in the wildland urban interface (WUI), that over fifty Los Gatos homes have previously been lost to wildfire, and that in recent history the neighborhood of Glen Ridge was put at great risk as oncoming wildfires drew closer and fiercer, with a battalion of fire trucks lined up on Pennsylvania avenue as a defense line of last resort. All that before climate change fully kicked in to make the risks even greater. We requested that town council members tour the town of Paradise, as we did, accompanied by first responders, to see an entire town, the size of Los Gatos, wiped off the earth. Seeing firsthand thousands of homes gone, with driveways to nowhere is an eerie experience that drives home the importance of wildfire safety, and to doing more than the bare bones minimum. This turning a blind eye to reality is not what we need in a town council. To this day, even after our repeated requests, none of the town council members have visited Paradise to see firsthand the destruction, despite the fact that Los Gatos has a higher wildfire risk score.

Making matters worse, Waze directed traffic during the summer and into fall, during the height of wildfire season, blocks an essential wildfire evacuation route putting thousands of residents’ lives in the Glen Ridge neighborhood and residents living off of Overlook Road at unnecessary risk. The town council, together with the town attorney, claimed there was nothing that could be done about this despite town staff having the ability to apply traffic controls through its municipal portal into the Waze system, and other towns initiating legal actions against Google. In the face of such town council and staff indifference and self-purported helplessness, the Los Gatos Historical Society initiated California state legislation, together with SCC Fire, resulting in our collaborating with assemblyman Evan Low to enact new legislation that would make it illegal for algorithm directed traffic apps from sending tens of thousands of cars through residential roads within a one mile radius of wildfire evacuation routes throughout the state. This would alleviate most of the Waze directed beach-going traffic from impacting Los Gatos streets, but due to Covid-19 dramatically shortening the legislative season, this act is now expected to be voted on in 2021.

The other key topic of historic preservation and fire hardening historic homes, championed by former Mayor Steve Leonardis in working with Los Gatos Historical Society, yet blocked by Mayor Jensen, is the adoption of the Mills Act, named after Senator James Mill, which is the state of California’s historical preservation act enacted in 1972 originally to save the historic Hotel Del Coronado. Shamefully, Los Gatos is the only historic California town of any real size, that has not yet adopted it. Every town surrounding Los Gatos, plus most towns up and down the peninsula, plus all the large cities in our state, every single one, have adopted it as have 100 other towns across the state. Why? Because it brings in a large influx of economic support, and for Los Gatos would bring in well over $20 million of new economic funding to revitalize our historic downtown and our historic neighborhoods. This most importantly, includes the funding to fire harden many of our historic homes that are the most vulnerable to fire, and in catching on fire, would pose further threats to adjacent neighboring homes.

The insurance companies understand these threats well even if homeowners don’t hence why so many residents have recently had their homeowner policies not renewed. The risks are real and the Mills Act funding can substantially help in fire hardening our historic homes which according to CalFire is the single most important action a homeowner can take, and was proven true as only the homes adhering to the most modern fire building codes survived the Paradise conflagration. Imagine a rejuvenated downtown that would once again shine as the ‘Gem of the Foothills’ bringing back shoppers who instead find their way to the recently renovated Pruneyard in Campbell. How our existing town council overlooked the tremendous cultural and economic benefits available to us is hard to fathom, but they did at the direction of mayor Jensen, plus a town attorney who at her direction intentionally preempted the final vote by deliberately causing a nine months delay on taking actions on this topic preventing a timely vote called for by former Mayor Leonardis.

By voting for our three endorsed candidates - Mary Badame, Michael Kane, and Matthew Hudes, these issues will be a top priority to be addressed early in the new town council season.

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