Los Altos City Council member David Casas warned the Los Altos School District Board to back off thinking about taking civic center land through eminent domain for a tenth campus—although a board member said that's not the case.
Taking aim at two school board members sitting in the audience, Casas spoke sharply during Tuesday's City Council meeting, in relation to a discussion about a contemplated bond measure to build a new civic center, located on 18 acres of the city's land along North San Antonio Road.
The acreage includes the former Hillview Elementary School, which is currently used by the city for a senior center and recreational and community uses. It is also called "Community Center."
"It is not something to be spoken lightly of, when one jurisdiction talks about the taking of another jurisdiction's land for use that does not run in parallel with the city’s interests," Casas said.
"As a former elementary school board member, I find this appalling that this is being discussed in public, and is being brought forth amongst conversations that I’m a part of, that this is something that is even being contemplated."
Later he said, "I call upon our school board to unequivocally to state that they are not interested in any taking of the civic center land."
Reached by telephone in Southern California, LASD Board President Mark Goines said he was "puzzled" by Casas' comments.
During the public comment period at , at least one member of the public mentioned the possibility of the LASD using eminent domain to reclaim the former Hillview campus for a 10th campus.
Goines acknowleged that members of the public made suggestions to reclaim Hillview, and while the board itself affirmed its right to eminent domain, there has been no formal discussion of specific properties.
He also said the district spoke to city representatives about the center and whether the two jurisdictions could work together on a joint solution.
"And they said they don't want to talk about that. They basically said it's off the table," Goines said. “We specifically asked council members to talk to us about working together about the need to have a tenth school site ... We haven’t been talking about taking the land.”
In a subsequent email Goines said that, "(The) LASD would be pleased to work with the city of Los altos to jointly develop the city's property for the benefit of our community."
Leading into his statement, Casas pointed out Los Altos School Board trustees Doug Smith and Tamara Logan, who were sitting in the audience.
Casas suggested the school board has to make it clear it is not interested in eminent domain of what is called the Community Center land, before the two jurisdictions can work together.
"If it is by mistake that this has been brought forth, I think a clear and unequivocable assertion by the school board stating that the school board is not interested in taking of city land to find a tenth school site, then I believe that opens up a lot of opportunities for partnerships that have been a long-standing tradition," he said.
"It’s unfortunate, and I believe I speak for the City Council, that this is something that would not be well received by this body," said Casas of any move toward eminent domain.
Mayor Val Carpenter, however, was more conciliatory.
Before Casas spoke, mentioned that she had spoken to school district officials. She elaborated in an email to Patch.
"About two months ago I became aware that school districts also have the right of eminent domain," wrote Carpenter said in an email Wednesday morning about perusing LASD Voices' Facebook Page. "Shortly after that, I met with LASD Trustee Doug Smith and Bullis Charter School Board member John Phelps at their request, and in our wide-ranging discussion, eminent domain was mentioned in conjunction with the Los Altos Community Center as well as other City and private land."
She said she sent the board a letter on March 26, encouraging them to look at land north of El Camino Real for a campus site, where higher density housing is located. As a near-term solution, she also urged them to investigate setting up a pilot program of school buses from the high-density developments located north of El Camino Real, to relieve the congestion and safety issues at the schools and that the City Council could have a discussion about financial support for such a pilot.
The presentation on the polling Tuesdays had just shown that voters were not likely to vote for a civic center upgrade during these hard economic times. Carpenter suggested three ways of moving forward, including working with LASD to help them identify a 10th school site, "ideally north of El Camino Real in Mountain View or Palo Alto."