By a 5-1 vote, with council member Greg Tanaka dissenting and council member Tom DuBois absent, the council voted to adjust the budget and add 11 full-time positions across City Hall, including a new deputy director for the Police Department's Technical Services Division. In addition, the council authorized Police Chief Robert Jonsen to recruit five additional officers, with the understanding that the city will approve funding for these positions in the upcoming budget cycle.
All six council members supported bolstering police staffing, though Tanaka voted against the motion because of concerns about other expenditures in the adjusted budget. These include a reduction in the city's planned contributions for pensions for the coming year and funding relating to a ballot measure to create a business tax.
The council's move is a response to two recent trends: a healthy uptick in sales and hotel tax revenues and growing concerns about a recent rise in thefts in business districts and residential neighborhoods. It also follows the council's decision last year to begin restoring some of the positions and services that it had cut in 2020 as part of an effort to reduce the budget by $40 million.
— Gennady Sheyner
Woodside decides it's not a mountain lion habitat
Facing a lawsuit, national attention and a warning from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Woodside Town Council on Sunday, Feb. 6, backpedaled on its recent move to ban all projects submitted under a new state housing law, Senate Bill 9.
Starting on Feb. 7, applications to develop housing under California's controversial new split-lot law were to be accepted in Woodside, Deputy Town Attorney Kai Ruess said.
The town had frozen applications two weeks ago, citing a loophole that exempts mountain lion habitats. While the council did not declare the town a habitat, it asked staff to study the possibility and return with a determination.
The council's decision garnered national, and even international, attention, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Guardian jumping on the story after The Almanac, the Weekly's sister paper, published it.
Matthew Gelfand, legal counsel for Californians for Homeownership — a nonprofit that focuses on local governments that limit the development of housing — emailed the town on Feb. 2, threatening a lawsuit. He called staff's finding "absurd" that every single residential parcel in the town qualifies as mountain lion habitat. He wrote that it also violated SB 330, which prohibits local governments from putting up new barriers to housing production.
Bonta warned town officials on Feb. 6 that the effort to declare the town a mountain lion habitat was an attempt to avoid complying with state law.
"There is no valid basis to claim that the entirety of Woodside is a habitat for mountain lions," his office wrote to the town.
Mobile Crisis Response Team heads to Palo Alto area
Santa Clara County is adding its Mobile Crisis Response Team program to the Palo Alto area, where it will pair specialized clinicians with law enforcement on calls for people who are having a mental health crisis, the county announced on Tuesday.
The new staffing will serve the north county and west foothills areas, which include Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Cupertino, Saratoga and portions of San Jose. The Board of Supervisors approved the program on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
The program, which started in 2018, previously served the central part of the county with one team dedicated to the southern end of the county. The program seeks to de-escalate crisis situations and divert individuals away from hospital emergency rooms or jail, and toward alternative means such as counseling, a sobering center, a respite program or mediation through a crisis stabilization unit.
The new program would add four additional staff members to specifically cover the District 5 geographic area. The mobile teams initially screen and assess crisis situations by phone and intervene wherever the crisis is taking place. They provide an immediate response for crisis intervention services at locations throughout the county. The dedicated north county/west valley team will improve the ability to respond to calls quickly with a field visit, the county said.
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