Kylie Clark booths with Rob Moore at Los Gatos Promenade event
Kylie Clark campaigning with Rob Moore during a 2022 Promenade event, right across the street from where paid canvassers were collecting signatures for a referendum drive that upended density increases in the 2040 General Plan. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

In the exact same motion where the Town Council voted to reverse their discipline of Planning Commissioner Kylie Clark—after the Town’s own attorney said she agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s argument that the Town violated her free speech rights—it also authorized a conflict-of-interest investigation that will scrutinize her more closely than anyone else.

In the wee hours of April 19, at its regularly-scheduled April 18 meeting, Councilmember Rob Rennie tried to make a motion that first rescinded the censure of Clark, before considering the question of conflict of interest.

Clark was officially chastised on multiple occasions for referring to the proponents of a referendum that upended the 2040 General Plan’s residential densification provisions as “a few rich white anti-housing men,” in an email to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Last week’s reversal hearing occurred in the context of the State’s recent rejection of the Town’s Housing Element, which Vice Mayor Mary Badame attempted to blame in-part on Clark’s email.

But Councilmember Matthew Hudes, speaking remotely from Japan where he’d gone to speak at a conference, said he’d refuse to support Rennie’s motion unless a legal probe was launched—simultaneously—into Clark’s housing advocacy for West Valley Community Services.

The proceeding was complicated by the fact that Clark’s partner, Councilmember Rob Moore, had recused himself. And Badame said she would abstain, because she’d received such conflicting legal advice from Town Attorney Gabrielle Whelan.

So, Rennie said he’d agree to an amendment that would rescind Clark’s censure but would authorize a review of potential conflicts of interest of all planning commissioners.

Mayor Maria Ristow said the Town had ‘trampled’ on Commissioner Kylie Clark’s First Amendment rights

For Hudes, who echoed the sentiments of many in Los Gatos who were disappointed that Clark’s punishment for criticizing the racial and socio-economic elements behind Los Gatos’ relatively segregated nature was being lifted, that wasn’t strong enough.

Hudes said his questions during the special February discipline hearing—which Clark’s supporters considered a “witch hunt”—revealed that at least some of her income comes from housing work. He asked Rennie to target Clark specifically.

Rennie said he’d update his motion such that a conflict probe would apply to all planning commissioners, but—to appease Hudes—said only Clark would have to face the prowess of outside legal investigators. Everyone else could have a compliance check done by staff.

Whelan noted staff might not uncover conflicts, the way she agreed she had overlooked potential crossover between Clark’s private, pro-housing activities and her role as a planning commissioner.

And she cautioned that people will likely see the Council’s decision as retaliatory against Clark, even if it technically doesn’t violate any laws.

The motion passed in a 3-0-1 decision, where no one voted against, but with Badame abstaining (Moore recused).

This ended a raucous meeting, punctuated by clapping and outbursts (against Town policy), which saw more than 30 people share their views on the discipline of Clark.

However, unlike at the February meeting, where a greater share came down against the commissioner’s behavior, this time only five people railed against her during the public hearing (plus two in comments during Verbal Communications).

‘The meeting in which she was censured kinda had the tone of a political public shaming’

—Tamela Fish, communications consultant

The rest seemed appalled at how the Town had handled things.

In one instance, the Council got an AP Government lesson from a local student who instructed they’d broken a rule that even high schoolers learn about.

Minorities, housing activists, political officials from around the region and longtime Los Gatos residents all spoke in support of Clark.

Throughout the night she was cast as “brave” and a “role model” who’s been inundated with “sexist” attacks.

Tamela Fish, a communications consultant who helped with community outreach for Los Gatos’ Housing Element, said while Clark could’ve worded her email to Sacramento differently, it wasn’t fair to put her through what she endured.

“The meeting in which she was censured kinda had the tone of a political public shaming, with little to no additional information on the referendum, the underlying issues within the comments, or any solutions provided,” she said. “In fact, it felt outright unsafe to me.”

Many lamented that it took the threat of legal action from the ACLU to get Los Gatos to do “the right thing.”

Even Mayor Maria Ristow acknowledged the Town had “trampled” on Clark’s First Amendment rights.

But the meeting also showcased the concerns of some residents who saw Clark’s comments to HCD as coming from someone who isn’t a fan of California’s approach to direct democracy, via sexist, race-focused language to try to shift power away from residents.

Others noted that Los Gatos’ anti-housing history—that contributed to inequality in the Bay Area and California’s severe affordability crisis—is a well-studied fact, one the community has been slow to acknowledge.

This sluggishness was emphasized by HCD itself in its Housing Element rejection letter, April 14, in which it said the community didn’t appear to have taken its initial critique of the document to heart—particularly when it comes to addressing racial inequality.

“HCD’s prior review has various findings regarding an assessment of fair housing and appropriate policies and programs to affirmatively furthering fair housing,” HCD Senior Program Manager Paul McDougall wrote. “The Town’s findings do not address this essential statutory requirement.”

Previous articleProsecutors say Los Gatos mother tried to establish drug ring in jail
Next articleLos Gatos High softball gears up for stretch run
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here