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November 26, 2021
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Monte Sereno city manager shares ideas for a better Los Gatos

Speaking at a public meeting of local residents Nov. 11, Monte Sereno City Manager Steve Leonardis, who once sat in the Los Gatos mayor’s chair, shared some of his worries, as well as ideas about how the Town could be more fiscally prudent.

Among these described to Democracy Tent participants at the Adult Recreation Center, included trying to get a better return on investments, focusing on attracting businesses that sell big-ticket items and removing trees from N. Santa Cruz Avenue streets—which he thinks are dirty and an impediment to pedestrians.

“It’s time for the trees to get out of there,” he said. “You can put that in the paper.”

Leonardis’ vision for the area includes encouraging more of the “Santa Cruz-ers” to stop and spend their money in Los Gatos on the way through, while steering clear of charged political currents roiling the national discourse.

One of his strongest critiques of Los Gatos’ current regime is how Town officials have kept approximately $12 million in reserves.

‘Fiscal prudence doesn’t mean hoarding cash’

Steve Leonardis, Monte Sereno’s city manager

“We’re blowing it leaving the funds in there,” he said, contending these have turned into about $6.5 million-worth with inflation. “Fiscal prudence doesn’t mean hoarding cash like that.”

Instead of keeping its money in conservative accounts, Los Gatos should be taking advantage of low interest rates, according to Leonardis.

“The money is losing its purchasing power,” he said. “We’re not managing it properly.”

Leonardis explained he recently participated in a meeting about the hiring process for a new Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police chief, and said he worried the community might want to prioritize the gender of the applicant over finding the best person for the job.

“I heard, ‘Let’s hire a gal,’ which we’re not allowed to say,” he said, referring to laws that prevent employers from discriminating based on sex. “We can’t recruit that way.”

In fact, one of his most concrete suggestions was that the Town should hire municipal consulting firm Management Partners to review government functions, such as the police department, to see if contracting out to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office or finding efficiencies makes sense.

“We’ve had three chiefs in the last eight years,” he said. “That’s not a very good record.”

After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Los Gatos’ downtown became the Silicon Valley nightlife hotspot, he recalled, but said the Town now must step up its game to compete with San Jose’s Santana Row, locations in Campbell—and online entertainment options.

He likes the idea of closing the downtown once a week, as the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce did this summer with the Thursday Promenades series.

“The good news is there’s hope,” he said. “I think we have something on the horizon here.”

To Leonardis, Boulder, Colo., and Burlingame are examples of the downtowns Los Gatos should strive to emulate.

But there are a few things that concern him, he told the citizens.

He’s worried that, in its quest to generate affordable housing, the Town will go along with developer plans to put in high-density wood-over-podium condominiums that average people still can’t afford.

Leonardis doesn’t think California’s housing-build quotas are realistic.

“How are you going to find all those construction workers,” he said, deriding recent decisions taken in Sacramento around zoning. “Is ‘single family homes’ racist? The answer is no.”

And Los Gatos should consider rejecting proposals that don’t turn the old Chevrolet dealership building on Los Gatos Boulevard into a money-maker for the Town, such as a high-end car shop that would bring in ample tax revenue, he contended.

Leonardis called the idea that a cannabis dispensary or two could be a solution to retail woes “pathetic,” and said instead the community should be revising its agreement with Netflix, since this revenue stream has dropped from a few million dollars a year to just below a million.

And Los Gatos should be more cutthroat when it comes to economic development, and consider trying to steal mom-n-pop shops from neighboring communities, he added.

“They do that to us; we should do that to them,” Leonardis said. “We should roll out the red carpet.”

Drew Penner
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]

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