Los Gatos Civic Center
SEAT OF POWER The Town of Los Gatos Civic Center pictured on an overcast day. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Four Town officials—Town Manager Laurel Prevetti and former mayors Maria Ristow and Rob Rennie, along with Councilmember Rob Moore—have been responsible for the failure to get the Housing Element passed, despite five attempts. Ristow recently said the three of them should be recognized for getting the Town to where we are today. They failed five times; enough said. The sixth attempt has been sent to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

This disaster has cost the Town dearly with the addition of roughly 7-9 Builder’s Remedy projects, even including a 12-story building. That’s unacceptable.  These and other projects fail to meet the affordable housing numbers. That means the Town has to go back again and review where they can put more housing that will be affordable. Five missteps by management and Council are causing a ton of additional work for the staff, and now they want more money to pay for cleaning-up their mistakes. Add this rework with all of the errors in the five-year forecast, and you’ll understand why they proposed a tax increase.

Councilmember Ristow was on the General Plan Update Advisory Committee, the Housing Element Advisory Board, was vice mayor and then mayor. Her hand was clearly on the driver’s wheel at the beginning of the Housing Element’s downward spiral. She blocked the Council from getting more involved in oversight of the process; and she voted against taking notes at meetings with the State’s HCD division. Why did the staff hide the information from the Council?

Your citizen-led Finance Commission de-weaponized Prevetti’s Plan to introduce unnecessary taxes

—Jak Van Nada

Moore, Rennie and Ristow have been instrumental in pushing to unnecessarily upzone the entire town under the premise that more housing equals lower prices. But won’t development cease when sinking housing prices start to eliminate developer profits? These Council members pushed to finish the General Plan before working on the Housing Element—the colloquial equivalent of putting the cart before the horse. That caused at least a year’s delay.

They knew the General Plan had no penalties and no deadline. They knew that a delayed Housing Element carried both a deadline and penalties. During Ristow’s term as mayor, we saw an unprecedented explosion of the Builder’s Remedies filed because the Town failed to meet the statutory deadline. Ristow’s biggest failure was adopting a Housing Element on Jan. 30, 2023, claiming the Housing Element substantially complied with State law based on no real knowledge if it did. As it turned out, it didn’t.

On to our finances. At the Feb. 12 Finance Commission meeting, Town Manager Prevetti forecast five years of operating losses totaling $10.6 million and has retained a consultant to review the potential of adding new taxes onto the shoulders of local citizens. Recently, these two major issues (Housing Element and proposed taxation) were dropped into the lap of the incoming mayor, Mary Badame by outgoing mayor Ristow. Prevetti said we had to pay unfunded mandates. That wasn’t true.  She said expenses were doubling and revenues were remaining flat. That was not true, either.

Despite this dismal picture painted by the Town Manager, the Finance Commission recently rejected her five-year economic outlook and her desire to raise taxes. That forecast was based on outdated and inaccurate data that showed a $10.6 million loss over the next five years. By using the correct, and less conservative data, the Finance Commission predicted a surplus of $11.8 million in that time period. They still left enough “fluff” in the budget to cover unknowns. Your citizen-led Finance Commission de-weaponized Prevetti’s plan to introduce unnecessary taxes.

Our 2023 year-end General Fund had an audited operating surplus of $5.7 million. That was just five months after the Town Manager informed us she was only forecasting a $700,000 surplus for 2023. That was a massive miscalculation. In fact, the Total Net Position increased by more than $15 million from last year, with $5.7 million in excess revenues (after expenditures) sitting in the General Fund. That can be found online at (https://www.losgatosca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/37241/FY-202223-ACFR?bidId=), and was audited. Why can’t we get the true story from these three Council members who “manage” the Town Manager?

We should not be asked to pay taxes when Town-wide we are in such a solid financial position. Prevetti will be retiring with a raise just after failing to get the Housing Element passed five times. Is that a decision you would make?

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