A series of high-profile Mountain View City Council votes to help establish a new public school campus within city limits is being challenged on the grounds that Councilman John McAlister should have recused himself.
In a complaint letter sent to the city earlier this week, Mountain View resident Ellyn Berner alleges that McAlister had a conflict of interest due to owning a stake in the Stepping Stones Preschool, which is located at leased property at the the Los Altos School District's Covington Elementary School campus. This side business was providing McAlister at least $10,000 in annual income, according to his 2008 financial disclosure form. McAlister did not list the business in his subsequent annual reports.
Based on his preschool business, McAlister should have removed himself from any vote involving Los Altos School District (LASD), Berner said.
"Our city (is providing) millions and millions of dollars and building rights for LASD while not having full impartiality from Mountain View City Council," Berner said in the letter. "Any action taken by the City Council involving LASD where Mr. McAlister participated in the discussions or voted should be considered void."
McAlister told the Voice that he disputes the allegations, saying he had conferred with the city attorney prior to the votes on a new LASD campus. City legal staff told him he didn't need to report his stake in Stepping Stones Preschool because it was located outside the city's jurisdiction, he said.
The Los Altos School District enrolls Mountain View residents and its boundaries include several Mountain View neighborhoods.
McAlister said he believes the complaints were a new tactic by Bullis Charter School advocates to try to scuttle the 10th campus plan.
"I don't believe there's any conflict based on a thorough understanding of the rules," he said. "This is the Bullis Charter School trying to eliminate a vote that would have prevented them from being relocated."
In her complaint, Berner does not elaborate on her motive for filing the letter, which she forwarded to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office and the state Fair Political Practices Commission. She is not listed as a licensed attorney by the California State Bar, but her letter appears to be written by a lawyer, with numerous citations of state law, city code and case law precedents.
She did not immediately respond to emailed questions from the Voice.
In recent months, the council has taken multiple steps to facilitate the purchase of land for a new school campus near San Antonio Road. Earlier this year, the council approved the sale of about $80 million in development rights to help defray the purchase price of the expensive land. An additional $23 million would come from Mountain View's park funds, in exchange for use of the new school's field.
In June, the council approved the district's plans to use that financial support to help purchase 9.6 acres of the San Antonio Shopping Center, land currently occupied by Kohl's and several restaurants. During that discussion, three council members wanted to set conditions on what kind of school could be built, in light of the city's significant financial assistance. Among their stipulations, they wanted a commitment from LASD that the site would be used for a new neighborhood school, not for relocating Bullis Charter School from Los Altos.
McAlister opposed those conditions, swinging a 4-3 vote to approve the land acquisition.
If complaints over McAlister's conflict of interest are found to be valid, it could force the council to revisit a string of decisions on the proposed school site.
City Manager Dan Rich acknowledged the city has received the complaint letter, but he declined to comment on its arguments. The merits of the letter could be considered only by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, he said.