Los Gatos Open-Government Champion: Lee Quintana

The only named plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the town government and the developer of the future Netflix location says taking the matter to court was the only way to be heard.

Longtime Los Gatos resident Lee Quintana remembers writing an essay about the Constitution in junior high school where she stated it was a wonderful document but its intent was not always followed.

She cited examples such as the then segregation in the South of public facilities, schools and the Poll Tax.

Her teacher failed her and the principal asked her to rewrite the paper or flunk the class. She did the first, but she regrets doing so to this day.

Six decades later, that incident moves Quintana, a petite woman under 5-feet, to speak her mind, even if she becomes one of the town's most controversial figures.

Netflix Lawsuit

The Citizens, according to Quintana, are simply asking the Town to follow state law, clearly divulge the impacts of the 20-year phased project, and propose adequate feasible mitigation before going forward. 

After the complaint was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, an opposing group of residents took out full-page advertisements in the taking Quintana to task for suing the town.

The ads proclaimed: "Who's behind 'We Support Los Gatos?' We are!"

Formed under the url www.wesupportlosgatos.org, the group stated that the community's response to "the wasteful lawsuit" had been overwhelming.

conducted by the research firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates or FM3, hired by the owners of the Los Gatos Business Park, LLC, whose 21 acres of land are being considered to build the new Netflix headquarters in the future.

The ads called the lawsuit "egregious" and said it was filed to block Netflix, endangering "millions of dollars in needed revenue for our schools and town services."

They quoted several residents who said they supported the Los Gatos Council majority who voted to approve the development.

While Quintana states that she and the Citizens respect the right of "We Support Los Gatos" to express their opinion, the issues involved  are far broader than the impact on schools.  

Quintana is suing hoping to make the town and the developer conduct an environmental report on the project. The petition, scheduled to be heard by a judge this coming Friday, challenges Los Gatos government's assertion that the development would not have an adverse impact on the environment.

Just weeks before it was filed,

A Planner at Heart

Nobody better than Quintana understands the complexities of environmental impact reports for big developments. Her entire professional life was spent working as an urban planner for the City of San Jose.

After retiring, she applied and served on the Los Gatos Redevelopment Advisory Committee,  the General Plan Committee and was appointed in 1999 to the Planning Commission, where she labored for eight years.

During that time, she says, she was often known for, and "often not appreciated for," asking applicants and staff members hard questions to understand how projects fit into the General Plan and town policies.

When she was not re-appointed to the Commission for a third term, Quintana says she continued attending Commission and Council meetings and slowly began asking questions and requesting information.

Becoming a Watchdog

While she has never filed a Public Records Act request, she became a frequent visitor to the Planning and Public Works departments to look at files and government documents.

"I could almost hear staffs' thoughts as I approached, 'Oh, not her again,' " she says.

Today, Quintana is surprised at the amount of people who stop her on the street to say they have heard her speak at Commission or Council meetings and thank her for asking questions, providing information and being concerned about what she calls "the bigger picture."

One tangible example of the fruits of her open-government work is that, at hers and others' requests, Commission and Council agendas now have, in addition to staff reports, exhibits, plans and other pertinent documents, available for public review on the town's website.

Quintana admits she's continually reading confusing town documents, pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions in them and requesting clarification.

Not Heard?

Sadly, Quintana says, she realized in the last few years that she had exhausted her effectiveness with the town to initiate change and was not getting meaningful answers to her questions.

She says she also noticed an increasing number of residents expressing frustration with projects brought before the Commission or Council before they were fully thought-out.

With the town's supposed lack of response to residents' concerns about projects, processes, compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, town ordinances, codes, policies and what she perceived was an increasing lack of transparency in the decision-making process, she says she had no choice but to sue.

"It appeared that the town would only take notice if a legal action was filed. The decision to file a lawsuit against the town we all love was not made lightly," she says. "A short answer to why [the lawsuit was filed] would be frustration, love of Los Gatos, belief in the responsibility of government to be transparent and to listen to and respect its citizens, and a belief in freedom of speech."

Sandra Vaurs March 17, 2012 at 05:01 PM
What would we do without people like Lee? She is knowledgeable, and willing to spend her own time trying to make Los Gatos a better place. Not many residents here can say that about themselves.
Justo Hernandez March 17, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Where do you start in saying how lucky we are to have a Lee Quintana in our pueblo. She constantly is fighting to save what we all love about Los Gatos. She has struck out more times than not but it is her work in entirety that keeps our biased government from asserting more influence than they do to increase growth and density. Without her and others including the Los Gatos Community Alliance we would have more of a Town Manager controlled government than we do. Our current manager certainly underestimated the strength and staying power of watch dog citizens in Los Gatos. He along with his staff and 3 proxies on council continue to push the envelope supporting the growth and money machines in their attempt to subvert our general plan. So how do I count the ways to thank you Lee? I can't. Just know you are not alone out there. I love you. Larry Arzie
Susan Burnett March 18, 2012 at 02:51 AM
I totally support Lee, she has always put the best interest of Los Gatos first, to maintain its character and uniqueness. Lee has worked tirelessly to follow the Los Gatos General Plan, which the Town Council continues to ignore. I was on the Historic Preservation Committee for six years, I worked on an ordinance to make the Glenridge Neighborhood (12 blocks), into an Historic District, which was recommended after the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Town Council only had to approve the written ordinance, it was denied, the most vocal member against it continues to be on the Town Council! I remember words to the effect that the Historic Preservation Committee was sort of irrelevant, I resigned. Len Pacheco, Joanne Talesfore, Barbara Spector, Steven Leonardis and Sandy Decker have always fought and still do fight to preserve what Los Gatos is all about. Saratoga has changed due to the loss of it's Historic Districts and failed General Plan. I have lived in Los Gatos most of my life (minus 2 years), I grew up on Loma Alta Ave, I love Los Gatos and if we follow the General Plan, which you can get a copy of, we would maintain the true character and uphold the trust that was put in our hands to maintain for our children and grand-children! Susan Burnett
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz March 18, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Congrat's & the Best of Luck to you on your endeavors!
Paul Quintana M.D. March 18, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Thank you for your article on my wife. As one who lives with her, i can attest to the many times she has been up late into the night working o n town issues. She can be relentless in her passion and zeal for transparency in our town government. We were both pleased with the recognition of her hard work and dedication to an open government. Paul Quintana M.D.
P. Blake March 23, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Finally someone is questioning the town council and doing something about their mismanagement of our town. This town council is abusing their power by ignoring the residence input and concerns. They continue to over development to the point of over crowding our streets, neighborhoods, parks and schools. The town council states that Netflix is the largest tax contributor . The town ignored the town ordinances to allow Netflix to build above the height restriction. Tax dollars which the town council has egregiously abused, and miss used. Such as spending 21 million dollars on a library when most libraries in San Jose cost the city approx 8 million to build. Spending 6 million on the land and construction of a sports park when Los Gatos has more soccer fields than you can count. The town council seems to be over developing our town to feed their need to over spend our tax dollars. Thank you Lee Quintana!! Keep it up!
Maria Ristow May 03, 2012 at 06:19 AM
Lee Quintana is passionate, principled, and selfless in her dedication to trying to retain what is best about Los Gatos. I am so pleased that her perseverance has resulted in forcing the town to follow the law and require an EIR for the Albright project. Aside from the importance for that project, it sets an essential precedent for all future projects. And P. Blake, I'd love to have a conversation with you about soccer fields. Not sure where you see them? Mostly borrowed baseball fields or gopher playgrounds.


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