City Council

Los Altos City Council Minutes – May 8 – Shorter Buildings

Written by lalahpolitico

Kim Cranston announces his Record Act lawsuit at Los Altos City Council

Key Takeaway of  the Los Altos City Council Minutes

Ron Packard and Val Carpenter took their first step in the process to roll back the zoning in the downtown CRS district.  The path taken is to reduce the height limit from 30 feet  to a number TBD by staff, such that it guarantees a 2-story result.  At first it looked like Satterlee and Fishpaw were going to offer real opposition; but the Packard motion, seconded by Carpenter passed unanimously. At the end of the discussion of this item, Megan Satterlee asked that a city council agenda item be created to consider a similar investigation into lowering the CRS/OAD height limit.

HOW TO USE: We wrote the minutes under each agenda item. We also include the comments we made two weeks ago about each upcoming agenda item

Topics: CRS zoning 2-story limit, 40 Main Street, Sorensen, LAH crosswalk, Lyell condos, payday moratorium,  Commissions, hazardous waste plan


TUESDAY, MAY 8, 2012

7:00 P.M. – REGULAR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGCity Council Chamber, Los Altos City Hall

One North San Antonio Road, Los Altos, California

1. Recognition of Historical Commission Essay Contest Winners


2. Recognition of Donald McDonald, Historical Preservation Award Winner




LAP MINUTES: Three residents of Cambridge Square neighborhood – spoke against opening  Thames Lane to connect to the back of Egan.    One asked why the Berkeley report items remain undone.  Another said than in light of LASD agreement which will have Bullis Charter move off Egan by 2014, the opening of the alley  should not be pursued. Another compared the Egan rear to the Blach rear – the Egan alley is too secluded, too narrow;  it is not like the open visibility at Blach.

Several residents spoke against the proposed Covington-Miramonte traffic light. 1) Thanks for the making the Covington traffic light a May 22 agenda item 2) There are simpler solutions to make biking and walking safer 3) Is this for the driver in the car or the student on a bike?  Glad to hear it’s for the students.  What are the specific traffic issues?  Other devices like a queuing area, four crosswalks, etc. could address this issues. 4) Half of people hit at signalized intersections were walking with the green light. Speeding will make safety worse. 5) Dad and a 3 1/2 year old ride a bike to school safely now because of stop sign courtesy. A light removes courtesy. 6) Traffic light is not consistent with the character of a  Los Altos residential area;  it would impinge on privacy; it would hurt access to driveways.

One resident of Carmel Terrace-Eastwood supports the light at Covington-Miramonte.  The morning delays would be alleviated.  The light would be in 4 red mode most of the time.  It would be a 4 way stop mostly.

Kim Cranston announced a lawsuit against the City for violating the California Public Records Act.  He alleges the City refuses to release a memo which contains evidence that there were several developers who wanted to bid on the City property at First and Main, but were prevented from doing so.  His full document is here.

Susan Ambiel announced Bike to Work Day, Thursday, May 17. Come by the rest station 6:45 am to 8:30pm Foothill and Main.


PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:  If the residents from the Covington-Miramonte area come to comment again for 30 minutes it will be the 4th such visit.  At the end of the last meeting Mayor Val Carpenter asked to have an item about the safety of the proposed traffic signal be put on a future city council meeting agenda.  The item did not get on this agenda.



Council Minutes

1. Council MinutesRecommendation to approve the minutes of the April 24, 2012 regular meeting

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:  Minutes look ok.  A key point that was new to me:  any single-story residential construction plan that makes staff nervous ( even if conforming in every way ) can be referred by staff to the Design Review Commission (formerly Architecture & Site Review ).  We want to remember the Megan Saterlee voted against giving a $25K raise in annual retainer fee to the City Attorney – she really does seem to be a fiscal conservative.  The official minutes don’t bring this out. Also the minutes do not include that fact there was a request from council that staff attempt to set up a joint meeting between the entire council and the entire LASD board to help LASD with a 10th site, and other issues of mutual interest as soon a possible.


Crosswalks at Los Altos High School

2. Crosswalks at Los Altos High SchoolRecommendation to:
A. Approve the CIP Description for Almond Avenue and Gordon Way Improvements, Project 12-16
B. Appropriate $143,000 from the Capital Projects Fund for the new capital project, 12-16

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:   It’s a raised crosswalk with in pavement lights activated by a button.


Amendments to the Municipal Code regarding City Commissions

3. Amendments to the Municipal Code regarding City CommissionsRecommendation to introduce and waive further reading of Ordinance No. 2012-379 amending Chapter 2.08 of the Los Altos Municipal Code to establish the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, the Design Review Commission, and the Planning and Transportation Commission

LAP MINUTES: Council member Satterlee had this pulled out of consent. The Mayor made it item. 10a, to be before 10.

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO: This is also in Item 9 below. Notice the ordinance numbers are different.


Emergency replacement of sewer stand-by truck

4. Emergency replacement of sewer stand-by truckRecommendation to appropriate $37,000 from the Equipment Replacement Fund to replace a sewer stand-by truck subject to $26,000 in combined automotive collision insurance and salvage-value recovery

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent.

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:  Straightforward, as described above


Parcel Map for 36 Lyell Street

5. Parcel Map for 36 Lyell StreetRecommendation to approve the Parcel Map for 36 Lyell Street

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent. Fishpaw abstained as he owns property within 500 feet.

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:  This meeting agenda server as notice to the general public. I assume the direct neighbors have been noticed. Parcel is being subdivided for a three-unit condominium with variance.


Installation of a sculpture on State Street

6. Installation of a sculpture on State StreetRecommendation to approve installation of Torso 3 at State and Third Streets

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent.

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:  Sculpture looks better than most. Another female form.  Can the guys get equal visibility for the next one? Sidewalks are getting rather crowded with obstacles. Costs $1250.


Household Hazardous Waste Program

7. Household Hazardous Waste ProgramRecommendation to:
A. Approve the Agency Agreement for Countywide AB939 Implementation Fee
B. Approve the Agreement for Countywide Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Collection Program
C. Authorize the City Manager to execute the agreements on behalf of the City

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent.

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:  It will cost the city an additional $70K to  use the County.  There is some overlap with Mission Trail collection services though.  So the cost might be less, but county hasn’t given Mission Trail some approvals. This is an issue for Green Town Los Altos to look at.

General Liability Insurance Joint Powers Authority provider


8. General Liability Insurance Joint Powers Authority providerRecommendation to:
A. Approve membership in Bay Cities Joint Powers Insurance Authority and the purchase of General Liability insurance
B. Approve membership in Employment Risk Management Authority and the purchase of Employment Practices Liability insurance
C. Authorize City Manager to execute documents to become a member and to purchase insurance with Bay Cities Joint Powers Insurance Authority
D. Authorize City Manager to execute documents to become a member and to purchase insurance with Employment Risk Management Authority
E. Authorize City Manager to execute documents to withdraw from the current insurance provider, Association of Bay Area Governments Pooled Liability Assurance Network

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent.

PRE MEETING, LOSALTOSPOLITICO:The City is planning to change its insurance provider from ABAG to BCJPIA ( Bay Cities Joint Powers Insurance Authority).  Staff report says the later offers more for less and has more stable management.  The General Liability will cost approximately $248,000.  An optional Employment Practices Liability coverage would cost an additional $59,000.


Council Appointee to the Joint Community Volunteer Service Awards Committee

9. Council Appointee to the Joint Community Volunteer Service Awards CommitteeRecommendation to appoint Councilmember Casas as the Council Representative and Councillmember Packard to an unexpired term ending in 2013 to the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Joint Community Volunteer Service Awards Committee

LAP MINUTES: Passed in consent.

PRE-MEETING, LOS ALTOS POLITICO: In years past this committee used to be comprised solely of citizens.  Stuffing council members on it is something new.  Some people believe council is using it to reward supporters and punish critics. Ah, the smell of  political patronage at a small scale.




Payday lending moratorium extension

10. Payday lending moratorium extensionRecommendation to adopt Interim Ordinance No. 2012-380 extending a temporary moratorium on the establishment, expansion or relocation of payday lending and check cashing businesses within the City of Los Altos and declaring the urgency thereof

LAP MINUTES: Jolie Houston, City Attorney,  asked to have the moratorium extended for 90 days to allow to staff time to prepare the zoning to regulate pay day lender.  Satterlee asked why the extension was necessary.  Was the language written? Ms Houston replied that the the 45- day moratorium now in effect will expire May 25. She said that we need to take the language of the zoning ordinance to the planning commission on May 17, and back to the council for first reading on May 25, then adopt it at the next regular meeting. Then it would be effective 30 days later. That would be no sooner than June 22.  Fishpaw asked  Casas, who was the point person on council, if there was feedback from the community.   Casas said that LAVA chose not to weigh in, nor did the Chamber of Commerce.    Silicon Valley Foundation, the Day Worker Center , all support the Payday Lender zoning, he said.  He plans to reach out to all of the above once the language comes back to council.

OUTCOME: The extension of the moratorium for 90 days passed unanimously.

 PRE-MEETING, LOS ALTOS POLITICO:  It appears the City Attorney needs more time to develop the ordinances that would regulate the location and hours of possible future payday lenders (none in Los Altos at this time, though there is one across from Whole Foods).  The current moratorium on allowing any payday lender businesses in town expires on May 25.  It may be extended for up to 10 months and 15 days.  However, staff is asking for a 90 day extension of the moratorium.





Zoning amendments: Commission restructuring

11. Zoning amendments: Commission restructuringRecommendation to introduce and waive further reading of Ordinance Nos. 2012-381, 2012-382 and 2012-383 that would:
A. Amend Chapter 14.76 to create a new Design Review Commission responsible for single-family home design and variance applications
B. Amend Chapter 14.78 to merge the Traffic Commission responsibilities with those of the Planning Commission
C. Change all references to the Planning Commission in Chapter 13.12 – Tentative Maps and Chapter 14.80 – Use Permits to Planning and Transportation Commission, and delete Chapter 14.64 – Architecture and Site Review Committee and Chapter 14.82 – Variances

  LAP MINUTES: Asst. City Planner, Mr. Walgren gave the staff report.  The planning Commission reviewed the the zoning on April 19 and adopted their meeting minutes two weeks later. The minutes make recommendation to council. Ron Parkard asked about the recommendations from Planning.  Walgren said the most significant change was  to codify the practice of the pre-meeting.

The public speaker was Kitty Uhler, former Planning and A&S committee member. She is concerned that  with the Design Review Committee, which replaces the A&S Committee, appeals will go directly to Council rather than being routed through Planning as previously occurred.  She thought that getting consensus among 5 people rather than just 3 who were on a&S would be much harder.  She thought that the new Planning & Traffic commission would be hard pressed to review design.

Megan Saterlee said she would like to codify the design review process for commercial projects.  She was ok with the informal pre-meeting/ study session. Packard asked, would this be just planning involved or could it also involve council? Packard would like there  to be a the study session perhaps.  Saterllee does not think it is necessary for both planning and council to be involved. Saterlee would like to discuss making the early  design review for commercial projects mandatory.

Wahlgren spoke to the Garden Supply example.  The A&S responsibility will just move to P&T.  It take many more than one meeting.  He does have concern that if 2 meeting are codified, sometimes it just is not needed.  Some projects, such as Tyndall are very simple and non-controversial. If the developer knows he has a controversial project, typically he would take it to staff, take it to a study session review,  BPAC review, Planning&Traffic Commission Review, and then it would get up to City Council.

Val Carpenter had a question for Ronit Badner of the Planning Commission about the Planning Commission minutes. Badner said that 20 people from the public would come to a meeting, and the commission would not get to the design review step.  Also there was a desire not to require an expensive ,complete planning packet  to start inquiry about a project.  Also there was a desire to make sure no aspect of review – design, traffic, parking – got short shrift.  Hence, the recommendation for a pre-application study session for design review.

Packard asked does it have to be pre-application? He wants to let the applicant request it at any time in the process, including post-application. He suggests that either the applicant OR the staff request it, and that it not be required.

Val Carpenter wants to go on record that the staff mails notices. The applicants don’t do that.

Megan Satterlee moved to introduce the ordinances with revisions, including timing as either pre or post application, at staff or applicant request.

Megan brought up the 11pm end of planning meeting norm which was mentioned in the Planning Commission minutes. She asked that the PTC suggest some specific language for the Commission Handbook. Casas didn’t want one meeting to turn into three, because people weren’t being concise enough.  Council directed staff to make the planning norms consistent with council’s norms.

PRE-MEETING, LOS ALTOS POLITICO: The interesting part of the Staff report is the page 2 Planning Commission review:

– the P&T Commission will need training, like about the Neighborhool Traffic Management program

– the process should be a two-meeting process and be codified.  Step 1 a pre-application study sesssion

– considered asking Staff to handle residential variances, but the idea was dropped

– not in favor in having a contract architect or architectural firm advise on Design Review matter ( WE DISAGREE  WITH STAFF’S IMPRESSION THAT HERE WAS A LEVEL OF CONSENSUS AROUND THIS POINT)

-adopt a policy of ending Planning Meetings at 11 pm

COMMENT:   RE: “14.78.080 – Requirement for transportation review”


“B. Procedure. Projects subject to this section shall be reviewed in the following manner:1. The Bicycle and Pedestrian .-Advisory Commission shall consider the project/subject at a public meeting and shall act in an advisory capacity to the Planning and Transportation Commission on bicycle and pedestrian matters.

2. The Planning and Transportation Commission shall also consider the project/subject at a public meeting and act in an advisory capacity to the City Council on bicycle, pedestrian, parking and traffic matters.”

 Exceptions for Downtown zoning and two stories limitation

12. Exceptions for Downtown zoning and two stories limitation
Recommendation to direct City Attorney to prepare ordinances (a) amending existing zoning code so as to redefine exceptions to zoning requirements for downtown projects, and (b) restore and restate that the CRS zoning is limited to two stories. In order to avoid any conflict of interest for Councilmember Packard, these amendments are to apply only to new projects where the initial filing is after the final adoption of these proposed zoning changes, and these changes will not apply to the CRS/OAD zone


Packard says most of our zoning changes have been very good.  Paraphrasing, “I looked at the 5 year ago Downtown Committee Recommendations – they included downtown amortization, Packard Building, a new Safeway. Done!.”  Some of them went too far.

I am now sensitive to limiting the scope of an agenda item to avoid any conflict interests.  So when Downtown III was formed, I decided Val should lead it.  So please make sure that what we discuss now tonite [CRS zone] , not be extended to any zone where I have interests [CRS/OAD zone].

Megan asked what is the concern you have about the current height limit language vs. changing it to language that says 2-story. Packard replied that the the height limit language sets the wrong expectations among developers.  For example, with the Morris project, we came under pressure. “He was trying to get three stories for some supposed benefits that I considered marginal.”   It can lead to accusations of favoritism of staff or city council.

Megan: Today we have form based zoning. There is a 30 foot height limit with 12 foot on the first floor. What is  the negative you are avoiding from a 3 story building?

Packard: Before we used to have FAR [floor area ratio], 2-stories, and parking requirements to limit projects. Some projects like a boutique hotel, could have gone through a variance process.  I originally had other language, but the Mayor actually urged being explicit about 2-story.  I want to take a stand.

Val Carpenter said that the CRS zone was special.  She said she believed it was staff that actually introduced language to change the limit to 30 feet, not the Downtown Committee III.


A resident who lives a block away commended Packard and suggested that 2-story limits be extended to the CRS/OAD zone throughout the whole of downtown. “Los Altos has the nicest, cleanest, safest downtown,” he said.  “If someone wants a hardcore  urban experience they can go to Palo Alto or Mountain View.” Brooke Ray Smith of Pasarelle, Bill Maston a local architect developer, and Sue Russell spoke against the proposed zoning changes.


This discussion was long, tortuous and confusing. Council members played to the TV audience and made statements about what they did and did not want for downtown. ” I stand for this. I stand for that.”  Satterlee and Fishpaw, at first seemed to offer some opposition to Packard and Carpenter, strongly advocating for staying with modern “form-based” zoning. But in the end, Packard amended his motion, seconded by Val to just lower the form based height limit from 30 feet to some number that the city attorney and staff could pick – something that would guarantee a two-story result.

Ron Packard and Val Carpenter praised the “redevelopment” on Main and State being done by Al Hill and Pasarelle.  Lindentree was the example given. [LALAHPOLITICO: I would call Lindentree a facade-lift, not development.  Do you consider  new windows, new exterior cladding, and fresh paint and signage “development” or a minor remodel?]

Satterlee expressed concern that the language being used made it look like the outcome (a height and story rollback) was a foregone conclusion.  Packard and the City attorney extolled the long process that lies ahead as a form of transparency. Packard agreed to add language better defining what is a public benefit as suggested by a public speaker and Satterlee.

Satterlee wanted to send the issue of “height creep” as aptly nicknamed by Fishpaw to the PTC (Planning and Traffic Commission) in an open ended manner.  Packard wanted “to put a stake in the ground” and send actual zoning ordinance language to the PTC that would control the problem of developer “height creep”.  Packard won that one – zoning language will go the PTC next.

Casas warned Planning, and Jon Baer the PTC chair in particular, to expect a community outpouring and lots of  downtown parcel owner lobbying. Packard warned that a downtown owner who favors 3 stories and just filed a lawsuit was likely to lobby. [Packard must mean Kim Cranston].  Casas wanted the multi-step process not to be long and drawn out – because that just tends to “heighten emotions” rather than being conducive to a rational weighing in on tradeoffs. ( LALAHPOLITICO: no one would want the public process drawn out beyond Packard and Casas term limit in Nov.!)  They all referred to a downtown plan document created 20 years ago –that’s the vision they said.

At the very tail end of the discussion, Satterlee asked that this same “height creep” issue be taken up as a future City Council agenda item for the CRS/OAD zone  and ( Packard will be able to recuse himself as he owns property in the CRS/OAD zone.)

So, in 1, 3, or 5 weeks the item will appear on a Planning (PTC )agenda. After listening to the first round of community outpouring and property owner lobbying, they will then sent it back to council (with their valuable amendments) as a recommendation. At a regular council meeting, Council will have a first reading of the new zoning ordinance making some more amendments and/or rejecting those of the PTC.  At that meeting there will be another round of community outpouring and property owner lobbying. Council will vote to bring it back for a second reading. Then there will be a second reading at the next regular city council meeting. At that meeting there will be another round of community outpouring and property owner lobbying.  Once passed by council,  after 30 days it becomes law.

Everyone seemed much more concerned about process than about the outcome.

LOSALTOS POLITICO:  I don’t want process; I want justice and fair decision making.

OUTCOME: In the end, the amended motion passed unanimously. The City Attorney and Staff will write up a draft zoning ordinance which will jump through all those “meeting” hoops to fulfill the public process requirements.


PRE-MEETING, LOS ALTOS POLITICO: Rolling back CRS zoning to a 2 story limit is going to prevent the gradual redevelopment of downtown and kill the uptick in “vibrancy” downtown.  Also the proposal seems to be motivated by private benefit rather than concern for the general welfare.  See our post on Ron Packard vs. the Sorensen Project.

Los Altos Parks Plan

13. Los Altos Parks Plan
Recommendation to review the recommendations from the Parks and Recreation Commission and adopt the final Los Altos Parks Plan

MINUTES: Satterlee added a bullet point requesting “a decision be made about the Caretaker House” in Redwood Grove. Val Carpenter continued to express interest in a skate part to be located in the University Ave. neighborhood south of Lincoln park across from the churches.

PRE MEETING, LOS ALTOS POLITICO: About a month ago, the Parks Commission spoke at a meeting and said, more or less, that they felt cut out of the process of report creation.  They at least wanted an opportunity to review it as a group. Council was sensitive and caring and granted the request.  So now the Plan is back again, hopefully for approval with no or very minor changes.

 City of Los Altos/Los Altos School District Joint Special Meeting

14. City of Los Altos/Los Altos School District Joint Special Meeting
Recommendation to schedule a City/School District Joint Special Meeting and finalize the meeting agenda



Val Carpenter reported on attending the LASD meeting May 7, mainly to get closure on an agenda for the joint LASD-City Council meeting later this month.  LASD proposed these agenda items for the joint LASD-City Council meeting : legal considerations, Covington light, Egan Alley, LASD will supply data on how many might use the Egan back entrance, Webcasting.

Carpenter reported LASD board announced a tentative  agreement with BCS for the long term.  They will give Almond, Santa Rita, Bullis Gardner or Covington ( 10.5 voters) to BCS.  BCS will remain totally on Egan till the move.  They will raise a bond to build a 10th site.  EMC Research presented poll results which showed about 42% to 52% support. She observed that their poll results was worse the City’s results for its Civic Center bond measure poll.

Casas asked to have “eminent domain” added to the joint City Council -LASD board meeting agenda. Carpenter read from the LASD minutes of April 23, where the discussion said ” The board is not looking to use eminent domain for the needed 10th site, but hoping to work with each agency to help find a solution that would benefit the community.” Val said that is not the letter we asked for. Satterlee called the statement “Whisy Washy.”  Eminent Domain was added to the agenda for the joint meeting

Casas wondered what was the driver for the 10th site. The council agreed they could schedule the joint meeting for May 16 or May 29 at 5:30.  Those choices would be conveyed to the LASD board.

PRE-MEETING LOS ALTOS POLITICO:  After the brouhaha about LASD possibly exercising eminent domain on city-owned land, both groups want to be seen in harmony.  So there will be some political theatre here as they sing kumbaya.  But this is not just show and no substance.  LASD really does need help with its facilities planning and with trying to get Mountain View to help get a 10th site some day. Also the City Council needs to claim credit for all the things it REALLY ALREADY does to benefit schools and students. Also the City Council would like to do even more things FOR the schools and students and certainly deserves  recognition when it does so.  The problem: The City Council did not use the “benefits schools/students” “feature” to sell the Community Center Master Plan Phase I bond to the public.  And the bond poll results showed that. Next time it will do a better job marketing it to all population groups: seniors, tots, and students. Oh, and let’s not forget parents.





Satterlee is concerned that water rates are planned to go up 9% a year for 10 years.  Someone from the water district staff will be invited to present to council.


Fishpaw reported on the first meeting of the continuous retail committee of April 21st.  The meeting are open to the public and the next on is May 21st at 8am at 4 Main Street ( Ron Packard Law Offices.)


About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.