City Council

Los Altos City Council — Our Feb. 28 Minutes…Seating All Commissioners

Written by lalahpolitico

Blending of the 7 member Traffic Commission and the 7 member Planning Commission probably will not eliminate the “seats” of any current commissioners, but may change them. Here are the essential highlights and some analysis of the Los Altos City Council meeting Tuesday, February 28.

10. Proposed Planning and Transportation Commission–
Outcome: Planning & Transportation are combined. A Commission was added.

a. Planning and Traffic are combined to be a 7 member commission. Their scope is all commercial and multifamily development, including building and parking plans and variances.  All traffic concerns– such as the Collector Master Plan and Downtown Parking Planning — are here except for bicycle, pedestrian and school  traffic issues. All current commissioners of both commissions will have to reapply, except that  chairs Baer and Chiang were recently reappointed.

b. The Bicycle, Pedestrian and Advisory Committee  (BPAC) was promoted to a full Commission reporting directly to City Council.  It is a 7 member commission.  Its scope is all bicycle and pedestrian traffic issues as well as school issues (administering the Safe Routes to School projects and similar activities).

c. A Design & Review Commission consisting of 5 persons will review single-family residential designs and variances was added during discussion. All 2-stories come before it and also those single-story plans which staff feels need extra review. It reports directly to council.  Megan Saterlee advocated separating the land use policy  specialists (Planning & Traffic) from design review specialists.  She convinced the rest of council.

The city will hire one or more architects to be available on a consulting basis to the commission.

The city will provide land use and traffic training to the new P&T Commissions

Next Steps: The city attorney said it would take 6 weeks to write the new zoning ordinance, which should then be reviewed in a regular council meeting. The ordinance will next have to be taken to the regular Planning Commission meeting by state law.  She estimated 2 1/2 to  3 months before the new ordinances and reorganization would be finalized.  The city clerk will be running ads about the vacancies and the application process.

Public speakers

Jeannie Bruins of the Planning Commission voiced concerns about the reorg process. She said only 4 out of 21 people on affected commissions (Planning, Traffic, BPAC) were consulted.  Also missing was information from the planned study of how other cities were succeeding or not with blending Planning and Traffic groups. Problem: the study hasn’t yet been conducted.

Jim Fenton, a member of  BPAC, said  that according  to  the number 1 issue of concern to Los Altans (at least those belonging to LANN) was traffic. He wondered how the council could brush aside the unanimous sentiment of all Traffic Commission and BPAC members that traffic required separate focus.

Editorial Comment: Rejoice!
Room for All Current Commissioners in New Set-up

The elimination of the 7 member Traffic Commission and the 7 member Planning Commission probably will not eliminate the “jobs” of any of the 12 or 13 current commissioners. The new setup has 12 slots – 7 on P&T and 5 on D&R. But there are only 12 unique individuals on the two old commissions. (We assume that J. Davidson, who is terming out later this year, won’t bother to reapply.) So there is no shortage of slots.

We predict that since J. Baer is on both Traffic and Planning, he has a safe seat on the new P&T because the city council confirmed him as Planning Chair a couple of weeks ago.  J. Chiang probably also has a safe seat on the new P&T because the city confirmed him as Transportation Chair a bit after Baer. Bill Crook is currently on Transportation and BPAC and will probably be tapped as a traffic policy expert for the new P&T.  J. Davidson terms out this year and may not bother to reapply to finish his term.  That leaves 4 vacancies on the new P&T.

The city created a new five-member Design and Review Commission.  We predict that current planning commission members K. Lorrell and Jeanie Bruins are shoo-ins.  Alika Junaid and Ronit Bodner are also likely winners. That takes care of 4 of the 5 slots.  We could see either or both of current planning members Jerry Moison and Michael Abrams moving to the new P&T. That still leaves 2 vacancies.  It seems natural to slot current Traffic Commissioners M. Gallagher and Pierre Pasturel into P&T. All done.

Or Tune up the new and improved P&T for more “Growth Suppression?”

Of course, since the Los Altos City Council is requiring all current commissioners to reapply  (except perhaps for Baer and Chiang), they could take the opportunity to “tune” both commissions. P&T is especially powerful.  Council members Ron Packard and David Casas are terming out this fall, so we expect them to form an opinion block with Val Carpenter during commissioner selection.  We expect they will be looking for applicants with demonstrable “growth suppression” credentials and “village-character” tastes.

“Tell Me I’ve Got Great Design Instincts!”

The P&T commission is now chaired by Mr. Baer. It concerns us that the P&T commission, as part of the restructuring, will be able to select their own consulting architects. We worry that this (these) architects will tell the commissioners what they want to hear.

Read the coverage of this topic on


6. 15 mph at Schools: The matter of whether or not to do a trial run of 15 mph speed limit signs at a single school ($2000) was referred to the Transportation Commission. The Los Altos City Council wanted to refer it to BPAC, but the BPAC Chairman, Bill Crook, advised not to do so.  He worried that because of attendance issues with BPAC in the next couple of months, there would not be a quorum of 4 needed to conduct a meeting. He anticipated the meeting would be heavily attended and didn’t want to disappoint the public at the last minute.

7. Intersections Update: The matter of re-prioritizing problem intersections for intervention was referred to BPAC. This is just report creation, not a meeting, so a quorum was not an issue.

8. Homestead Trader Joe’s Traffic Light: The council will accept the $600K grant to make the pedestrian, bicycle and other traffic safety improvements. Detail planning starts now, readying for construction by fall.

11. Library San Antonio Entrance: There is a chronic problem with traffic backing up on San Antonio, when  cars parked by the main library entrance execute 3 point turns to exit where they entered, rather than drive out and around to Hillview. Therefore, Council approved a final plan to eliminate the first three parking spaces by San Antonio, and to make the angle parking steeper for the remaining spaces by San Antonio. The final plan removed 3 parking spaces which would have been back to back with the 2-minute parking spaces. BPAC and others deemed the dual backing up to be unsafe.  BPAC also believed that adding a cross-walk  in the middle of the lot would give pedestrians a false sense of security, and thus increase their risk.  However that element is being included.


The good news was that all revenue sources were up 3% or more over the same six months last fiscal year. The Finance Director forecasts  1 to 2% revenue growth for the entire fiscal year. The Los Altos City Council approved a number of uses of excess reserves (this is the amount originally budgeted minus the amount spent; it’s the amount left unspent).

The most interesting uses of excess reserves: An improved meeting broadcast contract with the provider, Granicus.You can now download council meetings in MP4 (video) or MP3 (audio) and view them on your mobile device. There is consideration of adding LASD meetings to the Granicus contract in the future.

Also interesting were some Prudent IT Network purchases given the very recent IT Manager termination. (The guy was fired because he falsified $30K of expense reports.) The city will conduct a “network audit.” This means they will hire computer security experts to do a penetration test of the network and servers (set up by the terminated employee and hence perhaps vulnerable … at least to his exploits). The city will also hire a contractor to act as IT Manager (both items about $150,000 total).

Also coming is a roll-out of a new document management system (the first $30K of a $90K contract).  Rejoice that the documents  managed are “legislative” — all the staff reports, agendas, minutes, packets.  Over a couple of years this should make it easier for staff, and, later, the public, to search for documents and public records pertaining to issues.  Right now it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. The .pdfs are not indexed internally by the city and certainly not by internet search engines.

Another $40K was moved from reserves into the Community Center Plan bond consulting.  The Town Crier,  in an editorial urging deferring the Community Center till at least after fall council elections, had reported that $450K had been spend on the project as of Jan-Feb 2012.  Now its up to $490K. 

Some reserves were used to continue to pay down some pension obligations.

EDITORIAL COMMENT- Some IT Software Investment At Last!

We are delighted that the City of Los Altos is spending some cash on its IT.  Only when it more fully automates its internal operations can we citizens expect the kind of “transparency” being delivered by the big guys: Seattle, Chicago, NYC. Go take a look at those web site to see what transparency Los Altos can aspire to.

This is much better use of $250K than another $500K per year, each, for “street resurfacing” or “sewer root treatments.”


The Finance Director presented the status of some 54 projects. Council member Megan Saterllee observed that there were 8 projects on the books, all at least 3 years old, that had spent only 18% of their fund. She asked about the progress on what she called “CIP metrics” which would help “avoid getting into this situation again.”  Here at Los Altos Politico we think that means having funds sitting there for 3 years doing nothing (except earning  0.01% interest perhaps).

The Finance Director recommended not “soliciting”  any new projects this quarter other than those already recommended.  There was discussion on what that meant, and it turned out that the council could still originate new projects under this recommendation.  It just means that other entities and the public could not originate projects for the quarter.

Council member David Casas asked that 2 new projects be put on the agenda for the June update to the CIP, not on this one. Those projects would be 2 small traffic safety projects for the two junior high schools, Egan and Blach.  A student was recently injured by a car while exiting Bullis-Charter located at Egan.

David Casas complimented the Finance Director, saying he deserved an award for transparency in budgeting. Los Altos Politco agrees–very clear reporting.  If only it were available in Excel! Icing on the cake would be XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language, required for financial reporting by the SEC, essentially XML for accounting data). Perhaps the city is waiting for the XGRL (extensible Government Reporting Language) standard to be approved by the ISO.

14. Agenda Items for the City/Schools Committee –

Skateboard Elements, Hillview an LASD Asset, Broadcast of LASD Meetings,
Fields Maintenance, Staggered Junior High Schedules

The committee consists of representative from the city councils of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills and also of the Los Altos School District (LASD).   Mayor Val Carpenter asked to add the idea of having the city build skateboard elements  at school sites. Council member Megan Saterlee asked if the junior highs would consider having staggered schedules like at high school, to reduce the traffic congestion. Megan also asked to have the idea of using the  4 acre Hillview School site as an asset for LASD and Bullis Charter School facility planning. (A recent closed session of council had directed David Casas to meet with LASD about possible school sites.)

15. Approved Hiring of New City Manager

Council unanimously approved the  employment contract which included a $193,000 salary with 4 weeks vacation and 12 days of sick time. (For Monica Somer’s bio see the agenda item on the city council web site in the area called “Archived Videos” for Feb. 28.) She’s been Assistant City Manager at Danville for the last 19 years.  There she has had experience with large city-owned capital projects similar to the $140 million  Los Altos Community Center that the current Los Altos city council wants to move forward on.

9. Parks & Recreation Survey

The speaker presented a plan to mail postcards with a unique ID to all Los Altos households. The card would ask the recipient to go online to and take a short survey.  The speaker said the purpose of the survey was to ask people who don’t use the Recreation Department program offerings, why they don’t.  Mayor Val Carpenter said the mailing should go to a sample of the population, not everyone.  That was a waste of postage. She also said that there was only one question about reasons for NOT using the recreation department. She volunteered to help them improve their questionnaire.  She thought the budget should be reduced to $1,000. Ron Packard advocated for  $2,000 budget and that was the budget that passed.


We notice that the questionnaire does not explore the competition facing the Los Altos Recreation Department. It’s not just  that our residents are too busy to take art, dance, exercise, yoga, painting, writing, photo, … classes.  It’s just they they use other providers: Community School of Music and Arts, Mountain View Rec., Palo Alto Rec., community college courses, private yoga schools, private dance schools, church programs, and on and on. Find out which providers they are using and what they like about them. Then try to imitate those services where feasible.


As has been covered in the local newspapers, the Avery headhunter firm ran the search. There were 60 resumes submitted. Mayor Val Carpenter said that the Chamber of Commerce and LAVA gave input to an ideal candidate “profile.”  According to the newspapers, the 2 finalists were interviewed by Council, some staff, and a “community panel”  here in Los Altos. The five council members all trooped over to Danville to interview the 15 people in Danville.


We’d like to see the “profile” of the ideal candidate that Avery  headhunting firm was working with. We’d like to see the names of the persons on the “community panel.” Unfortunately there was no detail on this during the council meeting.


Open a discussion about an exemption to the rule of selling no items on city property.













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.