City Council

Los Altos City Council Minutes – April 24…

Los Altos Chamber of Commerce Building, University Ave.
Written by lalahpolitico

Los Altos Chamber of Commerce Building, University Ave.

Los Altos City Council Minutes April 24 101


1) Resident protest about the planned Covington-Miramonte traffic light continued for a third council meeting in a row. These citizens are paragons of grass-roots action. Council will put the item on the next council meeting agenda.

2) A home-owner who did not want her home, built in 1930, put on the Los Altos Historial Resource Inventory was granted her wish in this appeal. See our photo display below.

3) The citizen members of the city council ad-hoc retail committee  — a Packard-Fishpaw project to investigate how to reduce banking on Main Street to improve the retail experience – were located,  announced at this meeting, and approved… as was the $20K budget, largely for the City Attorney, Jolie Houston. Citizens now on the ad hoc retail committee are Scott Riches (sole volunteer from the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce), Deb Hope, and Gabrielle Tiermann.  At the Los Altos Village Association, the council ad hoc committee did not drum up any volunteers.

4) Residents of the Cambridge Square neighborhood spoke against Egan Junior High’s request to  re-open the rear entrance alley, closed since 1974.

5) City Council made a plan to call a special joint meeting between the entire Los Altos City Council and the entire Los Altos School Board. The primary goal is to work out how to best provide city expertise to LASD as it attempts to acquire land for a 10th school site. A secondary goal is to discuss several other joint city-school issues including : Egan traffic and parking, school busing, skatepark art, staggered hours, a shared contract for Granicus webcasting.  Ron Packard reported that LASD had publicly declared  at a LASD board meeting he had attended that it was not pursuing any eminent domain on city property. SEE A FORTHCOMING POST ON THE APRIL 23, LASD BOARD MEETING.

Full Agenda AgendaPacketAp24_2012 It is also available as single items on the city website here.

Los Altos City Council Minutes April 24 101


 Covington-Miramonte Traffic Light

This was the third time that residents from the Covington Miramonte intersection area appeared en masse during the opening public comments. This time they  took 30 minutes and presented a petition signed by over 300 residents objecting to the planned installation of a traffic light at the intersection.  They say over 80 percent within ½ mile oppose it. They believe the existing stop signs or maybe a roundabout would be safer for students going to Blach Junior High and St. Francis High School.  A public meeting about the engineering for the light will be held at Grant Community Center May 8.

All speakers were long gone, but at the end of meeting, council decided to add this issue to the future agenda.  That means these citizens will not be able to speak at the beginning of the council meeting at 7:30 but will have to wait till later for their item to come up.

Residents might want to watch for a downtown lecture on roundabouts expected in June or July, sponsored by

Los Altos City Council Minutes April 24 101


Items 4, 5, 6, 7 were initially pulled from the consent calendar. Item 5 was dealt with right away, while 4, 6, and 7 were pulled for discussion after regular discussion items.


1. Council Minutes
Recommendation to approve the minutes of the April 10, 2012 regular meeting


2. Revised Draft Scope for Parking Management Plan Request for Proposals
Recommendation to approve the revisions to the scope of services for the Parking Management Plan
Request for Proposals



3. Quarterly Investment Portfolio Report – December 31, 2011

BACKGROUND: The City has a very conservative portfolio and earns less than 1% on it.

Recommendation to review and accept the investment portfolio report



4. Ad-Hoc Contiguous Retail Committee

Recommendation to:
A. Receive the report;
B. Assign Committee-related work to the City Attorney as a special project; and
C. Engage one or more outside experts, as needed


The staff report says that committee membership will be
Ron Packard and Jarrett Fishpaw, council members,  as Chair and Vice-Chair
Scott Riches (Chamber of Commerce), Deborah Hope (retailer),
K. Gabrielle Tiermann (Senior Commission)

The staff report also says that the budget for the project is to be $20,000 to pay for the City Attorney time and also for outside experts selected by the Committee.


Megan Satterlee had some questions about the report on the ad-hoc retail committee. Packard responded that the committee would be developing an inventory of all non-confirming building and uses. For example, nail-salons may be a non-conforming use.  The focus would be the large businesses though he said.



HEARSAY YOU NEED TO HEAR: A Chamber member who was there when Packard presented the ad hoc committee’s project, said that the Ron Packard’s account of his meeting with the Chamber of Commerce as portrayed in the Staff Report on this agenda item was inaccurate.  The reception was not “rather warm” but was rather only polite.  When he called for volunteers from the Chamber to join the ad-hoc committee, there was a long silence. Finally, Scott Riches, a fellow church member at Ron Packard’s church, did volunteer. The chamber member said everyone at the Chamber of Commerce does like Scott and commends him for being a nice guy in general and also in respect to this call for volunteers. This reputable chamber member also reports that another chamber member “attacked” the whole effort of the retail committee and its messenger. In other words, the hearsay but reputable source suggests that support for the goal and methods of the ad-hoc retail committee is weak at this time at the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.


The reception was not “rather warm” but was rather only polite. One member “attacked” the effort.

5. Bicycle Transportation Account Grant Application

Recommendation to adopt Resolution No. 2012-10 authorizing the application for a $1,656,000 Bicycle
Transportation Account grant to design and construct the Miramonte Avenue Bikeway Improvement Project


A Miramonte resident asked to speak on the item. He simply requested that the neighborhood be kept in the loop about the design.  David Casas replied that the funds from the grant would not be in hand till 2013-2014, so there was plenty of time for public design review.  The item was put back in consent.




6. Commission and Committee Handbook

Recommendation to approve the revised Commission and Committee Handbook


When the item came up, Megan Satterlee wanted the language about standing committees clarified.  The intent was that no body other than the city council should be able to establish a standing committee. Commissions can continue to establish temporary, single topic ad hoc committees, but can no longer set up permanent sub-committees as in the past.




7. Agreement for Legal Services

Recommendation to approve the Agreement for Legal Services with the City Attorney


Megan Satterlee objected to raising the retainer for city attorney Jolie Houston from $13K a month to $15K.  She said she realized that the new contract had raised the hourly to $300, but hadn’t realized that the retainer was going up as well. She said this was almost $25K extra for the year. She said, “ I really am a fiscal conservative.”



Los Altos City Council Minutes April 24 101



8. Youth Commission Reappointments and Appointments


One-year reappointments for Claire Johnson and Kyle Walden
Two-year reappointments for Elaine Cole and Kavi Meta
Two-year appointment for Megha Agarwal and Cole Brinsfield


9. Commission Appointments




Public Arts Commission
First year term expiring in Feb. 2015 – Maddy McBirney
Term ending in Feb. 2013 – Michael Shafran


*Design Review Commission – Hold appointments pending new ordinance. Pls Apply!
Planning & Transportation Commission – Hold Appointments pending ordinance


Discussion: Ron Packard made a pitch to everyone out there watching the meeting on the TV/PC to please apply for Design Review. LALAHPOLITICO: There were only 3 applicants for 5 seats. Two of these were from current planning commissioners, while the 3rd is Ken Lorrell’s  friend Phoebe, who is a former commissioner.



Is this Los Altos Home destined for the Historical Resource Inventory?

10. 166 Hawthorne Avenue – Historic Resource Designation


Recommendation to uphold the Historical Commission’s designation of 166 Hawthorne as a Historic Resource.



DISCUSSION:  The owner has lived in the 1930 tudor style home since 1985, and raised her family there.  She said she had previously used an attorney friend to oppose the original designation, but was advised she may have lost that round because she and her husband did not speak for themselves.  She was surprised to learn that as the “applicant” she had 10 minutes, not just the 3 she was expecting.  She used them wisely to explain that no person and no event of note ever had anything to do with the home.  Furthermore the building had been moved from Pepper Lane to Hawthorne in the 1964.  There is no way it could be of historic interest.  Futhermore, it was just a typical tudor style of the 30’s, though attractive, it was of no special architectural merit.


She also argued economic hardship. Someday she might like to leave it her heirs, and they might need to expand it or modernize it. She might need to sell it, and her research suggested that an HRI designation can take 25% off the value of a property.  It is hard to get comparables for HRI properties, and buyers don’t like the risk.


The council was sympathetic. They explained that in 2008 or so they had asked the Historical Commission to actively seek properties to increase the Los Altos Historical Resource Inventory.  Before 2008 a property could be inducted just because an “important” person or event was associated with a property and place.  It could be ugly and of very common architecture. Then in 2008 or so the evaluation method changed. Architectural merit was a consideration that was added to evaluation of properties for inclusion into the HRI.  So now unique or rare examples of architecture, even without historic associations, can be preserved non-consentually.


Or maybe this home is destined for the Los Altos Historical Resource Inventory?

Val Carpenter’s first commission was the Historical Commission.  She says Los Altos really needs a history. Less than 1% of our structures are on the HRI. One member of the historical commission, whose opinion she really values, had sent an email  to her saying that so many changes to the original home had already been made, and in the face of a reluctant owner, she did not support an HRI.  So Carpenter said she was “torn.”


Packard said,” I am relieved to hear that.”  The chamber chuckled loudly. He talked about Preservation vs. Property Rights.  “When is something is really historic, I’m willing to take a stand on that, but when it’s more marginal…” It’s a charming house …but it’s a decent size lot … someone might want to tear it down…like what happened on my block just last month.


Council as a whole was of the opinion that although Hawthorne had some architectural interest, it was not enough to include it in the HRI.  In fact, council thought the Historical Commission may have been too zealous in adding properties to the HRI on this basis.  This was another case, where a Commission had exceeded the intent of council (For example, Council has stated in the past that the Traffic Commission had been overzealous in its granting of NTTP’s to neighborhoods, pitting one area against another. The whole topic of NTTP’s is to be revisited the future.)


Or how about this classic beauty for the Los Altos Historical Resource Inventory...

EDITORIAL COMMENT:  Unless you like the “status-symbol” of an HRI designation, be careful about buying an old house anywhere in the US.  Check out the nature of the historical or preservationist elements in the town before buying. (You can always build a very nice reproduction of any old home you wish, complete with new electrical, plumbing and HVAC, and LEED certification too)


11. Letter from Los Altos School District  – Consider opening Alley behind Egan to connect to Cambridge Square cul-de-sac/loop neighborhood


BACKGROUND: Car, bike and pedestrian traffic is a problem at both junior highs in Los Altos. At Egan there are further complications because Bullis Charter is housed there.  There was a bike-car accident only a couple months ago.


DISCUSSION: At least 10 neighbors showed up to protest the idea of opening the alley.  Apparently the 10-foot wide 100-foot long alley was closed per the recommendation of the police chief in 1974 because it attracted youth mischief.  After a few years, one of the abutting neighbors moved his fence 10 feet over, incorporating the strip of land into his lot in order to more easily maintain it. The various residents collectively made the case that their neighborhood could not accommodate car traffic, and such traffic would cause accidents when pedestrians, bicyclists and cars all tried to use the alley at the same times of day. Also there was a worry that youth mischief would return.


Megan Satterlee said that LASD would have to “show her the data” that suggested that opening the alley would actually be helplful.  She pointed out that the alley was NOT one of the recommendations in the year-old Berkeley study of Egan traffic.


David Casas said that the alley was city property and either LASD or the Cambridge homeowners should buy it. Use it for a community garden was one of his suggestions. One neighbor claimed during the meeting break that the strip was privately owned. Megan Satterlee said the city had done the title search, and that was not the case.


Other council ideas for improving traffic safety at Egan included, staggered hours for the school (Satterlee), a 2nd sidewalk (Fishpaw), a busing program (Carpenter), and helping LASD find a long-term facilities solution for Bullis-Charter so it could move out of Egan.


OUTCOME: Council directed staff to explore the options and provide a recommendation to council. In particular, the direction was to review the Berkeley study, ask LASD to provide data on the benefits of opening the alley, and to explore all alternatives for improving Egan traffic, such as school buses.



It’s nice to see the neighbors in the Cambridge Square neighborhood united against a common threat and speaking to each other.  This is the neighborhood that lost a single-story overlay attempt by one vote in 2008.  There have been no other overlay attempts in the City of Los Altos after this close loss. (The City tightened its oversight of the boundary setting process – to avoid gerrymandering during this particular overlay process.)


12. Debt Capacity Analysis Report of the Financial Commission


BACKGROUND: Originally, this study was conducted by the Financial Commission to help the City fund the $16M city hall building that was supposed to be part of Phase I of the Civic Center Master Plan. About $10M would have come from reserve funds, about $6M for this small general obligation bond.  Now that the bond measure election has been tabled for 2012 because of the unfavorable poll results, this G.O. bond might help to finance repairs to the Hillview Center and other civic center buildings instead.


DISSCUSSION: The council probed the assumptions. Vacant city positions are assumed to remain unfilled for several years.  All anticipated large payments to CALPERs are accounted for.  The interest rate to be paid on the bond is assumed to be over 5% even though today, the prevailing rate is under 4%.  Revenue is forecast to rise modestly.


The report suggests that $500,000 a year would be affordable and not too risky for the city.  Even at $500,000, the city’s debt to income ratio, compared to other near by conservative towns, like Los Gatos or Saratoga, would be significantly lower.


Packard suggested that by placing such a bond privately with a few local wealthy individuals, the city could get more favorable terms, raising more like $8M for the same



PUBLIC SPEAKER: Jerry Madea urged the City not to go into debt. Remaining debt-free and operating on a pay-as-you-go basis for capital projects was a real positive.  David Casas replied that sometimes a bit of debt allows one to seize an opportunity. “Debt is a tool.”


OUTCOME:  The report was ACCEPTED


13. City/ Schools Issues Standing Committee and also Future Agenda Items




The council decided just another meeting of the usual standing committee  (Casas and Fishpaw from council with two LASD board members, etc.)  was not good enough. Instead the council decided to call a special meeting between the full council and the full LASD board, primarily in order to offer better assistance to LASD in finding a 10th site.  Other items will also be covered at this joint special meeting: skateable art at junior highs, staggered school schedules to ease traffic problems, a 2nd side walk at Egan, paying for LASD web-casting, and also a school busing pilot program among others.





Future Agenda Items:


a)     Here at the end of the council meeting is when Val Carpenter suggested adding the Covington-Miramonte traffic light issue to the next city council agenda.  She pointed out the residents had delayed the start of regular meetings with over 30 minutes of comments for three council meetings in a row.  She asked that the item be agendized so that council could have a public discussion of the safety pros and cons of traffic lights in general and in this specific application. The neighbors made claims and gave citations on why lights are not safety improving; that should be discussed. Packard said he would pick student safety over property value of the owners and motorist safety, depending on the findings.  He would be willing to put a HOLD on the project if the council were not convinced a signal improved safety. Satterlee said: Right now there is confusion about the safety benefits of this traffic signal project.  The scheduled meeting at Grant Community Center where City Engineer Gustafson will present the signalized intersection designs will go on as scheduled.  Council stated that motorist throughput at the intersection is not a goal; student safety is. LALAHPOLITCO: Looks like the burden or proof of safety of the light is now on Staff and Engineering

b)    Packard asked that staff evaluate if in the future, project plans for non-residential should include 3-D renderings from a variety of angles. Palo Altos requires this and it helps staff, planning, council and stakeholders to better assess the look, feel, and mass of a proposed project
EDITORIAL COMMENT:  To promote government transparency, for these large private projects ( some basic 2-D site plans, floor plans, and exterior renderings should be made available electronically and be easily found on the city web site for everyone.  We say do that first before requiring 3-D of developers.  The city is not using the resources it is has now to help the public understand proposed changes. Why bother to require 3-D?  Just for Staff, Council and the Planning Commission’s exclusive use?



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.

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