Policy

 

Commitment to Our Semi-Rural Environment

As expressed in the Green Sheets, Preserving our Semi-Rural Environment, Serving the Residents and Fostering Community: The vision of our Town’s founders was to build a friendly, small town, semi-rural environment, “… with a neighbor from down the road on the council and control in our own hands, where it belongs”. The Town was founded on a vision of one acre lots, preserving our open space, and “rural pursuits” like keeping horses.  It is imperative we retain the attributes which attracted many of us to move to Los Altos Hills in the first place.  That means we must maintain local control of zoning (while ensuring we are building enough ADUs) and provide enough incentives in our zoning to meet the requirements specified by law to preserve our zoning and rural atmosphere to the greatest extent possible.

The rural pursuits include having pedestrian and equestrian friendly access to our beautiful environment for exercise and stress relief. And, of course, the right to have horses is something to be cherished.

 

Wildfire Risk

Wildfire risk seems to be the biggest issue facing the town today. The California climate has gotten hotter and drier. Los Altos Hills is in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) zone. Though we cannot do anything about the weather near-term, there is a lot we can do to prepare and insure that any fire that starts can be quickly contained and controlled. The National Fire Protection Association has a program called Firewise USA, Residents Reducing Wildfire Risks that helps neighborhoods increase the ignition resistance of their homes and communities. The effects of the threat of wildfires can be widespread. Some companies are already refusing to renew or write new fire insurance polices in Los Altos Hills. Working together to reduce the risk is imperative.

 

Budget and Town Hall Expansion

In the 2020/2021 budget, LAH has annual general fund revenue of just over $12M. The capital expenditures budget of $6,245,400 includes a large portion, $2,650,000, for a costly and inefficient Town Hall Expansion project to support adding just a few additional seats for staff growth.  The COVID-19 crises has shown that a substantial portion of staff can work remotely, at least part of the time. The outdoor equipment company REI recently announced that it would not be moving into its almost completed new corporate headquarters. Google is going to allow many employees to work remotely until 2021. Facebook is planning to allow 50% of all employees to work remotely by 2030. A lot can change as the nation evolves to the new normal. Do we really know what our requirements for staff space will be when this crises winds down? Spending on a Town Hall expansion at this time is not prudent. Fiscal discipline is especially critical now, given the financial uncertainty introduced by COVID-19.

 

 

Los Altos Hills County Fire District

The Los Altos Hills County Fire District (LAHCFD) was formed in 1939 and has done a good job of protecting our town from fires. The last major fire was the Liddicoat Circle fire, which was started by an arsonist, in 1985. It caused $9 M in damages. The 1991 Oakland Hills fire caused $1.5 B in damages. LAHCFD has $22 M of taxpayer money in reserve which should be used to develop a comprehensive plan to utilize the funds to bring down the threat of wildfires. Since local taxpayers funded the coffers, I think that the money should be spent to benefit those taxpayers. If we have an approved plan to use the funds to the benefit of all residents, it may make it more difficult for the county to take those funds and use them elsewhere, thus avoiding a hostile takeover of the fire district. Tens or hundreds of millions in damages could result from a wildfire, most likely greatly exceeding the money that would be spent to mitigate the danger. The Santa Clara County fire district has a vast area to oversee. The LAHFCD is laser focused on our immediate area and should continue to protect Los Altos Hills.

 

Los Altos Hills Committees

Public participation and resident input are foundational principles for our Town and it’s clear they desperately needed.  This town is filled with a multitude of smart, capable citizens volunteering their time to improve the town. They are engaged and informed and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience and perspective to provide valuable recommendations. It is an incalculable reservoir of historic and current knowledge. We would need many more employees to do the work of the large number of volunteers in Los Altos Hills and there is no way that they would have the long-term perspective and knowledge of the volunteers, many of whom have lived in town for 20, 30, or 40 or more years. I support them in their mission of collecting and providing resident input to the Council.

 

 

Public Education In Los Altos Hills

As with a lot of residents, I became more active in town once I had children. My children were attending Bullis-Purissima School when LASD shut down the last public school in Los Altos Hills. I joined other like-minded parents to fight for public education in the Hills. At one point LASD entered into a long-term lease with a preschool to occupy the Bullis-Purissima school site. As part of our effort to insure a public school in town, we picketed the school over a weekend and the preschool backed out of the lease. As a result, the site was available when LASD decided to open Gardiner Bullis Elementary School. Thus Los Altos Hills has a public elementary school in town now and Bullis Charter School has become a renowned public charter school, thereby giving residents more options for their children’s education.

 

Horses in the Hills

Picture a little girl leading a horse. The caption states “Never settle for the hamster!” This is the perfect meme for the bond between humans and horses, which has a long history. Horses can literally impact the human heart and help humans recover from trauma or disability. And humans naturally identify and horses and most react positively at just the sight of a horse. Look at the number of visual ads that use horses to attract attention and draw you in.

The right to keep horses was specifically called out in our founding documents. Riders in this town insisted that there be pathways. Thus, our wonderful pathway system was born. The Los Altos Hills Horseman’s Association works to insure that horses and pathways remain an important part of the culture of our town.

 

 

Administrative Oversight and Contract Renewals

More administrative oversight is needed to help the Town avoid issues, such as the large fee increases and service reductions in the new garbage contract. We cannot let contract renewals fall between the cracks.

The Greenwaste contract was signed with only one company bidding on the 15 year contract, even though the town knew three years before the previous contract expired that they needed to get an RFP out for bids. The contract changed the way that garbage, recyclables, and compost was picked up, resulting in the need for a large number of residents to roll their totes as much as 1/4 mile to the nearest collection point. The steep terrain and narrow roads can make this a harrowing experience and it has to be done twice each week, once to the collection point and then back to the residence. In addition, residents ended up being charged substantially more (sometimes 40% more) than under the previous contract, with another 9% increase coming in 3 1/2 years, and other built in 9% increases to come. Less service/higher charges led to discontent with the contract. The contract needs to be examined carefully, and if possible, renegotiated, so that any mistakes can be rectified and so that the same mistakes are not made again—in 13 1/2 years!

This year, an independent audit turned up $2M in deposits from residents which the Town failed to properly refund. Oversight is needed to make sure this type of error does not occur in the future.

 

Need for Searchable Database (GIS and Website Content)

I think it is imperative that a searchable database be developed to allow residents to search the Town website for needed information on rules, regulations, meetings, history, and more.  The Geographic Information System (GIS) needs to be finished to insure that accurate records of open space and pathway easements pertaining to parcels in town are available in order to streamline the ease of access and clarity and insure that accurate records are kept. Fortunately, notebooks of town history have saved information documented nowhere else. We live in the 21st century and can access a world of information. It is imperative that we be able to quickly access all pertinent information relating to each parcel in town. I consider it a very high priority.

 

 

 

Undergrounding of Utilities

The fire in Paradise, CA was started by power lines damaged by high winds. I think under grounding of utilities is prudent. Unfortunately, it is an expensive endeavor, so it would have to be done over a substantial period of time, prioritizing the most risky areas and lines. We need to explore options to pay for the work. PG&E may pay for half. Bonds are another way to come up with the money. If we never start the process, it will never be completed.