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News

Electrical shutdown scheduled today, tomorrow

PG&E is installing new electrical service to the 400 Main St. development project today, which will require the temporary interruption of electric services to several businesses located on First, Main and State streets in downtown Los Altos. PG&a...

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Schools

Community support pays dividends

Community support pays dividends


As a recent cover story in The New York Times Magazine revealed, getting low-income students into college is not enough to close the achievement/income gap. The percentage of low-income students entering college who actually earn a degree lags far ...

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Community

War veteran to visit D.C. memorial on Honor Flight

War veteran to visit D.C. memorial on Honor Flight


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos resident and World War II vet Earl Pampeyan is preparing for an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., next month.

Los Altos resident Earl Pampeyan is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., next month to vis...

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Sports

Making a splash

Making a splash


Courtesy of Clarke Weatherspoon
Stanford Water Polo Club’s under-14 boys team earned the bronze medal at the Junior Olympics. Front row, from left: Corey Tanis, Larsen Weigle, Nathan Puentes, Walker Seymour, Alan Viollier and Jayden Kunwar. B...

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Comment

Whom can you trust?: Haugh About That?

Waving my pink poodle skirt with all the fervor of a matador preparing to tease a raging bull, I blinked my 20-year-old eyes and gave a come-hither look to indicate, “I’m ready!” Little did I know that the blind trust I had in this ...

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Special Sections

Getting right by eating right: PAMF doctor's book addresses South Asian health risks

Getting right by eating right: PAMF doctor's book addresses South Asian health risks


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Dr. Ronesh Sinha, a physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, promotes healthful living among the South Asian population. His new book, “The South Asian Health Solution,” includes nutritious recipes.

When you think o...

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Business

From Google to First Street: Massage therapist sets up studio in downtown Los Altos

From Google to First Street: Massage therapist sets up studio in downtown Los Altos


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Upuia Ahkiong is slated to open Kua Body Studios next month at 106 First St. Ahkiong is sharing space with Evolve Classical Pilates.

A massage therapist with ties to Google Inc. is slated to open a new – and shared...

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Books

"Jack London" chronicles author's adventurous life


Much has been written about American author Jack London, primarily known for his early-20th-century Western adventure novels, including the classics “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild.”

In Earle Labor’s biography of the literary icon, “Jac...

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People

TIMOTHY WARREN WATSON (TIM)

TIMOTHY WARREN WATSON (TIM)

Born June 2, 1935, died peacefully on August 11, at home in Mountain View, surrounded by his family. He died of complications of Parkinson’s Disease after a courageous 15-year battle.

Tim was the beloved husband of 55 years to his college sweethea...

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Travel

Bergama bound: A visit to newest World Heritage site

Bergama bound: A visit to newest World Heritage site


Photo Eren GÖknar/ Special to the Town Crier
The amphitheater in Turkey’s ancient city of Pergamon, now known as Bergama, overlooks the Bakirçay River valley, left. The city’s ruins also include the Temple of Trajan.

It was 90 F during t...

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Stepping Out

TheatreWorks offers 'Spoonful' of drama beginning this week

TheatreWorks offers 'Spoonful' of drama beginning this week


Kevin Berne/Special to the Town Crier
Three strangers – “Chutes & Ladders” (Anthony J. Haney, left), Odessa (Zilah Mendoza, center) and “Orangutan” (Anna Ishida, right) – come together in an online support group in TheatreWorks’ regional premie...

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Spiritual Life

Spiritual Briefs

Meditation group meets at Foothills Congregational

A Weekly Meditation Practice group meets 7-8:15 a.m. Tuesdays at Foothills Congregational Church, 461 Orange Ave., Los Altos.

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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Local vault company keeps it Los Altos confidential

These days, there aren't many businesses that proudly declare that they don't use a computer, don't want your Social Security number and will personally meet you at 3 a.m. - no questions asked.

For Gerald Colombi, the owner of Los Altos Vault & Safe Deposit Co., this "Miami Vice"-like scene is not that hard to envision. Fact is, if you're one of his clients and you need access to your safety deposit box at 3 a.m., he or one of his employees will be there to meet you.

That's because Colombi runs his business on the basis of strict confidentiality - what you keep here is secure here - and your identity is no one's business.

To illustrate this, Colombi draws a sharp distinction between Los Altos Vault and banks, which ask for Social Security numbers to establish an account.

"You've got to give them the Social Security number," Colombi said. "The confidentiality is not there… Anyone who has a safety-deposit box at a bank is insane.".

Colombi provides insights into why a bank can't compete against Los Altos Vault.

"No one can get information from us unless they get a court order," he said. "We're so private, we don't even have computers."

The vault, located on First Street, opened in the spring of 2003 and has 4,000 safety-deposit boxes in 10 different sizes, as large as 6 feet high, 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

And business seems to be good.

"We're extremely busy this year and we have more (safety deposit) containers on order," said John Raymond, a vault account executive and former specialist involved in security at the national and military level.

"We're not obliged to say how much capacity is in use," said Raymond, when asked what percentage of those 4,000 boxes are rented.

Colombi, who also owns the Los Altos Mail Office downtown, had the idea to build a private vault more than 20 years ago.

"A man came in and mentioned that he was going on a three-month cruise and he had something that he didn't want to leave at home," Colombi said. "We locked it in our safe. Within two years, our safe filled up" with items belonging to other customers.

And, according to Colombi, his vault operation has another special attribute.

"This is the only one of its kind in the USA," he said. "We get calls from as far away as New York."

Posing a hypothetical question to indicate his tolerance for risk, Colombi said, "You want to put up the millions to build this place? If someone has $6.7 million, are they going to build this? You could lose your (expletive) in a hurry."

Steve Fick, president of Borel Private Bank & Trust Co., agreed with the risk involved in a private vault operation.

"It's a large capital investment, and it's a very specialized-use building," Fick said. "Enormous bank vaults are not as common as they used to be.

"Safety-deposit boxes take up real estate, and it's not as cost effective for a bank. There's a place for them. They (Los Altos Vault) have a variety of sizes that we don't offer. I have referred clients to them."

At a bank, Fick said, client Social Security numbers are confined to income earned on assets.

"Banks have client Social Security numbers," he said. "We report tax information as applicable, interest earned and paid. We don't report that a client has a safety deposit box."

Today if a person wants to open a safety-deposit box, the Homeland Security Act requires the bank to ask for identification and an address, and it must associate that information with a specific box, Fick said.

"As a federally insured bank, we have to do what the government tells us to do," he said.

But banks also operate under strict rules of confidentiality, not unlike Los Altos Vault.

"We don't allow anyone into a safety-deposit box unless they present a subpoena or court order," said Beth Nguyen, branch manager at Downey Savings in Los Altos. "We have to have legal documentation, even if it's a family member … and I'd have our corporate offices review it first."

Joanne Kavalaris, vice president and branch manager at Bank of the West, said that the bank doesn't have a copy of the safety-deposit box keys, further noting the confidentiality and security of maintaining a safety-deposit box at a bank.

The government "cannot come in unannounced," Kavalaris said.

After verifying a court order, Kavalaris said, "We arrange for a bonded locksmith to drill open the box. We don't have a copy of the keys."

At Borel, the scenario is the same.

"I'd need to see a court order," Fick said. "We just can't do it because (the government) says. We'd have to drill out the box. Our client has the key."

Regarding security, Los Altos Vault has it in spades, but you won't get any specifics from vault employees.

"We have security systems that I can't discuss," Raymond said. "We totally lock down."

With round-the-clock access, Los Altos Vault does seem unique.

"If somebody said to me, 'Open at 3 a.m.,' I'll have a police backup," Raymond said. "We're at risk. We don't allow ourselves to be in our TV commercials. There are some pretty heavy-hitters coming in here."

Los Altos Vault & Safe Deposit Co. is located at 121 First St. For more information, call 949-5891.

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