Sat12202014

News

Council seeks more options for community center

Council seeks more options for community center


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos City Council approved an appropriation to examine options for a new community center to replace the aging Hillview facility.

The Los Altos City Council last week voted narrowly in favor of examining further opti...

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Schools

Local schools participate in  national Hour of Code activities

Local schools participate in national Hour of Code activities


Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
Himan Shu Raj, a volunteer from Microsoft, advises Los Altos High ninth-graders, from left, Serhat Suzer, Jamie Bennett and Chris Yang as they participate in the school’s Hour of Code Showcase.

Local schools participa...

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Community

Take a dive into the holiday archive

Take a dive into the holiday archive

Town Crier staff made a quick cruise back through the newspaper's archives to find some late-December reading as inspiration for eating, drinking, decorating and more:

Beloved holiday books build the spirit of the season and staff at Los Altos’ Li...

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Sports

Pinewood poised for another title run

Pinewood poised for another title run


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Pinewood’s girls basketball team is receiving contributions from several new players, including freshman Stella Kailahi, above.

Complacency shouldn’t be a problem for the defending Division V state champion Pinewood S...

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Comment

Letters to the Editor

Ticket motorists for U-turns on Main Street

As I was walking downtown on Main Street recently, something came to me out of the blue. The town of Los Altos is missing out on a huge revenue stream. I realized that if all the cars – there were th...

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Special Sections

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead


s in line to be mayor of Mountain View in 2015.

Mountain View anticipates the following changes in 2015:

• Beginning Jan. 1, Mountain View City Councilmembers will receive a raise to $1,000 per month as a result of the passage of Measure A in...

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Business

Your 2015 stock market game plan

It’s been a maddening month because of oil and gas, especially in stocks and bonds. Then, consumer spending pushed stocks higher Thursday, easing investors’ jitters about the global economy and prompting them to consider how to invest in ...

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Books

Gawande's

Gawande's "Being Mortal" proves an important book on aging


Books about death and dying are usually not on my list of “must reads.”

I couldn’t resist, however, the best-selling “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” (Metropolitan Books, 2014) by Atul Gawande.

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People

SANGEETA SACHDEVA

SANGEETA SACHDEVA

Sangeeta Sachdeva, 55, wife of Subhash Sachdeva and mother to Natasha and Tanya, died at 8:54pm, Sunday, December 7, 2014 from respiratory failure.

Sangeeta was born on October 18, 1959 in Delhi, India. She was born to Moti Sagar and Raj Kapoor an...

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Travel

South Tahoe renovations enhance off-mountain seasonal fun

As any enthusiast knows well, there is more to the enjoyment of winter sports than skiing or snowboarding.

While many winter resorts make minor upgrades each season, the off-mountain attractions and amenities can be as enticing as the activities on ...

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Stepping Out

Aurora Singers to emit 'Musical Glow' Friday

Aurora Singers to emit 'Musical Glow' Friday


courtesy of Aurora Singers
The Aurora Singers are scheduled to perform a seasonal concert Friday night in Palo Alto.

The Aurora Singers’ “Winter’s Musical Glow” holiday concert is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pal...

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Spiritual Life

Enter the superhero: Finding the God who loves you

In my life-coaching practice, I see a lot of pain. Much of it stems from fear and guilt, often expressed as low self-esteem, anxiety, a lack of forgiveness both for oneself and others, anger – and so on.

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Magazine

Christmas At Our House home tour celebrates 26 years

Christmas At Our House home tour celebrates 26 years


Courtesy of Christopher Stark
Homes on the St. Francis High School Women’s Club’s Christmas at Our House Holiday Home Tour showcase a variety of architectural styles.

The days grow short on sunshine but long on nostalgia as the holidays approach...

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Council nixes call to halt plan for First & Main

Photo Courtesy Of Jeffrey A. Morris GroupThe Los Altos City Council reaffirmed its commitment to the Jeffrey A. Morris Group’s plan for First and Main streets, above." A majority of the Los Altos City Council last week defended its agreement with the Jeffrey A. Morris Group to buy and develop the city-owned 400 Main St. property after a resident questioned the fairness of the purchase price.

During an April 23 council update on Morris’ plans to build a two-story mixed-use project on the 0.78-acre site, Los Altos resident Robin Abrams asked the council to halt the project and re-examine whether the city received full value for the land.

Abrams noted that her research on commercial property sales in the downtown triangle revealed 13 transactions ranging from $173 to $560 per square foot, compared with the $91 per square foot the city negotiated in the September 2010 land sale to Morris for $3.1 million. Abrams added that the land-only values of the properties she researched averaged $198 per square foot. All of the sales in question, she said, occurred between May 2008 and August 2011.

“My presence here tonight is in no way intended to put anyone on the defensive,” Abrams told councilmembers. “My goal tonight is to request, based on these comparable sales … (to) suspend the approval process, take no further action until as a council you’ve had the opportunity to get financial and legal advice, (and) retain independent financial advisers and counsel to help in this process.”

Abrams noted that she brought the information before the council because she was interested in “the increased viability downtown,” and added that the project piqued her interest after Councilwoman Jan Pepper openly questioned the deal’s final purchase price during a February council meeting.

At the time, the city was negotiating the purchase of a 716-square-foot strip of land from Santa Clara County – at $125 per square foot – on behalf of Morris to complete the project. Pepper, noting that the $125-per-square-foot price would bump the overall sale price of the land from $3.1 million to $4.3 million, then asked whether there was still room to renegotiate. City Attorney Jolie Houston cautioned the council that attempts to renegotiate the sale price of the land could potentially expose the city to “some liability.”

Council reactions

Following Abrams’ presentation, Pepper reiterated her stance from the February council meeting. Pepper, who joined the council after Morris’ purchase agreement and project were approved, told her council colleagues she had a fiduciary responsibility to “make sure that we’re not making a large gift here.”

“When I see this kind of information that’s been put together, it makes me very concerned that – I mean, we definitely undersold this property,” she said.

Councilwoman Megan Satterlee, however, noted that receiving maximum dollar value for the property wasn’t the sole factor in the previous council’s decision to sell the land to Morris. Among other things, Satterlee noted the struggles of other projects getting off the ground – both in Los Altos and neighboring cities – during a time of economic turbulence.

“What we wanted to do when we sold this property was to make sure we got something built. … We wanted to make sure we ended up with a finished product,” said Satterlee, who also questioned whether Abrams’ research took into account land entitlement issues, such as land-use and height restrictions.

“The economy has changed,” Satterlee continued. “If we were negotiating this deal today, I think we’d come up with a different deal. But we’re not negotiating it today. We negotiated it two-and-a-half years ago. And I, for one, plan to stand by my word.”

Councilwoman Val Carpenter agreed with Satterlee’s assessment, adding that since the city purchased the property in 1995, “no viable projects came before us – 15 years that land sat there.”

A city-commissioned legal opinion of the agreement with Morris, completed in November 2011 by Burke, Williams and Sorensen, LLP, concluded that the city exceeded its legal obligations in selling the property, calling Morris’ offer “strong in several aspects” when compared to offers received during two previous requests for proposal (RFP) attempts.

“Given that the real estate market had declined over the year since the RFPs were submitted and was getting worse, our experience suggests there was little need to retest the marketability of the property,” the 16-page report stated. “Rather, given the carrying costs associated with maintaining the property and the lack of property taxes and sales taxes being generated by the property, acting on a viable offer during this difficult time was pragmatic.”

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins called Satterlee’s insight into the previous council’s thinking in approving the city’s deal with Morris “long overdue.”

“There’s a lot of angst in our community over this project,” Bruins said. “It, for various reasons, has become kind of the poster child of maybe what to learn from and do better next time. But the key thing is next time.”

Morris faces a May 18 deadline to secure building permits and settle remaining matters, such as easements and right-of-way transfers. If the deadline expires without action, Morris must pay a $100,000 fee to the city to extend the timeframe an additional year.

Bruins, while acknowledging that hindsight in the form of seller’s remorse is “always 20-20,” urged Morris to get moving on his project.

“I would encourage you, again, that if for any reason an extension is required, that you work diligently and quickly to get this project moving,” she said. “Get the shovel into the ground so we can put this whole thing behind us.”

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