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Meet the Mountain View City Council candidates

Meet the Mountain View City Council candidates


Nine candidates have filed to run for three open seats on the Mountain View City Council in the Nov. 4 election – none of them incumbents. The Town Crier asked them to introduce themselves to readers in the following Q&A format. We knew the...

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Schools

LASD committee looks to rank campus improvement projects

LASD committee looks to rank campus improvement projects


Traci Newell/Town Crier
The Los Altos School District’s newly expanded Facilities Advisory Committee met for the first time last week. The 28-member committee’s first task is to prioritize campus improvement projects.

The Los Altos Scho...

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Community

Sports

New-look Lancers find their footing

New-look Lancers find their footing


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Jenna Adams, left, and Carly Deale attempt to bump the ball Friday night. The juniors combined for 28 kills.

This year’s St. Francis High girls volleyball team faintly resembles last season’s squad ...

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Special Sections

MV Whisman teachers cite low pay

MV Whisman teachers cite low pay


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
An estimated 75 supporters of higher teacher pay turned out for the Sept. 4 Mountain View Whisman School District board meeting.

Teachers, trustees and administrators are recovering from a dramatic Mountain View Whism...

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Business

Skin rejuvenation studio joins Rancho

Skin rejuvenation studio joins Rancho


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Esthetician Marjan Kashi showcases one of the treatment rooms at her new studio, Pure Serenity Skincare at Rancho Shopping Center. Kashi provides services including microdermabrasion and various light and heat energy the...

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Books

A woman's perspective on the Greatest Generation

A woman's perspective on the Greatest Generation


During World War II, Virgilia Short Witzel, a young mother and U.S. Navy officer’s wife, grappled on the home front in Menlo Park with wartime rationing, shortages and loneliness. During the ensuing Cold War, she experienced adventure and misadventur...

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People

JERALD (JERRY) NELSON CHRISTIANSEN

JERALD (JERRY) NELSON CHRISTIANSEN

Resident of San Jose and Los Altos, California

July 21, 1931 to August 4, 2014

Born in Arimo, Idaho, to Jerald Emmett and Rebecca Henderson Nelson Christiansen. Raised in Davis and Riverside, California, with summers in Downey, Idaho, and in Loga...

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Travel

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska


Sandy Powell/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident and bird photographer Sandy Powell recently visited Homer, Alaska, to photograph Sandhill cranes, below. While there, Powell also encountered moose, left.

Los Altos resident Sandy Powell, a...

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Stepping Out

Pear puts on a pair of plays

Pear puts on a pair of plays


J. Smith/Special to the Town Crier
Dan Kapler (as Teddy) and Betsy Kruse Craig (Trish) star in Pear Avenue Theatre’s “House.”

The Pear Avenue Theatre production of two interlocking comedies by Alan Ayckbourn – “House&...

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Spiritual Life

Back to Church Sunday offers opportunity to recommit

The children in Los Altos are back to school, and I can still hear parents cheering. Summer is officially over, even if the calendar doesn’t quite think so.

Parents have attended Back to School nights to meet their children’s teachers. B...

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Magazine

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living


Courtesy of Spectrum Interior Design
In place of a more traditional fireplace, this modern living room features a linear-flame firebox that emits heat while offering a sculpturelike design element.

After traveling the world and visiting a host...

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Uncertainty over pensions, other costs drives lean city budget

The Los Altos City Council last week unanimously adopted a new city financial plan that warns of uncertainty ahead regarding public employee pensions and rising health-care costs.

The council’s 5-0 vote June 25 approved a balanced city budget for 2013-2015 that anticipates a modest 1.79 percent revenue increase in 2013-2014 and a five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) that calls for approximately $4.1 million in capital projects for the coming year. Highlighted in the plan is the achievement of a 20 percent general-fund reserve ($6.1 million) one year ahead of schedule, which Los Altos Finance Director Russ Morreale termed “a rainy-day fund.”

Containing costs

Morreale told the Town Crier that uncertainty surrounding California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) costs in 2015-2016 was “a big driver” in the city’s decision to remain in “cost-containment mode” for the near future.

“It continues to make us lean,” he said. “We have to do more with less.”

A budget message in the city’s financial plan warned of potential “double-digit (rate) increases over the next 10 years” despite the city’s implementation of a second-tier retirement benefit system that requires greater employee contributions. The State Pension Reform Act of 2013 also implemented a third retirement tier for some public employees.

Morreale pointed to the establishment of a new CalPERS reserve fund with an anticipated $600,000 balance at the end of the two-year budget cycle to “counterbalance” anticipated pension rate hikes in the near future.

“We expect a bigger bill from PERS and built that into our forecast. … This reserve will help mitigate those increases,” he said.

Other cost-containment steps include the deferment of an additional five city staff positions – bringing the city’s total number of position deferrals to 12, according to the financial plan, which would likely cause an impact on services. Morreale also noted the deferment of new equipment purchases, with the exception of core needs related to public safety.

Morreale listed additional challenges for the city down the road, including increased health-care costs, potential increases in fire services after the contract with the county expires in 2016 and the costs of maintaining aging civic center facilities. The $4.1 million in projects listed in the 2013-2014 CIP includes a $200,000 study “to look at the most immediate civic center needs,” according to Morreale, as well as $175,000 earmarked for “general” facility repairs in the coming fiscal year.

“The reality is most, if not all, of our civic center buildings are old and in need of repairs,” he said, adding that the budget includes an additional $100,000 for facility repairs in 2014-2015.

The city has earmarked approximately $1.8 million in sewer funds for wastewater systems/sewer repair and maintenance in 2013-2014, with more than $500,000 in CIP funds allocated for street resurfacing and repair.

Positive signs

Despite leaner times, Morreale’s report calls for optimism on some fronts, including development fee revenues such as $2.7 million for the final installment of the First and Main streets property sale, $4.3 million in park in-lieu fees as a result of ongoing developments downtown and along El Camino Real and San Antonio Road. The financial plan outlines anticipated property-tax increases of 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in the coming two years.

“We’re starting to see some movement there, which is a positive sign,” he said.

Property taxes continue to make up the bulk of general-fund revenues at 65 percent, followed by sales taxes and users tax dollars at 12 percent each.

Los Altos city budget highlights

• Projects 1.79 percent revenue increase in 2013-2014.

• Earmarks $4.1 million in capital improvements in 2013-2014, including sewer maintenance and repair and road paving and repair.

• Achieves 20 percent general-fund reserve balance ($6.1 million).

• Defers five city staff positions as a “cost containment” measure.

• Establishes CalPERS reserve fund for anticipated rate increases for public employee retirements.

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