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News

Campaign finance reports show lots of loans, few outliers

Campaign finance reports show lots of loans, few outliers


Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
Campaign yard signs are just one expenditure for candidates during election season.

Election finance filings are in, and Los Altos appears to be hosting a few financially lopsided races.

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Schools

Three Los Altos schools earn National Blue Ribbon designation

Three Los Altos schools earn National Blue Ribbon designation


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Bullis Charter School students wear their school spirit clothing to greet their mascot Oct. 3 in celebration of being named a National Blue Ribbon School.

Blach Intermediate, Egan Junior High and Bullis Charter schools ea...

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Community

Sports

Spartans run wild(cat) on Eagles

Spartans run wild(cat) on Eagles


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mountain View High running back Austin Johnson goes for a big gain after evading Los Altos High defensive tackle Phil Alameda in Friday’s game. Johnson scored two touchdowns for the Spartans.

After unveiling its wildc...

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Comment

Logan, McClatchie, Peruri for LASD board: Editorial

This is a crucial time for the Los Altos School District. Its leadership faces the challenge of balancing enrollment growth versus maintaining the small, neighborhood schools that make it a very popular district to attend. The district must also adap...

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Special Sections

City's minimum-wage hike earns mixed reviews: Raise to $10.30 an hour meets with approval – and concern

City's minimum-wage hike earns mixed reviews: Raise to $10.30 an hour meets with approval – and concern


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Tandava Waldon, left, manager of East West Bookstore on Castro Street in Mountain View, works with a customer. Waldon said the recently approved minimum-wage hike will have little impact on his business. “It’s not such a...

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Business

Delay Social Security? An easy way to decide

One of the most heatedly debated questions regarding Social Security is when to start.

You have the option of initiating benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. The longer you wait, the larger the monthly payment you will receive over your...

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Books

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mimi Sommers, who works at a Los Altos dentist’s office, recently wrote a children’s book.

A local dental hygienist recently published a book that aims to ease parents and children during a sometimes anxious e...

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People

SUZANNE MONICA DIMM SPECHT

SUZANNE MONICA DIMM SPECHT

Suzanne Monica Dimm Specht passed Tuesday, Sept. 9th at the age of 84. Sue was born on April 21, 1930 in Portland, Oregon. After graduating from the University of Oregon in with a degree in Music, Sue taught in a little town called Clatskanie, Oreg...

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Travel

Los Altos resident's visit to North Korea proves enlightening

Los Altos resident's visit to North Korea proves enlightening


Courtesy of Sally Brew
North Korea is home to many monuments honoring its “Dear Leaders,” left.

In August, I traveled for 11 days with MIR Corp. to North Korea, a fascinating country that is almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. ...

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Stepping Out

'Trovatore' takes the stage in Palo Alto

'Trovatore' takes the stage in Palo Alto


Courtesy of José Luis Moscovich
West Bay Opera’s production of “Il Trovatore” is slated to open Friday night in Palo Alto and run through Oct. 26.

West Bay Opera’s production of “Il Trovatore” (“The Troubadour”) is scheduled to open this weekend...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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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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