Sun01252015

News

UPDATED: Missing Los Altos High School student found

UPDATED at 10:20 p.m. Jan. 21: Mountain View Police report that Avendano is safe after being located in Los Angeles County.

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The Mountain View Police Department is looking for 17 year-old Mountain View resident Lizbeth Avendano. Accordin...

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Schools

MVLA revisits prospect of ninth-grade PE exemptions

MVLA revisits prospect of ninth-grade PE exemptions


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on a proposal to exempt ninth-grade student-athletes from taking PE. Students take part in a physical education class at Mount...

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Community

Midnight Express offers late-night rides from SF

Midnight Express offers late-night rides from SF


From Midnight Express Instagram
A group of millennial-aged Santas celebrating a night on the town prepare for a safe ride from San Francisco to their South Bay homes, courtesy of Cory Althoff’s new Midnight Express shuttle.

It’s no understatemen...

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Comment

More open than ever: Editorial

One of the Los Altos City Council’s objectives for 2015 is implementing an open-government policy. The title of the policy may be somewhat misleading, because it’s not as if the city has had a closed-government policy. But the new proposal goes beyon...

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Business

Cassidy Turley, DTZ plan to combine

Cassidy Turley, DTZ plan to combine


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Cassidy Turley, which has offices at 339 S. San Antonio Road, is combining with DTZ following its recent acquisition.

Commercial real estate services companies DTZ and Cassidy Turley have joined forces to operate as a sin...

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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

JUDY HOFFMANN

JUDY HOFFMANN

Judy Hoffmann passed away unexpectedly October 17, 2014 in New York City. It was only fitting Judy would be traveling and enjoying special adventures in so many different places until the very end.

Judy has lived since 1969 in Los Altos with her h...

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Travel

Cuban photographer slated to appear at Foothill

Cuban photographer slated to appear at Foothill


Courtesy of Raúl Cañibano
Cuban photographer Raúl Cañibano is set to appear at Foothill College tonight. His work – including the image “Series: Guajira’s Land, Viñales, 2007,” right – is on display at the KCI Gallery t...

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Stepping Out

TheatreWorks launches '2 Pianos' in Mtn. View

TheatreWorks launches '2 Pianos' in Mtn. View


Suellen Fitzsimmons/Special to the Town Crier
Christopher Tocco stars in TheatreWorks’ “2 Pianos 4 Hands,” which opened last week.

TheatreWorks’ production of “2 Pianos 4 Hands” is scheduled to run through Feb. 15 at the Mountain View Center fo...

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Spiritual Life

Start something great by ringing in the new year with prayer

There is a tradition, which I’m told originates in the Midwest, that calls for people to pray in the new year. A few years ago, I was invited to a friend’s house and a number of people stayed up until midnight (approximately two hours pa...

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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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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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