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News

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics


The Town Crier chronicled the first election of Los Altos City Council incumbent Jarrett Fishpaw in 2010 and documented the Los Altos candidacy of Jean Mordo, who volunteered as a longtime public servant in Los Altos Hills before moving to the flat...

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Schools

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system


Courtesy of St. Simon Parish School
St. Simon fifth-grader Matthew Cummins uses a laptop in class last week. The school’s cloud-based Schoology system boosts organization and collaboration.

Families at St. Simon Parish School in Los Altos laun...

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Community

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos main library is among the more popular branches in the county library district system, set to celebrate 100 years.

In 1914, Babe Ruth made his debut with the Boston Red Sox, wages hit $5 per day, the first ste...

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Sports

Eagles eye another stellar season

Eagles eye another stellar season


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos High outside hitter Carmen Annevelink, right, goes for the kill Thursday against Palo Alto, as teammates Sarah Tritschler, left, and Lulu Kishton prepare to play defense. The Eagles won the match in straight ga...

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Comment

Torok, Walter, Dave for MVLA board: Editorial

There’s really nothing major you can criticize about the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District. It offers a diverse array of effective programs for all types of students. Its instructors, with few exceptions, are outstanding.

Howe...

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Special Sections

'Funabout' Fiat

'Funabout' Fiat


Photos courtesy of Fiat
The 2014 Fiat 500e uses 29 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, which the engineers claim is the equivalent of 116 mpg of gas use. It has a sticker price of $33,095.

If you believe in climate change, would love to see alternat...

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Business

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground


Ted Fagenson

An East Bay app developer is testing his newest creation in downtown Los Altos.

Ted Fagenson, co-founder of Skrownge (pronounced “scrounge”), told the Town Crier that he’s beta testing his mobile gaming app this week ...

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Books

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween


Courtesy of Dee Ellmann
Jenny Hurwick self-published her picture book last month after decades of storytelling.

During her years working as a teacher and a Los Altos mom, Jenny Hurwick loved to tell stories. One tale she crafted for her son just se...

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People

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

July 27, 1953 – August 12, 2014

Native Los Altan died Medford, OR. Graduated Bellarmine Prep. Married Josephine Domino, 1950. Licensed Auto Mechanic, Private Pilot, skilled Computer Scientist. Tim “could fix anything”. Afflicted with cancer 2001. ...

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Travel

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup


Rich Robertson/Special to the Town Crier
The sun sets over the Aegean Sea in Bodrum, Turkey, left.

Tours that whisk you from Istanbul to Bodrum in 11 days are as plentiful as souvenir hawkers in Turkey, but traveling from the Blue Mosque to Topkapi ...

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Stepping Out

'Gypsy' on its way out

'Gypsy' on its way out


Chris Berger/Special to the Town Crier
Alison Koch of Los Altos plays Dainty June in “Gypsy.”

This is the final weekend to catch the Sunnyvale Community Players production of “Gypsy” at the Sunnyvale Theatre. The musical is slated to close Sund...

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Spiritual Life

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Herman Lukwago educates children in Uganda.

Imagine life if your father had 25 children and you were raised in poverty in rural Uganda.

Now imagine that you and your siblings were orphaned at an early age and you ass...

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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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Pension study says city OK for now, but trouble may lie ahead: Rate obligation could increase substantially in next couple of years

A recently completed study on the state of the city’s California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) obligations revealed that Los Altos’ contributions may rise significantly by the end of the decade.

The study, presented at the Oct. 8 Los Altos City Council meeting, took the city’s Financial Commission more than 100 hours to complete.

The study concluded that while the city may not see near-term financial challenges – noting previous city efforts to help lower its obligations – Los Altos’ public employee pension contribution rates may increase by as much as 30-40 percent over a five-year period starting in fiscal year 2015-2016. CalPERS has been managing the city’s pension plans – totaling more than 270 plans for active and retired employees – since 1960.

Reached by the Town Crier, Los Altos Finance Director Russ Morreale said the city’s position would be far worse, if not for steps in recent years to mitigate some obligations.

According to Morreale, a CalPERS side-fund paydown saved the city between $4 million and $5 million in liability over the past five years. The city also adopted a second tier of retirement plans to reduce benefit costs and established a $600,000 reserve fund this year to weather future sticker shock, he said. Morreale called the potential 30-40 percent rate increase outlined in the report a “pretty conservative estimate.”

“The city has taken the right actions, but there are some significant challenges ahead of us,” said Morreale, who echoed a similar tone during the city’s budget review process in June. “We are expecting significant rate increases.”

Per the commission report, Morreale noted that city pensions are now 77 percent funded, slightly higher than the CalPERS pension system as a whole at 74 percent, as of June 2011 data. The city has a net unfunded market liability of $21 million.

“That is a long-term liability – it doesn’t have to be paid tomorrow – but what it does indicate is that funding levels are lower than preferred,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is content with 77 percent.”

The report pointed to several factors, including fluctuating annual returns on CalPERS investments – 3.8 percent over the past five years but as high as 9.5 percent over a 30-year term – for the murky outlook. Conversely, CalPERS operates pension investments under an assumed return rate – also known as an assumed discount rate – of 7.5 percent. A 2011-2012 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury called the actuarial rate “unrealistically high,” the report noted.

Other factors outlined include legislation and the 2008 financial crisis, as well as longer life expectancy of retirees than originally assumed. The report noted that the upcoming outcome of a current review by CalPERS of its investment policies and actuarial methods will likely lead to future rate increases.

“Changes are coming. CalPERS is reformulating, if you will,” Morreale said. “Most likely, we’ll be in a higher rate environment, so stay cautious – that’s the message here.”

The report concluded that terminating CalPERS plans via a buyout isn’t recommended. A buyout, the report outlined, carries a cost of $62 million – which Morreale termed “unaffordable, given the money involved.” In that scenario, CalPERS would apply a “risk-free” investment return based on U.S. Department of Treasury rates, according to the study.

To read the pension study, visit the city of Los Altos website at losaltosca.gov.

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