Fri08012014

News

"Brown is the new green," says local water district


Lina Broydo/Special to the Town Crier
Are downtown Los Altos flower pots getting too much water? The Santa Clara Valley Water District plans to hire “water cops” to discourage overwatering.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is spending nearl...

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Schools

Foothill camps prepare local students for STEM careers

Foothill camps prepare local students for STEM careers


Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Middle school students make robotic hands using 3-D printers during a STEM Summer Camp at Foothill College.

From designing roller coasters to developing biodegradable plastics, high school students received an i...

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Community

Local entrepreneur opens home to Afghan and Rwandan women

Local entrepreneur opens home to Afghan and Rwandan women


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Businesswomen Joan Mazimhaka of Rwanda, third from left, and Fakhria Ibrahimi of Afghanistan, in orange, traveled to the U.S. with a 26-woman delegation through the Peace Through Business program.

Employees scoop ice ...

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Comment

Moving on: The Rockey Road

Just over a month ago, we decided to put our house on the market. My husband and I had been tossing around the idea of moving back to the area where we grew up, which is only approximately 40 minutes from here. Of course, Los Altos is a great place t...

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Special Sections

Long live the lawn: Los Altos native offers drought-resistant strategies

Long live the lawn: Los Altos native offers drought-resistant strategies


Bill Steiner’s grass is green, left, even amid the drought. He followed Max Todd’s water and maintainence instructions after having his lawn aerated, Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Green lawns are not necessarily on the endangered list during the d...

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Business

Halo heads to Los Altos: Blow-dry bar founder opens new First Street location Monday

Halo heads to Los Altos: Blow-dry bar founder opens new First Street location Monday


ElLie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
Armed with blow dryers, Halo founder Rosemary Camposano, left, and store manager Nikki Thomas prepare for the blow-dry bar’s grand opening on First Street Monday.

A blow-dry bar is set to open downtown Monday, and i...

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Books

"Frozen in Time" chronicles harrowing WWII rescue attempts


Many readers can’t resist a true-life adventure story, especially those that shine a spotlight on people who exhibit supreme courage in the face of adversity and end up surviving – or not – against the odds.

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People

DR. ALFRED HUGHES

Long time Los Altos resident, Dr. Alfred Hughes, died May 1st after a long illness. Dr. Hughes was born in 1927 in Maspeth, NY. He served in the US Army from 1945-6, attended Brooklyn Polytechnic University, then graduated from Reed College in Portla...

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Travel

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway


Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton in Lake Tahoe offers fall getaway packages that include spa treatments and yoga classes.

Fall in North Lake Tahoe boasts crisp mornings and opportunities to spend quality time in the mountains. Specially ...

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Stepping Out

'Wizard' winds down at Bus Barn

'Wizard' winds down at Bus Barn


Town Crier file photo
Local actors rehearse a scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Los Altos Youth Theatre and Los Altos Stage Company’s collaborative production of “The Wizard of Oz” is slated to close Sunday at Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave.

T...

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Spiritual Life

Stanford University appoints new dean for religious life

Stanford University appoints new dean for religious life


Shaw

Stanford University named the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, its new dean for religious life.

Provost John Etchemendy announced Shaw’s appointment July 21, adding that she also will join the faculty in...

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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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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