Following are highlights from Thursday’s Los Altos Hills City Council meeting.
The next meeting is scheduled 6 p.m. March 20 at town hall, 26375 W. Fremont Road.
Positive report highlights midyear finances
With projected general-fund expenditures $231,330 less than what was approved in the fiscal year 2014 budget, Los Altos Hills’ town finances are in the black.
“After completion of the midyear analysis, staff is pleased to report that the Revised FY 2014 budget continues to be on track,” wrote Administrative Services Director Yulia Carter in her staff report to the council of the town’s projected budget of approximately $6.1 million.
Carter reported that townwide revenues are projected to increase by $80,869, or 0.9 percent, while expenditures are expected to decrease by $479,059, or 4.2 percent.
The revenue increase in the first half of the year reflects a booming local real estate market, including higher in-lieu property tax from the state, property-tax receipts and building permit fees.
Despite the good financial news, Finance and Investment Committee Chairman Allan Epstein reminded councilmembers that the surplus results from the deferral of several street projects and modifications to Westwind Community Barn management.
Mayor John Radford echoed the cautionary note, adding that the town should explore ways to increase revenues in coming years to fund approximately $2.9 million in street work to bring 17 private roads recently adopted into the Los Altos Hills public road system up to town standards.
Members of the city council and the Finance and Investment Committee are scheduled to prepare the fiscal year 2015 budget in April for approval in June.
Town explores deadlines for building permits
Addressing a complaint from a Los Altos Hills resident regarding a construction project that has lingered for more than nine years, the council directed town staff to research the viability of an ordinance to amend the town’s municipal code to set time limits on construction projects.
Neighboring cities have adopted legislation to prevent prolonged construction work. Palo Alto, for example, invalidates a building permit if construction does not begin within 180 days of issuance and imposes penalties for permits that are not renewed within 30 days of expiration.
Los Altos Hills officials discovered that five properties, slightly more than 1 percent of the 458 building permits issued by the town over the past 10 years, were still active projects. Although only one of the five homes violated town code, a home under construction for more than four years is “generally considered excessive with regard to single-family construction,” according to town representatives.
“Basically, as long as progress has been made toward the completion of the project and an inspection and approval is granted within a 180-day period, the permit is considered active,” said Community Development Director Debbie Pedro of the town’s current requirements.
Councilmembers requested that town staff provide policy direction and return with a report at a later date.
Council makes Brown Act training mandatory
The council voted unanimously to train all volunteer members of town standing committees on Brown Act requirements, the state’s open-meeting law that promotes transparency in decision making.
“I think most of them have an inkling of what they’re supposed to do … but there are a number of other restrictions and activities that are required,” Councilman Gary Waldeck said of committee members.
All members of full standing committees will be required to complete Brown Act ethics and record-keeping training within six months of being selected to serve. The town will offer in-person and online trainings. The first training is scheduled March 13.
Acterra spearheads open-space work
The council allocated $50,000 to the Los Altos Hills Open Space Committee for open-space stewardship and public outreach.
Councilmembers unanimously selected the Palo Alto-based Acterra, an environmental education nonprofit that operates a stewardship program at Redwood Grove in Los Altos, to spearhead efforts to reduce invasive species at Byrne, Juan Prado and O’Keefe preserves and develop community outreach programming and volunteer projects.
– Ellie Van Houtte