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2009: year in review: Economys impact all too apparent as businesses close and schools cut budgets

One word encapsulates much of the 2009 news, both locally and nationally: recession.

State budget woes forced local schools to cut staff and programs. Local residents spent far less due to the weak economy, leading to hard times for businesses throughout Los Altos.

The crisis, however, spurred action. Concerned residents and city officials banded together to brainstorm ways to revitalize the business districts. The city and the Town Crier embarked on marketing campaigns to help out.

El Camino Hospital proved recession-proof. In addition to opening a new 450,000-square-foot main building with cutting-edge technologies, officials acquired Community Hospital of Los Gatos to broaden their patient base.

Despite – or perhaps because of – the economy, city officials and others proceeded with ambitious plans, including revamped streetscapes for First Street and Loyola Corners, the rebuilding of the Los Altos Civic Center and an opportunity study that envisioned office space in the city-owned parking plazas with parking underground.

Meanwhile, grassroots groups such as GreenTown Los Altos promoted the idea of a higher-density downtown that would benefit both businesses and the environment.

Another large project, the expansion

of Pilgrim Haven Retirement Community, received the green light. Supporters realized their plans to more than double the size of the facilities on Pine Lane, earning city approvals despite strong and sustained objections from neighbors.

Following is a month-by-month summary of the news that defined the local community in 2009.

 

January

• Funding, or lack thereof, proved a source of anxiety for officials in the Los Altos School District, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District and at Foothill College. As the state budget impasse extended into the seventh month, local school officials faced cuts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

• A judge found Los Altos native and West Point graduate Sargent Binkley not guilty by reason of insanity of robbing pharmacies at gunpoint for prescription painkillers in 2006. The insanity verdict meant Binkley, who faced a minimum of 12 years in prison, received no jail time.

• Closures of Bob and Bob Fine Jewish Gifts and Midge’s Fly Shop signaled a bad year ahead for local retailers and other businesses due to the ongoing recession.

• Elizabeth Dana, daughter of Hidden Villa founders Josephine and Frank Duveneck and former board member of the Los Altos Hills environmental education and wilderness preserve, died Jan. 23. She was 93.

 

February

• The Los Altos area netted approximately 4.75 inches of rainfall in February 2009, compared with an average total of 3.18 inches for the month, but the increase was insufficient to replenish regional water sources and fend off water conservation efforts.

• Los Altos city councilmembers chose a design option for rebuilding the civic center. The option included a dramatic, tree-lined entrance off San Antonio Road, with connectivity to downtown and an entry road curving around a combined city hall and community center structure.

• Despite a large deficit, Los Altos School District officials opted out of putting a parcel-tax proposal before voters in June due to its likely rejection in the wake of the recession.

• The poor economy meant harder times for dayworkers at the Day Worker Center of Mountain View, a source of inexpensive labor for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. The center reported as few as 15 jobs daily for the 50-60 workers who showed up, while housekeeping jobs for women were even scarcer.

 

March

• Facing $2.3 million in funding cuts, Los Altos School District officials issued pink slips to 23 full- and part-time teachers.

• The Los Altos Cultural Association and the Los Altos Town Crier joined forces to produce the inaugural Los Altos Live! talent show, which featured 21 local acts. Proceeds from ticket sales supported special programs at the high school, including Camp Everytown, which enhances student life skills.

• The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Adult School program experienced the brunt of state budget cuts, which slashed 20 percent of funding for the program.

• Los Altos Hills residents celebrated completion of Adobe Creek Reach 5, which addressed flood mitigation issues. Residents and the town had attempted for more than a decade to get the project completed.

 

April

• President Barack Obama nominated Martha Kanter, Foothill-De Anza Community College District chancellor, for the position of U.S. under secretary of education.

• Hordes of 2-inch black-and-orange spotted butterflies, part of a Painted Lady mass migration, flew through Los Altos neighborhoods.

• Los Altos School District officials continued making cuts, distributing more than 70 pink slips to eliminate classified positions and calling for reduced hours in an attempt to address budget reductions.

• Despite rough national and state economies, the town of Los Altos Hills remained sound fiscally and projected generating positive numbers through 2015.

• El Camino Hospital closed escrow on the $54 million purchase of Community Hospital of Los Gatos.

 

May

• Los Altos city officials unveiled plans to renovate San Antonio Road between West Edith Avenue and First Street. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, whose future offices will border the road, will share funding for the $1.5 million project, which includes fencing with ivy as an aesthetic screen, sidewalk improvements and general landscaping.

• The Mountain View City Council granted a conditional-use permit to the Day Worker Center, allowing the employment hub to convert abandoned properties at 103 and 113 Escuela Ave. into a permanent facility.

 

June

• Bullis Charter School officials filed a petition in Superior Court against the Los Altos School District, charging that facilities offered by the district for the charter school program do not meet California’s education code requirements.

• Vandals etched graffiti into the glass of doors and windows at more than 70 businesses on Main Street in Los Altos. Edgard Ochoa, 19, was arrested in September on 67 counts of vandalism for the destruction. Police arrested a second suspect, Antonio Paul Williams, 23, last week.

• Los Altos Mayor Megan Satterlee delivered somber news at the “State of the Cities” luncheon. With sales-tax revenues remaining flat for more than 10 years, Satterlee outlined projects to help spur growth, including the new civic center and redevelopment projects on First Street, San Antonio Road and at the Loyola Corners business district.

 

July

• Dennis and Linda Ronberg, longtime owners of Linden Tree Children’s Recordings & Books on State Street, announced the sale of their business. The Ronbergs, who opened their downtown Los Altos store in 1984, plan to retire.

• In an effort to stimulate the local economy, the city of Los Altos, the town of Los Altos Hills and two business interest groups launched the “Shop Los Altos” marketing campaign. The six-month promotion – with the theme “From A to Z, You’ll Find It in Los Altos” – highlighted the array of products and services available in Los Altos.

• Newsweek magazine named Los Altos and Mountain View High schools among the top 600 public high schools in the country. Of the 21,000 public high schools, Los Altos High ranked 372 and Mountain View High ranked 563.

 

August

• The Los Altos City Council approved Pilgrim Haven’s controversial plan to modernize and expand the retirement community. The 4-1 decision came after nearly four years of design-plan changes, several public hearings and formation of a neighborhood watchdog group to fight the expansion.

• Police solved the case of missing Los Altos resident Dawn Sanchez, presumed murdered in 1991. Santa Clara resident Bernardo Bass, seen arguing with the then-32-year-old Sanchez shortly before her disappearance, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to six years in prison.

• Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis reported that crime in Los Altos decreased 41 percent overall since the last fiscal year. Burglaries decreased 44.6 percent; larceny, 40 percent; and robberies, 37.5 percent.

• Steven Michael Garcia of San Jose pleaded no contest to charges stemming from the 2008 burglary of Harold’s Jewelry in downtown Los Altos. Police alleged Garcia and an accomplice broke through the door of a neighboring business and sawed through the wall to gain access to safes in the jewelry shop. Suspects absconded with an estimated $500,000 in merchandise.

 

September

• President Obama in his back-to-school address praised Andoni Schultz of Los Altos, who has battled brain cancer since he was 3. Obama recognized Schultz for overcoming hardships and graduating from high school. Schultz now attends Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

• GreenTown Los Altos members introduced their vision of the downtown triangle: three- and four-story mixed-use buildings for retail, residential and office space lining Main Street; bicycle lanes; outdoor eating areas; and a central park.

 

October

• Los Altos residents and Adobe Systems Inc. co-founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in a White House ceremony.

• The Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges against Los Altos resident Rajiv Goel, 51, in relation to a hedge fund scheme that involved insider trading.

• James David Carroll, 60, the former custodian at Los Altos Christian School, pleaded no contest to one felony count of possession of child pornography and one felony count of distribution of child pornography. Carroll was later sentenced to a year in jail.

November

•Â El Camino Hospital opened its new facility in Mountain View.

•Â Voters elected incumbent Mark Goines and newcomers Tammy Logan and Doug Smith to fill three open seats on the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.

•Â Los Altos School District Superintendent Tim Justus announced his retirement, effective at the end of the school year. Justus has been in education for 38 years, 21 as a superintendent.

•Â A court denied Bullis Charter School’s petition for additional space for a seventh grade and teaching and nonteaching classroom areas. The ruling marked the fourth time the charter school took the Los Altos School District to court over facilities, and the fourth time a charter school petition was denied.

•Â The Los Altos Police Department’s newest addition, Lord, a 2-year-old German shepherd, assumed the role of police K-9.

December

•Â The U.S. Postal Service, facing an expiring lease at its First Street site, agreed to relocate to 221 Main St., the former home of longtime retail business Janus. The move sparked traffic and parking concerns. Supporters, however, claimed the post office would increase foot traffic on Main Street.

•Â Downtown Development Committee members recommended three-story buildings with a 40-foot maximum height for residential buildings and a 45-foot limit for offices along First Street. The issue is scheduled to reach the Los Altos City Council Jan. 21.

•Â The Foothill-De Anza Community College District named Linda Thor the district’s new chancellor. Thor assumes her new role Feb. 16.

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