Thu04242014

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LAH council considers private road pilot program

Some residents of Almaden Court in Los Altos Hills want their private road to become public, but the town’s General Plan guidelines pose a challenge.

Members of the Los Altos Hills City Council want to offer Almaden Court residents and other private-road dwellers a hand in upgrading their roads to town standards. Following review by the Finance and Investment and the Road and Safety committees, the town may launch a pilot outreach project for neighborhood groups interested in upgrades as early as February.

“We’re going to help them by providing the structure, like we’ve done for sewers,” Councilman Jean Mordo said at a Nov. 15 hearing to address the matter. “I think it’s in the interest of the town.”

Los Altos Hills officials hope that neighborhoods will embrace the opportunity to receive technical advice and possible financial support to cover the legal fees involved in the process for improving roads.

According to California Streets and Highway codes, Los Altos Hills cannot assume responsibility for a private road if the road does not meet town standards. Upgrades are made at the expense of residents who have addresses accessed by the road. According to the Engineering Department team, it costs approximately $170,000 to bring one road up to standard, excluding additional drainage, paving and slope work that may be necessary. To finalize the transition to public ownership, the city council must approve the addition and submit required documents to the County Recorder’s Office.

Two residents of Almaden Court who spoke at the hearing said they lived on the street for decades before realizing it wasn’t a city road. The residents said the town maintained the street until it discovered that the road wasn’t a public thoroughfare and discontinued service in the late 1990s.

Aging roads and limited Internet service from telecommunications providers that refuse to work on roads with a low-density population frustrate some private-road dwellers, but others are content with the state of their roads and oppose investing in additional upgrades. Although most of the town’s 128 private roads are low-traffic cul-de-sacs, a few need repairs because of the heavy use. For instance, Todd Lane, a small street adjacent to Gardner Bullis School, experiences heavy traffic and would benefit from town maintenance, but efforts to mobilize neighbor support for upgrades have been unsuccessful in the past.

If the council modified the existing guidelines to take control of all private roads, it would incur a significant financial burden. According to town finance staff, it would cost at least $20.5 million to bring all private roads to standard, and $5,000 to $10,000 per road annually for maintenance. As tight budgets are looming and a study conducted by the Los Altos Hills County Fire District determined that “for the most part roads are accessible from an emergency access point of view,” the council was unreceptive to the idea at this point.

“We can’t afford it – period,” Mordo said.

Despite reservations about assuming full responsibility for the private roads, councilmembers were sympathetic to neighborhoods struggling to build consensus or raise financing for road upgrades. In addition to working with the Finance and Investment Committee to explore the process required to create Mello-Roos Assessment Districts to qualify for a special property tax, the council may also launch a pilot facilitation program for neighborhood groups working to upgrade their private roads.

If assistance is approved, the town would provide technical advice, serve as neutral mediators in the process and possibly subsidize the cost of legal fees associated with creating the Mello-Roos Assessment District.

If the town’s new mayor, Gary Waldeck, fulfills one of his goals for his term, the issue of private roads may continue to receive attention.

“I’d like to see all our roads – by hook or crook – brought up to town standards.” he said.

The city council is scheduled to consider a resolution for the project at its February meeting.

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