Although the definition of “rural character” is subjective, the Los Altos Hills City Council is no longer leaving the phrase open to interpretation.
After unanimous approval of a policy change April 18, nearly all future capital improvement projects must filter through an appropriate committee for review before heading to the council for approval, an effort to preserve the town’s rural nature.
Current town code requires any project that qualifies for adherence to the California Environment Quality Act to also secure a Planning Commission review and recommendation. Previously, some one-time projects have undergone construction without community or council evaluation.
The new policy includes all open space improvements and projects with landscape plantings and features such as pathways, ground structures, traffic and complete street elements. Upon submission of a proposal, the Planning, Pathways, Environmental Design, Open Space or Traffic Safety committee will review it for “aesthetic impacts to the local neighborhood and street environment,” according to the new policy. In rare instances, a proposal may bypass the process if it is an emergency public works project or the council deems it in the best interest of the town.
Recently installed Safe Routes to Schools improvements along Fremont Road and flashing-light pedestrian crosswalks on Elena and Moody roads left some residents scratching their heads.
In an email to town staff, one couple wrote of the recently completed Fremont pathway: “It looks rather Disneylandesque. The wonderful rural atmosphere is now gone along Fremont Road.”
For others, the benefits of the pathway project outweigh any deviation from original expectations.
“I did not expect yellow (as the pathway color). I did not expect railroad ties. But neither of these things make (the pathway) undesirable,” said Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan, noting that she received many more thank-you letters than complaints about the project. “I’m very proud of the outcome.”
Employing the new policy as a guideline at last week’s council meeting, councilmembers authorized the removal of a flashing pathway from the Arastradero Trail Improvement Project design, returning that portion of the project to the Planning Commission for further review. Construction on the pathway is scheduled to begin next week.