The first virtual meeting of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the Cities event Friday featured the mayors of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills describing how their communities have been persevering during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Los Altos Mayor Jan Pepper highlighted how the city is helping struggling small businesses – constrained by health order restrictions – by closing downtown streets to vehicular traffic to encourage outdoor dining and shopping. The Open Streets Los Altos plan, approved at last week’s city council meeting, is set to run Thursdays through Sundays through the end of September.
She added that the council also approved $250,000 for a Small Business Relief Fund that disburses $5,000 grants to qualifying businesses. The fund, administered through Los Altos Community Foundation, currently totals $305,000, which would support 61 businesses. Supporters have set a funding goal of $1 million, but Pepper wants at least another $30,000 to support an additional six grants.
The Los Altos Hills City Council’s contribution of $5,000 to the fund prompted some local business leaders to scoff at the town’s lack of appreciation for nearby businesses.
Asked about it during a question-and-answer period, Los Altos Hills Mayor Michelle Wu did not offer an explanation, instead saying she “respected” the council’s unanimous decision.
Pepper noted that the Los Altos council set 2020 priorities early in the year that included land use, housing, improving downtown vitality, improving the environment and community engagement.
She pointed to some affordable housing gains through recent approval of a 196-unit project at 5150 El Camino Real. She said 28 of those units are deemed affordable, and the city is negotiating with the developer to include an additional 58 affordable units in the project.
Despite the specter of COVID, Pepper and Wu cited the relatively healthy budgets of their respective cities, both of which rely heavily on property tax revenues.
“Because we are so heavily property tax oriented, we are able to continue pretty much all of the things we were planning to do, and no layoffs are proposed for the city because the property tax income is pretty stable,” Pepper said.
The COVID shutdown orders halted construction in April and part of May on the new Los Altos Community Center, but work is now progressing. Pepper expects the project to wrap up in February.
Pepper and Wu listed assets in their communities that residents of both cities are welcome to share.
In addition to the new community center, Pepper pointed to local libraries. Wu offered the town’s scenic pathway system and Little League ballfields in Purissima Park.
According to Wu, Los Altos Hills enjoys a high level of volunteerism in town government, with 120 residents involved in various committees. She noted progress in a number of areas, from sign-off on an updated pathways master plan to work with Caltrans on repaving a portion of Interstate 280 that goes through town limits. She also mentioned a “very modest” expansion of town hall.
Wu concluded her talk with a reference to a story earlier this year that recognized Los Altos Hills as the best place to get a good night’s sleep.
“It’s very boring, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, so it’s good to sleep at night,” she said.
Both mayors were asked about their governments’ response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Wu said the town contracts with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, so it has no say over police funding.
Pepper replied that she had proposed forming a task force to review policing policies. The council last week opted instead to hold a town hall to gather input from residents.
Pepper said no date has yet been set for the event, but she expected either the week of July 13 or July 20.
“We’ve received a lot of input,” she said. “We’re taking it very seriously. We want to make sure Los Altos is treating everyone equally.”