Year in Review 2021

Clockwise from top left: Local school districts reopen for in-person classes as they implement COVID testing protocols; controversial license plate readers go up in Los Altos Hills following city council approval; Dogs run off-leash during a city pilot program at Hillview Baseball Field; Protesters at a demonstration in Mountain View rally against a spate of hate crimes against Asian Americans; Newly installed speed tables on Cuesta Drive in Los Altos, part of a city traffic-calming project, generate complaints from motorists for their unusual height and praise from Cuesta residents noticing a decrease in traffic.

The year 2021 was a time of recovery and renewal in many respects, as local residents and businesses began to see fewer restrictions and more in-person meetups in the wake of a high COVID-19 vaccination rate (in Los Altos, well over 90%). Favorite annual events such as Fine Art in the Park and the Festival of Lights Parade returned after a dormant 2020.

Local schools resumed in-person classes as well, even as questions over vaccines and mask mandates lingered. The impact of the omicron variant remains to be seen.

The year also featured major unveilings: The new Los Altos Community Center officially opened in October, and downtown debuted the new high-profile food court, Los Altos Community Investments’ State Street Market.

Los Altos and Los Altos Hills received fresh starts to their administrations with both communities hiring new city managers.

The year did not pass without some unfortunate – and unnecessary – political clashes. Charges of racism involving Los Altos City Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng and Black activist Kenan Moos prompted dozens of speakers to take sides at council meetings, pushing most meetings well past midnight for the first five months of the year. The clashes drew the attention of national (Fox News) and international media, landing Los Altos some dubious publicity.

Following are month-by-month summaries of news events in 2021.

January

• The Los Altos Police Department begins collecting enhanced data regarding police stops that will enable the department to be more transparent. The data is being collected in accordance with the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, passed into state law in 2016.

• A recent swell of residential burglaries in Los Altos Hills – and perhaps mounting pressure from residents criticizing the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office on a social network – prompts the agency to address concerns at a virtual crime prevention forum hosted by Capt. Rich Urena.

• The Los Altos School District rolls out weekly, pooled COVID testing for sixth-graders in an effort to identify any potential outbreaks on school campuses. The testing eventually expands across local districts, which see isolated positive COVID cases popping up in students, but no cases of transmission within a classroom.

February

• The Los Altos City Council votes unanimously to introduce an ordinance allowing dogs to run off-leash at Hillview Baseball Field. The ordinance, a six-month pilot program running April through September, allows dogs to roam off-leash in the park during designated hours.

• Los Altos Planning Commission members reject a city council-initiated effort to protect city land from sale by requiring a vote of the electorate, elements similar to those in a ballot measure defeated in 2018. Commissioners vote 6-1 to recommend that the council not pursue an ordinance that would create an “overlay” of zoning protection. The city council later approves the ordinance.

• The Mountain View Los Altos High School District submits a plan to the state laying out how it intends to address the fact that it is overidentifying Latino students for special education. MVLA revealed three root causes: a lack of academic preparedness among entering ninth-graders, a lack of consistency in the practice and application of the district’s supports, and cultural dissonance and implicit bias impacting the experiences of Latino students.

• State officials assure residents at a Los Altos forum that new housing goals imposed on the city, though daunting, could be met. Colin Cross, a land-use representative with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, suggests the city could meet its targets of 1,958 new units (789 for very-low and low-income residents) by 2031, through strategies ranging from encouraging construction of accessory dwelling units to building more high-density housing in areas such as the El Camino Real corridor.

• More than 50 fiberglass bears decorated by local artists and residents grace downtown Los Altos, the result of a Rotary Club of Los Altos fundraising campaign. The bears are auctioned off in October, with proceeds benefiting the club’s community projects.

March

• An estimated 100-150 demonstrators gather at the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real in Mountain View to call for an end to hate crimes against Asian Americans.

• Buoyed by overwhelming support from residents, the Los Altos Hills City Council unanimously agrees to approve full-scale deployment of automatic license plate readers throughout the town, bypassing the option of launching a pilot program first.

• A plan promising to transform the North Bayshore area into a sustainable mixed-use community of new homes, parks, restaurants, services and jobs moves a step closer to realization following Mountain View City Council approval.

• The Los Altos Nursery property at 245 Hawthorne Ave. is sold to an undisclosed buyer after the Furuichi family ends its 72-year operation of a nursery at the site.

April

• Local residents begin to escalate their protests against planned State Legislature housing bills, particularly Senate Bill 9, intended to eliminate local zoning restrictions in single-family neighborhoods. By September, the bill becomes law; it takes effect Saturday.

• The COVID pandemic continues, and Santa Clara County opens vaccination access to all residents age 16 and over. Vaccine supply in the Bay Area is initially spotty, with appointment access torturously confusing at first as residents navigate different booking systems for each health system and pharmacy. But by mid-April, bandwidth surges at local sites like the Mountain View Community Center.

• Adobe Systems Inc. co-founder and longtime Los Altos resident Charles “Chuck” Geschke dies, prompting celebration of a philanthropist who transformed the landscape of desktop publishing.

• A prolonged dispute between Los Altos City Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng and local activist Kenan Moos fails to go to mediation. The community and council struggle with how to address the gaps in perception and expectations that surface during the conflict, which centers on accusations of racial profiling and safety fears.

• Flying-car company ASKA opens a showroom in downtown Los Altos, envisioning a future where residents can travel to Lake Tahoe by air in an hour.

May

• The Los Altos City Council passes a resolution in an attempt to curb the ongoing Moos-Lee Eng controversy. The action works, effectively ending the back-and-forth among large numbers of speakers at council meetings.

• Los Altos Hills City Manager Carl Cahill announces his retirement amid an attempt led by a group of residents to oust him from the role. He had worked for the town for 22 years.

• The Santa Clara County Board of Education warns Bullis Charter School that it may lose its charter if it doesn’t address enrollment disparities. According to county officials, the school underserves English-language learners, Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

• Within weeks of expanded vaccine access, 82% of eligible Los Altos residents receive at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, part of a trend of extremely high vaccination rates across the Bay Area.

• An approved housing project intended for 5150 El Camino Real falls into doubt when the Los Altos-based Dutchints Development LLC defaults on a loan. When the property, now in receivership, sells to Prometheus Real Estate Group for $48 million, initial investors are dismayed to learn they will lose millions.

June

• Movie director Jon M. Chu, filmmaking pride of Los Altos Hills, follows up his smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians” with a film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights,” a musical about life in the Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City.

• A multi-year drought continues to afflict the region, and local water providers declare shortage conditions and begin to mandate water use reductions. Even though heavier-than-usual rains do come by late fall, longterm water levels remain so impacted that use restrictions continue to tighten through the end of the year.

• The Los Altos City Council approves the hiring of Gabriel Engeland as city manager.

July

• A construction crew working nearby helps save Los Altos resident Dorothy Meyer, 98, from a house fire on Doud Avenue. More than 20 firefighters and four Los Altos Police Department officers ultimately respond to the scene.

• Los Altos High School-bound Cami Thai wins a three-way playoff to capture the girls 13-14 division of the Junior World Golf Championship.

• A newly configured intersection at Foothill Expressway and El Monte Avenue raises the ire of cyclists (and cyclist-supportive drivers), who call it a severe hazard. The county ends up agreeing to modify a merge that required cyclists to veer across multiple lanes of automobile traffic.

• Newly installed speed tables on Cuesta Drive in Los Altos spark mixed reactions – residents along the street are relieved, while drivers are irate. The tables, intended to rise approximately 3.5 inches above the roadway, measure several inches higher at various points, spurring one dismayed resident to pull out a level and ruler to document “over-spec” dimensions that give vehicles a dramatic ride. Drivers on Cuesta do, however, slow down.

August

• The community mourns the death of former Town Crier publisher Paul Nyberg, a longtime Los Altos resident who ran the paper for 26 years. Mr. Nyberg was 89.

• Public health officers from Santa Clara County and six other Bay Area counties mandate a return to mask requirements indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

• Visitors flock to the return of the Rotary Club of Los Altos’ Fine Art in the Park event in Lincoln Park. This year’s affair features the usual array of fine art for sale, along with live entertainment and a “Bears’ Lair” showcasing the club’s decorated bears from its fundraising campaign.

• Pink Ribbon Girls holds its inaugural Bay Area Ignite the Fight fundraiser at the Marini House in Los Altos, highlighting inspiring stories from cancer patients and supporters.

• The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors issues a “no confidence” vote in Sheriff Laurie Smith. By December, a county grand jury will echo the supervisors’ finding with a report that details suspected political favoritism and other allegations of misconduct.

September

• The Los Altos City Council extends the lease for longtime local nonprofit Friends of the Library of Los Altos but rejects the group’s proposal for a 10-year land-use agreement and suggests the group move off the civic center campus.

• After more than two years of dogged pursuit, Los Altos Hills residents seeking high-speed internet access secure official support for their mutual-benefit fiber association, which will allow the residents to run cables within public rights-of-way.

• State Street Market, the long-awaited food hall in the historical Mission-style building on State Street, opens for outdoor dining. By December, the hall will expand to indoor dining, more open vendors and even a pop-up holiday market.

October

• City officials and residents celebrate the opening of the new Los Altos Community Center with a dedication ceremony drawing 350 people.

• Los Altos High School is evacuated following a bomb threat. It is the first of three schools (followed by St. Francis and Presentation high schools) hit by bomb scares during the month – all false alarms. A 16-year-old male student is later apprehended in connection with the incidents.

• Los Altos City Council members approve a controversial “accountability policy” that would censure members who repeatedly violate city norms and procedures. Critics see the policy as fallout from the race-infused kerfuffle earlier in the year involving Councilmember Lee Eng.

• The Los Altos Hills City Council names Peter Pirnejad the town’s city manager. Pirnejad succeeds the retiring Carl Cahill.

• One of 2021’s more unusual local stories involves a 96-year Los Altos resident who kept a live, World War I-era grenade in his nightstand. County bomb squad members safely detonate the explosive in the resident’s backyard.

• Citing the popularity of a pilot off-leash dog program at Hillview Baseball Field, Los Altos council members vote to explore dog park alternatives, including fenced-in options.

November

• The city of Los Altos and developers of a controversial mixed-use housing and office complex at 40 Main St. agree to a $1.2 million settlement related to legal attempts to thwart the project.

• Los Altos council members approve a memorandum of understanding between the Los Altos Stage Company and the city that would reserve a portion of a city parking lot for a possible new theater site. The controversial move passes on a narrow 3-2 vote.

• Los Altos Hills capitalizes on its garbage hauler GreenWaste Recovery’s change of ownership to negotiate more favorable terms for the town’s residents.

• The Los Altos City Council approves a more permanent downtown parklet program that retains outdoor dining options for downtown restaurants indefinitely.

• The Festival of Lights Parade returns to downtown Los Altos after two years of cancellations, drawing thousands of spectators with an array of colorful floats, marching bands and costumed characters.

December

• The changing of the guard for mayoral leadership sees the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills councils appointing Anita Enander and George Tyson, respectively.

• Both Los Altos and Los Altos Hills approve objective design standards for residential properties in preparation for SB 9 becoming law in January. The law, intended to address the state’s housing crisis, allows property owners to split lots in two and build new houses on each side.

• Even as the last of the “No Parking” signs go up in the wake of a law restricting oversized vehicles (read: RVs) from parking on most city streets, the number of Mountain View residents living in vehicles may have actually increased over the past year, observers say.

• The Town Crier names longtime residents Penny and Roy Lave its 2021 Los Altans of the Year for their committed and sustained community involvement.