Attendees of this year’s Los Altos Chamber of Commerce-sponsored State of the Cities event Friday endured a 2 1/2-hour marathon of speeches from state, county and city representatives.
Los Altos Mayor Sally Meadows and Los Altos Hills Mayor Linda Swan offered bright assessments of their respective communities at the annual gathering, which returned to an in-person affair for the first time since 2019. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Marc Berman and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian also delivered remarks.
Chamber president Kim Mosley addressed the assembly of community leaders at Fremont Hills Country Club in Los Altos Hills, thanking and congratulating them for persevering during the pandemic and reaching out to help neighbors despite the health risks.
“What is very American is optimism,” Eshoo said. “I think some days, we don’t sense that optimism – I would suggest that everyone turn their TV sets off.”
Among recent congressional positives, Eshoo touted a $1 trillion-plus infrastructure bill, an inflation reduction act that promises to lower drug prices and new legislation intended to bring back manufacturing to Silicon Valley.
Berman focused on the local area, recognizing the late John Challas, this year’s winner of the Walter and Marie Singer Award for business and community leadership. Challas, who died March 6, had a successful career in real estate and had lived in Los Altos since 1969. He was perhaps best known for running the Marriott Courtyard Hotel on El Camino Real in Los Altos. Challas received the Singer award, named after two downtown business leaders, for his numerous donations to local schools and charities.
Berman also gave a shout-out to Foothill College for giving students the opportunity to “achieve more than their parents did.”
Simitian praised Challas as a giving businessman, and honored retired Foothill dean Dick Henning, whose diplomatic approach powered the popular Celebrity Forum speaker series he founded. Henning received a 30-year legacy award for his achievements.
In his presentation, Simitian dismissed assumptions of heartless corporations and a polarized nation under the theme, “The conventional wisdom is often wrong. … What we have here in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills defies conventional wisdom.”
He also cited the recent approval of Los Altos’ first all-affordable housing project on Distel Circle as an example of defying the “conventional wisdom” that the city is an affluent NIMBY haven. Likewise, he credited Los Altos Hills residents for saving the Los Altos Hills County Fire District from consolidation at the hands of the Board of Supervisors.
Los Altos: Road to recovery
Meadows turned in a friendly and often humorous presentation. She recognized the city’s 70th anniversary of incorporation last December – which took two election tries in 1952 and won by just 238 votes, she said, an example of citizen perseverance.
She took note of a recent survey the city commissioned that showed 74% of residents polled agreed that the city’s job performance was good; 87% of residents in the survey said they were satisfied with their quality of life.
“So, we’re going to remind them of that at the next council meeting, I think – leaf blowers are on the agenda,” she said.
According to Meadows, the city has improved its accounting system, resulting in fewer “budget surprises.” She thanked Eshoo for the $7.6 million federal allocation resulting from the American Recovery Act.
She noted the city’s new community center is being outfitted to accommodate the Emergency Operations Center. The original plan was a stand-alone structure that would have been more expensive, but City Manager Gabriel Engeland figured the two functions could be combined.
“If there’s a heat wave, you’ll have a cooling center and you can also play bingo,” Meadows joked.
The city council has made a multi-year commitment to improve its 227 miles of Los Altos roads, she said. In 2019, its pavement conditions index, or PCI, was a relatively low score of 68.
“Talk about potholes – no, that’s El Camino (Real),” Meadows said to some laughs and groans.
The council set a goal of bringing that PCI up to 75 by 2026. Meadows said the current PCI is 74.
“Sometimes asphalt is an interesting topic,” she said. “Could be worse, I could be talking sewers.” More groans.
Meadows extolled the benefits of Los Altos parks within walking distance and the recent opening of pickleball courts at McKenzie Park. She also highlighted the return of many in-person programs that were suspended during the pandemic, including the city’s summer concert series, which is slated to begin June 15.
Meadows said Los Altos resubmitted its housing element May 2 in hopes of state approval. A housing element outlines a strategy for meeting housing needs over the next eight years.
Los Altos Hills: Pathways to progress
Swan engaged in some friendly competition with Meadows, betting that Los Altos Hills would have its housing element approved before Los Altos does. Swan also slipped in that the town’s PCI is 79.
“And will be at 81 by the end of the year,” she said.
The town mayor spent much of her time counting her blessings.
“We are so fortunate,” Swan said. “Every day, I am grateful for the opportunity to live here.”
She recognized the importance of Silicon Valley, however: “The best part is you can leave the buzz of Silicon Valley and in a few minutes, you can take a walk a world away on the pathways of Los Altos Hills.”
Swan praised her fellow council members and town staff.
“We are not even remotely considering laying off city employees and replacing them with artificial intelligence,” she quipped.
She pointed to some concerns, such as 24 burglaries recorded so far this year – on average more than the entire year in past years. The town has addressed the problem, she said, by increasing Sheriff’s Office patrols, hiring private security and implementing Neighborhood Watch programs.
Swan said this week a vehicle was stopped in Hawthorne that was connected to a Los Altos Hills burglary through the town’s use of automated license plate readers.
She talked of fiscal responsibility with the town budget and healthy reserves. She also complimented staff for town services and for coming through during the recent spate of storms. She lauded town residents for their involvement.
“We are a small town filled with amazing, accomplished residents willing to lend their expertise in support of our town,” Swan said.
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