Other Voices: A public works report card

Los Altos has changed very little in 34 years, so one would not expect our governmental departments to have grown much. In 1985, the Engineering Department had five employees; today it has 12.

Salaries for each position have a range, depending on years employed. The collective annual total for the mid-range salaries is approximately $1.35 million. With an estimated override of 18% for benefits, the total cost to the city becomes $1.6 million. If the current staff were cut to six, the savings would be approximately $800,000 per year. We are being asked to approve a parcel tax to raise $1.1 million each year for the Clean Water and Sustainable Storm Drainage Initiative, with no identification of any flood damage having occurred.

The following things have occurred (or not occurred) in recent years.

• An outside consultant was hired to prepare plans for reconstructing Miramonte Avenue between Covington Road and Berry Avenue. Residents were not consulted until plans were complete. A $1 million grant was available. When residents learned what was proposed, they vehemently objected, and the plans and the grant were abandoned. The cost of the consultant is not yet available.

• Outside consultants were hired to design concrete island and sidewalk improvements in six places. Five were constructed, mostly related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. One in particular, at Riverside Drive and Covington Road, dragged on for months and is a mystery to all who pass. The one at Los Altos Avenue and Portola Drive included four 24-hour flashing lights atop stop signs. The neighbors became aware of the lights when the footings were poured, electrical feeds constructed and the lights purchased. The neighborhood erupted, hearings were held and the lights ultimately removed from the project. This was the plan for a quiet intersection that has a crossing guard during school hours.

• Over a decade, there has been much discussion and some hearings about bikes and cars and getting kids safely to Blach Intermediate School. Apparently not much thought was devoted to getting to school the old-fashioned way, by walking. There is a sidewalk for half the distance from the school to Portland Avenue. No sidewalk has been built for the south half of the block. Why?

• On Miramonte Avenue, for three blocks north of JP Liquors, there is a narrow space next to the traffic lane, between a white line and a berm. It invites bikers. The berm is a hazard and seems to serve no purpose. The Engineering Department was informed of this six years ago, but the berm has not been removed. The city engineer’s explanation was that kids and adults should be riding in the traffic lane, because the space actually being used is not an approved bike path. No bikers, nether kids nor adults, dare to block the traffic. Would you?

With this history, where is the justification for a new tax that over time would cost approximately the same as rebuilding Hillview Community Center? Whose idea was this?

 

Jerry Clements is a Los Altos resident.

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