Other Voices: What's up with city's consultant contracts?


The city of Los Altos seems to have a fixation on hiring consultants to tell us things we already know or to do things we should do ourselves. The Stormwater Master Plan is a good example. It was commissioned in 2009. There was no urgency, so the original contract was amended three times, cost $356,200 and the plan was released in 2016.

Our storm-drain system was complete and effective in 2009, and no instances of flood damage were cited. “Master Plan” is a misnomer here. Stormwater deficiencies were isolated nuisances, not dire threats. No grand vision was needed. The city had to inform the consultant where the problems were. The consultant then wrote the Master Plan to formalize these problem areas and suggest remedies. The result was a to-do list.

These separate problem areas should have been analyzed, and corrections designed, by the city’s Engineering Department. That’s why we have an Engineering Department. Then construction contracts could have been let. The Master Plan did not provide construction drawings. We’ve apparently wasted 10 years and a lot of money.

Here’s an example of what we got in our Master Plan. It explains how to fix a problem of ponding at South Springer Road near Rosita Avenue.

A picture of this alleged problem area shows the entry to Rancho Shopping Center at the corner of Springer, Foothill Expressway and Fremont Avenue. The label “Fremont Avenue” has been placed in Rancho’s parking lot. Space limitations prevented the authors from showing Rosita Avenue, because it is 0.75 miles north (downstream). Are you following this?

The fix will cost $230,000, and involves replacing reinforced concrete pipe along Marilyn Drive. That couldn’t be shown either, because Marilyn Drive is 0.75 miles north of Rosita. The project summary states, “Not much information is known about this problem area, but it was brought to attention by the City of Los Altos … for pooling of water.”

You don’t believe this? Google “Los Altos Stormwater Master Plan.” Look at Appendix J, page 4. What is totally mystifying is how page 4 made it onto the website with no one at city hall noticing – for three years.

This year our city manager and three council members did find stormwater a matter of urgency and asked us to pony up $1.1 million per year. I doubt any of those folks actually read or even skimmed the report. “Master Plan” sounds very important and commands respect. Who dares to question it?

We have hired consultants who are often unfamiliar with our physical layout and our habits. If we know that we want to build something, we should declare our intent, hire an architect and order preliminary plans. Keep the process simple. To get our overdue swimming pool complex, we should hire a firm with that experience, show them Rosita Park and turn them loose on conceptual plans.

Jerry Clements is a Los Altos resident.

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