Los Altos police chief on COVID rules: ‘We could still do better’

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Landscapers trim and clear the Mountain View train station on Evelyn Avenue Friday afternoon amid pandemic restrictions.

While Los Altos residents are generally doing a good job of complying with the shelter-in-place order, the Los Altos Police Department is receiving calls daily reporting those who aren’t abiding by it, Chief Andy Galea said during the city’s first virtual town hall April 7. 

Galea cited incidents of people playing on closed-off structures and participating in group games with shared equipment.

“Many of our residents are creatures of habit,” he said during the dial-in town hall, hosted by Mayor Jan Pepper and City Manager Chris Jordan. “They like to walk the downtown area and have a cup of coffee, and they congregate longer than we’d like to see. ... All in all, we are definitely making progress, but we could still do better.”

Galea said he knew of only two commercial burglaries – one in north Los Altos and the other on the south side of the city – since the order’s implementation. Police records show the department has received 120 complaints related to health orders as of April 7, not including canceled or unfounded incidents. A total of 24 calls reported residents or businesses allegedly violating the order by acting in a nonessential manner. Nine calls were requests for officers to clarify an aspect of the order.

Pepper emphasized one main message, especially for seniors in Los Altos: Stay home. She noted that Los Altos High School students have paired up with Los Altos Community Foundation to run errands for at-risk seniors.

As residents help one another, organizations are rallying around local businesses. The city of Los Altos, the Los Altos Village Association and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce April 8 launched the What’s Open Los Altos campaign and website

Beautification: What’s allowed?

Following their initial remarks, Pepper and Jordan answered residents’ questions.

One asked how many Los Altos residents had contracted COVID-19. A few days after the town hall, the county reported 18 Los Altos residents had contracted the virus.

Another asked if the city has funding to pay for free testing. Tests are still limited, Pepper replied, and first responders are being prioritized. Galea highlighted how limited testing is by telling the Kiwanis Club in a meeting earlier in the day that his officers are only now gaining access to testing through Stanford University’s medical services.

The most frequently asked questions concerned landscaping and construction, backed up by the Los Altos Police Department’s logs since the day the order was enacted: More than half the calls filed by dispatch involved reports of nonessential gardening or construction.

All decisions on what is deemed “essential” are being made using the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department’s eight categories of construction and one defining statement on arborists, landscapers and similar professionals.

According to the order, approved construction includes:
• Projects immediately necessary to the maintenance, operation or repair of essential infrastructure.
• Projects associated with health-care operations, like creating or expanding those operations, provided that such construction is directly related to COVID-19 response.
• Affordable housing that is or will be income-restricted, including multi-unit or mixed-use developments containing at least 10% income-restricted units.
• Public works projects if designated as an essential governmental function by the lead governmental agency.
• Shelters and temporary housing, but not including hotels or motels.
• Projects immediately necessary to provide critical noncommercial services to individuals who are homeless, elderly, economically disadvantaged or have special needs.
• Construction necessary to ensure existing construction sites that must be shut down under the order are left in a safe and secure manner, to the extent necessary to do so.
• Construction or repair necessary to ensure that residences and buildings containing essential businesses are safe, sanitary or habitable to the extent such construction or repair cannot reasonably be delayed.

The Los Altos Community Center project has been completely shut down by the city, as it did not seek an exemption to label it “essential.” However, construction at Los Altos High School will at least partially continue after the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District secured an exemption from the county on “at least part of the project,” Jordan said.

The Foothill Expressway widening project was scheduled to begin Monday, engineering services manager Jim Sandoval said.

Acceptable landscaping during the lockdown order is defined by the Public Health Department as “to the limited extent necessary to maintain the habitability, sanitation, operation of businesses or residences, or the safety of residents, employees, or the public (such as fire safety or tree trimming to prevent a dangerous condition), and not for cosmetic or other purposes (such as upkeep).”

Residents can maintain their own yards and mow their lawns but cannot bring in professional help unless the yard is turning into a public nuisance, Jordan clarified.

Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents with questions about the coronavirus or the extended regionwide shelter-in-place order can call the city of Los Altos Recreation and Community Services helplines: Senior Connection, accessible to residents ages 50 and older, links residents with city staff 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays at 947-2797; Community Connection serves all ages 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 947-2790.

For advisories issued by the city and resources offered in the wake of the pandemic, visit

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