Nearly a month after Santa Clara County imposed a shelter-in-place order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Los Altos Hills leaders and residents are still adapting to what provisions of that order – and its subsequent amendments – mean for their town.
City Manager Carl Cahill, director of the town’s emergency services, signed a proclamation of local emergency March 16. At the city council’s special April 1 meeting, he provided council members with an update of the situation and explained why the proclamation should stay in effect at least through the end of the month.
“Most of our services are continuing, other than town hall is closed to in-person public access, but we still have staff working on applications and working on permits that are allowable under the order of the county,” Cahill said.
Town staff members and the Sheriff’s Office also are taking steps to protect residents.
The maintenance crew, for example, has been widening sections of the pathway system so those who use it can more easily maintain 6 feet of separation, per coronavirus safety guidelines.
An educational effort
After a spike in residential burglaries that ended March 8 with the fifth over the course of a single week, such crime has dissipated with lockdowns leading to more consistent home occupancy.
A spate of mailbox thefts in late March, however, factored into increasing deputy patrols; on March 21, unknown suspects broke into multiple mailboxes on Camino Hermoso Drive, Lone Oak Lane, Albertsworth Lane and Olive Tree Lane, stealing at least some mail. Three days later, someone broke into and snatched the contents of a mailbox on the 11000 block of Buena Vista Drive.
“There are still activities,” Cahill told the council. “I do think there are residents who might be concerned at a time like this, so having additional police presence in town makes sense, and the cost for some extra patrols is nominal compared to what we pay annually for our law
Contrary to rumors, deputies are not out actively seeking to enforce rules about social distancing and limits to essential, business-only activities, said Capt. Rich Urena last week. In fact, despite approximately a dozen calls from the public reporting violators, the department hasn’t issued any such citations in town. Instead, deputies are focused on education.
“We’re just driving around and being seen and answering questions from our residents,” Urena said.
Since March 17, when the county’s shelter-in-place order took effect, Urena’s West Valley division has fielded between 15 and 20 calls from Hills residents reporting construction projects for perceived violations. But the order didn’t actually hinder most residential and commercial construction until March 31, when county leaders amended the order language and reclassified most projects as nonessential.
Now the Sheriff’s Office is working with the town’s Planning Department to contact site contractors and inform them of the new rules. They’re permitted, for example, to complete elements of a project that could become safety hazards, such as pipes exposed from a foundation.
The amendment “allows for those projects to be shut down at a point where it’s safe and it’s not going to be damaging to the property,” Cahill said. “So we could see situations where closing up a construction site, particularly if there’s excavation, could take up to 10 days.”
The council’s April 1 special meeting took place via Zoom video conferencing, a possibility thanks to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 12 executive order, which temporarily waives portions of the Brown Act, the state’s open-meetings law, so legislative bodies may still convene remotely during the pandemic.
Cahill initially told council members that facilitating similar setups for all the town’s advisory committees would likely become too labor-intensive, but that was before staff realized they had misinterpreted the governor’s order as requiring some kind of physical meeting space should any member of the public desire to speak, said Deborah Padovan, city clerk. For the council meeting, she explained, staff unnecessarily made council chambers available to residents. Only two showed up anyway, and they merely wanted to ensure the agenda included certain consent items.
“We were adding another level that didn’t need to be there,” Padovan said.
The May 7 Planning Commission meeting will take place via Zoom, and city council members during their meeting Thursday will review a policy to allow the committees to convene through the platform as well. Padovan said the meetings will include methods for the public to engage, whether by emailing their interest or through use of a virtual “waiting room” meant to keep bad-intentioned intruders at bay.
“We’re not trying to make it harder for people to participate, but we also don’t want to get Zoom-bombed,” Padovan said.
Los Altos Hills’ next city council meeting is scheduled 6 p.m. Thursday, and it can be viewed online by visiting losaltoshills.ca.gov.
For more information on the town’s COVID-19 response, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov/496/COVID-19-Response-Plan.