LAH council ponders student homelessness, garbage and 5G

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Audience members at the specially scheduled Aug. 21 Los Altos Hills City Council meeting raise their hands to express intent to speak about 5G wireless technology during the “Presentations from the Floor” portion of the agenda. Mayor Roger Spreen called it “the most concentrated, nonagendized discussion” he’s ever seen.

To voice support for a proposal allowing homeless community college students to sleep in vehicles on campus, the dozen or so young adults who attended last week’s specially scheduled Los Altos Hills City Council meeting would have waited nearly five and a half hours. Many trickled out, however, by 11:30 p.m. Aug. 21, when that discussion commenced.

“I think I have six speaker cards that were all in support of this bill,” said Cody Einfalt, town management analyst. “They unfortunately told me that they had jobs and had to leave.”

The council ultimately voted 4-1, with Kavita Tankha dissenting, to send a letter to State Assemblyman Marc Berman, author of Assembly Bill 302, expressing concerns about issues involving vandalism, trash, trespassing and safety some believe could crop up at Foothill Community College if his “Safe Lots Bill” passes into law.

“AB 302 does not solve the long-term issue of student homelessness and we respectfully ask that the state reconsider its approach,” states a draft version of the letter. “The Town recommends that the state establish a proper shelter for homeless students with adequate lighting, heating, ventilation, and sanitary facilities nearby.”

Already the town has requested that the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District Board of Trustees include a Los Altos Hills representative at all future meetings about the bill.

Talking trash

Trash talk dominated the first hour or so of the meeting, with Emily Hanson, GreenWaste Recovery’s director of business development and communications, providing an update on the July 1 transition to higher garbage collection rates that more accurately reflect business costs.

In June, the council approved a 9% increase to base rates for the first five years of a new, 15-year contract with the San Jose-based company inclusive of consumer price index adjustments. Annual increases thereafter will follow the consumer price index.

Unless they pay for additional services, Los Altos Hills residents are now limited to one 96-gallon blue recycle cart, two 96-gallon green yard-trimming carts and one gray mixed-compostables cart containing trash and food waste. The size of the gray cart determines the base rate. Residents must bring their green carts curbside, and the others can’t exceed 10 feet from the curb without extra fees or approval for a “Physical Limitations Program” at no extra cost. Those who live in an area accessible only by a small waste collection truck or who receive on-premise services can opt to swap their two green carts for a single 96-gallon gray cart that may contain yard trimmings.

Hanson said 100% of the material collected in the town is processed, and GreenWaste will recover trimmings whether they are placed in the gray or the green cart; the company’s cost of recovery is merely higher for gray carts, and the resulting compost is more restricted in its market applications.

Throughout August, GreenWaste has affixed tags to carts left in the wrong place. Starting next week, they will be left behind. During the next few months, Hanson explained, the company will begin charging for collection provided more than 10 feet from the curb and will transition to an on-premise measuring methodology meant to more fairly represent the cost of the service. Whereas the prior system measured from parcel lines to the setout location, the new one will measure from where the truck must deviate from its normal route.

Some residents described feeling blindsided by the new contract’s rates and provisions.

“I spent my career negotiating contracts. If I did this badly at any of the companies I worked for, I would have been fired, easily,” Bob Sandor said. “I’ve lost trust in the town council over such a negotiation. I wonder what other contracts that the town might be neglecting.”

Wireless tech worries

The room audibly groaned when nearly 20 audience members raised their hands to indicate intention to speak about small-cell node technology during the open-ended, “Presentations from the Floor” portion of the meeting. Mayor Roger Spreen called it “the most concentrated, nonagendized discussion” he’s ever seen.

AT&T has filed an application to install three transmitters for 4G microcell capabilities on existing utility poles in town – two on Miranda Road and one near the intersection of Fremont Road and West Edith Avenue – so as to improve wireless service coverage.

The company’s application, which is incomplete, is scheduled for discussion at the Sept. 5 Planning Commission meeting.

“It is not a done deal yet,” Spreen said.

The council in March unanimously enacted an emergency, placeholder ordinance to beat the application of Federal Communications Commission regulations that would have restricted the town’s ability to limit the size of 4G and 5G structures on utility poles. In the next few months, town staff will draft a new ordinance that details the town’s wireless infrastructure plan.

Most of the speakers at last week’s meeting expressed dismay about 5G transmitters, which they believe cause harmful health effects like cancer through radiofrequency radiation.

Hilltop Drive resident Hadas Tepman said she never gets involved with town business, but she came to the meeting because she is worried about the transmitters proposed for Miranda Road, which is near Gardner Bullis Elementary School.

“My daughter just started Bullis today, and I’m, like, really freaking out right now because the tower is so close,” she said.

Wage increase denied

One student who stuck around at the meeting and advocated for AB 302 support also implored council members to adopt an ordinance setting the minimum wage in town at $15 ahead of state legislation that mandates it.

“People need to be paid a livable wage, and they don’t deserve to be written off for another four years,” said Jai Bahri, a Hills resident who attends The Harker School.

California Senate Bill 3’s passage in 2016 means the statewide minimum wage is increasing each year until 2023, when it reaches $15 per hour. Currently, the rate is $11 or $12 per hour, depending on how many people a company employs. But local jurisdictions have the authority to establish a higher rate, and at least 28 cities and counties in the state have, including Los Altos, where a $15-per-hour wage has been in effect since Jan. 1.

But after pointing out the dearth of businesses in town and the anticipated resources needed to enforce a minimum wage, the council voted 3-2 against adopting one. Members George Tyson and Tankha dissented.

“We have come to a point in this country and in our town and in our neighborhoods where kids in Foothill College are sleeping in cars,” Tankha said. “They’re obviously not being paid a minimum wage. There’s a reason for that.”

For more information on the town’s new contract with GreenWaste Recovery, visit

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