Los Altos Hills luncheon highlights town projects and emergency prep

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills planning director Zachary Dahl, left, and Santa Clara County Fire Chief Tony Bowden, right, listen Jan. 14 as Mayor Michelle Wu explains the “state of the town” during a Los Altos Hills Club luncheon.

A Los Altos Hills Club “state of the town” luncheon last week spanned topics ranging from town financial health to accessory dwelling unit construction.

Following are responses from an expert panel including Mayor Michelle Wu (MW), Santa Clara County Fire Chief Tony Bowden (TB), SCCFD emergency services coordinator Capt. Denise Gluhan (DG) and town planning director Zachary Dahl (ZD), who answered queries posed by audience members and master of ceremonies Duffy Price.

Q: What are your plans for Los Altos Hills in your term of office?

MW: The plan for 2020 is really to keep the status quo of our town, keep the rural ambience, open space. At the same time, we need to keep up with all the state legislative actions. Keep (change) to the minimum, I would say.

Q: What do you see as the most important issue facing Los Altos Hills?

ZD: Housing is the most important issue facing the state, and Los Altos Hills is no different – all the state legislation and the mandates that come with that. So staying on top of that, tracking that and managing it so it doesn’t impact – or unduly impact – the properties and the residents of Los Altos Hills as best we can. We’re going to be holding a joint study session with council and the Planning Commission at the end of this month, beginning of February, where we’ll be introducing all the new ADU legislation and how the town is responding, and that will kind of kick-start our ordinance amendments to incorporate the mandates that we have to push back, manage where we can to ensure that they’re developing in an orderly way that doesn’t take away from what’s really critical to us, like how large a property you can build and setbacks.

Q: What do you think is the most important issue facing Los Altos Hills for fire protection?

TB: Strengthening mutual aid, strengthening partnerships, making sure we’re looking at prevention management, we’re looking at fuel mitigation projects, that we’re looking at it from a regional perspective, because at the end of the day, fire does not respect jurisdiction boundaries.

Q: Can you provide an update on the town’s undergrounding utilities project?

ZD: There needs to be a revenue source if that’s taken on in a meaningful way, but in the meantime, we’re definitely continuing to plan, look into and see what options are available for the town moving forward.

Q: What do you think about using goats to help with fire prevention?

TB: I love goats. … They will remove brush and ivy and anything thorny and all the stuff you don’t want to have to deal with on your property in a wonderful way.

Q: Are burglaries on the rise in Los Altos Hills?

ZD: There will be a report presented to the council in February that kind of provides some statistics for 2019 overall; it doesn’t look like the numbers are doing anything above kind of the typical range we see.

DG: Great property hygiene is also in alignment with making an anti-burglary statement because you’re removing that brush and whatnot that hide access to the home and entry into the home.

Q: How can residents prepare for wildland fire?

DG: Register for early notification; being aware and educated is the No. 1 thing, attending meetings that are offered by County Fire or the fire district or a collaboration of anything that trains you about evacuation … and also home resiliency and home hardening.

Q: Will Los Altos Hills’ narrow roads make it difficult for emergency crews to reach residences here in the event of wildland fire?

TB: There is not a house in this community that we can’t respond to – that’s clear. County Fire has made a significant investment in our wildland firefighting equipment. We have the most wildland firefighting equipment in this county of any local government department.

Q: Will the process for building ADUs in town get easier?

ZD: Moving forward, we’re actually going to have a very expedited administrative review process consistent with the recently enacted state legislation. So yeah, your approval process for an ADU moving forward will be significantly shorter.

Q: What is the financial status of the town?

MW: We are in the 95% percentile of the overall financial health compared with (other California cities) – 100% being perfect and best. And we’re in the 95%. That means we’re in very, very good financial health.

To register for town-specific emergency alerts, visit

For more information on recommended wildfire response and evacuation, visit

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