Hills leaders earmark committee reorg, survey as 2020 priorities

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills Mayor Michelle Wu, second from right, listens to Councilman Roger Spreen, far left, discuss 5G technology Jan. 31 during the council’s annual goal-setting meeting.

Proudly wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Goal Digger,” Los Altos Hills City Councilwoman Michelle Wu presided over her first goal-setting meeting as mayor late last month.

The Jan. 31 brainstorming session spanned subjects ranging from the potential creation of pop-up parks to forthcoming accessory dwelling unit ordinance changes and brief updates on the ongoing town hall expansion and undergrounding utilities exploratory project. Assessing the town’s advisory committee structure and arranging for a new town survey, however, emerged as two “higher priority” issues the council hopes to tackle in the coming year.

From Pathways to Public Art, there are currently 12 Los Altos Hills standing committees consisting of appointed residents who meet monthly and make recommendations to the council. While recognizing and praising these volunteers’ commitment, council and town staff members said some committees are inefficiently run, rife with personality clashes and helmed by chairs who fail to express the consensus of the group when reporting to the council. Some committees also have become a drain on resources.

“If I spend more time or my staff spends more time with a single committee member than the entire city council all year, there’s a problem there,” City Manager Carl Cahill said.

Sometimes committees are formed to tackle a specific topic but then they linger in perpetuity, council members said.

“Perhaps we can as a group come to a conclusion at some point in the next 11 months about how these committees, and which committees, may be doing more harm than good – I hate to say that expression, it’s really not the one I should use – but committees that may, um, have already outlived their usefulness in their current iteration and that it is time to morph them in a new direction or disband them,” Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan said.

The method for evaluating town committees might even entail forming a council ad hoc committee, suggested meeting moderator Nancy Hetrick of consulting firm Management Partners.

Residents to weigh in

Four years ago, discussion about building a Los Altos Hills community center spurred an official survey of residents meant to gauge their appetite for that idea as well as for other potential town improvements. The results revealed lackluster support for the project – since scaled back to a modest expansion of existing facilities – and it may be time to conduct a similar survey for direction before pursuing others, council members agreed. This time around, options such as undergrounding utilities, which Councilman George Tyson is researching, and pursuing improved internet connectivity, urged by some residents and opposed by others concerned about 5G health effects, will be evaluated alongside their associated cost.

“If you’re going to say, ‘Do you want undergrounding?’ ‘OK. Heck, yeah.’ ‘Do you want it if it means we’re taking away your first born?’ Probably not,” Corrigan said.

The 2016 survey cost the town $30,000.

Reviewing crime trends

Response times for Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies arriving on scene to resident calls have continued to decrease across most categories of crime, according to data Capt. Rich Urena presented as part of a public safety update at the meeting.

It took deputies an average of 6.85 minutes to respond to Priority 1 calls (those deemed life-or-death emergency situations) in 2017, 7.09 minutes in 2018 and 4.31 minutes in 2019. Response times for Priority 2 calls (crimes against a person not considered life-threatening) steadily declined from an average of 13.84 minutes in 2017 to 11.18 minutes in 2018 and 10.84 minutes in 2019. And average response times for Priority 3 calls (nonemergencies) dropped from 22.56 minutes in 2017 to 18.22 minutes in 2018 and 14.54 minutes in 2019.

Urena noted a spike in commercial burglaries last year – seven compared to only one in 2018 – as criminals increasingly targeted homes under construction. But residential burglaries fell 16% with 25 tallied in 2018 and 21 in 2019.

“I would say the town is the safest in this county,” Urena said.

The council is slated to meet 4-6 p.m. Thursday as part of a joint study session with the Planning Commission concerning ADU ordinance amendments in the wake of new state legislation. The regular monthly city council meeting is scheduled 6 p.m. Feb. 20.

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