Hills survey to gauge interest in undergrounding, recreation

Undergrounding Los Altos Hills’ utility wires will take approximately 1,000 years if the town proceeds at its current pace of exploring the project, Councilman George Tyson told his colleagues Thursday at their monthly council meeting. Statewide, however, infrastructure is in such disarray that burying all of California’s wires won’t happen for another 3,300 years.

Jim Abraham

“Holy cow,” Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan said. “You’re appealing to our competitive side.”

Councilmembers are eager to bring undergrounding to Los Altos Hills, an undertaking a 2003 committee estimated would cost $60 million for 64 miles of coverage. But they want to know if residents, who will likely foot part of the bill through parcel or utility taxes, feel the same. To that end, the council last week authorized $35,000 for a new town survey meant to glean local appetite for undergrounding as well as for expanding park facilities and other potential improvements. Councilwoman Kavita Tankha agreed to join Tyson as part of a subcommittee vetting possible survey questions posed by members of town staff and committees. They intend to couple the questions with associated costs and avenues for funding. Credits offered through the California Public Utilities Commission’s Rule 20, for example, could help pay for undergrounding.

Although past endeavors to underground Los Altos Hills, including the 2003 attempt, petered out from lack of support, Tyson believes concern about downed powerlines causing wildfires may have changed attitudes. He explained his rationale and research as part of an undergrounding subcommittee progress report.

“If you’ve ever seen the video of the Camp Fire in Paradise of people trying to escape, cars driving through the flames on either side, the greater awareness of the intensity of fires and creating their own weather and the fact that more extreme weather is more likely and seems to be happening in areas it hasn’t before,” Tyson said. “So that’s been the thing that helped spur me to proceed with the things that I’ve been talking about since this subcommittee was formed back in June.”

The last townwide survey, conducted by phone and email in 2016 at a cost of $30,000, originated with a proposal to construct a new community center. The survey revealed residents valued undergrounding, additional sheriff patrol services and high-speed internet above building a community center, and that project was consequently scaled back to an expansion of the Parks and Recreation department and the enclosure of the patio behind the council chambers.

As part of a separate agenda item, the council Thursday appropriated $450,000 for the town hall expansion’s design phase.

Council appoints new planning commissioner

A new face will join the dais at the Planning Commission’s March 5 meeting as Birgitta Indaco steps into the role vacated by longtime Commissioner Jim Abraham when he resigned in January.

Birgitta Indaco

Indaco, vice chairwoman of the town’s Environmental Design & Protection Committee, beat out five other contenders for the role. She differentiated herself by emphasizing her history of participating in site development visits and crafting the requisite reports.

Mayor Michelle Wu indicated Indaco’s experience should mean she can “hit the ground running.”

“Birgitta is a very passionate volunteer on EDPC,” Wu said. “I’ve seen her so dedicated, spend so much time. She probably knows all the house developments right now in Los Altos Hills. She visited every single site and has lots of expert knowledge.”

Indaco will serve out Abraham’s term through June 30.

Councilmembers encouraged the other candidates to resubmit their applications for the Planning Commission seats currently held by chairman Jitze Couperus and Susan Mandle, as their terms also expire in June.

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