Los Altos Hills residents report mysterious pathways snake deaths

The discoveries of several stabbed snakes left conspicuously along Los Altos Hills pathways have caused some residents to question whether someone is purposely killing the animals. 

County audit proposes suspension of Los Altos Hills fire district authority

An audit review of the Los Altos Hills County Fire District nearly two years in the making culminated Friday (May 22) in the release of a scathing report that includes allegations of improper use of taxpayer funds, potential Brown Act violations and failures to adhere to a competitive bid process for awarding contract work. 

Los Altos officials eye plan to close downtown streets

The push to improve business downtown amid shelter-in-place orders has city leaders thinking outside the box – or at least outside the storefront.

Los Altos City Council members were scheduled at their May 26 meeting to discuss the idea of closing Main and State streets to cars in a bid to encourage pedestrian shopping and dining outdoors. City officials announced late Friday, after the Town Crier's May 22 press deadline, that the item has since been moved to the council's June 9 meeting.

A steering committee comprising business leaders and city staff has been looking at the feasibility of pedestrian-only streets and restricted parking. The proposal would allow restaurants to accommodate outdoor dining – permitted under loosened public health restrictions. Retailers, currently barred from having patrons inside their stores, could display merchandise on the sidewalk for outdoor shopping.

The concept has vocal supporters and detractors. Some believe the plan gives downtown businesses an opportunity to attract more customers during a time of social distancing and sheltering-in-place. Others believe street closures, with no auto access, will make a bad problem even worse.

Proponents are actively lobbying for the pedestrian-only streets, with the goal to have outdoor shopping and dining for summer. A change.org petition to the city council gathered more than 2,000 signatures as of Friday.

Such a plan could impact the curbside pickup option for retailers, which Santa Clara County officials began allowing May 22 under their revised public health order.

Reach code proposal pits green thinkers against those citing government overreach

Los Altos officials’ push toward all-electric homes in new construction has some touting a path toward cleaner energy and others decrying government overreach.
A city-sponsored informational webinar April 29 on reach codes underscored a conflict between those envisioning a future of all-electric homes and those objecting to a phase-out of natural-gas use.
Members of the city’s Environmental Commission support adopting codes that “reach” beyond minimum requirements for energy efficiency in building design.
Commissioners hope to implement the codes with city council approval this year. Adoption would result in two significant changes – all-electric construction and a requirement to accommodate electric vehicles.
The city’s environmentally conscious residents are vocal in their support of reach codes.
“Los Altos has a huge opportunity to reduce emissions by following 30 California cities in passing strong reach codes to ensure that new construction is powered by electricity rather than climate-destabilizing natural gas,” 35-year resident Cheryl Weiden wrote among several letters to the Town Crier in support. “Since these codes apply only to new construction, most residents are not affected.”
But opponents of the codes are expressing concern.
“I’m appalled,” said Los Altos resident Freddie Wheeler, who thinks supporters are trying to push the reach codes through the approval process without considering residents’ objections.
The webinar, Wheeler said, was blatantly biased and residents’ feedback was muted.
“This is a question that needs to go to the voters,” said Wheeler, who serves on the steering committee of the grassroots group Los Altos Residents.
“This is not asking for a revolution,” said John Supp, manager at Silicon Valley Clean Energy, in an interview prior to the web-
Proponents figure the new reach codes would impact approximately 40 houses annually.
The nonprofit SVCE – which purchases and provides clean electricity to a consortium of South Bay cities, including Los Altos, using PG&E infrastructure – supports the changes.
Conflict of interest?
Wheeler, among others, said Mayor Jan Pepper should not be voting on the reach codes because she is CEO of Peninsula Clean Energy, which buys electricity for San Mateo County as SVCE does for Santa Clara. This constitutes a conflict of interest, some residents said.
Pepper sees it differently.
“There’s no conflict of interest,” she said. “(PCE is) a government agency. We procure power and deliver it to the customer. There’s no monetary gain or loss for me if a city does or doesn’t (adopt reach codes).”
But Pepper favors adopting the codes.
“The objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change,” she said. “Buildings make up 35% of those emissions (in Los Altos), and transportation (gas-powered vehicles) makes up the most at 58%.”
Proponents contend that all-electric homes are more environmentally friendly, less expensive to build and safer than homes using natural gas. Gas, they noted, presents the risk of explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning.
But reach-code opponents contend the effort is more about “virtue signaling” and symbolism than actually saving the environment. They cite what they see as the hypocrisy of banning gas indoors but allowing it for outdoor use. And they note that an all-electric home will cost more to run than one using gas-powered hot-water heaters, furnaces and stoves.
“I’m not against clean air, but I think anything needs to be looked at on a cost-benefit basis,” Wheeler said.
Kirk Ballard, the city’s building official, said net construction costs were on average $10,000 less for all-electric as opposed to adding gas. Costs were calculated in a cost-effectiveness study required by the state’s Energy Commission.
Although net operating costs were estimated at $7 more per month, Ballard added that the installation of photovoltaic or solar panels could mean an overall decrease of $5 monthly.
Skeptics weigh in
Still, written questions posed to commissioners at the webinar suggested residents had problems not only with the proposal, but with the process.
“The question is, if (all electricity) is so great, why would you have to shove it down someone’s throat with a government regulation?” Wheeler asked.
“Sometimes it takes an outside influence to get people to change a habit and adopt something new,” Commissioner Laura Teksler said at the webinar.
Los Altos Hills resident Robert Sandor thinks reach codes for new construction would pave the way for more regulations that would go further to reduce gas use. The current proposal, he said, “is speaking for people who are not even residents
An engineer and skeptic of clean-energy agencies like SVCE, Sandor said most electricity does not come from clean sources, is not reliable and is already three times more expensive in California than it is in other states. By contrast, he said “natural gas has never been less expensive than it is.”
But Sandor believes any arguments will fall on deaf ears. Despite opposition, the Los Altos Hills City Council in September adopted reach codes, as has Mountain View.
“This is a done deal,” Sandor said. “This has already been decided.”
Pepper refuted Sandor’s argument dismissing clean electricity.
“First of all, no coal is burned in California,” she said. “(The purchased electricity) is from either solar, wind, hydroelectric or geothermal. There are natural-gas power plants in California, but SVCE doesn’t (buy energy from) these plants.”
While some don’t want them at all, Gary Hedden of the local nonprofit GreenTown Los Altos sees the current reach-code effort as not going far enough. He would like to see the all-electric requirement apply to major remodels, too, not just new construction.
“It’s about fighting climate change,” he said prior to the webinar. “We can see (an environmental disaster) coming.”
The city is gathering input via an online survey through the end of the month. To participate, visit losaltosca.gov/community/page/open-city-hall.

Wildlife ‘Warrior’: Longtime animal control officer retires

William Warrior
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Animal Control Officer William Warrior bonds with a canine friend at Palo Alto Animal Services.

In 1974, when William Warrior began working as a wildlife rescue volunteer at the Palo Alto animal shelter, a 6-foot-tall redwood fence encircled the Bayshore Road property. Staff members had yet to issue him a key, and they seemed to accept his habit of scaling the fence to gain entry. 

Yawn! Los Altos Hills a slumber leader, study shows

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills Mayor Michelle Wu believes her town’s extensive network of pathways help keep residents fit and could consequently contribute to restful sleep at night.

In addition to “richest town in America,” an accolade earned in 2018 and 2019, Los Altos Hills has scored another feather to festoon its proverbial cap: “best place for sleep.” Beating out Woodside, Hillsborough and, yes, even Atherton, the town clinched the dubious designation in a recent study published by Sleepopolis, a mattress review company. 

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