2017 Year in Review

The year 2017 might be viewed as a time Los Altos got serious about its future.

Major plans for rebuilding Hillview Community Center and reshaping the downtown dominated discussions throughout the year, while the Los Altos School District neared a deal with the city of Mountain View for a long-awaited 10th school site. The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, meanwhile, planned facilities upgrades of its own, announcing its intention to put a bond measure before voters next June.


Town Crier File Photo
In October, Los Altos Community Investments pulled its plans for a 77,000-square-foot office building and park.

One major proposal that met an abrupt end was a prominent property owner’s plans for a First Street park and adjacent three-story office building with three levels of underground parking. Los Altos Community Investments cited economic reasons for scuttling the project.

Elsewhere, the city of Mountain View began the difficult task of implementing a voter-approved rent control law, while signing off on a major plan of its own – nearly 10,000 new housing units in the Google Inc.-dominated North Bayshore area.

Following is a month-by-month summary of the year’s highlights.

JANUARY

• The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters confirms that Lynette Lee Eng wins a seat on the Los Altos City Council. After months of counting and recounting votes in a close race for the third open seat, the final tally puts Eng ahead of competitor Neysa Fligor by six votes.

• Los Altos City Councilmembers narrowly vote in favor of negotiating with Los Altos Community Investments about a possible park and underground parking development on First Street, a project that provokes debate across town about what a welcoming downtown looks like and who it should serve.

• The Santa Clara Valley Water District breaks ground (symbolically, then practically) on the Permanente Creek Flood Protection Project, a 10.6-mile job that temporarily disrupts parking and trails at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve.

• Local residents participate in the inauguration of President Donald Trump by, in varying cases, flying to Washington, D.C., to celebrate or hosting and joining in local protest marches and events both large and small.

FEBRUARY

• The Mountain View City Council agrees to fight to defend a rent control measure approved by voters in November after landlords challenge it in court. Measure V limits most rent increases to between 2 and 5 percent annually.

• More than 200 students gather at Foothill College to learn firsthand about the effects of President Trump’s proposed travel ban on refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Three international students – from Iran, Iraq and Libya – share the effects of the ban on them and their families.

• The Mountain View Police Department arrests two residents and seizes one of the largest opium poppy hoards ever discovered in California – approximately 4,000 pounds of pods. After receiving a tip, detectives discover that residents were importing large quantities of Papaver somniferum from overseas, grinding the pods into a fine powder and selling it to be brewed in a highly potent – and potentially lethal – tea.

• News breaks that a federal investigation is probing how the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District has been handling alleged Title IX violations, specifically incidents of sexual assault and harassment. A former district student initiated an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, claiming that the district failed to respond adequately after she alleged that a fellow student raped her at an after-hours party.

• Toni Casey, Los Altos Hills resident and former councilwoman, dies after a long illness. An outspoken and at times controversial leader in local government, the “fearless” councilwoman defended homeowner rights, questioned pathways policies and initiated a resident feedback survey that continues to this day.

MARCH

• A suspected serial stalker is charged with local crimes after harassing girls in downtown Los Altos and elsewhere in the region. Investigators, including Los Altos police, track down Cupertino resident Rajeev Sahni after responding to victims’ complaints about the “weird” encounters, ultimately coming to believe he harassed at least 19 young women.

• In a return of pathways politics, the Los Altos Hills City Council considers, then declines, a change of wording that would soften enforcement of the town’s pathways mandate. Status quo reigns – “All residents of the Town shall have immediate access adjacent or directly across the street from their residence to a pathway or pathways.”

• Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea joins colleagues throughout Santa Clara County in signing a statement declaring that they would not arrest anyone on the basis of his or her immigration status.

• To the relief of some residents and the disappointment of developers, the Los Altos City Council votes unanimously to extend its moratorium on development on El Camino Real for another eight months.

APRIL

• Rent control takes effect in Mountain View after a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge denies a preliminary injunction and lifts a restraining order by the California Apartment Association to halt implementation of Measure V.

• A Los Altos developer submits plans to the city for Los Altos Community Investments’ ultimately ill-fated First Street Green project.

• Los Altos officials host a kick-off event for the city’s Downtown Vision project.

• The Los Altos City Council approves $25 million for overhauling the Hillview Community Center and appoints a citizens design task force to oversee development.

MAY

• A group of plaintiffs end their challenge to the Measure V rent control law and the city of Mountain View begins its implementation.

• Los Altos City Councilmembers are surprised by a Financial Commission call to action urging them to spend excess cash reserves for revamping facilities such as city hall and the police station, thus avoiding stockpiling taxpayer funds.

• The Mountain View City Council approves a Transit Center Master Plan to expand the downtown center with extended platforms, bike stations, additional parking and more. Meanwhile, Caltrain receives $647 million in funding toward providing electrified rail service between San Francisco and San Jose.

JUNE

• The El Camino Hospital Board of Directors approves the appointment of Dan Woods as the hospital’s new CEO. Woods replaces interim CEO Donald C. Sibery, hired after the hospital opted not to renew the contract of previous CEO Tomi Ryba.

• Donald C. McDonald, Los Altos’ unofficial city historian and the Town Crier’s 2010 Los Altan of the Year, dies at 98, surrounded by family and friends.

• Los Altos resident Duncan MacVicar receives the California State Assembly’s “Veteran of the Year” award for District 24, which includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View.

• Santa Clara County traffic officials announce plans to fix the commute-hours bottleneck on Foothill Expressway in Los Altos between El Monte Avenue and San Antonio Road. Representatives offer three designs, each involving the addition of an auxiliary lane in both northbound and southbound directions between El Monte and San Antonio.

JULY

• The Los Altos City Council repeals a controversial 2009 ordinance that prevents residents from volunteering with the city due to a perceived conflict of interest. According to City Manager Chris Jordan, the resolution defies the council-manager model of government that makes city hall operations his responsibility.

• A contract worker mowing the grass at Byrne Preserve to mitigate fire risk in Los Altos Hills inadvertently sparks a 5-acre wildfire with his lawnmower that nearly prompts the evacuation of Westwind Community Barn and its equine residents.

• A Norcross, Ga., man who exchanged gunfire with a Los Altos Hills resident defending his home is sentenced to 33 years in prison. William Brady III, 44, pleads no contest to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of attempted kidnapping and one count of stalking, charges stemming from his Oct. 14 attack at an Oak Knoll Circle home.

• Local officials praise the recent federal decision to address the spike in airplane noise that has plagued Los Altos and other local communities since 2015. Los Altos Hills Mayor Gary Waldeck and Los Altos City Councilman Jean Mordo are among the local representatives who serve on the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, which generates a long list of recommendations for mitigating airplane noise. Of particular interest is a recommendation to move flight paths back to pre-March 2015 routes – before the Federal Aviation Administration adopted a new arrival route into San Francisco International Airport, a change that triggered an avalanche of noise complaints from local residents.

AUGUST

• Hillview Community Center officially enters the design phase after the Los Altos City Council authorizes the city manager to sign a design agreement with the Berkeley-based firm Noll & Tam Architects.

• Los Altos resident Grace Lilygren, 16, makes history when she is appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Lilygren is believed to be the youngest member ever to serve on the commission.

• Pharmaca, the beauty and wellness store located at 400 Main St., closes its downtown doors permanently. Another downtown restaurant, Turn Bar & Grill, has patrons showing up with OpenTable reservations only to discover that it, too, has shut down.

SEPTEMBER

• The 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Field in Mountain View deploys a 90-member team to Houston to aid in Hurricane Harvey search-and-rescue efforts.

• Frustration reaches a high point with the Los Altos City Council after a five-hour meeting generates no results on the density-bonus ordinance and amendments to the commercial thoroughfare zone.

• A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge dismisses manslaughter charges against Los Altos resident Glenn Kawaguchi. The charges stem from an October 2015 collision on El Monte Avenue in Mountain View that killed pedestrian Michelle Montalvo of Los Altos.

OCTOBER

• The Santa Clara County Fire Department offers up to a $10,000 reward in hopes of finding the suspect(s) responsible for a fire that badly damaged a classroom at Egan Junior High School.

• Two men rob the Walgreens on Second Street. The hoodie-wearing men jump over the pharmacy counter and douse a pharmacist with pepper spray before stealing prescription medications, including codeine, according to police.

• School administrators keep kids indoors and coaches cancel practices and games for several days due to poor air quality from the North Bay fires. In addition, Los Altos High School cancels its annual homecoming parade on Main Street.

• Los Altos Community Investments abruptly pulls the plug on the high-profile office building and park it proposed to build downtown. According to LACI founder Anne Wojcicki, the First Street Green project as proposed “became unsustainable due to overall costs, opposition by some and the likelihood of a long and increasingly expensive process.” The plan called for construction of a 77,000-square-foot, three-story office building with a neighboring half-acre park and more than 300 underground parking spaces across from Safeway.

NOVEMBER

• A fight in downtown Mountain View Nov. 4 results in the stabbing death of a 55-year-old man, according to police, who arrest Marin County resident Jan Neal, 43, on murder charges. Officials have yet to release the victim’s name or city of residence.

• Police arrest Mountain View High School math teacher Evan Smith, who is charged with one count of sending harmful content to a minor – one of his students. Smith, who has been at the school for 15 years, is released the next day on $25,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 8.

• The Los Altos and Los Altos Hills city councils meet to discuss expanding the Los Altos main library and funding for the new Hillview Community Center, among other items. Los Altos Councilman Jean Mordo proposes a study on expanding or remodeling the library, and Los Altos Mayor Mary Prochnow asks Los Altos Hills to consider contributing money toward Hillview construction. Los Altos Hills councilmembers bless Mordo’s idea but question whether the town should contribute to Hillview when they don’t know how much their residents would use it.

• A coyote snatches Romeo, Andrea Brenholz’s beloved teacup poodle, from her fenced yard on Manuella Road in Los Altos Hills. His remains are found the next day. Another Los Altos Hills dog, a labradoodle named Bella, survives her coyote encounter on Jabil Lane. Brent Jarvis spots two coyotes threatening his family’s dog, and he and a few friends scare them off.

• The Los Altos City Council issues a five-year renewal for the Downtown Green and passes an urgency ordinance mandating a 45-day moratorium on the establishment, creation or expansion of commercial cannabis businesses.

DECEMBER

• The Los Altos History Museum celebrates its 40th anniversary with a “Keep the Lights Twinkling” event for museum members on the porch of the J. Gilbert Smith House.

• Los Altos City Councilman Jean Mordo is named mayor for 2018, with Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng serving as vice mayor.

• The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees takes a major step toward purchasing land in Mountain View for a 10th school campus, identifying a piece of land on California Street across from The Village at San Antonio Center as a potential site. A lawyer representing the landowners raises objections, however, declaring that his clients “are not willing sellers.”

• The Mountain View City Council signs off on a plan to transform the North Bayshore area dominated by Google Inc. into an urban center filled with high-rises, 3.6 million square feet of office space, mixed-use development and nearly 10,000 new housing units.

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MROSD board selects Ruiz as acting general manager


The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Board of Directors recently appointed Ana Maria Ruiz as acting general manager.

Ruiz will assume the role once General Manager Steve Abbors retires Dec. 31, according to a press release issued by the Los Altos-based MROSD. The appointment came on a 6-1 closed-session vote Nov. 6 (Director Cecily Harris dissented) but was not announced publicly until Nov. 15. The recruitment process for the general manager position is scheduled to begin in January, the release stated.

Group organizes LA vigil to protest gun bill

The gun control group of the Silicon Valley Courageous Resistance has scheduled candlelight vigils in Los Altos and Mountain View Thursday to protest a proposed federal law enabling residents of states that allow concealed weapons to enter into other states, like California, that don’t have such laws.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 passed the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 6. Backed by the National Rifle Association, the bill heads to the U.S. Senate for a vote. Several state attorneys general have vowed to challenge the law in court should the bill be signed into law.

LAH resident raises risks of gas leaf blowers


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills Environmental Initiatives Committee member Pat Lang, from left, shows off her electric leaf blower as committee member Drew Grewal and resident Dave Fribush look on during last week’s committee meeting. Fribush is working to educate the town’s residents about the air and noise pollution caused by gas-powered leaf blowers.

Dave Fribush estimates there are 20 houses within sound range of his own abode. As most if not all of his neighbors employ a lawn service, he’s come to expect that at least part of every day he works from home will be disrupted.

“It adds up to hours over the course of a week,” Fribush said. “It’s just a constant drone of leaf blowers.”

Police reunite vintage photo album with owner


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Janice Anne Duncan, center, flips through pages of the World War II-era photo album she assembled as a young woman. Police officers found the album in a homeless encampment.

She remembered most of the faces and could recite the names: friends, boyfriends and even casual acquaintances who floated into her life and out again. There’s the portrait of her father and hammy stills of her sisters playing mirrored images on opposite sides of an ornate frame. She saw her 20-year-old self playing tennis and serving waffles to GIs during World War II.

“It’s like seeing an old friend,” Janice Anne Duncan said of the photo album before her.

Community center task force delivers design

Despite dealing with uncertain budget numbers and undefined uses for square footage, members of the Hillview Community Center Project Task Force used their final meeting Nov. 30 to deliver a conceptual design for a rebuilt center.

The 11-member task force collectively selected Concept C1, a 24,500-square-foot building footprint in the general area of the current facilities that includes gabled roofs and greater separation among the structures than the competing Concept C2 option.


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