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News Worth Knowing Aug. 29 - Sept 3: City Manager Retires

City Manager Doug Schmitz announced his retirement, a water main broke, a shady contractor went to jail, the Los Altos School District took the top spot in state API scores, and county library users just got access to more than 100 Chinese magazine titles

1. 

City Manager Doug Schmitz surprised many when he announced in a letter to the Los Altos City Council members that he was stepping down in March 2012.

"These past four years have been personally fulfilling and professionally satisfying," Schmitz wrote in remarks that were released by the Los Altos City Council Thursday, just before the long holiday weekend. 

"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the community of Los Altos.”

Schmitz was hired away from the city of Lake Oswego, OR, in 2007 and given the task of moving the city ahead on a big wish-list of municipal aspirations. Prior to that, he had been city manager in Carmel, some of it while Clint Eastwood was mayor.

Both Mayor Ron Packard and Mayor Pro Tem Val Carpenter remarked that he had succeeded in their charge. Although the work is not completed, Schmitz made reference to the plethora of projects that were set in motion.

The City Council will need to meet in closed session to discuss the process for selecting a new city manager, Carpenter said. 

2. 

Small wonder real estate agents love Los Altos. Its schools have among the highest test scores in the state. California released the Academic Performance Index (API) scores of each district and school in California Wednesday, one of the most commonly cited measures to which parents refer when looking for a place to live.

Both , comprising seven elementary and two junior high schools, and Hillsborough City School District, its Peninsula neighbor 25 miles to the north, came out on top with an API score of 969 out of 1,000. Hillsborough comprises three elementary schools and one middle school. 

Individual schools within Los Altos boundaries also did very well. , located in south Los Altos and part of the Cupertino Union School District, scored 958. , which leases space on the campus of , scored 984.

(CUSD) scored 955. Los Altos students attend , then go to Cupertino Middle School and on to . CUSD, which gained four points over last year, is considerably larger than the top-scoring districts, with 21 elementary schools and seven middle schools.

Districts, indeed, vary widely in size and budgets so test scores can flatten and oversimplify the hurdles each must overcome. School officials alternated between expressing pride over the scores, and tempering that with the observation that scores do not measure everything that is important to a child's learning.

"I don't like all the emphasis to be put on API scores, but I am proud," said Phyllis Vogel, vice president of CUSD.

"I think giving kids multiple-choice questions is an easy way to measure the core academics but I don't think there is an easy way to measure the other things. I wish there were."

3. 

Lehigh Southwest Cement’s plan for a new 210-acre pit mine has been removed from the company’s latest public plans to reclaim and restore a portion of quarry land.

But wary residents, who came to an environmental impact review (EIR) hearing held by the county Aug. 30.

“No new stealth mine,” admonished Joyce Eden, head of West Valley Citizen’s Air Watch, during the hearing at the in Cupertino. 

Lehigh officials did not address any new mining plans at the hearing and declined to be interviewed afterwards.

In the reclamation plan document, however, the company stated: "To the extent that Lehigh's property outside of the RPA (reclamation plan amendment) area is valuable for future mining operations, Lehigh may develop them in the future." 

Los Altos Hills Mayor Ginger Summit, speaking not as an elected official but as a resident, called it “disingenuous” of the cement company not to state, up front, future plans for expansion of any new mine elsewhere on the company’s 3,500 acres in the foothills.

4. 

More than 100 popular Chinese-language magazines are now accesssible online to all patrons of the Santa Clara County Library.

The magazines feature various topics including arts, education, technology, health, literature, economy, finance and other contemporary periodicals. They can all be browsed or searched with a full-text database called Dragonsource.

All the magazines in the Dragonsource database can be accessed from computers in the library or remotely from a computer at home or work, with the use of a Santa Clara County Library card.

5. 

An 8-inch water main broke in San Antonio Hills Friday morning at the intersection of Mora Drive and Esberg Road, sending enough water to open a sinkhole at the intersection and shutting off water to more than 100 households.

The deluge inundated a garage and several backyards, including that of resident Peter Stanley. 

"I went to the street at 6 a.m. to grab the newspaper and see the flood coming down the street," emailed Stanley, who lives on Mora Drive. 

(Cal Water) crews were on scene within a half hour after reports came in, said water company district manager Ronald Richardson. Service was first restored to more than 50 percent of the homes initially affected by the break, but Cal Water spent most of Friday repairing the main.

While crews worked all day to repair the break, homes on the 700 and 800 block of Mora Drive, Mora Court, Thorsen Court, Hierra Court and Esberg Road were without water.

The water company offered free bottled water to residents in the affected area and service was restored between 6-7 p.m., Richardson added. 

6. 

A Redwood City man was sentenced last week to a two-year prison sentence after defrauding a Los Altos resident of nearly $400,000 for a sham construction contract.

The homeowner, who was near retirement, had found the contractor through Diamond Certified rating service, and had even checked with a reference, said the deputy district attorney handling the case.

Michael George Schaeffer, 52, was convicted Aug. 26 of one felony count of diverting construction funds, one misdemeanor count of contracting without a license, one misdemeanor count of accepting payment before completing work and for being in violation of the Business and Professions Code.

Schaeffer was similarly convicted in San Mateo County in June for charges against Pacifica and Burlingame residents. In total, it amounted to about $740,000.

The Los Altos resident contracted Schaeffer and his company, MGS Construction, to remodel her home in November 2006. She had planned to retire and was going to use the money she inherited from her father.

In June 2008, the project was abandoned when it was only 50 percent finished. The roof still leaks, and the light fixtures and windows still don’t work, Colin said. It will be hard for her to find someone else to finish this kind of work, he said. She is still working.

“She was so happy the case was resolved,” Paul Colin, Santa Clara deputy district attorney in the real estate fraud unit, said of the victim. “Any fraud case is a violation of trust. You create a relationship with your contractor, and this is a violation you live with every day.”

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