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Downtown Survey, Library Negotiation Team Approved

Los Altos City Council members also get update on The Terraces senior care facility and apartments that begin construction next year.

The Los Altos City Council pushed forward on several issues Tuesday night, including a downtown survey, county library negotiations and The Terraces, a large-scale senior apartment construction project near Santa Rita Elementary School that breaks ground next year.

Here is a wrap-up of the council’s actions.

Downtown Survey

The council unanimously approved spending $25,000 on professional telephone survey of residents in February, to find out what they think about, and how they use, the downtown area.

For months, some residents and business owners have voiced bitter criticism over plans to further develop the triangle-shaped heart of town, affectionately called "the Village."

 , or of , has led some critics to say that the council is not listening to the “silent majority” of residents who like downtown the way it is and want no further changes.

Mayor Val Carpenter told the council on Tuesday that she believed the survey would be a critical tool in finding out what residents think about their downtown.

“I think it’s important for that data to be gathered to provide this council with important insights into the views of our community as a whole and also to serve as a benchmark as we reach this key point in the redevelopment of the downtown area,” Carpenter said.

The 15-20 minute surveys, conducted by Godbe Research, will include 400 residents. Carpenter and Council member Megan Satterlee are overseeing the project as an ad hoc committee.

Packard to represent city in library negotiations 

A council majority authorized Council member Ron Packard to engage in negotiations with the Santa Clara County Library District Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for library services.

Packard will join Los Altos Hills Town Council member Jean Mordo in negotiations with the JPA on behalf of the two cities, and the North County Library Authority, which oversees parcel taxes collected for the Los Altos libraries.  

Specifically they want to develop revenue formulas more favorable to Los Altos’ libraries, gain greater influence over compensation, staffing and financial policies, and increase local control over operating policies. 

While Packard was hopeful that he and Mordo would make some inroads with the JPA, Council member Megan Satterlee was against the negotiations. She said she did not understand why city representatives to the JPA could not work within the JPA’s board to get new rules approved.

“I think we are going to alienate the JPA board with this approach versus gathering them up into partnership to come up with a solution,” Satterlee said. “This is Politics 101, people. We’ve got to get a majority of that board to see this is a problem and get on board with coming up with a solution.”

Casas and Packard said they did not believe the board could work together toward a satisfactory conclusion favoring the Los Altos libraries.

“I’ve lost confidence in the JPA board doing this themselves,” Packard said.

Council member David Casas and others brought up their opposition to the the JPA imposed July 1 on library users who live outside of the cities served by county libraries, which became a catalyst for the NCLA to begin studying either leaving the county system, or negotiating for better terms.

He noted that Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents pay more into the system than other communities, like Milpitas, which gets more in services than it pays for. Mordo has presented calculations to his council that suggest the additional parcel tax that the two communities voted to pay for books and services would not be necessary if the revenue-sharing formula were fairer.

The JPA, Casas said, "are taking from Peter to pay Paul.” 

In the end, the council voted 4-1 to appoint Packard to the negotiating team, with Satterlee voting against.

The Terraces

The council accepted an updated report on construction plans for the new continuing care retirement facility at 323 and 373 Pine Lane, called The Terraces of Los Altos, but not without pressing the owners to make Los Altos residents a top priority.

Formerly known as , The Terraces will replace many of the facility’s existing buildings with new two- and three-story buildings that include a new health center and memory care unit, assisted living units, and residential apartments.

The large-scale project near two schools and numerous private residences, will be built in phases beginning in 2012 and ending in 2015.

Councilmember Packard was highly critical of ABHOW, the California nonprofit public benefit corporation that owns the facility, for locating their business offices in Mountain View.

He said the decision showed, “a certain amount of insensitivity to Los Altos,” and questioned whether the organization would honor previous commitments to give preferences to Los Altos residents who wish to move there.

The Terraces Executive Director Rae Holt assured the council that residents and parents of residents would be given priority. He said 20 of 25 people who deposited money toward living in the units are “closely related to Los Altos,” either as current residents or parents of residents.

The project includes 16 below market rate (BMR) apartments. Holt said 30 people are on the priority list for the apartments, and said that residency will be the top factor in the decision process.

Council members peppered Holt with questions about parking and noise issues, since the project is near Santa Rita Elementary School and residences. Holt said he is working closely with neighbors. He said provisions are being made for offsite parking for construction workers, and that noise monitoring equipment will be installed in nearby classrooms.

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