Los Altos City Council February 2020

February 11, 2020

The City Council heard the second reading and adopted the final version of the ordinance to amend R3-4.5 zoning, particularly valuable to the multi-family duplex Marshall Meadows district in Los Altos. The ordinance establishes development standards for such districts to make reasonable improvements and additions to the owner’s property while maintaining the character of the district as a duplex style neighborhood and limiting any impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

The City Council did not approve a consultant agreement with Alta + Design for development of the Los Altos Complete Streets Master Plan. Before the meeting, the council received a detailed proposal for the Scope of Work. In addition, they received a detailed set of answers to city council’s questions from the November 20, 2019, introduction of the proposal. Councilmembers had more questions and Staff will bring the item back to the Council after renegotiating the Scope of Work and contract amount with Alta + Design. A specific date to bring the item back to the City Council has not been set.

Especially because of the dangers associated with vaping flavored e-cigarettes, the City Council authorized the staff to write a draft ordinance to further restrict tobacco retail licensing in Los Altos. Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has adopted and requested cities in the county to adopt restrictions on kinds of tobacco, tobacco products, locations for retail sale, and advertising limits as well as adopting a tobacco retailer’s license. The city of Los Altos will enforce the policy, not Santa Clara County. The council received written comments in support from the Northern California American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and from Breathe California. Other interesting written comment was received about the use of hookahs in Middle Eastern communities and concerns that hookahs would be restricted. The draft ordinance is scheduled for review at the February 25, 2020, council meeting.

February 25, 2020

The City Council approved and adopted the ordinance to further restrict tobacco retail licensing in los altos after staff amended the original draft of the ordinance.

In closed session after almost a year of mediation the City Council voted to settle the litigation with GoldSilverIsland Homes LLC about the property division at 831 Arroyo Road. With a vote of 4/1 the Council followed staff recommendation to sub-divide the property as requested. A year ago the council had denied the subdivision request and the lawsuit was filed, citing that the LLC had revised the proposal for the property to accommodate comments by Montebello Acres residents.

Los Altos City Council January 2020

Los Altos City Council – January 2020

January 14, 2020

By consent, the City Council approved unanimously the R3-4.5 zoning amendments that established site development standards for the Los Altos multi-family district where none existed, establishing a design review process for renovations to properties and updating other provisions for a multiple-family district to be consistent with other similar residential districts. The upgrades in zoning were initiated from designs submitted to renovate properties in the Marshall Meadows area of Los Altos.

In addition, the council funded by consent the North County Gun Buyback Program for 2020. However, the proposal for development at 444-450 First Street was continued to allow more time to pursue the council’s concern over a development design being suitable for the First Street area.

To settle litigation from a lawsuit in 2015 over property in the Loyola Corners district the City Council approved purchase of the property at 999 Fremont Ave., currently location of the Coffee Drive-Up. The interim City Attorney prepared the agreement and the City Manager was authorized to execute the purchase agreement for $2.8 million. The 2015 lawsuit was filed when the City Council denied all proposals for a mixed-use building on the site. New possible ideas for the property are a roundabout to smooth the traffic where several streets meet or a plaza. Public comment suggested that before a decision the city consider the Loyola Corners Specific Plan developed in 1990 and revised in 2017.

January 28, 2020

The City Council unanimously approved application for an SB2 grant by the state of $160,000 which would streamline review for the city’s residential projects. With the grant the city would fund a consultant to present criteria and code amendments to make the application eligible. It must include these factors:

  • Rezone to permit housing by-right
  • Objective design and development standards
  • Specific plans or form-based codes coupled with CEQA streamlining
  • Accessory dwelling units (ADU) or other low-cost building strategies
  • Expedited processing
  • Housing related infrastructure financing and fee reduction strategies

The 2018 Atkins Building Homes and Jobs Act (SB2) is legislation to support production of affordable housing.

City Council unanimously authorized a lease to allow the Friends of the Library of Los Altos to use the current temporary space for FOL work units and storage. Altogether the Ad Hoc Friends of the Library committee found six off-site locations and five Government Center locations to consider. Of those locations, four meet most, but not all, the needs of FOL for short term use until the Community Center is completed and long term use until the main library is renovated. After twenty-five public comments and considering that Friends of the Library provides approximately $150,000 per year to the library, the Council finally determined that the city would pay the utilities fees and FOL would pay any capital costs, like upgrades and repair. The lease would extend until one or the other party chooses to conclude the agreement, assuming appropriate termination provisions.

Los Altos City Council November 2019

Los Altos City Council – November 2019

November 12, 2019

The City Council adopted a resolution for a Mills Act authorization for a Gambrel design barn at 210 Alta Vista Avenue, Los Altos to be designated an historic property.

The City Council heard the proposal for Ordinance #2019-467 to amend the zoning code in the Los Altos Municipal Code regarding R3-4.5 for a multi-family district. The issue came up when property owners in Marshall Meadows want to remodel their duplex property. At the August 27, 2019 council meeting the staff was directed to standardize the zoning code for such districts to bring the code in line for similar surrounding single-family home districts.

From an environmental review perspective, the project is compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with no potential for direct physical damage or for damage in the reasonably foreseeable future. The proposed code changes are to establish developmental standards for existing properties already developed. The change provides for separate and independent basis for CEQA compliance for each project and to any future alterations to parcels in a R3-4.5 district.

In addition, standards are set for additions and exterior modifications to multi-family district dwellings in the design review process. Other provisions align with those in other surrounding residential zoning districts. The amendment has received Planning commission approval. The council approved 4 to 1 to amend the ordinance proposal to keep the properties at single story, except the two-story properties as of 2019. The smaller unit must be at least 900 square feet to maintain proportionality of residences. Setbacks are amended to be 20 feet from property line. A public hearing on amended ordinance will be held at the December 12, 2019 regular meeting.

The other November City Council meetings were Special Meetings.

The November 26, 2019, regular meeting was cancelled.

Los Altos City Council October 2019

Los Altos City Council – October 2019

The council had special council meetings on October 1 and 29, 2019. The council did not meet the second Tuesday of October.

October 22, 2019

The City of Los Altos owns Redwood Grove Nature Preserve, a 5.7-acre nature preserve located off University Avenue. The City contracted with Grassroots Ecology to assist in preserving and maintaining this valuable community asset. The term of the current contract dated October 3, 2018 is valid through the end of the 2019/2020 fiscal year. An amendment (Amendment 1) authorized payment to Grassroots Ecology for the second year of their contracted stewardship services in Redwood Grove. The amount for fiscal year 2019/2020 is budgeted. The total amount authorized for the second-year contract is $155,420.

The City Council voted to continue deliberation until December 10, 2019 about the proposed property development at 5150 El Camino Real located at the terminus of Rengstorff Road after considering multiple requests for changes in the plan. Dutchints Development LLC proposed a community enhancing project with market rate and below market rate (BMR) units. Two buildings are condo units with different numbers of bedrooms and townhomes at the back of the property are adjacent to single-family homes on Casita Way. The project is planned for sustainability, walkability, and proximity to public transit.

The Dutchints Development LLC presentation addressed air quality, an arborist’s report, a geotech investigation, environmental site assessment for Phase 1 of project, a noise and vibration study, and transportation impact analysis.

Public comment speakers had major problems with the project’s parking plan, both number of spaces so that residents would not park on side streets and size of spaces. They disputed the project’s proximity to public transit on and near El Camino Real which must be within one-half mile of property to be eligible for density bonus rates. There was criticism of the architectural style, saying that the drafted plan doesn’t blend into the neighborhood. Among Casita Way resident requests, at the top of a long list are: issues about the bulk and height of the buildings, privacy landscaping at the back of the project, reduction of possible construction and transformer noise, and safe routes to schools.

The council discussed parking requirements, below market rate units, mass-bulk and privacy issues, transit issues, number of EV stations, solar panels, and changes to recreation areas before deciding to resume discussion at the December 10 meeting.

Los Altos City Council September 2019

Los Altos City Council – September 2019

September 10, 2019

City Council adopted an ordinance of the Los Altos Municipal Code to revise Density Bonus regulations regarding incentive standards for properties to be developed in Los Altos. Discussions about the ordinance took place during the July and August 2019 meetings. The city uses a menu of incentives from the state list of Density Bonus Regulations to entice developers to address options in their plans that will meet the affordable housing needs of the city. Developers may request waivers for up to three modifications of incentive standards. The ordinance revision limits a single incentive to be used only once per project. If an incentive is used more than once it is treated as an Off-Menu request. The ordinance revision goes into effect 31 days after adoption.

City Council authorized Vice Mayor Jan Pepper to draft a response after they reviewed staff recommended statements about the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Report concerning governance of the VTA. The Grand Jury report’s findings state that the VTA Board of Directors lack experience and time to administer well. The report recommends that the chair of the VTA board be elected for a two-year term and show improvement in their duties within six months. The California penal code requires public agencies’ governing bodies to comment within 90 days of the June 16, 2019 report distribution. Los Altos agrees with the recommendations by the Civil Jury but suggests that a county-wide organization such as the Cities Association of Santa Clara County take the lead in making final response.

September 24, 2019

City Council received information about the current projects in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), prioritized the projects, and provided direction to the City Manager for follow-through. The review was initiated by the City Council’s staff because of high-level fiscal impact for six CIP current priorities (2012-2019). Priorities must be established for the next ten years, especially infrastructure improvements. The staff will develop or refine cost estimates, budget impact, and schedules for priorities identified including the Community Center, traffic safety, and city assets improvement. Of these the Community Center renovation and Police Emergency Operations Center/Heating, Ventilation, Air-conditioning renovation have already had funds set aside. Among other city asset projects made priority are Los Altos Parks Plan, LAYC, City Hall, Garden House, and History House/Museum improvements.

In addition, City Council received a status report on the City Asset Strategic Priorities as of 2019 in order to provide direction to the City Manager for next steps. The council addressed the status of strategic priorities in April and July 2019. Most important, as of September 2019, the council committed to the library redevelopment which will mostly use funds from non-city sources. The police EOC/HVAC renovation is 50% completed with 12/31/20 to be completion date.

Los Altos City Council August 2019

Los Altos City Council – August 2019

August 27, 2019

The City Council approved sending a letter to California representatives supporting their bills in Congress regarding the implementation of FCC rulemaking to accelerate deployment for wireless infrastructure by removing barriers to investment. The bills by Senator Dianne Feinstein (S2012) and Representative Anna Eshoo (HR530) are in response to the removal of opportunities in the FCC rules for local public agencies to regulate deployment of wireless infrastructure within the city.

After public comment and review of plans to amend the city’s zoning code for R3-4-5 Multiple Family District housing, the City Council directed revision to the code. The issue came to the council’s attention after the Planning Commission met twice to study an application to remodel property in the Marshall Meadows development in south Los Altos. These homes are mostly duplexes, and the zoning district doesn’t have site standards for renovation that maintain the character of the district and limit the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The proposed ordinance amendments offered by the Planning Commission will establish standards for the Design Review Commission where none now exist for this multiple family district; establish a design review process for additions and exterior modifications; and update other provisions to bring consistency with other similar residential zoning districts.

Los Altos City Council July 2019

July 9, 2019

The City Council authorized the staff to execute an agreement to NOVA Partners, Inc. to oversee the construction management of the community center project which includes demolition as well as construction of the new facility. Staff researched projects managed by the consulting firm, and found it highly ranked with demonstrated competence and professional qualifications.

The Ad Hoc Committee for the Friends of the Library received the recommendation for placement of a temporary portable building between the soccer field and the library, and City Council directed staff to enter an agreement for use until community center is finished.

The City Council adopted a resolution to allocate funds for a Complete Streets Study to update the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan, Route to Schools map, transit transportation plan, and concept plans for the ‘hot spots’ in corridors and intersections in the city. Besides using the city’s two year’s worth of allotments for specific projects from the county VTA-TDA, the city will use Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds to raise the $150,000 needed for the study.

Council members Anita Enander and Jan Pepper from the Ad Hoc Committee to provide ideas for City Council Community Engagement suggested a pilot study with five neighborhood meetings in the fall to get ideas for community engagement activities. The council directed staff to provide guidelines.

The City Council introduced and waived further reading of the city ordinance to amend a section of the Los Altos Municipal Code about incentive standards of Density Bonus Regulations. The city uses a menu of incentives from the state list of Density Bonus Regulations to entice developers to address needs in their plans that will meet the affordable housing needs of the city. Developers may request waivers for up to three modifications of incentive standards. The Council will limit a single incentive to be used only once per project. In other words, a plan cannot use one incentive modification twice in a single project and still count only three modifications to incentives. The plan can be denied in general for specific adverse impacts on public health and safety and ‘double-dipping’ of an incentive to get a project approved is one way Los Altos will use to deny a project.

No meeting July 23, 2019

Addendum: Tuesday, July 30, 2019, at City Council special meeting, the council approved (3 yea, 2 nay) Gonsalves & Stronck Construction Company to provide demolition and construction for the new community center.

-Claire Noonan, Observer

Los Altos City Council March 2019

March 12, 2019

The City Council received an update on the status of the design readiness for construction of the new Los Altos community Center from Tam and Noll architects. Oppenheim/Davis presented the current construction cost estimate. From the retreat, council members had raised concerns about the cost of additional design elements in bid documents and the possibility of re-prioritizing the project as part of the City Council 2019 Strategic priorities.

Bidding documents are scheduled to go out for bid in May 2019. Ground breaking is scheduled for June 2019 with the expectation to complete and move into the new Los Altos Community Center in December 2020. Of twenty public correspondence documents, nineteen were positive to move forward with the project. One letter suggested caution because of cost. Twelve public comments received at the meeting requested the council to move forward. One was concerned about program space and one wanted the library expansion to be part of the design.

After the presentation, two council members stated concern for the risk of additional costs to taxpayers. One member worried about rain water drainage on the roof design. Concerns were raised about the building’s programmable space versus the large space for a lobby and about council members held “at arm’s length” by staff when questioning the programmable space issue. Naming several other city community centers that are bigger but cost less, one member thinks the city can get a better plan. In addition, the lack of a project manager and a construction manager due to staff changes is discomforting. Ms. Tam from Tam and Noll answered the questions raised to the satisfaction of other council members. City Manager, Chris Jordan, agreed to find a third party to pursue a constructability review to further answer cost concerns.

The council agreed to continue with the construction schedule and wait until bids were received to further address costs. Re-prioritizing the project was not discussed.

May 26, 2019

City Council received the Housing Element Annual Report (HEAP). A plan to increase affordable housing in the city’s general plan is required by the state. A statement of current and future housing needs and actions committed to increase housing in each category, HEAP was generated in 2015. Updated yearly until 2023, the HEAP report shows progress in ‘extremely low’, ‘very low’, ‘low’, ‘moderate’, and ‘above moderate’ housing permitted and built in the city. Because housing in Los Altos is very expensive, some council members felt the city was successful in finding ways to reach its goals. The city has rezoned areas for more housing, the minimum lot designations for Accessory Housing Units has been deleted from city zoning requirements, and the city has engaged a third-party organization to analyze further possible actions.

Five public communications and seven public comments to the council commended the report for showing gradual actions to increase affordable housing. Both communications and public comments to the council also expressed concern about the charts depicting actual units rented/available for purchase in the ‘extremely low’, ‘very low’, and ‘low’ categories. The chart showed 34 total units permitted or being built out of 234 units in the three categories required for the area by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). 330 more units than the 97 that were designated unit needs in the ‘above moderate’ category by RHNA have been permitted or built.

Additional zoning changes, further coordinated action with other RHNA areas, and results from the third-party organization analysis were noted to meet the RHNA goals by 2023.

March 12, 2019

The City Council received an update on the status of the design readiness for construction of the new Los Altos community Center from Tam and Noll architects. Oppenheim/Davis presented the current construction cost estimate. From the retreat, council members had raised concerns about the cost of additional design elements in bid documents and the possibility of re-prioritizing the project as part of the City Council 2019 Strategic priorities.

Bidding documents are scheduled to go out for bid in May 2019. Ground breaking is scheduled for June 2019 with the expectation to complete and move into the new Los Altos Community Center in December 2020. Of twenty public correspondence documents, nineteen were positive to move forward with the project. One letter suggested caution because of cost. Twelve public comments received at the meeting requested the council to move forward. One was concerned about program space and one wanted the library expansion to be part of the design.

After the presentation, two council members stated concern for the risk of additional costs to taxpayers. One member worried about rain water drainage on the roof design. Concerns were raised about the building’s programmable space versus the large space for a lobby and about council members held “at arm’s length” by staff when questioning the programmable space issue. Naming several other city community centers that are bigger but cost less, one member thinks the city can get a better plan. In addition, the lack of a project manager and a construction manager due to staff changes is discomforting. Ms. Tam from Tam and Noll answered the questions raised to the satisfaction of other council members. City Manager, Chris Jordan, agreed to find a third party to pursue a constructability review to further answer cost concerns.

The council agreed to continue with the construction schedule and wait until bids were received to further address costs. Re-prioritizing the project was not discussed.

May 26, 2019

City Council received the Housing Element Annual Report (HEAP). A plan to increase affordable housing in the city’s general plan is required by the state. A statement of current and future housing needs and actions committed to increase housing in each category, HEAP was generated in 2015. Updated yearly until 2023, the HEAP report shows progress in ‘extremely low’, ‘very low’, ‘low’, ‘moderate’, and ‘above moderate’ housing permitted and built in the city. Because housing in Los Altos is very expensive, some council members felt the city was successful in finding ways to reach its goals. The city has rezoned areas for more housing, the minimum lot designations for Accessory Housing Units has been deleted from city zoning requirements, and the city has engaged a third-party organization to analyze further possible actions.

Five public communications and seven public comments to the council commended the report for showing gradual actions to increase affordable housing. Both communications and public comments to the council also expressed concern about the charts depicting actual units rented/available for purchase in the ‘extremely low’, ‘very low’, and ‘low’ categories. The chart showed 34 total units permitted or being built out of 234 units in the three categories required for the area by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). 330 more units than the 97 that were designated unit needs in the ‘above moderate’ category by RHNA have been permitted or built.

Additional zoning changes, further coordinated action with other RHNA areas, and results from the third-party organization analysis were noted to meet the RHNA goals by 2023.

Claire Noonan, Observer

Los Altos City Council February 2019

February 12, 2019

Speakers from the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) presented their current plan for realigning transit lines. The staff will draft a letter to the VTA with suggestion to reroute bus line 51 in order to provide ‘school tripper’ service to south Los Altos students in the Cupertino School District and Fremont Union High School District. The draft will be received at the February 26, 2019 council meeting.

Council member Anita Enander and Mayor Lynnette Lee Eng brought up writing a letter to Joe Simitian, President of the of Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, to consider the community impact from Stanford University’s request to the county for an upgrade to its General Use Permit. The university wants to build more housing for staff and students, 3150 units in all, in the county. Member Enander thinks that Stanford is not considering the effects of more university housing on the communities surrounding the campus, referring specifically to the Colonnade Los Altos that the university recently purchased for staff and student housing. She thinks the university should build more housing on its own property for their staff and students. Council members Jan Pepper and Jeannie Bruins state that Stanford is being a responsible community member by pursuing the housing issue, unlike other big companies in the area. Council member Neysa Fligor doesn’t think the council can provide a letter with substantive input on solutions at this time. Enander will call Simitian’s office for more information.

February 26, 2019

Mayor, Lynette Lee Eng, was authorized to send the letter drafted by staff to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to request changes to bus route 51. During designated times of the day, before and after school hours, the route would change to pass Homestead High School and Cupertino Middle School, to benefit students in south Los Altos who attend Cupertino Unified and Fremont Union HSD schools.

The North County Library Authority’s Redevelopment Task Force presented an update to the November 2017 report. They presented the next step to decide on an upgrade for the Los Altos libraries. NCLA has gathered evidence of the needs and demographics at the library to suggest further redevelopment. The Task Force wishes to begin an outreach program to educate the community on potential future uses of a redeveloped library building. The services of a professional firm will assist in the outreach.

The City Council was asked to provide support for the Task Force’s continued action, but not to provide actual commitment to approve or place a revenue measure on the ballot to pursue another upgrade. In the future if authorized, the upgraded library would be at the same location and built at no cost to the city. Three agencies support the Task Force: Friends of the Library, North County Library Authority, and Los Altos Library Endowment.

Five community members commented and agreed. One expressed concern about costs of the Task Force and possible costs to the city and disagreed on pursuing the upgrade. Council members asked about library program attendance. They were told it exceeds the room occupancy available at the current library. A suggestion was to use rooms at the new community center when completed. As for earthquake standards and ADA, it was stated by staff that the current building is up to code requirements.

The City Council agreed unanimously to continue with next steps in the NCLA Task Force plan.

Los Altos City Council January 2019

January 8, 2019

The City Council addressed a renewal and increase to Park in-Lieu fees. The term refers to the requirement that residential property developers, especially for multi-unit residential development, have a green area in the plan or prepare to pay a fee instead. The city has not increased the fees for developers in several years. The proposed fee per unit built will rise 37% over the current cost. Property parcels to be developed along El Camino Real will soon reach the planning stage when costs will be determined. Also, the council discussed the need for fees in the city budget to be available to purchase land for a park should it become available in north Los Altos. The vote was 4/1 to adopt the fee increase and the staff was directed to examine additional options, for example, adopt a commercial Park in-Lieu fee, determine the effect on affordable housing costs, and examine waivers for Below Market Rate (BMR) and senior properties.

The city council had a discussion of SB 50, the state legislation introduced by Senator Scott Wiener, CA District 11, which is a revamped bill after SB 827 did not come up for vote last year. This bill would require a city like Los Altos, upon request by the State, to grant an ‘equitable communities’ incentive when a development proponent seeks and agrees to construct a defined residential development that satisfies specified criteria. There are many detailed regulations included in the bill to support more affordable housing in the region.

Council members are concerned about the “jobs-rich” and the “transit-rich” housing requirements in the legislation. The only properties that may fulfill that requirement right now are located in Los Altos along El Camino Real and side streets where there are multiple transit sites with access to tech corporations. Other City Council members felt that it is too early to take a position and that all cities like Los Altos are looking at zoning to make sure that jobs, housing, and transportation balance. The council did not make any decisions pro or con on SB 50. (See the Legislative Counsel’s Digest for more detail on SB 50.)

January 22, 2019

Because State law requires a report, the City Council received and approved the Traffic Impact Fees (TIF), and included the new Park in-Lieu Fees, in the Annual Report. Both fees are called Development Impact Fees (DIF) and are charged by local agencies, like Los Altos, in connection with development projects – TIF for transportation improvements and Park in-Lieu for parkland.

The City Council introduced and waived further reading of changes to the city ordinance to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), the tax on any property that rents rooms by the day for less than a month. Measure D passed on the November 2018 ballot to allow the increase up to 14%. Discussion involved allowing the 14% increase to take effect in July 1, 2019, which may require city hotels to compete with hotels in other cities nearby which have lower TOT. Staff introduced Option 2 which allows TOT to increase from 12% to 14% by 1% each year over three years which may be less challenging to city hotels. Vote by city council of 5/0 favored Option 2, increasing TOT in a phased approach. There will be a second reading and decision tentatively February 12, 2019, to adopt the increase which would begin July 1, 2019

–Claire Noonan, Observer