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2018 Year in Review

Year in Review
Town Crier File Photos
Clockwise from top left: A man rides a motorized scooter along Castro Street in downtown Mountain View, a respirator protecting his lungs from smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County; Los Altos businessman Mark Feathers is sentenced to 33 months in prison for financial fraud; electric bikes await use in Mountain View after the city adopts a dockless bike program; Enchante Boutique owner Abigail Ahrens, center, accepts awards and proclamations from State Sen. Jerry Hill, left, and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, right; shoppers stroll in the Kohl’s parking lot after the Los Altos School District reveals its interest in acquiring the Mountain View site for a 10th school campus; a pup sunbathes in Rosita Park after the Los Altos Parks and Recreation Commission’s decision to reject a proposal for a dog park in town.

The ballot box was a focal point locally as well as nationally in mid-term election year 2018.

Los Altos and Mountain View residents passed a $295 million bond measure in June for the local high school district, while giving incumbents the boot in the November Mountain View and Los Altos city council elections.

They also approved additional revenue sources for their cities – new business-license restructuring and cannabis sales taxes will generate $7 million annually for Mountain View, and a hike in the Los Altos hotel tax will bring in an extra $700,000 per year.

Meanwhile, two proposals with potentially major implications went down in defeat. In Los Altos, voters narrowly rejected Measure C, a land-use initiative that would have required voter approval for significant changes made to city-owned lands. In Mountain View, a proposal that some called a “sneaky repeal” of a rent control measure failed to garner enough signatures in time to qualify for the November ballot.

Below is a summary of some of the year’s major stories.

January

• The Los Altos City Council agrees to stick with a $34.7 million budget for rebuilding Hillview Community Center. In a split 3-2 vote, the council rejects the city staff recommendation of $30 million for the 24,500-square-foot project. In a 10-year financial forecast, staff predicted that the city would have to take on debt if the budget totaled $34.7 million. Mayor Jean Mordo and councilwomen Jan Pepper and Mary Prochnow vote in favor of the $34.7 million budget, while councilwomen Jeannie Bruins and Lynette Lee Eng vote against it.

• A majority of Los Altos residents favor a vibrant downtown and consider affordable housing an even more important issue than traffic, a formal polling of residents reveals. The city releases the poll results in January. The city of Los Altos-initiated “community survey,” conducted by professional surveyors Godbe Research, also reports that residents give high marks (“very satisfied”) to police services and garbage collection and recycling.

February

• The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees approves a motion to place a $295 million bond on the June 5 ballot for improving and expanding facilities. The OK comes on the heels of the Facilities Master Plan the trustees authorize. The plan directs the construction of at least 24 classrooms at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools. Each school also would get a new food court, student union and wellness center, as well as new or expanded performing arts spaces and athletic facilities – including an auxiliary gymnasium.

• The Los Altos School District installs light shields on its schools’ parking-lot solar panels after neighbors complain about the glare from lights shining into their homes. Residents living near Almond, Blach Intermediate, Egan Junior High, Gardner Bullis and Santa Rita schools meet with the school board to voice their concerns about the white lights mounted to the underside of the solar panels.

• More accessory dwelling units could be popping up in Los Altos after the city council amends regulations in an effort aimed at easing the housing crunch. The amendments are brought before the council in part to comply with new state legislation.

March

• More than $194,000 in online donations pour in to support the husband of Jennifer Gonzales, one of three shooting victims in the massacre at The Pathway Home in Yountville. Gonzales, 32, grew up in Mountain View and attended St. Nicholas Catholic School and St. Francis High School. Supporters set up a GoFundMe page for T.J. Shushereba, Gonzales’ husband, to cover memorial costs and “adjusting to life without Jenn.” Gonzales, a clinical psychologist at The Pathway Home, died alongside two co-workers after they were taken hostage by U.S. Army veteran Albert Wong, who also died in the siege. He was being treated at the nonprofit veterans’ facility for post-traumatic stress disorder.

• The six-year saga of Los Altos businessman Mark Feathers’ financial fraud prosecution wraps up when U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh accepts a plea agreement and sentences him to 33 months in prison.

• The Los Altos Hills City Council votes to rescind its previous decision to install “No Turn” signs at the intersections of Purissima and Robleda roads and Robleda and Elena roads. The hope was that the signs would discourage commuters from using Los Altos Hills surface streets as shortcuts. But the rules would apply to local residents as well; state law prohibits exemptions. That did not sit well with locals.

April

• Mountain View Police officers encounter Nasim Najafi Aghdam, a 37-year-old woman reported missing from San Diego, sleeping in her car on Showers Drive. Officers speak with Aghdam and her worried family but do not detain her. Hours later, Aghdam shoots and injures three people at the YouTube campus in San Bruno before fatally shooting herself. Reports characterize her as angry about constraints limiting her advertising revenue from her YouTube channel.

• Mountain View landlords file an initiative to modify Measure V rent control cuts they claim are overly restrictive and merely serve to subsidize housing for the wealthy at the expense of those in need.

• Palo Alto Police detectives arrest Richmond resident Eduardo Antonio Chavarria-Diaz in connection with the sexual assault of a female high school-aged student running near the intersection of Arastradero and Deer Creek roads on the Los Altos Hills-Palo Alto border.

• Mari Ellen Loijens, Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s chief business, development and brand officer, resigns and the foundation places CEO Emmett D. Carson on paid administrative leave following allegations Loijens sexually harassed employees in the workplace. Carson allegedly turned a blind eye to the abuse.

• The Los Altos City Council votes to abandon the Grant Park kitchen upgrade due to an inability to secure proposals from third-party architecture firms unable to meet the $521,400 budget for the project.

• The Los Altos City Council adopts an ordinance prohibiting smoking in nearly all enclosed public places and many unenclosed public places in the city.

May

• Mountain View High School math teacher Evan Smith is convicted of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18 and sentenced to three years’ probation for sending inappropriate text messages to a female student in autumn 2017.

• Mountain View launches a dockless bike-share program featuring bicycles that can be rented by the minute or hour and left throughout the city.

• Foothill College political science instructor Dominic Caserta resigns his position on the Santa Clara City Council and withdraws from the Santa Clara County District 4 Board of Supervisors race amid allegations he harassed students and campaign staffers.

• The Los Altos Parks and Recreation Commission rejects a proposal to establish a dog park in the city, opting instead to explore enacting off-leash hours.

June

• Results of the June 5 election show overwhelming support for a bond measure to make improvements at the local high schools. More than 67 percent of local residents vote in favor of Measure E, which will provide $295 million for major construction projects at both Los Altos and Mountain View highs.

• Los Altos and Los Altos Hills leaders gather for the annual State of the Cities event, at which Enchanté Boutique Hotel owner Abigail Ahrens is named the 2018 recipient of the Walter and Marie Singer Award. The award recognizes a business leader from Los Altos or Los Altos Hills for giving back. Ahrens, who has designed and built more than 100 homes in the area, has been a leader with the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce and the Los Altos Village Association.

• The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees passes its 2018-2019 budget of $92.6 million, based on a total revenue of $93.2 million. According to a district staff report, 44 percent of the funds will go to certificated salaries, 25 percent to employee benefits, 14 percent to classified salaries, 10 percent to services and other expenses, and 7 percent to books and supplies.

• Los Altos Hills City Council members select Rajiv Patel and C. Edward Smith to serve on the town’s Planning Commission. They join commissioners Jim Basiji, Jitze Couperus and Susan Mandle as advisers to the council on matters of development.

• Several people suffer injuries when the driver of a Mercedes-Benz SUV barrels into an office building on the 700 block of Cuesta Drive. Police rule out drugs or alcohol as a cause of the accident.

• The city of Los Altos hires Anthony Carnesecca as its new economic development coordinator. Zach Dahl, Los Altos’ planning services manager, described Carnesecca as “an excellent add-on to our division,” citing his communication skills and potential to serve as business liaison for the city as key reasons for Carnesecca’s hiring.

July

• The Mountain View Police Department deploys a drone to patrol the Audiotistic musical festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre. Flown by members of the security drone company Aptonomy, it marks the police department’s first foray into using unmanned aerial systems.

• With a divided vote, the Los Altos Hills City Council passes resolution amendments limiting volunteers from serving as voting members on multiples of certain town committees. Volunteers are no longer permitted to concurrently serve on more than one of three advisory bodies heavily involved with land use and development: the Environmental Design and Protection, Open Space and Pathways committees. Council members Courtenay C. Corrigan, John Radford and Gary Waldeck vote for the changes to the Standing Committees Resolution; council members Roger Spreen and Michelle Wu cast votes against it.

August

• Discussion of installing stadium lights at Los Altos High and Mountain View High begins in earnest, with a heated debate on the merits and drawbacks of illuminating the fields. More than 300 local residents show up to discuss the proposal, which would cost the district approximately $800,000 per school.

• The “Protect Our Parks” initiative campaign sends a mysterious survey to Los Altos residents, leaving residents puzzled and city council members furious. The survey asks residents to rate their satisfaction with the city and prioritize three local issues of importance. The only options? Traffic congestion, crime, “too much growth and development” and “resident input ignored by city council.”

• Members of the Bullis Charter School community announce plans to charter a new school in the Mountain View Whisman School District. The school’s founders intend for the school to primarily serve low-income students.

• The Los Altos City Council embraces change by adopting the final Downtown Vision project, a plan providing a roadmap for downtown development for decades to come. The Downtown Vision project is not a general plan amendment or a specific project with proposed elements or costs, but a “broad view of what the downtown could look like,” according to Community Development Director Jon Biggs.

• Despite protests from neighbors, the Los Altos City Council approves a use permit for Children’s Corner preschool to temporarily operate at Foothill Covenant Church, as long as the school conforms to a list of conditions.

September

• The Los Altos City Council amends the city’s zoning code to meet affordable-housing requirements. The council agrees to boost the minimum affordable-housing requirement for developers from 10 to 15 percent in response to a growing concern over the lack of affordable housing statewide.

• Campaign sign vandalism and thefts draw community ire, kicking off a heated election season.

• The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees discusses what kind of school should go on the 10th site the districts hopes to acquire. Charter-district tensions grow as the end of the five-year litigation ceasefire draws closer.

October

• With a 4-1 vote, the Los Altos City Council adopts an ordinance that amends the city’s zoning code in regard to the disposition of city-owned property, requiring voter approval for the sale, transfer of title or redesignation of land with an “other open space” or “parks” land-use designation. Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng casts the dissenting vote.

• The Los Altos City Council passes an ordinance that bans cannabis retail shops within city limits but permits deliveries from companies outside the city’s borders. Mountain View passes its own ordinance, making it the only city between San Francisco and San Jose to approve storefront sales.

• The Diocese of San Jose releases a list of 15 priests with a history of “credible” allegations of sexually abusing children. Seven of the priests served in Los Altos and Mountain View parishes over a span of five decades.

November

• Los Altos changes its leadership dynamic by electing the first all-female council in the city’s history. Newcomers Anita Enander and Neysa Fligor replace incumbent Mayor Jean Mordo and Councilwoman Mary Prochnow. Measure C, a resident-driven initiative requiring voter approval for the sale of city-owned land, fails. Measure D, calling for an increase in the city’s hotel tax, passes.

• Incumbents fall in Mountain View, as Mayor Lenny Siegel and Councilwoman Pat Showalter are voted off the council and Ellen Kamei, Lucas Ramirez and Alison Hicks assume the three open seats.

• Incumbents fare well in the school district elections, however, as Bryan Johnson and Vladimir Ivanovic are re-elected to the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, along with newcomer Vaishali Sirkay. In the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, incumbents Debbie Torok and Fiona Walter win re-election, joined by newcomer Catherine Vonnegut.

• Los Altos Hills voters select Kavita Tankha and George Tyson to replace termed-out councilmen Gary Waldeck and John Radford.

• The majority of the Bay Area’s air quality is designated unhealthy for approximately two weeks in the wake of the Camp Fire in Butte County. Several local organizations gather resources for those whose homes are destroyed in Paradise, estimated by CalFIRE to be nearly 14,000 residences.

• Robin Berard, former general manager of the defunct Turn Bar and Grill, is charged with one felony count of embezzlement after a lengthy investigation by the Los Altos Police Department, which receives a tip that she may have been involved in missing money and inventory in 2017.

• Police arrest Los Altos Planning Commission Chairman Alexander Samek in Palo Alto on charges of driving under the influence and refusing a chemical test with a 0.08 or higher blood alcohol level. According to CHP officials, Samek was allegedly using the Autopilot option on his Tesla Model S to travel at 70 mph while asleep.

December

• Los Altos and Mountain View brace for hikes in their minimum wages to $15 an hour and $15.65 per hour, respectively, due to previously established ordinances. Mountain View’s ordinance, adopted in 2014, stipulates further increases based on Consumer Price Index inflation adjustments, which accounts for the 2019 increase. Los Altos’ ordinance, passed in 2016, has boosted the minimum wage by $1.50 per hour each year since its adoption.

• The Metropolitan Transportation Commission introduces the CASA Housing Compact, a proposed emergency policy package to address the Bay Area-wide housing crisis. The Los Altos City Council holds a preliminary discussion on how the compact could affect the city and surrounding areas.

• The Mountain View City Council votes to contribute $23 million to the Los Altos School District’s 10th-site purchase, potentially for a new school at California Street and Showers Drive. The funds come with restrictions, including the city of Mountain View’s request for after-school use of the site and enrollment preference for children who live in the neighborhood. If the district places a charter school on the property, the charter school would have to enact an enrollment system that prioritizes local students.

• Pets In Need and the Palo Alto City Council officially reach consensus on a five-year, $3.7 million agreement that enables Pets In Need to take control of the cramped, outdated Palo Alto Animal Services. Pets In Need is scheduled to assume day-to-day operations of the shelter by mid-January.

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