Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Vagaries of One Valley Village: Local Opinion Piece

The Daily Post of Palo Alto doesn't put its articles on line. So here's what Robin's article looks like in today's paper. Below is the full text for easier reading.  

There has been graffiti on the Hale Creek bridge at Rosita Avenue and Springer Road in my hometown of Los Altos, California, for four years. Last summer, a Los Altos crew closed Rosita for weeks, not to paint, but to install an ADA ramp. The ramp was built without a drain in the middle of the downhill side of the bridge’s sidewalk, the result of which is that now, when it rains, the new ramp fills with water and turns the street into a lake. A disabled person would have to use a flotation device if she ever came to need it during a storm.

The Hale Creek debacle is one of many signs indicating something is broken in Los Altos. Want a few more examples? I drove by City Hall recently and noticed plastic sheeting on its roof, presumably to prevent leaks. Most of us would have splurged and called a roofer! That sight, here in the Tesla capital of the world (our zip code has the highest number of Tesla sales in the country), calls to mind a billionaire who wanders into a Fendi store on a stormy day and leaves with a plastic bag on his head because he can’t figure out how to use his new chip card to buy a real hat.

But wait! There’s more! Halsey House, a city park facility, a Historic Landmark, listed on our Historical Resources Inventory since 1981, formerly the site of our Ohlone Interpretive Center in Redwood Grove, is boarded up and has been for ten years because the city has failed to paint and repair it—something people in my neighborhood do all the time. The Los Altos Civic Center Orchard has been a City Historic Landmark for even longer and is also on our Historic Resources Inventory. Yet leaders can’t get organized to install even a single sign explaining what the heck an apricot orchard is doing there in the heart of our city. 

Newcomers, give me a call. I’ll explain it to you on the phone.

I could go on and on, so I will. In 2013, the City spent $1.3M to re-landscape the medians on San Antonio Road. Four years later, most of the plants are dead and the medians filled with million dollar weeds. Our downtown streets have been remodeled so often since 2009 that hundreds of parking spaces have been lost to redevelopment. Now nobody can figure out why they can’t find parking. Hillview Community Center is another fine mess. In 2015, voters rejected a grandiose proposal for a $65M swim complex on the site and yet, there was no backup plan. In the fifteen months since, Hillview continues to molder as the paint peels and the dandelions flourish on its roof. Grant Park needs a new kitchen. All of our roads need repaving. My street hasn’t seen a paving truck in years.

I hesitate to mention any of this because the next thing you know we’ll see visions of another bond measure dancing in the heads of our leaders. Awash in a sea of simoleons, flailing in a flood of funds flowing into city coffers from the biggest property tax boom Silicon Valley has ever seen, Los Altos representatives keep telling us there is not enough money. We should rename our village Oliver Twist. We always want more.  

The truth is, over the last two years, Los Altos has declared surplus revenue totaling  $9,504,806 million. That’s more than enough dough—in my world anyway—to reopen Halsey House, put proper signs in the Orchard, replace the roof on City Hall, get a rehab plan for Hillview and have several million in change left over for Uber fare. Yet one leader actually suggested citizens raise the money themselves to reopen the city-owned Halsey House. One of my neighbors, a widow, pays $18,000 a year in property taxes. Many pay even more than that to not have their streets paved, not have their sidewalks washed, not have a place to park, not have their history remembered and not have their trees replanted. And to not have a properly engineered sidewalk at Hale Creek a challenged person can use on a rainy day.

Funny, that rainy day is here.

Robin Chapman is a Los Altos native who once covered the U.S. Congress for the ABC station, WJLA-TV, in Washington D.C.  She is also the author of California Apricots: the Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley (History Press 2013).

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