Home Tour Celebrates 26 Years

Posted on November 30, 2014 by  
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Holiday DoorThe days grow short on sunshine but long on nostalgia as the holidays approach. The St. Francis High School Women’s Club celebrates the season by hosting the 26th annual Christmas at Our House Holiday Home Tour, scheduled Dec. 4-6.

The event kicks off with the Christmas Gala Dec. 4. A Twilight Tour is slated 4-7 p.m., followed by a cocktail buffet 7-10 p.m. at St. William Catholic Church, 611 S. El Monte Ave., Los Altos. The gala features cocktails, appetizers and a spirits tasting provided by Old Spirits. The Christmas Boutique, stocked by vendors from around the Bay Area, will be open for shopping.

Holiday Home Tours, slated Dec. 5 and 6, include tours of three homes and a tea, the Elegant Luncheon Buffet and boutique. Those who attend have the option to board complimentary shuttles at St. William, where they can pick up their tickets, or self-drive to the three homes on display in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. The homes are open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days. The Christmas Boutique will be open at St. William during tour hours and for an additional shopping event, Wine Women and Shopping, 5-8 p.m. Dec. 5.

This year’s Christmas At Our House features a drawing for a piece of jewelry donated by Joe Escobar Diamonds or for one of the many “Santa’s Workshop” baskets that will be raffled off the final day of the event.

Proceeds from Christmas at Our House support the Campaign for St. Francis High School, which raises funds for construction of new school facilities. Over the years, the St. Francis Women’s Club has raised more than $2 million through Christmas at Our House. The ongoing success of Christmas at Our House, the club’s largest event, relies on help from the many local volunteers and attendees. St. Francis students also play an integral role, drawing sketches of the homes, entertaining tour-goers as student musicians and staffing the event as volunteers.

For tour and raffle tickets and more information, visit: sfhs.com

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Course Trains Local Leaders

Posted on November 28, 2014 by  
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2013 LEAD ClassThe Los Altos Community Foundation sponsors the Leadership Education Advancement (LEAD) program, which provides an in-depth introduction to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

The foundation developed the course in 1996 to provide information on how the community operates and to encourage involvement.

“Think of the sessions as a fireside chat experience with school superintendents, CEOs, city managers, nonprofit executive directors, business leaders and social entrepreneurs,” said Claudia Coleman, program manager.

The 2015 course is scheduled to open with a half-day workshop, including lunch, 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 10. Following the workshop are 10 classes slated 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays January through May.

LEAD facilitates dialogue among community leaders and participants in a setting designed to foster camaraderie and provide a forum where candid discussions about objectives and challenges occur. Each session has a focused agenda. Topics include local government, commerce, education, Foothill College, health care, the arts and community service organizations.

The cost to participate in the LEAD program is $150.  For more information, call Laurel Iverson at 949-5908 or email laurel.iverson@losaltoscf.org.

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Los Altos’ Annual Holiday Parade

Posted on November 22, 2014 by  
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Ferris WheelBehind every float at Los Altos’ Festival of Lights Parade, there’s a story of Boy Scouts, dust cloths, light design and elf scavenging.

Before dancers flit across Main Street among parade floats Nov. 30, a zealous cadre of volunteers will have spent the year fundraising, shellacking giant gumdrops with glitter sugar and mood lighting a tableau of tree-decorating bears.

In mid-October, volunteers remove the two-story plastic shrouds that entomb their floats, testing generators, lights and sound systems and repairing the petty deteriorations of time and age. But long before that, a process of creative design begins, according to Deborah Baker, who has served on the festival’s board for six years.

“This small town can do something that brings such joy to kids,” she said. “I haven’t missed a parade since I started coming 16 years ago.”

Baker’s story is typical of the local residents drafted into the parade’s cause. She started as a parent volunteer helping Boy Scouts who worked on the parade and over time was drawn deeper into the tradition. On parade night, Boy Scouts patrol the waiting floats and Baker cues the successive parade groups as they amass at the starting line.

Baker has also worked on six floats over the past few years with Troop 37 Scouts, her son Kyler among them. This year, a Girl Scout from Cupertino – Isabel La Plain – has joined the enterprise, building a “Nutcracker” tableau with giant clock, mouse king and nutcracker.

The parade includes three types of floats – those pushed by humans, those towed as a trailer and those driven under their own locomotion. Watch for four completely rebuilt floats at the parade this year – “Nature’s Christmas,” which sports festive bears, “Santa’s Workshop,” “Nutcracker” and “Gingerbread House.”

The parade association has been switching to LED lights over time, which are more efficient than standard bulbs – making generators last longer – and don’t take down half a string when one bulb blows.

The Festival of Lights was in many ways modeled on Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade, and the parade association continues to put a creative premium on the play of tiny lights across darkened downtown. Volunteers work to incorporate motion where possible – not just in the forward trajectory of floats, but also in the sword-clashing, wood-sawing, ornament-hanging actions of its cast of characters.

This year for the first time a dance class will swirl parts of “The Nutcracker” ballet around the new float as it proceeds along the parade route. A multitude of local groups march each year, but they seldom form an extension of the floats themselves.

The 38th annual Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade is slated to begin 6 p.m. Nov. 30. Admission is free. For more information, visit: losaltosparade.com

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Local BMR Units Coming To Market

Posted on November 20, 2014 by  
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100 First StreetThree significant construction projects in Los Altos should be completed within the next 12-18 months, and all include affordable housing units.

According to Los Altos Planning Services Manager David Kornfield, the city is slated to add 24 below-market-rate (BMR) units – including 17 rentals – in the next year and a half. The new BMRs will be offered at the 48-unit condominium project at 100 First St., the Colonnade apartments at 4750 El Camino Real and the mixed-use office and 20-unit condo development at 86 Third St.

“We’ve got a lot of good projects coming online,” said Kornfield, who added that the city’s affordable housing program is administered via Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley (NHSSV), a nonprofit real estate services agency. “Our production (of affordable housing) is limited by developer investments in the city, so we’re fortunate to have these.”

Kornfield noted that developer Randy Lamb’s 100 First St. complex, former site of the post office, is scheduled to wrap up in early 2015, the first of the projects completed. The development will offer five BMR units for sale: three one bedrooms and a pair of two bedrooms. He added that four of the residences are designated as moderate-income units, with one single-bedroom unit classified as low income.

According to NHSSV, low-income BMR units are available to eligible buyers earning no more than 80 percent of the Santa Clara County Area Median Income (AMI) – $59,400 for a single person. Moderate-income dwellings are limited to prospective buyers making no more than 110 percent of the AMI.

Other factors – such as priority criteria outlined by the city – limit the pool of eligible buyers for the deed-restricted units.

In addition to Lamb’s soon-to-be completed development, city officials anticipate the completion of the 167-unit Colonnade apartment complex – located on the former Los Altos Garden Supply site – next spring. That development, Kornfield noted, includes 17 BMR rentals – 11 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom units. Of those, 16 are designated very-low-income units, 50 percent of the AMI, while the other is rated a low-income unit.

Finally, developer David Luedtke’s mixed-use development at 86 Third St. will eventually add two new BMR units – one moderate-income three-bedroom unit and one low-income two-bedroom unit – to the city’s stock. Kornfield said he expects the project to be completed by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

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Los Altos Home Values Rank #1

Posted on November 18, 2014 by  
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Estrellita-Front(photo of 1030 Estrellita Way, Los Altos, sold by David & Carol Casas)

Los Altos just barely beat out Newport Beach as the most expensive real estate market in the country for larger homes, according to a new industry analysis. The report analyzed the average listing price of over 50,000 four-bedroom, two-bath homes across the country and found that Los Altos topped the list with an average of $1,963,100 for a home of that size.

Lack of inventory is a strong reason behind that high average price tag. Other than Newport Beach, which was just about $60,000 shy of stealing the top honors, the rest of the top-five most expensive markets were all in Silicon Valley as well. Saratoga came in third, with an average listing price of $1,867,980.

There was a sizable drop to $1,430,329 for Redwood City/Woodside at number four, followed by Los Gatos at $1,307,408. San Francisco was in the number six position—coming in just $30K over Sunnyvale’s seventh place average listing with $1,294,250. Moraga and San Mateo took the eighth and ninth spots with an average listing of $1,129,300 and $1,093,346, respectively.

Finally, rounding out the top ten was an actual non-California city: Wellesley, Massachusetts ($1,090,088). On the other end of the spectrum, Cleveland took the top spot for the most affordable city to buy a larger home with an average list price of $64,993—which is equivalent to about three years of property taxes on the same-sized home in Los Altos.

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Organizing Tech Team At Santa Rita

Posted on November 16, 2014 by  
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Santa Rita School Tech TeamA group of technologically literate students banded together at Santa Rita School this year to help teachers and students troubleshoot computer problems.

At the beginning of the school year, three sixth-graders approached the school’s technology specialist, Diane Hutchinson, with the idea of forming a group to help resolve technological problems at school – and the Tech Team was born.

The Tech Team, which comprises 12 sixth-graders and a handful of fifth-grade apprentices, meets every day before school to discuss technological challenges the school is facing and develop ways to resolve them.

Members of the Tech Team recently attended the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees meeting to explain their purpose.

“Students these days sometimes know more about technology than teachers,” a student stated during the presentation. “By having the Tech Team do most of the work, it helps create a better society. We teach teachers and students more about what they can do to make something work better on the computer.”

During recess and lunch, the Tech Team helps students and teachers solve any problems they might have. Each member of the team also assists teachers in his or her classroom.

Gabriel Arrouye, Tech Team co-founder, spends his lunchtime manning the Minecraft server and assists the student players, ensuring that they are following the Tech Team-drafted rules for the Lunch Lab.

Arrouye said that in addition to the standard technology upkeep the group provides, Tech Team members assist in finding solutions that help teachers use technology more efficiently. He described helping one teacher link accounts across devices so that students could watch a video simultaneously.

Tech Team co-founder Kirsten Peterson assists with monitoring the Lunch Lab. “I really like technology, and I just wanted to help people because I like to do that,” she said. “Some of the time, I don’t know how to fix things, then other Tech Team members show me how to do it and I learn from my mistakes.”

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A Special Gift To El Camino Hospital

Posted on November 13, 2014 by  
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John & DonnaIt didn’t take a direct personal connection to a serious behavioral-health-related matter to inspire a Los Altos couple to invest in local families.

“When you see a child take their life, it’s your child. Or when you see a senior who has lost their spouse and is depressed, it’s our parent,” said Donna Shoemaker of why she and her husband, John, recently donated $1 million to boost Behavioral Health Services at El Camino Hospital. “This hospital is a place where we feel safe and where we want other people to come and feel safe.”

With the intention of encouraging other local philanthropists to show their support with donations, the Shoemakers gathered before friends and medical professionals at the hospital Friday to announce their gift. The couple’s financial support will enable the hospital to increase resources and services for adults and teenagers facing depression, substance abuse and mental illness.

“There is a stigma about it and they don’t understand it very well,” said John Shoemaker of mental illness, including conditions that arise during the treatment of other diseases like cancer. “Yet, it touches more people than any other disease.”

Demand for mental-health services in Silicon Valley has skyrocketed in recent years, according to hospital officials, and El Camino is unable to provide inpatient and outpatient services for every patient who walks through its emergency-room doors.

Jodi Barnard, president of the El Camino Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, noted that the hospital’s inpatient facility is currently filled to capacity, with 24 patients in 12 rooms – none with private bathrooms. El Camino’s Behavioral Health Services has a waitlist of 15-20 teens in search of treatment programs.

The Shoemakers’ donation and subsequent fundraising efforts through the hospital foundation’s “Fulfilling the Promise” campaign aim to bridge the gap. Barnard said the funds would enable the foundation to move forward with plans to build a new facility with 36 private rooms and therapy rooms on the hospital’s Mountain View campus. The donations will also be leveraged to expand the reach of existing programs such as Maternal Outreach Mood Services and After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education.

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Grant Park’s New Senior Center

Posted on November 11, 2014 by  
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Grant Park Senior CenterWith the opening of the Grant Park Senior Center last week, Los Altos seniors will have a second location for casual gathering and programs. During the center’s pilot phase scheduled through January, volunteers will open the facility 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays.

“This will help us look after a sector of the community that is underserved,” said volunteer coordinator Lynette Lee Eng. “These are the people who have made Los Altos what it is today.”

Although the city of Los Altos provides a steady stream of programming for local seniors at the Los Altos Senior Center at the downtown Hillview Community Center campus, it is not very accessible to older residents who live south of the downtown core and who may have limited transportation options.

Seeking a solution closer to home, a group of residents, including Rita Mitchell, successfully lobbied the Senior Commission with a proposal for a satellite location at Grant Park.

“A lot of older people can’t drive or can’t drive very far, so they aren’t able to get to the other center,” said Mitchell of why the Grant Road location meets an unfulfilled need for seniors living near her.

At the ribbon cutting for the Grant Park program last week, more than 80 residents stopped by to explore the new space. Mitchell said most of the people she met walked to the center from their homes – something they couldn’t previously do.

Seniors will find a small but sensibly furnished space that includes enough nooks and crannies for multiple small-group activities. Eng anticipates a variety of programming in the space, from coffees to card games, book club meetings, seasonal produce and plant exchanges, and themed presentations. A growing media-share station offers books, magazines and DVDs for visitors to borrow. An upright piano sits in the corner, ready for some musical play.

The Grant Park Senior Center is located at 1575 Holt Ave.  For more information, call 947-2797.

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County Libraries Are Free Again

Posted on November 9, 2014 by  
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Los Altos LibraryThe Santa Clara County Library District Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Board voted Thursday to eliminate the $80 annual library-card fee for users who do not live in the library district.

The vote was 8-3 in favor of the motion made by County Supervisor Joe Simitian, serving his second year on the JPA.

Until 2011, the state of California reimbursed public libraries for lending materials to residents of other library jurisdictions.

When the state announced plans to cut the $2.1 million the Santa Clara County Library District received to allow out-of-district residents to use its libraries, the JPA imposed an $80 annual fee for a library card for nonresidents to recover the loss.

With the JPA’s vote to eliminate the fee, effective July 1, residents of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, San Jose and Santa Clara are able to use any library in the county at no charge for the first time since 2011.

“No other library system in the county charges nonresidents for a library card,” Simitian said. “So residents of the county library district could borrow freely in other communities, but the residents of those communities got slapped with an $80 fee when they showed up in our district and asked for reciprocity.”

Simitian initially requested that the library district review the fee during the county budget process earlier this year. It was, he said, one of the first issues he heard about when he started holding sidewalk office hours in his district.

Prior to the vote, to be eligible for a free Santa Clara County Library District card, users had to live or own property in the unincorporated area of Santa Clara County or in one of the following nine cities or towns: Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Campbell, Gilroy, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill or Saratoga. For more information, visit sccl.org.

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Garden Club Celebrates 85 years

Posted on November 6, 2014 by  
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Garden Club CelebrationSeveral hundred women in wide-brimmed hats and flower-patterned dresses sat at circular tables for an Oct. 28 buffet-style lunch at Los Altos Lutheran Church, gathering to celebrate the Garden Club of Los Altos’ 85th anniversary.

In a tradition that’s flourished since 1929, the convivial group of mostly female green thumbs congregates monthly to share gardening know-how and flower-arranging advice.

But when the Garden Club of Los Altos was founded, it didn’t have quite this feminine touch – the club was exclusive to men. Shortly after it was founded, however, the men invited their wives as guests and, as current club President Betty Ward of Mountain View notes, the women eventually took over.

Annual flower shows grew into a featured club event, beginning with the inaugural show in 1929. Along with overflowing vases, giant dahlias the size of dinner plates and other gardening delights, by 1933, pet parades were part of the show. Expert roundtables, fieldtrips and plant sales followed, along with new members.

Although the club is thriving today, 40-year member Joan Tankersley noted that the organi-

zation dwindled to approximately

35 members at one time. She attributes the club’s long-term resilience in part to the friendliness of members.

“No matter who you sit next to, immediately you can talk to them,” Tankersley said. “I think it’s because we all have gardening in common, and gardeners are pretty good people.”

Garden Club promotes civic beauty

Beautifying the community and spreading its mission of “stimulating interest in plants and gardening and furthering horticultural knowledge” is central to the Garden Club’s work.

Members began planting the colorful triangle of wildflowers that anchors the intersection of San Antonio Road, Edith Avenue and Main Street in 1938, a tradition that continues today. The club’s contributions include the drought-resistant trees planted at the main library in 1949 and the ongoing maintenance of the Los Altos History House Garden.

The club established a scholarship fund for Foothill College students pursuing degrees in horticulture as a way to invest in the next generation’s interest in the art and science of gardening. First endowed by longtime Garden Club member Margaret Adams, donations now support the scholarship fund.

“The Garden Club helped me to continue my studies,” said 2014 scholarship recipient Veronica Evans, who recently returned to school after being laid off. “It really does open doors to people who otherwise would not have access.”

The club’s spirit of sharing continued at the 85th anniversary celebration as new members mingled with 50-year mainstays who came from as far away as Sparks, Nevada.

The Garden Club of Los Altos meets 12:15 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month, except July, November and December, at Los Altos Lutheran Church, 460 S. El Monte Ave.

For membership details and more information, visit gardencluboflosaltos.org.

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