Free Solar for LACF?

mvlahouseSlingshot is a new solar energy company on Main Street in Los Altos and they are donating a free solar system to a deserving home or business in our community.
LACF is an early nominee and we would love to win the system so if you stop by there (or, please vote for us!   Also, they are an interesting company, so check them out.

Join us for National Night Out on August 6th!

losaltospreparetestLos Altos PREPARE will launch Community Action Team (CAT) for neighborhoods on August 6th at Rosita Park from 6 to 9 pm, in connection with National Night Out.

A Community Action Team, is a group of neighbors, who want to have a strong, resilient neighborhood. A CAT will enrich their neighborhood with information and activities focused on emergency preparedness, safety, sustainability and community involvement. Through Los Altos PREPARE the CAT leaders will receive training, support and tools to share with their neighbors. Sherie Dodsworth, volunteer director of the Los Altos PREPARE program, said ” the CAT leaders will also have opportunities to network and have fun”.

The August 6th event will include representatives from the Santa Clara County Fire Department and Los Altos Police Department. There will be free ice cream and refreshments. Family members of all ages are welcome and there is a childrens’ playground within sight of the meeting area. For more information email or call 650-888-2610.


The introduction of National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime”, in 1984 began an effort to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. NATW’s National Night Out program culminates annually, on the first Tuesday of August (In Texas, the first Tuesday of October).

Los Altos PREPARE on Patch

Katherine Hafner at Los Altos Patch has a nice article up about Los Altos PREPARE:losaltospreparetest


Sherie Dodsworth first felt the need for more community preparedness when her 101-year-old neighbor’s daughter called Dodsworth expressing concern that her elderly mother didn’t pick up the phone.

“(My neighbor’s) daughter would call and say, ‘Sherie, can you go check if she’s okay,’” Dodsworth said. “That kind of raised a concern about what would happen … in an emergency.”

Join a PREPARE Team

losaltospreparetestTo move forward with our goal of having a more prepared Los Altos community we need to establish some PREPARE Teams and engage the talents and resources of our community.

We need volunteers to be leaders and members of the Teams. The leader of each Team would also serve as a member of the Los Altos PREPARE Steering Committee. A leader is someone who will make a commitment, establish goals, motivate team members, and have fun as we improve our community and make it an even better place to live.

Leadership for each of these Teams will be key to our success. If you would like more information about being a PREPARE Team leader please call Sherie at 650-888-2610 or send an email to .

Brief descriptions of the proposed Teams are in the chart below.  Responsibilities, time commitment etc. will be determined by the leader and members of the team.  Please send an email to indicating what team you would like to participate on. You can join more than one Team.

PREPARE TEAMS (in alpha order)

CERT – explore implementing CERT program, which may or may not be sanctioned by Los Altos City officials.

COMMUNICATION – develop collateral materials and messaging for Los Altos PREPARE program.  
CONNECT – develop a neighborhood network, which includes recruiting block and neighborhood coordinators, develop training materials, work with Police to integrate Neighborhood Watch. To learn more about neighborhood networks visit Palo Altos’ website –
EDUCATE –   develop and implement programs to help educate our community (speakers, social media, publications, promotion of Personal Emergency Preparedness).
EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS – recruit and train Ham radio operators for integration into neighborhood communication centers.   Develop with City Officials a process for reporting issues and needs of our community during a disaster.
GRANTS – identify and complete grant proposals to assist with promoting preparedness and neighborhoods.
MAPPING – develop a map to determine neighborhoods. Utilize information such as elementary school boundaries, existing neighborhood associations and the neighborhoods established by . For each neighborhood identify possible gathering places and communication centers.   Committee will need to work with City Officials.
OUTREACH – develop list of organizations and contacts and determine their needs and how to get them involved (i.e. Chamber, non-profits, Faith Based, Schools etc).
SENIORS – identify the needs of Seniors and help implement and integrate solutions to address their needs.
SUPPLIES – develop program for gathering and storing emergency supplies. The first location will be at the American Legion hall.
TECHNOLOGY – explore how to integrate technology to achieve our mission (website,, volunteer software, etc.).


Summary of June 26th Los Altos Prepare meeting

losaltospreparetestThe following is a brief summary of the meeting held at the American Legion Hall.  There were 26 people in attendance including J Logan, Assistant City Manager and Steve Prziborowski from the Santa Clara County Fire Department.
  • J Logan reported that the 2013-2015 budget adopted by the City Council on June 25th did not include staffing a position focused on Emergency Planning. She also offered some other comments regarding the budget.
  • Mike Welsh reported on the involvement of the American Legion with emergency preparedness and with Los Altos PREPARE. In addition to providing a facility for our program to use for meetings, the Legion is exploring establishing a HAM radio system and also storing emergency supplies for our community. Mike Welsh volunteered to lead the Supplies Team.
  • Sherie Dodsworth lead the discussion of the Los Altos PREPARE Teams (see below). Many ideas for possible specific Team actions were generated and will be provided to the Teams.
  • It was agreed that Los Altos PREPARE should participate in and promote the National Night Out Celebration scheduled for August 6th. The Connect & Communication Teams will determine how/what should be done.
  • Los Altos PREPARE has the opportunity to contribute to/write an article to be included in the Fall Magazine published by the Town Crier. We have also been asked to write an article for LANN.
  • CERT and the lack of opportunity for training in Los Altos was discussed. There was great concern expressed that our community is not prepared to help each other or provided assistance to First responders. Heidi Sloss volunteered to lead the CERT Team.
  • Sherie asked for volunteers to post information about Los Altos PREPARE to their nextdoor.comneighborhood. Several people volunteered but there are still a lot of openings.

2013 Glorious Fourth Photos

Many thanks to the 500 plus people who attended the event. See you next year.

Also thanks to:

  • Greentown Los Altos for valet bike parking
  • Day Worker Center of Mountain View for helping assemble and tear down the event
  • National Charity League Orchard Valley Chapter
  • The Sweet Shop for the guessing jar candy
  • George Limbach for parking patrol
  • City of Los Altos for logistical support and facilities
  • Christy Dawson for Emcee duty and child tiring
  • Vicki Reeder
  • John Sylvester
  • Wendy Roberts
  • Pinky Whelan
  • Quick Dog
  • Baskin Robins of Mountain View
  • Paradise Shave Ice
  • Los Altos American Legion Post 558
  • Navigators USA, Chapter 41
  • Rotary Club of Los Altos

Los Altos Informs: Implications of Library Operation

The Los Altos Community Foundation

PrimeTime Project Presents


A study of operating expense and other factors for city-operated vs. special district-operated libraries in Los Altos

A Report by Karen Duncan and Norma Schroder



In response to state budget cuts in 2011, the Santa Clara County Library District imposed an $80 annual fee for patrons who did not reside in the Library District. The fee was not optional; Los Altos citizens learned they didn’t have a choice as to whether to ask their non-resident neighbors to pay the fee.

Community discussions ensued as to the merits of gaining more control over decisions affecting its own library. One possibility was to withdraw from the Library District, in favor of city-based management of the Los Altos Main and Woodland Libraries. But could the community afford to do so?

The PrimeTime Project of the Los Altos Community Foundation determined that several significant factors might affect such a complex decision. The logical first step was to examine operating expenses, because the data were readily available. Accordingly we launched a study that included a quantitative estimate of operating expenses; consideration of one-time expenses and the cost of transitioning to city-operated libraries; and several non-cost considerations.

Our primary focus was on developing a methodology and factual analysis of potential operating expenses and, for planning purposes, on showing the dollar amount contributed by Los Altos and Los Altos Hills communities to the library district. Further analysis of additional factors may be required to support a definitive decision.

The assumptions and resultant costs calculated in this study do not suggest a financial advantage to Los Altos by leaving the Library District. If further studies did reveal a substantial personnel cost reduction, then the other issues described in the report about the costs of separation should be examined.

Ultimately, the community will need to balance access to a rich array of materials and services, and the desirability of shared costs, with its need for increased autonomy.


Background information about the organization of the Los Altos Libraries and the Santa Clara County Library District is available here.

The $80 fee imposed on non-resident library patrons in 2011 by the Santa Clara County Library District sounded a wake-up call in Los Altos. The community realized that its library is actually operated by the County of Santa Clara under a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) among the nine participating cities; Los Altans couldn’t choose not to collect the fee.

Citizen reaction ranged from support for the fee to resignation and even outrage. In the end, patrons accepted the reality of the fee and steps were taken to reduce the impact on our neighbors. But the sense of not having control lingered, and those concerns led to questions. How does this community influence decisions about facilities, staffing, hours, and programs? Is the community using its dollars wisely by being a part of the Library District? What would it be like if it operated its own libraries instead? Would the expenses be different, or the holdings or services? Would different contractual arrangements fit better with the community’s desire for self-determination?


As our community considered our future relationship with the Library District, we at the PrimeTime Project believed it would be useful to Los Altos library patrons and city officials to have an objective basis for considering their options. So we designed this study to describe typical services and costs if we had city-operated libraries as compared to sharing in the Library District.

We realize, of course, that there are several factors to consider in making such a complex decision. These factors are wide-ranging, and include four cost categories: operating expenses, one-time expenses, capital costs, and transition costs. Other factors we highlight include how and what the community pays for library services; the type and extent of services currently received and how that might change; and defining community values.

Of the cost categories, only the operating and one-time expenses are developed quantitatively in this study, to take advantage of available data sets. Much of the analysis is based on assumptions which we carefully explain. The resultant numbers are offered as logical, based on these assumptions. Others are encouraged to use the framework developed in this report with their own assumptions and come to their own conclusions. From our point of view, the framework is as important as the resultant numbers.

The quantitative study approach we took is as follows:

First, we estimated the county’s operating expense to operate our libraries.

Second, we estimated the expense of operating our libraries as independent city libraries, and compared it to the expense of the Library District’s operation of our libraries.

Third, we estimated the impact of one-time expenses.

Fourth, we estimated the amount we are paying for Library District services. (Note that this amount cannot be used directly in our comparison of estimated operating expenses, as explained later in our analysis; it is included to give the community an idea of the scope of the expense and the sources of funding.)

Finally, we identified a number of other factors that could affect the potential costs besides operating expense, to give a more complete picture of the issues raised by transitioning to an independent library. These factors are discussed but are not part of our quantitative analysis.


This study uses actual data for some analyses, and estimates for others, as appropriate. These differences are explained in this section, along with our general sources of information and how and why we used each source.

We’ve used our best judgment in estimating the information provided and we want the readers to understand why we chose the methods we did. As we explain our results, we’ll also explain the benefits and shortcomings of each estimate, so each reader can assess its value. This transparency is designed so that readers can provide their own assumptions and draw their own conclusions.

3.1 Cost Estimates

In general, cost estimates based on budget information are ideal for this study, because a budget is itself an estimate for the coming year that reflects a reasonable use of information about past spending and plans for future spending. Actual cost, for some previous point in time such as last year, is less useful, because it takes into account what happened in a particular year only.

Accordingly, our estimates of expenses are based primarily on the Library District budget for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12: July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012).

3.2 Pay-in estimate

Our estimate of our contribution to the Library District is based primarily on the tax levied on the assessed value of property in Los Altos/Los Altos Hills. Other categories are estimated as annotated in our findings, in the next section.


This section describes the study results, using the methods we discuss for each task. In all tables, entries are shown in 1,000s of dollars.

4.1 Library District Expense to Operate Los Altos Libraries

This first estimate is based on the SCCL budget document for FY12 (July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012). The budget includes both operating and capital expense (one-time costs), but the scope of this project is on operating expenses. Working from the final column in the second table on page 3 of the budget document, we removed the capital expenses leaving the operating expense budget for use in our estimates. Budgeted capital expense data was provided by Library District staff. The resulting total Library District budget and operating expense are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Library District Operating Expense Budget (in 1,000s)

Expense Item

Total Library District Budget

Operating Expense Budget




Books & Materials






Supplies & Services



Fixed Assets & Vehicles







Our next task was to allocate a portion of the total Library District expense budget for Los Altos Libraries. This allocation has three components.

1. Los Altos Libraries personnel expenses and materials and books expenses are line items in the Library District budget.

2. An individual library’s share of Library District’s facilities expenses and services and supplies expenses are not a line-item in the budget, so we allocated headquarters expenses by two methods.

First, the Library District’s method of allocating funds to the individual libraries is according to “the formula,” an allocation negotiated by the cities and the Library District as a fair means of considering work load in the libraries, the possible citizens served, and the funds contributed by the property taxes collected in the city’s jurisdictions. This formula considers population, assessed property valuation, and circulation, giving the Los Altos Libraries a 16.87% share of the Library District’s expenses in these categories, as shown in the Library District budget document.

The second method of allocation is based on circulation alone which is a better indicator of actual work in the libraries and the work that stand-alone libraries would need to accomplish. The allocation by this method is 16.93%. Circulation percentages are given on page 14 of the Library District budget document. In the case of the Los Altos Libraries, the difference in allocation by these two methods is negligible as will be seen in the tables below.

3. Library District headquarters personnel expense is a line item, and we used the same two methods of allocation to determine Los Altos Libraries allocation.

Table 2 shows the Library District operating expense budget (excluding district-wide activities such as the bookmobile), the method of allocation used for each category, and the amount of the Los Altos Libraries (LAL) allocation. Information using circulation percentage in each category is in parentheses; the difference in allocation using the two methods is seen to be negligible.

Table 2. Library District Operating Expense for Los Altos Libraries (in 1,000’s)

Expense Item

Total Library District Budget

Los Altos Libraries Operating Expense Budget

Source or Method of Allocation

Personnel: local



Library District Budget pg. 8
Personnel: HQ’s


935 (938)

Formula (Circulation)
Books & Materials



Library District Budget pg. 8


643 (646)

Formula (Circulation)
Supplies & Services


438 (439)

Formula (Circulation)
Fixed Assets & Vehicles


24 (25)

Formula (Circulation)


5,427 (5,434)

4.2 City Expense to Operate the Los Altos Libraries Independently

For ease of comparison, we used the same time period (FY12), so population and circulation could be considered to be the same regardless of operation of the libraries. Our assumption was that the facilities, services and supplies, and fixed assets and vehicles categories would be about the same, no matter how the Los Altos Libraries were operated. For personnel, and for books and materials, however, we expected that our costs would increase substantially. Interested readers can modify our table below by selecting percentage increases that are different from ours.

In the case of personnel, we would need to add several staff members, to carry out the functions now being performed at Library District headquarters. This includes management, business office, contracts and licensing, computer support and technical and public services. From Table 2, Los Altos Libraries’ share of the headquarters personnel expense is $935,152 for 8.4 FTE (full-time equivalent employees). Because we would no longer be able to share with other libraries the expense of the specialized personnel who provide these services, we increased this expense by 50%, totaling $1,402,728, for 12.6 new FTE in Los Altos Libraries.

For books and materials, the Los Altos Libraries house 307,487 items in their collection, with free access to the entire Library District collection of 1,828,691 items. A non-trivial portion of the Library District collection, such as reference works, exists at only one or a few locations, and not necessarily ours. We expect that independent Los Altos Libraries would want/need to build their own collection judiciously at, say, a rate of 10% per year. From Table Two, our allocation for books and materials is $635,416. With an increase of 10%, our estimate of books and materials expenses for independent Los Altos Libraries is $698,957. the reader is cautioned that this low replacement rate would result in reduced resources and services.

Using these methods and figures, the estimated operating budget for independent Los Altos Libraries in FY12 is shown in Table 3. The total estimated increase in operating expense is about 10%.

Table 3. Estimated Operating Expenses for Independent Los Altos Libraries (in 1000s)

Expense Item

Library District Budget for LAL

Estimated Adjustments

Independent Los Altos Libraries

Personnel: local



No Change
Personnel: HQ’s



Increase 50%
Books & Materials



Increase 10%



No change
Supplies & Services



No Change
Fixed Assets & Vehicles



No change



4.3 One-time Expenses

Of course, the operating expenses are only a part of the total cost of operating a library. Additional one-time costs, such as replacing computer stations for example, vary widely each year, according to need and the availability of funding. In FY12, for instance, the Library District budgeted $3,684,840 for these kinds of costs. Although there is no allocation of this one-time cost to the individual libraries, Los Altos Libraries’ hypothetical “share” based on circulation would be $623,843.

4.4 What LA/LAH Pays

For ease of comparison, we used the relevant Library District revenue categories given on Page 3 of the Library District FY12 budget. The categories, the Library District total budgeted revenues in each category, and the contribution from Los Altos/Los Altos Hills, are shown in Table 4, along with an explanation of how we derived each entry. Note that some entries, such as property tax, are known while others are estimated.

This table includes extensive notes as to the source of each entry.

Table 4. Library District Revenue Budget and the amount LA/LAH pays (in 1000s)

Expense Item

Library District Revenue Budget

LA/LAH Contribution to Budget

Method of Allocation

Property Taxes



Calculation based on Assessed Value
Special District Parcel Tax



City (NCLA)/County Contribution



Fines and Fees



Estimate based on circulation







The income items in this table are:

Property tax: We calculated the assessed value of property in LA/LAH as a percentage (17.3%) of the total assessed value of property in the county, according to the Library District budget document, page 14. We then used this same percentage to calculate the LA/LAH share of the total property tax paid to the Library District.

We do not attribute to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills any property tax revenue from any unincorporated areas, since these amounts are assessed from properties outside these two incorporated cities.

Special (parcel) tax: Since these Library District-wide tax proceeds are returned directly to the Los Altos libraries to fund personnel and library materials, actual amounts are calculated by the Library District each year and included in the annual budget. Please note that this is a Library District staff policy but not required by the ballot measure approved by the voters.

City/county contribution: LA/LAH collects a special tax through the North County Library Authority. This tax, which according to Library District records totaled $550,000 in FY12, is paid to the Library District to increase the number of hours tLos Altos Libraries are open and to supplement the budget for books and other library materials.

Fines and Fees: The LA/LAH percentage (16.93%) of circulation in assigned areas was used to estimate the fines and fees paid by LA/LAH. ‘Assigned areas’ includes all geographic areas served by the Los Altos Area.

Other: This includes interest earnings, Homeowner Property Tax Relief Credit, Federal Medicare Credit, contract services to other libraries, and miscellaneous donations. Estimated LA/LAH indirect contributions in this category are negligible.


5.1 Summary of Quantitative Findings

The tables in our findings cover two areas:

— a comparison of operating expenses for Library District-operated vs. city-operated libraries in Los Altos that shows expenses of $5,427M with Library District operation and expenses of $5,929M with city operation.

— the amount of LA/LAH’s contribution to the operating budget of the Library District, $5,258M.

Note again that a direct comparison of operating expenses with what we pay in is not valid for several key reasons. Operating expenses include the incremental costs of serving patrons who do not live in LA/LAH, whereas the amounts for what we pay are calculated for just LA/LAH.

Furthermore, operating expenses do not include one-time expenses, which in FY12 were allocated at $623,843. In budget years where the Library District has a surplus of budgeted revenues vs. actual expenses, the Library District transfers the excess to a reserve account (like a savings account). In subsequent years, the Library District transfers funds from reserve accounts to pay for one-time expenses such as new computers. Page 13 of the Library District budget document explains the budgeted reserves.

Because the money in these reserves would have been income to the Library District from the cities and county during previous years, it is not counted as part of the current year’s contribution.

Thus, both one-time expenses and the funds to pay them are not in our calculations. However, it’s important to keep in mind that one-time expenses can represent a substantial cost to the library each year. In FY12, for example, LAL’s share received for one-time expenses was about 11.5% as large as its operating expenses.

5.2 Potential Additional Costs of Transition and Operation

The cost of transitioning from a Library District-operated to a city-operated library could be significant. It is beyond the scope of this study to determine even approximately the additional costs that might be incurred. Instead we have highlighted for the city’s possible future study several possibly significant areas. These potential savings and costs would apply generally to a transition from the Library District to any other management arrangement.

— The Library District’s integrated, technology-based systems such as computers and software and library management systems would need to be replaced.

— The Los Altos Libraries are already bursting at the seams. The community would need to plan for physically housing the increased size of our collections and the increased number of personnel projected for independent libraries. LA/LAH would undoubtedly require additional space, either by expansion, rebuilding, or splitting up library services across multiple sites.

— Questions of equipment and materials ownership would need to be settled. The Library District receives property and parcel taxes and maintains reserve funds and assets. The legal fees to determine our rights and re-negotiate contracts are unknown but could be substantial. Also, if in fact the Library District legally owns the contents of the LAL, then we would need to replace these items.

— Finally, library personnel are employees of Santa Clara County, and all are union members. Disposition of personnel and re-negotiation of employment contracts could again lead to substantial unknown legal fees.

5.3 Potential Savings

— It has been suggested that savings on personnel expense could be achieved by hiring non-union staff and relying as much as possible on volunteers instead of library professionals. However, whether this would lead to significant savings is uncertain.

— Some savings might be realized by reducing our e-offerings. As Library District patrons, the community enjoys a rich user environment of specialized library software that actually creates an online community for patrons. Readers of this report are invited to explore the tools and e-collection of Library District materials for browsing, research, managing your reading, and interacting with other patrons at Tools include, for example, hundreds of online databases and magazines, genealogy, language modules, and help with homework or taxes. While it might be possible to continue using the Library District system or a similar one, LA/LAH may want to consider replacing it with a less costly system.

— Reductions in levels of service such as the number of hours the libraries are open, or reductions in programs offered, may also result in savings.

5.4 Community Values

Besides financial concerns, community character is a significant factor in determining the kind of library its patrons want to have. Should the library offer a state-of-the-art facility with extensive access to Internet-based resources, and a relatively rich collection of the classics and invaluable reference works, children’s books and materials, and the latest DVDs? Should Los Altos offer free library cards to our neighbors who want them? Do our patrons believe that the current library services are what are needed, or does the community need more autonomy in order to do things differently?


The assumptions and resultant costs calculated in this study do not suggest a financial advantage to Los Altos by leaving the Library District. It is commonly argued that independent Los Altos libraries would reduce the cost of personnel, the largest item in the budget. Testing this assertion is beyond the scope this study and would presumably require a comparison of wage rates in the County and in the City. Further, it would require a detailed study of library options to identify the tasks that could be performed by volunteers and some means of determining if such volunteers would volunteer.

If a future study did reveal a substantial personnel cost reduction, then the other issues described in the report about the costs of separation should be examined.

Ultimately, the community will need to balance access to a rich array of materials and services, and the desirability of shared costs, with its need for increased autonomy.


The authors are grateful to the PrimeTime Project’s volunteer analysts, each of whom had relevant professional experience that contributed to this study. Besides the authors, they are David Smith, Jan Masters, and Jack Kelly.

We are also grateful to the Santa Clara County Library District staff who generously shared their time and expertise with us. At the Los Altos Libraries, these were Jane Cronkhite and Jill Lakstigala. At headquarters, these were Derek Wolfgram, Gay Strand, and Chuck Griffen.

Several members of the Los Altos Library Commission and other members of the community contributed a wealth of background information and ideas during interviews in the early stages of our work. These are Elayne Dauber, Jean Mordo, Darwin Poulos, Bob Simon, David Struthers, Judy Suelzle, and Nancy Tucker.

We are most grateful to Los Altos Community Foundation staff Monica Davis, Hank Drew, Joe Eyre, and Roy Lave for their support.

Thanks also to Jean Mordo for sharing his earlier studies with us, to Val Carpenter for her insights on Santa Clara County Library District governance, and to our reviewers and editors.

Finally, special thanks to the Los Altos Community Foundation for making this work possible. The PrimeTime Project is a program of the Foundation, which provided us with operating support, invaluable guidance, and steadfast patience as we developed the PrimeTime Project and this study.