Fri08012014

More progress, not process for civic center

We appreciate that the Los Altos City Council and city staff want to move forward with replacing Hillview Community Center, an outdated facility that leaves much to be desired. But with all due respect, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Six years ago, the city employed consultant Anderson Brulé Architects to facilitate a series of meetings that captured residents’ opinions and priorities on the elements they wanted incorporated in the entire 18-acre civic center site. The two-year, $450,000 process resulted in the formulation of the Civic Center Master Plan.

The plan – with four phases and a $180 million price tag – went nowhere. Now, the city has brought back Anderson Brulé, which this time, according to city officials, will be different. The city is opting for a more modest plan, one that calls for rebuilding only the aging Hillview Community Center. The process, the city contends, will more directly involve residents and grant them a feeling of ownership.

Perhaps additional outreach is needed, but to the tune of $184,000? And why settle for remodeling only the Hillview facility when the city should be looking at the entire 18-acre site? The new building could be built closer to the History Museum.

We don’t need yet another survey of residents to determine their priorities. Residents have already called for a revamped senior center, retention of the fields for youth sports, a community swimming pool and a multipurpose facility that would include a theater and permanent home for Los Altos Stage Company.

The original master plan failed to garner public support in part due to a bond measure with a hefty cost proposed during a bad economy. But other roadblocks included prioritizing reconstruction of the police station and city hall, relocating the apricot orchard and insisting on single-story buildings. Surely, a three- or four-story community center in one building, set back from the road, would cut costs way back as well as open up more space.

It seems shortsighted to address only the community center. Does limiting work to the community center slow future planning and development for the rest of the property? Is this a “let’s get something done” over a “let’s do it right” approach?

We like the idea of a design competition. Why not start one now? Open it up to the entire 18 acres. Solicit 3-D designs of the proposed plans. Residents would get a far better idea of their choices.

The devil is always in the details, of course. But so far, process has not yielded progress.

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