Tue07222014

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Council revisits Civic Center Master Plan


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

The Los Altos City Council will schedule a study session in the summer to re-examine the master plan, which includes a pending overhaul of the civic center.

The Los Altos City Council agreed March 26 to reassess the Civic Center Master Plan for its 18-acre civic center site off San Antonio Road.

The council opted to schedule a study session in the summer to reconsider sections of the 4-year-old master plan after city staff presented alternative approaches for replacing the site’s aging and outdated facilities, according to City Manager Marcia Somers.

In presenting various future steps, Assistant City Manager James Walgren noted that the city was at a “key crossroad” with its civic center.

The city originally sought to place a $65 million bond measure on the November 2012 ballot to fund approximately 80 percent of the first phase of the plan, which included the replacement of city hall, the Los Altos Police Station and Hillview Community Center.

The council voted not to pursue the measure after a survey of residents showed support fell short of the two-thirds approval required for passage.

City staff presented three options to the council: (1) Move forward with the originally approved four-phase master plan as is; (2) include the renovation and expansion of the police station and city hall at their current locations, plus the demolition and replacement of the community center; or (3) only renovate and expand the three areas.

Finance Manager Russ Morreale told the council that some of the redevelopment outlined in each approach could be funded by using the $11 million to $12 million in city reserves, including those from a facility-replacement fund and proceeds from land sales. He noted that public support recorded during the city survey was higher for a less-expensive bond measure, one priced at approximately $25 million to $30 million.

The council decided to defer a decision until after it reviews the tradeoffs and costs of the different approaches, because councilmembers did not have enough information to reach a consensus on which direction to take without further study.

“I don’t think we can give clear direction to staff at this point, because I do not think we have a meeting of the minds of the council up here as to what the facts are and where we really want to invest dollars,” Councilwoman Megan Satterlee said.

During the discussion, Councilwoman Val Carpenter noted that she was “a little reluctant” to give up on the city’s current master plan, noting that the two alternate options would eliminate plans for a swim center.

“For me to move forward with this, we need to find a way to continue to have a swim facility be a part of the plan or identify another location in Los Altos where that could be put,” Carpenter said.

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins suggested that any new direction in addressing the city’s civic center needs should begin with a new community center.

“While we all might love Hillview, we’ve never, in my humble opinion, invested in our community center,” she said. “We took advantage of an old school site, left it an old school site and haven’t done anything since we acquired it. I just think it’s time for us to invest, because community centers are about community.”

Satterlee urged her colleagues to pursue a study session after questioning whether the costs and tradeoffs for each approach had been fully examined.

“What have we looked at?” she said. “What are the tradeoffs? What were the costs? What were some of the policy decisions embedded in there? … (Let’s) come to some agreement on that, and then we can talk about (whether) the master plan is the way to build it – or do we move the pieces around in different places?”

Study session aside, Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw said the city should consider better public outreach and education on the civic center project. He noted that while the survey didn’t reveal adequate support, it “showed that people are willing to invest in Los Altos, but they want to understand what they’re investing in.”

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