The Los Altos City Council recently announced its intention to sign a 20-year lease with the privately owned Children’s Corner, obligating the city to construct the preschool a 3,000-square-foot building and provide it with 3,500 square feet of dedicated open space, totaling 6,500 square feet. Worse, the council plans the building to be set just a pathway apart from the new Hillview Community Center.
The city has conducted its process with zero community engagement, also declining to answer residents’ requests to explain why they refuse to issue a request for proposal for a competitive bid. Additionally, it’s a violation of the council’s promise early this year to include “community outreach” as a council priority for every significant project.
Opposition to the council’s plan does not infer anything negative to Children’s Corner itself. However, the extraordinary negative issues with the council’s plan subject the city’s citizens to a major loss of opportunities for use of valuable land, and a variety of other problems and risks that can be avoided.
The council should immediately reverse any commitments made to Children’s Corner, and cease any further discussions with school officials for consideration of setting up a day care center or its equivalent in or near the planned new Hillview Community Center, until and unless proper transparency is provided and accepted by the citizens of Los Altos.
Following are some specific issues that make the council’s plan so wrong.
• A 20-year lease is ridiculous for any property owner, and limits the city’s proper control of the space and the building, as well as its opportunities to make desired changes at will. If important, its opportunity to terminate the lease within 20 years is unavailable.
• The plan presents financial risks to the city if the tenant’s current financial abilities take a downturn.
• The new community center is not even designed yet, and work on developing programming plans is only beginning, such as determining and finalizing for groups (including seniors, teens, classes, etc.).
When the center is completed, its management and staff ought to be able to assess what has worked and what has not worked, and then be enabled to make changes wherever needed. An example could be the spaces now planned for both the senior and teen centers. The entire space allocated for both is actually smaller than what is set forth for Children’s Corner’s inside space, let alone the preschool’s benefit of a dedicated and additional fenced-in open space. The senior and teen centers (or perhaps others) should be enabled to promptly take that Children’s Corner space themselves, if additional space is needed.
Bringing Children’s Corner immediately into the city council’s lease plan is completely backwards. It’s way too early. The plan for a renovated Hillview Community Center has resulted in years of struggle for the city and all of its citizens. To expose any risks of mistakes, especially with this rushed decision to lock into its midst for 20 years a nearby private entity, is insane.
Al Rooney is a Los Altos resident.
Note: The city council was scheduled to discuss a possible lease agreement with Children’s Corner at last night’s council meeting. The meeting took place after the Town Crier’s Monday press deadline.