Five Los Altos residents last week submitted the primary argument against November’s Measure A, the $65 million bond that would partially fund the overhaul of Hillview Community Center and Park.
In the filed document, the concerned taxpayers contend that the project – estimated at $87 million total, including funds from the city’s reserves – “doesn’t add up.” The group claims that the project is too expensive, includes unknown costs, is oversized for residents’ needs and focuses on the wrong priorities.
“For many residents, this $87 million project is jaw-dropping in dollars, with not enough sense,” said Catherine Nunes, one of the five signees. “An understanding of the true cost of these facilities – total cost of debt repayment, operating costs, impact of city reserve depletion – is missing from this plan.”
Nunes is a member of the Los Altos Downtown Neighbors Network, a group formed in February to involve downtown residents in activities and plans for the area.
But in recent months, the group has expanded to become a self-described citywide resource and government watchdog group. One of the group’s current initiatives is organizing opposition to Measure A. Members advocate responsible city planning and prioritization, transparency, financial accountability and community analysis in decision-making.
“Many neighborhood groups and concerned residents are using the group’s website as a source of information and to galvanize their connections with neighbors and neighborhood groups,” Nunes said.
Argument against the bond
Some members of the network joined with other opponents to write the official argument against Measure A. The signees – Nunes, along with William Lonergan, Maria Murphy Lonergan, Wallace Palmer and Jim Jolly – call into question the project’s true cost to taxpayers.
Over the bond’s 30-year lifetime, homeowners would shell out an estimated $134 million on both the principal and interest, according to the city’s Administrative Services Director Kim Juran-Karageorgiou. (For more information on the financial makeup of the estimated average annual tax rates, see next week’s Town Crier.)
In addition to the bond, the project would require $20 million to $25 million in city reserves that would preclude “funding other city services, emergencies or citywide needs,” the opponents contend. They also argue that the project would entail unknown operating and maintenance costs not included in the proposal.
Los Altos resident Mary Cunneen Lion, who opposes the bond measure, wondered why it is set to come before voters now – a year after the Los Altos School District floated a $150 million bond.
“Our city councilmembers are the stewards of our money, and I find this bond proposal to be a thoughtless, poorly planned and insensitive use of our money,” she wrote in an email to the Town Crier.
The signees also took issue with the size of the components within the council-approved core site design concept: a 55,600-square-foot community center and a 38,500-square-foot aquatic center. They counter that the amenities are “scoped for rental facilities.”
“It’s unnecessary and takes up space I’d rather see left over for green space,” Jolly told the Town Crier. “It’s not an area where I want to have buildings.”
The city developed the conceptual plans for two main purposes – to ensure that all the proposed facilities would fit within the project area (the southeast portion of the civic center site) and to provide a basis for developing the $87 million cost model.
‘Wrong plan, wrong time’
Once the project design phase begins, the city will develop a final site plan with input from residents, according to City Manager Marcia Somers, who added that there is not yet a more detailed design.
“We don’t want to expend city funds without knowing what ultimately happens (with the bond measure),” Somers said.
But some residents want to see a plan before voting to support the project.
“It is tantamount to saying, ‘Trust us – we know how to spend your money,’” said Cunneen Lion.
The signees are also concerned that the ultimate plan would cut down on open space.
“Existing park and open space are eliminated from current conceptual plans, to be ‘considered’ later in undetermined designs – not a priority,” according to the argument.
Measure A opponents contend that the project doesn’t address priorities ranked highly on the 2012 Godbe Research poll – the only data-based collection of residents’ input related to the overall civic center renovation. A pool, for example, was ranked the lowest priority among community services.
“Our goal is to find common ground for a right-sized, fully designed plan that meets validated community priorities and current use, as well as ties to the approved, long-term community-identified design drivers,” said Los Altos resident Randall Hull, who opposes the project.
The “design drivers” include connectivity to downtown, enlarged and enhanced open space, minimized entrances/exits on residential streets and managed, justifiable costs – all of which Hull believes are missing from the current project.
Members of the Downtown Neighbors Network, as well as many of the Measure A opponents, support a revitalized civic area with a community center, park elements and open space. They just believe – as Jolly put it – “that this is the wrong plan at the wrong time.”
For more on the argument in favor of Measure A, see next week's Town Crier.