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LAH council explores town hall update

Heritage House
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A proposal to update Los Altos Hills Town Hall facilities calls for replacing the Heritage House, above, with additional green space.

A proposal to update Los Altos Hills Town Hall facilities to accommodate a growing number of activities is gaining traction – albeit with baby steps, council members assure.

At last month’s city council meeting, Councilman Roger Spreen presented findings from a subcommittee discussion about repurposing existing town hall square footage. He described three potential options that could unfold in tandem: replacing or extending the 880-square-foot Parks and Recreation Department building until it connects with the main town hall structure; enclosing the 300-square-foot patio behind the council chambers; and replacing the 1,000-square-foot Heritage House with green space.

The revamped indoor areas could provide room for the town’s Emergency Operations Center (currently contained within the seismically suspect 19th-century-era Heritage House) as well as for meetings, classes, events and, if needed in the future, staff offices.

“We’ve had this growing need, and it’s a testament to how our town has evolved in the past few years as to how there is so much more interest in these kinds of usage,” Spreen said.

The council authorized the subcommittee, comprising Spreen and Mayor John Radford, to proceed with developing conceptual designs and to further investigate facility need requirements by consulting with key stakeholders such as residents and Community Services Supervisor Sarah Robustelli. As the head of the Parks and Recreation Department, Robustelli is among staff members currently struggling to meet residents’ demands for facility space, including within the ever-popular and versatile council chambers.

“You’ve seen the overbooking that’s happened on this and the frustration from our staff’s faces. … So many things want to get done in this room, from movie nights with kids to exercise to this august meeting – it’s all happening here,” Spreen said. “So we need another space. There’s so much call for that.”

Radford and Spreen stressed the project’s preliminary nature in interviews with the Town Crier last week.

Radford said the subcommittee has yet to consider a budget, but he noted that the town possesses “very healthy” reserves of $15 million, so there should be ample funding for the project if the council ultimately decides to pursue it.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Radford said. “We are just thinking concepts right now that we bring back to the council.”

Winning over the opposition

An update to the council could come at the August meeting. In the meantime, Spreen is sitting down with residents to identify their needs and concerns.

That includes town hall neighbors, like Mark Breier. Breier’s Esperanza Drive property is located just behind town hall and runs the length of the main town hall building. He’s long been an outspoken critic of facility expansion projects and advocated for a smaller, less expensive town hall design when the building was reconstructed in the early 2000s. He also fought a 2015 proposal to build a community center or multipurpose building in the town apricot orchard, where the Heritage House is located.

The community center idea was dropped after a town meeting “that got very ugly,” Radford said.

“That exploded into quite a debate and finally we just had to move on,” he added. “But that didn’t stop our assessment of needs and residents wanting space here. We just had to back off and think more clearly about what was an appropriate way to approach planning for our future.”

Reached by telephone last week, Breier said he and his neighbors likely wouldn’t take issue with the new facilities plans if they manifest as so far described by the subcommittee. But pushback, he said, could come from those who would rather see their tax dollars invested elsewhere, and he referenced resident responses from both a 2016 community survey town officials commissioned and a 2015 Nextdoor.com poll Breier himself posted.

“The taxpayers want their roads improved. They want their telephone wires undergrounded. They want the airplane noise stopped. They don’t want new buildings,” he said.

But this new project, which shouldn’t radically add to the town’s existing footprint, could possibly win over even Breier, Radford said.

“Maybe he’ll finally come around and say, ‘You know what? There’s not a whole lot to argue here,’” Radford said. “Maybe.”

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