Los Altos council rejects staff proposal to move chambers

At a study session prior to the June 25 Los Altos City Council meeting, City Manager Chris Jordan asked everyone in the room – especially council members – to look up at the ceiling.

“This building is an embarrassment; it’s in terrible condition,” he said of the Los Altos Youth Center, where the council has been meeting for the past few months as city hall’s council chambers undergo renovation.

Los Altos Youth Center” width=
Town Crier File Photo
Los Altos city staff June 25 asked council members to consider moving their chambers to the Los Altos Youth Center. Programs such as Jazzercise, above, take place in the facility.

Jordan’s comments came during a presentation by City Clerk Jon Maginot, who outlined the benefits of permanently moving council meetings from city hall to the youth center, such as a more comfortable reception area and easier access to bathrooms for visitors. As part of his interjection, Jordan noted that a change of venue would require seriously overdue improvements to a building that is underused.

“This is a good building and this is an opportunity to do something different,” he said of the youth center. “We could choose to keep council in city hall and improve this building still, but I think we get so used to our surroundings after a while that we ignore what needs work.”

Maginot informed the council that the design bid for the renovations in the city hall chambers, beyond the audio/visual and Americans with Disability Act improvements scheduled for completion last week, had been paused pending the conversation that evening. The council was expected to return to the chambers Monday, with ongoing aesthetic upgrades set to wrap up by the end of the year or early 2020.

“So we are delaying another project,” Mayor Lynette Lee Eng said.

Financial Commission members Gary Kalbach and Christopher Roat spoke in support of moving council meetings to the youth center, noting that it would be an advantage to create a multiuse space and that the city had “plenty of money.”

“Don’t let that be your stumbling block,” Kalbach said.

Sticking with the familiar

For varying reasons, all five council members opted to stick with their original plan to move back into the council chambers Monday and continue construction on the chambers and break ground on the new Hillview Community Center by the end of the year.

They rejected the proposal to upgrade the youth center because they didn’t want to tackle another major project on top of the Hillview overhaul.

“If we keep tapping out our staff, we are going to pull them away from other projects that need attention,” Lee Eng said.

Such overlap is not only necessary, but also pivotal to the success of meeting the council’s 15-year goal to update infrastructure, argued Sharif Etman, the city’s administrative services director.

“Every building and piece of infrastructure in Los Altos is falling apart, and we must fix that,” Etman said, listing city property including the Garden House at Shoup Park and the youth center. “We have a major report to show it. … This is Los Altos. We need to look like Los Altos. It’s 2019. This should be a state-of-the-art, badass building with Wi-Fi.”

Etman painted a verbal picture of the grandeur the youth center could embody, asking the council to imagine a resident renting out the facility for a 50th-anniversary party. The windows could open up, lights stretching out into the orchards, glasses of wine flowing, he said.

“It’s clear we are waiting for a study session on our priorities (regarding infrastructure),” Lee Eng replied. “Once we decide them, we are going to hit the ground running.”

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