The Los Altos City Council declined to approve a proposed design for a new Emergency Operations Center during its meeting Oct. 13, instead voicing concern over funding and priorities for the building and sending the item back to the Planning Commission.
The item placed on the agenda was intended to discuss the EOC’s design. But during a staff report, engineering services director Jim Sandoval said the development – for which the city had budgeted $2 million – was projected to cost upwards of $2.5 million and that the city did not have a dedicated source of funding for the remaining amount.
Two local ham radio operators made public comments expressing disappointment that the Los Altos Amateur Radio Emergency Service – a group of licensed residents deployed to help during major events – was not consulted during the design process.
The Planning Commission had unanimously recommended that the council move forward with approval.
After Mayor Jan Pepper expressed uncertainty regarding whether the building could accommodate the needs of an EOC and what its primary purpose would be, City Manager Chris Jordan responded that the public hearing was scheduled to discuss the design review.
“It was not about the programming of the building,” Jordan said. “That was not what we had expected to be discussing.”
But the council members discussed it anyway.
“To artificially divorce the money from the design – I’m sorry, it just seems crazy to me,” Councilwoman Anita Enander said. “We thought we had a budget that went with a building. How those got divorced, I don’t know.”
Council members called for the role of ham radio operators to be cleared up, and to make sure they have enough space for their equipment.
Pepper and Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, both approaching their final weeks on the council, hoped that the next council would continue to prioritize the EOC. But a sticking point, after council members had just finished a study session where they were given an update on the city’s financial status, was the uncertain funding.
“The financing is going to be really important,” Bruins said. “We can’t start and stop the project. When we go from design, we should be moving straight into bids and into construction, and you can’t do that if you don’t understand where the money is going to come from.”
The council had noted constructing the 1,541-square-foot EOC as a priority in previous meetings because the current EOC, located at the Municipal Services Center, is 2.5 miles from city hall and doesn’t meet the standards of an essential services building.
The council approved the adoption of a new ordinance on accessory dwelling units to ensure consistency with state law. The ordinance is scheduled to take effect Tuesday. To try to use ADUs to meet its Regional Housing Need Allocation figures, the city will send out an annual rental income survey and report the data to the state.
The council also approved a $10 million loan for the community center, which is currently under construction, with Sterling National Bank.