New Info on Civic Center Finance- Bond not Parcel Tax

Scary restrooms at the crumbling Hillview Center
Written by lalahpolitico

The “Public Education” Campaign – aka, Propaganda

The Los Altos City Council has begun a two month campaign of “public education” about the Los Altos Community Center. Presenters are giving talks to civic and church groups. After that, council will survey Los Altos voters in early April about their willingness to pay for Phase 1 (city hall, police station, and community center), and then decide in May whether to proceed and call an assessment election.

The presentation being delivered by up to 8 “ambassadors” is just like the brochure. “Here’s your Problem: the old Hillview Center is a mess; Here’s your Solution: this 4-Phase concept plan.”  In the Q&A following these low-information sessions, some useful new info is coming out in dribs and drabs.

“Here’s your Problem: the old Hillview Center is a mess;
Here’s your Solution: this 4-Phase concept plan.”


The city plans to pay the $16 million cost for the new city hall building out of reserves. The city’s recent FY 2010-2011 financial report shows over $3 million in a fund for that express purpose, but there are other reserve funds, plus the city can easily run large surpluses over the next few years and pump up the reserve to come up with the $16 million.

The $65 million for the rest of Phase 1 (the police station and the community center) will be raised by a bond measure.  This is not a parcel tax where every property owner pays the same amount for n years.  Rather it is a bond measure based on assessed value of the property. At the February 16 Los Altos Planning Commission meeting, Mayor Val Carpenter made a presentation to the commission, where Jerry Moison’s questions elicited some price tag details. Mayor Carpenter said a voter survey in early April will test willingness to pay price points above and below about $35 per $100,000 of assessed value.

It is estimated that the average property in Los Altos is valued at $700,000-$800,000, resulting in a bill of about $250 a year.

Real old timers could pay as little as $50.  Newcomers who may have paid $2.5M for a home in Los Altos would pay around $875 a year.

Editorial Comment –
Implications for your Wallet…Crowded Fall 2012 Ballot

In Los Altos all property owners now pay around $800 in parcel taxes across two LASD (K-8) measures. For new homeowners this Phase I “Community Center” bond will cost about the same as the Los Altos School District parcel tax. The newcomer pays almost $30,000 in “taxes” so an extra $1000 might just be pocket change.

However, it seems that many of the items on our property tax bill — the elective ones like parcel taxes and perhaps others — will no longer be deductible from state income taxes.  Actually they already are NOT deductible, but Gov. Brown has said he wants to enforce this now.

…the community should be bracing for a big new LASD bond measure to pay for a new school…

Also the community should be bracing for a big new LASD bond measure to pay for a new school or substantially rebuilt existing one. The LASD has a long record of some the least accurate forecasting and planning for student population growth and facility needs.  There was a selling binge of school sites in the 80’s. It sold Hillview School to the City of Los Altos in 1980. Bullis Gardener was closed in 2003, run as a kindergarten for several years, and finally fully opened for K-6 only in 2009.

Today, 10% of the LASD  K-8 population is in Bullis-Charter portables at Egan Jr. High.  Additional children are in portables at other school sites.  If Bullis Charter were to suddenly disband, dumping all those kids back into LASD, LASD would still need to acquire another site anyway. What this means is that Los Altans should expect a LASD bond measure shortly.

 Would you rather spend another $1,000 on a new Community Center or on the schools?

We want to see the LASD go first to the ballot with its needs.  The City of Los Altos should delay moving forward with Phase I of the Community Center for a couple of years until LASD can pass its infrastructure ballot measure. Take that Phase 1 train off the tracks, please! Consider selling the Hillview part of the civic center site back to LASD.


About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.

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