Parks & Rec

Dueling Community Center Meetings in Los Altos

Fred Kent review flip charts from the Mar 1 breakout groups at a meeting about the Los Altos Community Center
Fred Kent review flip charts from the Mar 1 breakout groups at a meeting about the Los Altos Community Center
Written by lalahpolitico
April 1 City of Los Altos Communty Meeting on a New Community Center

April 1 City of Los Altos sponsored Communty Meeting about a new Community Center

Both the City of Los Altos and the non-profit Los Altos Forward (LAF)  have been separately sponsoring a slew of public meetings to gather “community input” about what to build in the Los Altos Community Center area. To the general public this must look like “too many meetings about the same thing, right?”  It feels like dueling community center meetings. But each organization is actually asking a different question.

The City – Focus on  6-8 acre Hillview Ave. and one new building

The City of Los Altos is currently asking for residents’ preferences about a single building – a community center – and about how residents weigh the pros and cons of 3 possible locations along the 6-8 acres of Hillview Ave. – front, middle or back.  The City has such a narrow scope now because  in fall of 2013 the Council voted to pursue ONLY a new community center building. A bond survey had shown strong support only for a community center building, and little interest in other elements of a comprehensive Civic Center Master Plan – a city hall, a new police station.  Meh! The Master Plan was formalized in 2009 by an advisory committee of about 30 people who held numerous public meetings back them.

Sharon Tucker Los Altos Department of Recreation

Sharon Tucker head of Los Altos Department of Recreation was one of the April 1 meeting presenters for the City

Los Altos Forward – Focus on a redo of 18 acre Civic CenterMaster Plan

Los Altos Forward is currently asking for residents preferences about the entire Civic Center, the whole 18 acres fronting on San Antonio Road and Hillview Ave. The organization advocates for making the civic center area a real part of the downtown triangle. One way to do so would be by placing new civic center buildings right along the San Antonio frontage.  For several years LAF  has been sponsoring lectures -“Community Conversations” – about best practices and new practices in urban and traffic planning.

[Lalahpolitico: Our planning department already knows about these urban and traffic planning alternatives.  Instead LAF is hoping to educate residents to want and ask for a more “vibrant” and more pedestrian and bike friendly downtown. Change the demand, and the city will change what it is supplying. Let us remember the City has been pretty responsive about bike path improvements throughout the city in the last few years; except for First Street which the bike community says now is more dangerous after the city’s “streetscaping.”]
Los Altos Forward sponsored community meeting

Fred Kent – known as an expert in place-making – speaks at a Los Altos Forward sponsored meeting exploring best urban planning practices for creating our Civic Center.  March 4

Neither the City nor LAF talks about a School on the site

All the interest groups, the factions, are assembling for these two series of meetings – City’s and LAF’s. You will see both professional staff and “clients” show up at these meetings:  Senior Center, Library, Recreation Department, Pool, Los Altos Stage Theatre, Apricot Orchard, downtown merchants and property owners, residential neighbors…and now Los Altos School District trustees, retired teachers and  “concerned parents.”

small group break out a City's Community Center meeting

At the City’s April 1 meeting, LASD trustee Tamara Logan on the left participating in a breakout session

Clearly, the most interested interest group of them all is now on high alert. Los Altos School District trustee Doug Smith and Tamara Logan have started attending both series of meetings.  This November LASD expects to float a $100M plus school bond the marketing of which is likely to promise to build two new schools, on two new pieces of land and to do some remodeling to existing schools. It is likely to be marketed as a way to provide BCS its own site. However, it is unclear at this time what the actual bond language will say. [Lalahpolitico: Some fear it will be very vague – another blank check like the 1999 bond.}

The low-information voter probably has a vague and erroneous idea that the Target store  in Mountain View or the Milk Pail or other unnamed Mountain View sites really are buyable. Or that land already zoned commercial or office is no more expensive that home sites?  Or that the City of Mountain View  wants to help LASD by down zoning  tax-paying commercial and office sites and putting a zero revenue school there instead.  Wrong. [Lalahpolitico: I’m not sure why people don’t notice and remember the news and analysis that quashes hopes.  Forgetting improves one’s mood.]

During the LASD Taskforce on Facilities this past spring, Duncan MacVicar, who represented the City of Los Altos, let it be known that the City is ok with discussing letting the district lease or buy MacKenzie, the parking yard there, or Rosita.  Not so much Hillview. [Lalahpolitico: there is some City of LAH land that is plausible, but neighbors there will likely protest the traffic of a school. Can we have trust that other “rumored to exist” sites are actually for sale and available, except by eminent domain?]

So in order to have a concrete, somewhat believable marketing message for the bond,  the LASD trustees really need for City of Los Altos lands  — the MacKenzie site, the parking yards, and the Rosita site – but also the Hillview site to be available for lease or purchase.  The district seems to prefer the Hillview solution best.  The vision is that any Community Center bond, or civic center bond, would include in the plan at least some multipurpose rooms, specialized teaching spaces, etc. they could be used by the new school during the day and used by the City Recreation Dept. in the evenings and weekends. And that the City bond would cover that capital expenditure so the School bond won’t have to?

[Lalahpolitico:  Shared city/school facilities are not impossible.  The city built gyms on Egan and Blach (maybe 15 years ago?). They are used by students as needed during the day weekdays, and by the Recreation Dept. and community sports groups during the evenings and weekends. Paris, Tennesee, population 10,000, the exurban home of Campbell Soup, has an example of a  new community center that also has new classrooms for grades 4-5 as part of the small complex.  Another local non-profit affiliated with Los Altos Forward  – CAFE, Center for Age-Friendly Excellence lead by recent city council candidate Anabel Pelham – advocates for a multi-generational community center, but that is necessarily the same as having a full-blown k-6 or k-8 school next door.]
March 1 meeting sponsored by  Los Altos Forward

Fred Kent at a March 1 Los Altos Forward meeting reviews the findings of the 10 break out groups

What kind of School – Neighborhood, Magnet, Charter?

LALAHPOLITCO: It is a political minefield as to what kind of school Hillview could be.  Could it be District run “neighborhood school”  for North of El Camino residents?  What will they think of the distance?  Much further that the charter school which they attend in some number, but not quite as far as Covington which they also attend in some number? Or maybe a District-run magnet school, where children apply to attend like at MVWhisman District’s alternative schools?  Or is Hillview where LASD wants to place the 700 to 900 students attending Bullis Charter School?  BCS trustees have told LASD’s Doug Smith and Tamara Logan that BCS doesn’t want a shiny, new school. And that it is a folly to market a Schools bond where the charter is getting the lion’s share of the money.  Peter Evan and Francis LaPoll, BCS trustees, say that all they want is their “fair share – 10% as this is the percentage of district students the charter serves.”

[Lalahpolitico: maybe the City of Los Altos should do something extra nice for the Montclaire school and the entire Sunnyvale-Cupertino school district, before it lavishes more on the questionably managed Los Altos School District. Just a thought.]
Meeting sponsored by Los Altos Forward

Also sponsored by Los Altos Forward and Center for Age Friendly Excellence … a community input meeting about  creating multi-generational community centers. Speakers were from the new MV Senior Center, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and Avenidas assisted living.

A School for Hillview site – is this the majority view?

It is true that LASD sold the Hillview school to the city in 1975 with the idea it was doing land-banking, saving the site for the return of a school someday. But that was not written in the contract, so it comes down to what the most people feel is the right thing to do NOW today? Will the seniors get their fair share if a school goes in? What about the four school districts enjoying the city’s recreation classes?

At the April 1 City community meeting, one of the attending parents asked the architect how many people were consulted to come up with the detailed ranked preferences which were being powerpointed.  The architect replied that the team had met with all the citizen commissioners of City of Los Altos – about 100 self-selected citizens. The parent, tapping on her phone looked up the population of Los Altos, about 26,000. Then she somewhat acidly observed that talking to only 100 out of 26,000 was not a good way to ascertain community sentiment.

The parent said many people can’t attend time-consuming community meetings; there have to be better or alternative ways of getting feedback from the 26,000.  [Lalahpolitico agrees. The City has already made it easier to send short emails on a variety of topics to staff and council members, but I don’t think people take that very seriously. Has the city  added texting and tweeting? Maybe, but this is still not serious either. Lalahpolitico will write about the topic of government transparency and mass acessibility soon.]





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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