City Council

Convergence? – Los Altos Civic Center Master Plan Version 3.0

What might be included in the Civic Center Plan Version 3.0.
Written by lalahpolitico

Could the various factions with particular interests in the Los Altos Civic Center Master Plan – the recreation department, seniors, pool-lovers, theatre-lovers, library-lovers, downtowners seeking vibrancy, reluctant City of Los Altos tax-payers, the school district, city hall – possibly be converging on the same revision of the vision?

Find out at a community meeting sponsored by LACF and numerous other organizations, Wednesday, May 4, Hillview Social Hall, 7 to 9 pm.


2012 Survey say Voters want only a Community Center?

Results of a 2012 survey about Phase I of the ambitious 2009 Civic Center Master Plan Version 1.0 seemed to suggest that the voters only wanted to pay for a community center – not for a new a city hall and not for a new police station.  In that survey, voters were not asked how much they were willing to pay for a library, a pool, or a theatre – those were in later Phases II, III and IV and without a funding plan.

Over six months ago, the city council interpreted the 2012 survey results to mean, “Take action only on the community center, we’ll pay for that part. Postpone the rest.” So the council set in motion a planning and community engagement process to design a new community center building – aka a Civic Center Master Plan Version 2.0.  The trouble is 2.0 is NOT a comprehensive plan for the 18 acre site it’s just the one building, a community center building mainly for the city recreation department services. Version 2.0 throws the hopes for a new library, pool and theatre (and perhaps a school) under the bus.

And stakeholders from all those “friends of” factions have shown up at the many recent community outreach meetings to tell the city council and city staff “ouch.” Did council misinterpret the 2012 survey results?

“Friends of” are advocating to the council that City of Los Altos voters actually are ready to vote for a parcel tax that buys not just only a community center building, but also a pool, underground parking beneath the community center, and a theatre on Downtown Parking Plaza 3. This approach preserves the existing soccer and baseball space, and is almost a complete Version 3.0.

A sketch of possible convergence of interests - What Civic Center Plan Version 3.0 could look like.

A sketch of possible convergence of interests – What Civic Center Plan Version 3.0 could look like. A new community center building would be the anchor element.  Possible add-ons to the base parcel tax – underground parking, the pool, moving the community theatre downtown

How Version 3.0 could please & be funded

Step One: New City Parcel Tax – Election no later than November 2016

The anchor element of an emerging Plan 3.0 is a new Community Center Building with the following options…

Option 1: with Underground Parking beneath the new bulding
Option 2: a Public Pool
…while preserving the existing soccer and  baseball field
Option 3: moving the Theatre off the civic center site to across San Antonio  Road in order to create flexibility on the civic center site and bring night life to the downtown triangle.

The idea of option 3  is to build a new Community Theatre for the joint operation by the  LA Youth Theatre and the LA Stage Company with underground parking on Plaza 3 next to the Palo Alto Grill.  The main auto entrance would be on San Antonio Road across from Hawthorne, while the main pedestrian/theatre-goer  entrance would be on Second Street behind the Chase Bank. Perhaps a group of movie-lovers could schedule flicks there from time to time.  Even corporate rentals of the theatre are possible perhaps.

The community center, the pool and the theater are all facilities that could possibly be funded in cooperation with the City of Los Altos Hills, which has nowhere to put such facilities itself, but does have money.  They are already customers of the Los Altos Recreation Department and the community theaters.


Step 2:  New Police Station and New City Hall – funded out of city reserves and debt instruments based on our existing property taxes income. No new taxes.

Move the police station off the main civic center site and build a new police station at McKensie Park.  A mid-city location makes sense for north-south equity reasons.

As for the new police facility, many people say we don’t need a “big city” type station with a jail or evidence room and instead should continue to subcontract with Mountain View for those things.  Some folks go further and advocate for outsourcing the police department entirely to Mountain View or the County Sheriffs Department just as City of Los Altos Hills does now. [If the police station is moved, it might be necessary to leave that god-awful communications tower that is next to the History House standing AND to also put a second god-awful communications tower at McKensie.]

A new 2 to 3 story city hall and staff offices building should move closer to the San Antonio Road frontage and create a more architecturally inspiring “presence” from the road.  Please include some extra offices to lease to the Los Altos School District administration when they move out of the Rosita Park area. Oh, and include below grade parking of course.  This approach to a new city hall brings more office workers downtown and also creates a more “vibrant” look along that stretch of San Antonio Road.

The apricot orchard could be a real educational resource if it were moved right next to the History House.  Maybe back to where the current police station and police yard is?  The History House should take responsibility for “event programming” the orchard. Perhaps with a spring “blossoms” celebration, historically accurate reenactment of the drying racks, an annual parent- child picking event reminiscent of an Easter egg hunt, jam-making class with the Rec Dept., etc. You get the idea.


Step 3: Library – New North County Library JPA Parcel Tax?

This could be funded with the participation of the City of Los Altos Hills. The North County Library Joint Powers Agreement – which administers a bond that pays for extended hours at our Los Altos and Woodland libraries, sets an example of how to structure a cooperation between LA and LAH municipalities.

Some “friends of” advocate for locating a new library smack dab in the middle of the downtown triangle.  Other “ friends of” would be happy to just add a wing to the existing library structure.  If the library stays on the civic center site and builds a brand new building, Lalahpolitico would wish it would create a more architecturally inspiring presence for itself, fully occupying its share of the San Antonio Road frontage.  Right now it is so meh, one hardly realizes there is an important building there.  A more vibrant, interesting frontage would please the downtown merchants and property owners.


Q: What’s the Traffic Circulation like in Version 3.0    A: Like now

A nice feature of Civic Center 1.0 was the planned snazzy extension of W.Edith through San Antonio Road (the way it used to be a decades ago). It was to be a “great gateway” effect. Imagine turning your car off of Foothill onto Edith, seeing way ahead an architecturally interesting building, gradually approaching it and then driving straight into the heart of the civic center site.  Wow.

Well, you can forget about that  “great gateway” feeling.  Auto circulation for Civic Center Version 3.0 will probably have to be pretty much the way it is now.  So many of the buildings will likely be situated pretty much where they are now.  Perhaps they’ll all be 2+ stories, saving space for interesting landscaping, foot and bike paths, etc.  Sports fields are great, but they aren’t a park. The civic center will likely have a least three main ingress and egress points just about where they are now.

Of course the circulation layout should encourage foot and bike access to downtown. The crosswalks at San Antonio and Edith will likely be about the same as now–too intense with the throb of impatient traffic.

LALAHPOLITCO: Maybe the cunning architects can rescue the lost wowsie gateway entrance effect from W. Edith, even with all the new constraints.


WHAT’S NEXT – Prep for Upcoming City Bond Survey

Attend another community meeting – June 4 – 7 to 9pm – Get  “United”

On Wednesday June 4, a consortium of Civic Center Master Plan stakeholders are holding an open to the public meeting at Hillview Community Center, Social Hall, 7 to 9 pm.  This meeting was initiated by the Los Altos Pool Foundation which is a project of the Los Altos Community Foundation (LACF).  LACF is inviting all interested residents as well as all other Los Altos organizations to attend. The stated goal is to unite all interest groups and to move the community center project forward.


Who gets on this Godbe Survey? The Pool yes, Theatre also?  School too? Hmmm.

The pool foundation has already succeeded in getting its interest item added to the next Godbe bond survey the city is now drafting.  The pool foundation folks will be making a 10 minutes presentation at a near-term city council meeting.  The theatre advocates will also be making a 10 minute presentation at the same meeting and probably will be angling to get a theatre added to the survey.

Will the “school at Hillview advocates” try to get on the city’s “willingness to pay survey?”  That would be messy because the constituency of Los Altos School District has only about 60 percent overlap with the constituencies of the Cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

It is City of Los Altos staff which has strongly recommended a voter survey in the near-term. Assistant City Manager James Walgren said that with all the community meetings, the list of desirable elements beyond just a community center building keeps getting longer and longer. The staff want to know if there is willingness to pay, and hence, what is the real budget.  As Walgren explained there is no point in planning for so many elements if those are beyond the budget.  The budget for the plan needs to be confirmed or else the plan needs to be winnowed.   Through a survey, the pool folks and the theatre folks will learn if the tax-payers agree that these elements are worth paying for.  However, councilperson Jeanne Bruins has said the survey is happening too soon. She says the city should allow more time for stakeholders to “educate” the public and build up support for a Plan 3.0 before a first survey.


City election in 2016 lets LASD go for 2014, 2015 elections

According to Assistant City Manager James Walgren, the City of Los Altos is timing its Community Center parcel tax for 2016 or maybe for a mail-in ballot 2015.  This timing let’s the BOT of Los Altos School District try to proceed with its 2014 bond without any competition from a city bond on the same ballot.


Lalahpolitico understands that the cities of LA and LAH have other potential school sites – not Hillview, not the civic center – they are discussing with the LASD BOT. The two cities are very willing to “provide” land to Los Altos School District to rescue them from their lack of real estate planning, skills and insight [and from their refusal to use solutions to enrollment growth used by other school districts].

Lalahpolitico thinks the City of Los Altos and the City of Los Altos Hills are being way, way generous with their city land.  But if that’s the pound of flesh it takes to eventually end the embarrassing space allotment the charter school gets at Blach and at Egan, so be it.  

Do LASD BOT  and LASD patriots need to insert themselves into the emerging Civic Center Master Plan 3.0 process right now? No.  There are so many other better school expansion sites under serious consideration.  Please wait till at least 2015 before trying to encumber the Los Altos Civic Center Master Plan process. Here’s hoping that by 2015  you’ve passed your new LASD bond and are building two new schools within district boundaries. I say this even though the new $30 per 100K bond will be on top of the existing LASD tax burden — $60 per 100K from the 1999 capital improvement bond and the $789 of parcel taxes, second highest among nearby school districts.

Correction June 14, 2014:  A helpful reader pointed out that in the last sentence I originally called the proposed LASD 2014 measure  a “parcel tax” when I should have said “bond.”  Also the reader pointed out that the LATC quoted LASD trustees as saying that Menlo Park has parcel taxes totaling $809, somewhat higher than the $789 parcel tax burden in Los Altos. I orginally said LASD parcel tax was “by far the highest among nearby school districts.”



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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