At the July 25 meeting, the Hillview Community Center Task Force met the project architects — Noll&Tam. [See the informative 20 minute video of the architects.]
At the 7pm, August 8 meeting, at Los Altos Youth Center (LACI), the Task Force will meet the project cost estimator consultant, Scott Lewis, chosen my Noll&Tam. He will “discuss the role of project cost as a driving force in [services] programming and design thinking.” The Task Force may gain “a deeper understanding of what a $25M budget means for the Hillview Community Center redevelopment project.”
On August 8, the Hillview Task Force will also be reviewing the 2014 “public” ranking of recreation services – interior and exterior – and current priority recommendations from staff. See agenda item.
Current Step: Interior/Exterior Space Allocation
Lalahpolitico: Probably over the next 2 or 3 biweekly meetings, the Hillview Community Center Task Force will be inching towards making a “recommendation” for space allocation. Noll&Tam need this guidance before doing more in depth design.
The Hillview Community Center Task Force will decide how much space to allocate for “legacy groups” — perhaps none. The Children’s Corner childcare tenant says it is able to pay its way in a new building. It will be exploring with the City how that could work. Also, the Task Force will be deciding how much of the City Recreation space will be “dedicated” vs. flexible. Several “senior advocates” have been arguing for more senior space…and more senior dedicated space. Even for a separate center or wing. The Task Force will have the hard task of deciding if that request is within budget.
The Hillview Task Force also will be working continuously with Noll&Tam to make the public engagement as successful as possible. The City is going to retain control of the message. See the informative City web page, which is intended to a record of “fact” about the project. Hillview Task Force members are being asked to interact with their individual personal social networks — to encourage friends and neighbors to attend TF meetings, to write to the official TF email address, etc.
Because this is a Brown Act committee, individual Hillview Task Force members are not supposed to dicuss the Hillview project with each other outside of official Hillview Community Task Force meetings.
In the spring, the City Council appointed 11 citizens to form a Hillview Community Center Task Force along with several City staff to guide a rebuilding of the old Hillview Center. Group decisions and recommendations should ideally be by consensus, but a majority vote by 1 is adequate. City staff do vote. The group is expected to complete its tasks on the project by December 2017. The new building could be ready to open in December 2020.
Role of the Task Force
The role of the Taskforce is to advise the City, the architects, and City Council, considering questions like
1.Which is the best fit architectural firm for our City from among the 8 which submitted a proposal?
Answer: A subcommittee of 3 Taskforce members plus 4 City staff have selected Noll &Tam for their ability to design in various styles, for their public engagement skills, and their track record of staying on schedule with careful cost containment. The video above shows the 20 minute Noll&Tam slide presentation of July 25 with explanation.
Total Square Footage
2. What will be the size of the building we can pay for…and the space allocation within the new Community Center?
Answer: Originally $20 million was budgeted by City Council for the construction, but Strata Consulting found that amount could pay for only 20,000 or so square feet, smaller than the existing Hillview space of ~27,000 square foot. So, the budget was bumped now to $25 million. Certain City Council members suggest that a $30 million budget is not impossible. Let’s remember this is excess reserves the City holds in a low-interest bank acount; it’s ordinary property taxes we’ve already paid. There will be NO bond measure floated for the project. This is how many surrounding cities pay for capital improvments — with their cash, not by trying to pass a 2/3 Yes bond measure, which is nearly impossible. See Post on last bond.
Tenants vs. City Services space split
3. What should be the space allocation for “tenants” vs. City Dept. of Recreation programming.
There are 3 tenants now. Friends of the Library has had 2 rooms rent-free for decades. That group donates over $100,000 annually to the Los Altos Library. There is a Chinese pre-school leasing a few rooms in the rear-most wing.
And last but not least, is Children’s Corner daycare and pre-school, a 40-year tenant who enjoyed years of $400 rent for its 3,000 sq foot front Hillview wing. Rent was recently increased, but is still low. Since at least 2011 — when a previous City Council declared there should be no tenants in the new Community Center — Children’s Corner has been attempting to find space in nearby communities, to no avail. They say they can pay Downtown Los Altos market rate rent…but there is nothing with right-sized indoor and OUTDOOR space. They also claim they are the only daycare provider for miles and miles…that actually accepts “special needs” kiddies.
Children’s Corner says it has MONEY. Just nowhere suitable to spend it. So the organization has asked if it could somehow contribute funds towards the construction of Hillview. It has floated ideas like 1) a pre-paid lease, 2) becoming just another City contractor providing programming, 3) lease/leaseback (?) whatever the City wants. (Note: the City Council recently put out a request for donations from interested parties.)
City Manger Chris Jordan and some staff will be huddling privately with some Children’s Corner trustees to explore possible monetary arrangements. They will be joined by Hillview Task Force member Dennis Young, who owns a 25 person Los Altos CPA company. Mr. Jordan invited Dennis because “He’s a numbers guy.”
Lalahpolitico: Some citizens agree with the prior 2011 City Council that the private non-profit tenants should be thrown out of Hillview PERIOD…and certainly not receiving any rent subsidies. Lalah does not like subsidies either; however, if Children’s Corner has the money…the funds to cover 3000 square feet of construction and an implicit City Land lease, what is the problem?
Well yes, there will be less “open space.” But that needs to be balanced against the need for our young family residents to find daycare. The “special needs” toddlers and their parents do tug at the heart strings. Furthermore, the City could DO MORE for parents of toddlers; there is a directory of senior services…perhaps there should be a directory of toddler services…encourage Los Altos churches to rent out for daycare if they are not already doing so…encourage more private daycare in residences?
Skeptics of allowing tenants to stay… say that letting Children’s Corner “buy its way into Hillview” sets a very bad precedent. “Other private entities may step forward to use this or other public land and facilities for private purposes.” Furthermore, skeptics say “the community” has never said that childcare is a high priority for the City. That should be tested by a survey …at least an online survey. Then consider the fact that LASD has much more land than the City, and child services is what the school district does all day long. Perhaps Superintendent Jeff Baier would jump at the chance to put yet another private kiddie school on the super-sized Covington School site….the better to keep to keep the charter school out of Covington.!? This option for Children’s Corner could be investigated by the City Manager too.
BTW: The vast majority of City Programming of Recreation “courses” are provided by third-party contractors. Just take a look at the summer 2017 class catalog. According to the Director of Recreation, Manny Hernandez, there are about 4(?) City employees that provide a 4 hour pre-school ( at San Antonio, not Hillview) and a very few courses/activities at Hillview. That’s the extent of City employees in the Recreation Dept.
The Director has said user fees almost cover Recreation Dept. costs, but there is an annual deficit of $100K to $400K.
Lalahpolitico: With a new Hillview building, will fees need to be adjusted upward? If only to limit excess demand for the snazzy new space? If we add interior equipment like a ceramics kiln or professional exercise equipment…can that be leased with prepaid repair services…what will the impact be on our liability insurance…will such equipment require additional permanent city headcount to give instruction or to manage it? In other word, some kinds of new services will impact not only the construction budget, but also the annual recreation dept. operating budget.
Dedicated vs. Flex Space vs. Age Groups
4. Allocate dedicated space for various demographic groups or uses vs. keeping more as flexible space.
Then there if this prickly issue of whether there should be a large amount of space “dedicated” to teens, senior, or clay arts, etc. City Director of Recreation, Manny Hernandez, prefers to see limited dedicated space. See his slide presentation on our current facility at Hillview and representative best practice facilities.
[Lalahpolitico: and what cost to buy/lease a kiln and pay for the power?] If a teen lounge is outfitted with bean bags, black lights, big sound systems woofers, posters of rappers…or whatever…that space cannot be used by other groups. Similarly if a senior lounge is very large and outfitted, for example, with rocking chairs and a large permanent senior dining area in a very traditional style, that space cannot/will not be used by other age groups; it is not appealing to others.
“Once you put in potters wheels and a ceramics kiln, there is no other activity that can occur in that dedicated space.” — Manny Hernandez, Recreation Director
Lalahpolitico: Frank Martin, a former chair of the Los Altos Senior Commission, has advocated articulately and passionately for dedicated senior space as large as 10,000 square feet. That would be over 1/3 the area of a new Hillview. It is true that other nearby cities do have large, elaborate, separate Senior Center buildings or wings. However, those cities also are larger than Los Altos and also are lucky to have a tax base that includes plenty of commercial and office property. Los Altos is a bedroom community. Yes, the residents tend to be affluent; but that does not mean a majority of home owners want to fund a City-run dedicated senior center which is much larger than the what we have now at Hillview (I believe it is 1000 sq. ft. dedicated, and 2000 sq. ft. flex now. That is 1 room dedicated/2 rooms flex. Hours are 10am-2pm. There is also a 10am-pm senior operation at Grant Park — I believe 3 days a week(?) Apparently the food service is a big draw.).
Lalahpolitico: Vis a vis seniors, there is the issue of how the Recreation Dept. can best appeal to young seniors, say 55 to 70ish, vs. old seniors 70ish to 90ish. Right now the usage Lalah sees at the Hillview Senior Area is nearly 100% old seniors. To be blunt, young seniors would not be caught dead (pun) at the current Senior Center. Young seniors that I know think of themselves as just “adults.” Advocates of expanded space for seniors, even at the expense of toddler space, say that the downtown’s First Friday’s 55 and up event is very successful in attracting young seniors; perhaps that non-profit programming could move to the new Hillview Center?
The Senior space allocation decision may be the most fraught one for the Hillview Community Task Force to make.
5.What are the best ways for the Architectural firm Noll&Tam and Hillview Community Center Task Force to engage with the Los Altos community?
Noll&Tam apparently has lots of experience with public engagement, but probably would be willing to try new things it hasn’t tried before on our Hillview Community Center project.
Lalahpolitico: And it sure will be easy to do a better job than was done by the architect in 2014 — see the old 2014 “attendance sheets” in the Aug.8 agenda item 6a and item 6b. It’s all the town’s “usual suspects.” Notice how many invitees never attended! And this time around, we should remain realistic about engagement — 95-99% of people would rather NOT engage and are happy to let the Hillview Community Center Task Force act as a representative proxy.
“Public Engagement” has been an especially “passionate” issue in Los Altos since Measure A failed in November 2015. Today there are many groups and individuals lobbying for varying approaches:
For example, some think the Hillview Community Center should only be designed and rebuilt AFTER the public agrees on a site plan for the Entire 18 acre Civic Center. Lalahpolitico: There was such a Master Plan in 2011 which had 4 phases, and would require a $65M bond in stage 1, but polling showed inadequate 50% ish support.
Some people think the Hillview Center should only be designed and built after all the City Recreation buildings, like the Garden House, the Halsey House and parks like Grant Park, get their share of planning attention and funding.
Some people think the Hillview planning and Civic Center planning should be slowed down to consider together with “Downtown Visioning.”
Many people think the City should wait and schedule the use of more online engagement and preference measurement tools …. “statistically valid surveys,” deliberative polling, etc. Lalahpolitico: I agree that the City could make better use of it’s existing online survey tool–Peak Democracy, Town Hall. It also could explore working with the local Los Altos volunteers at CommunityInsightsGroup.com who recommend a different engagement software–Ethelo.
In it’s presentation Noll&Tam have already supplied a number of “design” triall balloons that could be put into a small, quick and dirty online Town Hall survey by the City of Los Altos staff, maybe with volunteer help.
1) Upload photos of the 5 or 6 buildings that Noll&Tam showed in their July 25 presentation. Ask respondents something like… which “look and feel” best fits into the site and the character of Los Altos?
2) upload photos of the the site layouts – one entrance vs. multiple…etc. Ask the respondents which they think is better for the site and character of Los Altans, etc.
Lalahpolitico: Waiting to get more “community input” — preferences for downtown, preferences for recreation programming, preferences for Grant Park, preferences for open space — sure sounds nice. But let’s not slow down for more input…
Why the current Short path is a Better path
Consider five things:
1) The current Hillview Center is all but falling down. Noll&Tam are going to try to keep stay on schedule and get a brand new one open by December 2020! If instead City Council had decided to just wait or slow down…we could be looking at red tagging the Hillview building and chaotically closing down most recreation programming for some time! Calamity, Chaos.
2) The City already has pretty good information about resident preferences for downtown, preferences for recreation programming, preferences for open space, etc. That’s because the city has used Godbe Research in recent years to do numerous polls on these issues. GodbePresentation 2012. The City already knows what Hillview neighbors prefer — reasonable buffering, traffic minimization.
Yes, the City could also use new online “Town Hall” surveys for quick feedback. Advertise the mini-surveys in the Town Crier and Nextdoor.com? Put up a billboard on San Antonio, and perhaps also at Grant Park, promoting the Hillview Community Center Task Force website page…and ways to engage…?
3) What some people are advocating…. comprehensive, large, long & complex, planning processes and extensive regathering of statistically valid public opinion about …downtown, all parks, all recreation …about almost everything again… is just boiling the whole ocean again. Sometimes one just has to jump in and divide and conquer. In computer coding, divide up the plan into chunks. Right now the easy, small one and the necessary one is to rebuild Hillview Community Center pretty much where it is now. It is falling down.
4) Constraints on planning the Civic Center 18 acres are more stringent than in 2011. That old Master Plan called for moving the apricot orchard. I will credit resident, former TV anchor, and author, Robin Chapman, for ruling out that possibility in the foreseeable future. Around 2011(?), she returned to Los Altos — her home town — from the east coast and soon noticed that everyone seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the Civc Center central orchard has a historic designation. It’s location –longitude and latitude– are exactly specified. So even though the Godbe polls showed only ~10% of residents put a high priority on “saving the orchard”, Ms. Chapman has rescued it for at least the next century… or till the Korean nukes arrive. So it seems pointless to fantasize about moving all the Civic Center buildings around the site like chess pieces.
5) Lalahpolitico: The City Council decision to focus only on fixing Hillview, not on improving the whole 18 acres, is the right path at this time. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Don’t Worry, be Happy
The Hillview Community Center redevelopment project can be paid for out of City Reserves; there is no need to ask curmudgeonly voters for permission. There is no need for a long delay leading to “calling” an election. The City can afford this “nice” but not spectacular, rebuild out of current City reserves account. Only a small minority of the public will be paying attention to the next steps of the Hillview Task Force or the architect. If the architects deliver a “nice, handsome” plan, that is probably not modern, not spectacular, and not showy, and if they locate the building closer to the library and away from residential neighbors… many people will be getting a little bit of something that they wanted. There is likely to be very little opposition when such a modest yet handsome, respectful of neighbors… plan is unveiled.