City Council

This wacky meme that city-owned land is NOT for non-profits

A prior council - Packard, Fishpaw, Carpenter, Casas, and Satterlee - planned to uninvite "tenants" from the new Hillview
Written by lalahpolitico

For almost a year or so now, a wacky meme has been going around. “Chunks of City-owned land or buildings [the Civic Center/Hillview] should NOT be used 24 hours a day x 7 days a week  x 365 days a year by non-profits to create non-city produced community-benefit “programming.”  Well, we already have a non-profit theater and a non-profit museum that enjoy exclusive use of city-owned facilities providing community benefits.  Certainly, non-profit kinder preschools could be operated in exclusive-use city-owned facilities by private non-profits to produce community benefit programming. Could they not?

If you go to the end of this post you will see that the City of Mountain View is using about 2.7% of its Rengstorff-Park land for non-profit provided community services, including childcare/preschool.  And you will see that, with Children’s corner included, the City of Los Altos will be using about 2.7% of its Civic Center land for non-profit community services. This is best practice behavior. Exclusive-use leasing to non-profits is a common arrangement! There are community benefits!

Where did this wacky notion of not leveraging non-profits to provide community benefit come from? Hmmmm? Who first thought it was a good idea to eject non-profit partners from city-owned land? Whose idea was it?

Many voters accused this prior city council in the top photo of favoritism, of unequal dealing.

Lalahpolitico:  So it was the wacky notion of the city council circa 2012 – Packard, Carpenter, Casas, Satterlee and Fishpaw.  That council was shepherding a Civic Center Master plan that included a Community Center, Police Station, and City Hall in Phase I. Then they agreed that [city] recreation services could and should be expanded.

“Mayor Val Carpenter at her presentation to the Los Altos Financial Commission meeting March 19, 2012,  said the City gets 30%+ of the course fees. She explained that the City Recreation Department believes it can expand its course offerings — “demand is there.” In fact, a $2,000 survey was going to be conducted to assist with the planning for the expansion of the recreation department offerings.” [The Phase I effort was shelved when a poll showed a bond measure would fail.]

Lalahpolitico:  Tenants were going to be replaced with course offerings where the City would get 30% of the fee.  When the plan to eject all Hillview tenants was first described to the general public by Carpenter during a council meeting, there was some audience murmuring.  The council’s discussion was mainly favorable to the idea, except for Jarrett Fishpaw who expressed some reluctance to abandon longtime non-profit partners.  The idea of just charging higher rent was never discussed.

When the Council plan to eject all Hillview tenants was first described to the general public by Val Carpenter during a 2012 council meeting, there was audible audience murmuring.

Prior council member Val Carpenter drove much of the planning for the 2008 Community Center Master Plan. Permanently evicting Hillview tenants — Friends of the Library, the Youth Theater, Children’s Corner and another preschool — was in the new plan for a 55,000 sq foot community center, almost twice the size as the old one at 27,000.  Per Carpenter and the prior recreation director, a vast expansion of city recreation “courses” would fill the tenant space and new extra space. 55,000 worth


In 2016 this 2012  idea of evicting tenants was sadly carried forward in Measure A  in 2016 by the Bruins, Pepper, Mordo, Prochow, Satterlee council…or rather the tenant relocation yah/nay was left unresolved, as were a lot of other details voters craved and did not get.  Measure A lost — 70% No.


Yellow Highlights are Hillview Space
Leased to Non-profits in 2015

Here is the article including this  table showing leasing arrangements.

Yellow highlight shows how much space was leased/loaned to non-profits in 2015. This is based on city data in the run up to the Measure A election.

Kinder Services on City-owned land
already have gone from 120 to 90 now…
should they shrink further to 30?

In 2012 about 8,500 square feet would have been freed up if and when the Hillview tenants were ejected. But that path ended when Val Carpenter accepted the poll showing a bond would fail.

Today in 2018…the non-profit Kindertots in Rm, 13, 14, 15 has already scrammed, replaced by city-run Kinderprep in ONLY Rm. 14. So Kinderprep has not come close to the Kindertots enrollment. That change is already a net contraction of 30 kinders in pre-school services to the Los Altos community. And now some people want to kick out Children’s Corner, which is willing to prepay “market-rate rent” for 10 years.

I estimate that the 2012 services provided by the two non-profits accommodated around 120 kinders at a time, and that would contract to just 30 kinders  at a time when the only program at Hillview is the City’s Kinderprep.  It’s very sad our community cares so little for the most vulnerable.

Precedents for non-profits
funding construction

In the 2012 Master Plan, although the Civic Center was ZONED for a new library, for a new theatre for Bus Barn and for a swimming pool … in Phases 2, 3, 4 … the expectation was that ALL CONSTRUCTION WOULD BE FINANCED BY PRIVATE DONATIONS. That 2012 city council never promised to call for a bond election to pay for constructing any of those items.

Interestingly, the History Museum – a passion of Council member Val Carpenter – declined to be included in the planning for the 2008 Civic Center Master Plan. As mention earlier, it funded construction of the 8,200 square foot building entirely from donations in 2001, and deeded the building to the City in 2002.

And as for the other occupants of city-owned land, I believe that the Bus Barn Stage Company renovation and the Neutra House move and renovation were paid for out of private donations.

Land Rents? Building Rents?
Let’s micromanage this…

Over the years, tenants at the Hillview Center understood they were paying rent that included the city-owned building space and the city-owned land. But what about Bus Barn Theatre/Los Altos Stage Company in the 1930’s structure? Does it pay any land rent? What about the History Museum, which paid for its own building in 2001. But does it pay any land rent?  The Museum 2015-2016 tax return shows $22,167 as a facility expense.  Elsewhere it shows, $10,930 as janitorial. Does that mean it is paying $1100 a month for land rent? (22,000 – 11000 = 11000 / 12 months = ~ 1000 a month. Does this issue really warrant further citizen research? Lalahpolitico: Heck, no. It’s just about time to pull up out of our of the nose dive to return to  the big picture….

Civic Center is PCF zone –
“Public and Institutional”

Hillview is not a bright green park zone on this map. However, it is often called a park in may other City documents. And it is included in the City calculation of parks per 1000.

excerpt from Los Altos General Plan Land Use Map

The Civic Center is zoned as Public and Instiutional, not as Park or Open Space


In other words, in a PI zone, it is ok to have a private, non-public institution on it like a church.

Use Definitions from General Plan
Land Use Element
– PCF District has 5 flavors

That’s quite a diverse set of conceivably permitted uses. Let Lalahpolitico imagine the possibilities … Institute for Planetary Research, Battered Women’s Group Home, Substance Abuse Clinic, Christian Pre-school, Special Needs Childcare, Soup Kitchen, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

The PCF – PI sub-zone is expected to have lot coverage of around 3500 per 10,000 and an assortment of buildings being operated for the “public good.”  The PCF – Park subzone is programmed for activity and is expected to have a lot coverage of around 1000 per 10,000.  The PCF- Open space subzone is hardly programmed at all is expected to not have any built or covered space at all – maybe a bench or a picnic table with lots of trails. There is zero open space within the boundaries of the City of Los Altos.  The map above shows the Los Altos Country Club gold course as green open space; it is in the County, not the City proper.

Private non-profits the City
Has Partnered with over the years
on City-Owned Civic Center Land

Hillview Community Center Bought for Reuse as a School

  1. The first Hillview tenant in 1975 was the Sunreach Alternative School paying around $200 a  month, accommodating about 30 students.

“On August 26, 1975, the District trustees and then on August 27 1975, the City Council approved a final contract for the 8 acre [Hillivew school] parcel for $433,350 to be paid over two years.  [2.5 acres of Lot 18 is along San Antonio where Alan Pinel is located  now … site of the 1929 San Antonio school k-8]

For example, subsequent to a resolution by the Los Altos School District governing board to sell one elementary school and a portion of a former administration site, the Los Altos City Council enacted Ordinance No. 75-4, which amended the Los Altos Municipal Code Zoning Map by placing all schools within the city limits in a newly created Public and Community Facilities District (PCF).  Property within a PCF may be used for schools, non-profit recreation areas, golf courses, churches, museums, and open space — a limitation which substantially reduces the market value.”

Former Mayor Roy Lave  — “father of Los Altos parks expansion” — once explained to me that at this time, the City took the opportunity to rezone any and all churches as PCF [if they were then zoned for housing.]

2. Then untold numbers of other tenants at what was at first a very empty Hillview.

Childrens Corner Los Altos supporter Los Altos City Council

Supporters turned out in droves to support Children’s Corner…fabric of the community

3. In 1981 Children’s Corner moved to Room C Hillview Community Center with facilities to care for 24 children. It was founded in 1979 by the Los Altos-Mountain View branch of the American Association of University Women as a non-profit, drop-in childcare center first located in the Los Altos Lutheran Church, with fifteen 2 to 5-year olds and 3 staff.  In response to parental requests, the Children’s Corner provided an infant center in Room 6 for a brief period in the early 80s, but it closed in 1984 to allow a focus on preschool-aged children.  Later they acquired the use of Room 5 and our office space to cater for increasing demand for preschool spaces.  Since 1999, Children’s Corner has been accredited by the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt entity. Its tax record is online for a secretary of state search. Website:

Bus Barn performs “Our Town” a satire of the still prevailing 1950’s mindset…

4. The late 70’s…Bus Barn Theater occupies about 9,000 square feet of City-owned building on 9,000 feet of City-owned land. The Los Altos Stage Company (formerly the Bus Barn Stage Company) was founded in June 1995 following the closure of the Los Altos Conservatory Theatre. Built in the 1930s as a school-bus barn behind the old 1929 San Antonio School, the structure was first transformed into a theater in the late 1970s by an ambitious Foothill College drama teacher, Doyne Mraz. Los Altos Stage Company was incorporated in August 1995 and received its 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status later that year. Its tax record is online. Do a search at the secretary of state website for a business name.


Los Altos History Museum “Faces” Exhibit

5.  Since 2001 Los Altos History Museum has had an 8,200 square foot building in 3 stories on let’s say 3,000 square feet plus a 2,000 square foot courtyard that is used exclusively for certain events.  It raised ALL the money and built the building in 2001; in 2002 the private non-profit deeded the building to the city. It obtained its 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status later that year. Its tax record is online. Do a secretary of state business search.

Who is susceptible to
this wacky meme

The meme supporting the evicting of Hillview tenants is popular with many residents who were active in the No on Measure A.

….Extract from 11 reasons to Vote No on A article–

“The No on A endorsers include much less visible volunteers: long-time, local “No New Taxes” advocates, small government advocates, and growth-restriction “residentialists”.  A number of residential neighbors close-in by the Los Altos Civic Center area are also very active in the No on A effort. [Let’s say it’s those having homes within 1/2 mile of the perimeter of the 18 acres civic center area along Hillview Ave., Eleanor, E. Edith, Cielto, Angela, View, Mt. Hamilton. Walk down Hillview Avenue and you’ll see a wall of “Measure A No Way” signs. ]

Lalahpolitico is acquainted with some of No endorsers, supports their right to have an opinion, supports their right to try to preserve the enjoyment of their property, does not think they are liars, does not think they are selfish, and appreciates their work in trying to publicize “drawbacks” of Measure A as they see them. ….’

However Measure A was one thing, but now promoting the notion that the City should not let non-profits operate on city-owned land for community benefits seems wrong to Lalahpolitico.


How Park Poor is Los Altos?
Not at all…
It’s not 1.57 ac, its 5.29 ac

Los Altos Park Poor really not

This slide  of acres per 1000 population was shown by Los Altos Director of  Parks&Rec Manny Hernandez. Lalahpolitico compared Mountain View, and San Carlos, and Los Altos documents to see if the cities were counting acreage the same way. They were not.  A correct comparison is in the table below. 1.57 for Los Altos is waaaaayyy low.


At a March 29, 2018 Greentown Los Altos meeting, there was a discussion of parks.  It was wide-ranging, including speakers for City Parks, the Green Park Assessment District movement in S.F., and the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District.

Director of Recreation Manny Hernandez showed the above city  parks comparison slide. As a citizen pointed out during the meeting, this Los Altos figure of 45 total city acres on the above slide does not include school parks. Los Altos Politico checked how Mountain View and San Carlos reported their parks in order to try to develop an apples to apples comparison.

Mountain View includes schools and even some regional ‘open space’ to arrive at close to 1,000 acres in its planning document! So instead of that … I used their detail data in their Parks Plan to pull out just city-owned and school site parks (MV Whisman and MV High School).  For Los Altos I added in school sites (LASD, Montclaire, LA High School).

The City of San Carlos did not add in their schools. So I added their school sites (San Carlos does not have an independent high school). I then excluded some really rugged ‘open space’ which is city owned.  The San Carlos City park acreage is not on the website, so I phoned staff in the Parks Dept.  The nice woman read me the acreage but omitted a couple of sites.  I asked her why not mention those two. She replied they were actually very, very steep “open space” and the city did not think of them as parks per se.  One is 66 acres the other 16, both without parking. There is one trail surrounded by single family homes, presumably with views. [Lalahpolitico: I guess this is the land that the subdivision developer of those hills decided was uneconomic to develop with sewer and other infrastructure … so it became a land donation!]  Bottom line,  I did the San Carlos calculation two ways — with/ and without the 82 acres of ‘open space’ vertiginous hilly peaks. BTW, I took 80% of a school site’s acreage as an indicator of turf plus blacktop for all 3 cities.

Above is a much better apples to apples comparison of nearby cities prepared by Los Altos Politico. The City comparison slide is apples vs apples plus oranges minus pears = applesauce!

In a future post, Lalahpolitico hopes to offer more in-depth detail about these cities’ approaches to Parks and Recreation Planning, including Los Altos of course. Our neighbors do some things we could imitate.

What is Mountain View
doing on Rengstorff Park
vis a vis
renting to Non-profits?

On Rengstorff Park in the City of Mountain View, see Childcare/preschool and Senior care center being to non-profits. 2.7% of the area is leased to non-profits.

On Rengstorff Park in MV, there is city-owned stand-alone childcare facility which is leased exclusively to a non-profit. Also there is a lease to the Alzheimer care center to a non-profit. A city-owned Senior center on city-owned land is in between these two non-profits. {That Church label there is a Google error! Not there. I walked there.}

Compare City of Los Altos
Hillview-Civic Center
Non-Profit footprints

The footprint of the History Museum may be smaller than shown, but the conclusion is valid. Leasing or loaning out 3% of City-owned land to be operated by non-city entities is entirely common practice around cities in the bay area!!!! You can see Children’s Corner as proposed at the New Hillview Project will not be a big consumer of city-owned land!



Los Altos Measure A- Yes, No, Maybe above is  good background on recreation in out city



Hillview Community Center Bought for Reuse as a School


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 couple of years.