Los Altos Councilmembers revealed their opinions about the potential expansion of the Los Altos main library building at the February 26, 2019 meeting. The funding for the building would come from a new, non-city parcel tax or bond. Cindy Hill – chair of the NCLA Library Task Force – took copious notes about the concerns and skepticism of three council members. The council did vote unanimously to approve the NCLA Task Force spending its own money, not city money, to take the next step – hire an “outreach” consultant.” However, 2.5 council members made it very clear they did not support the library building project. They said they think voters will want to support other city building projects instead.
Some Background info about the library expansion effort
Library supporters have been interested in expansion for a couple of decades. The building was somewhat remodeled in the early 1990s. Three groups have been supporting the current expansion effort with volunteer time and money. These are Friends of the Library, Los Altos Library Endowment [LALE] and the North County Library Authority [NCLA].
The North County Library Authority [NCLA] is a governmental jurisdiction. It was created as a “joint powers authority” of the Cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Its founding purpose was for issuing a parcel tax that pays for additional hours of operation at the Main and Woodland libraries. The current NCLA parcel tax is $76 a year. In our two cities, we also pay a Santa Clara County Library [SCCL] district tax of $33.66. The potential library expansion project would require another, a third, parcel tax or a bond.
Previously the Los Altos City Council approved the library expansion effort provided that
1) a new building fit on the current footprint and
2) remain at the library’s current location at the Civic Center and
3) that there be no cost to the city for the planning or construction of a new or expanded building.
UPDATED VIDEO: 9 MINUTES! Lalahpolitico takes the original 90 minutes of the city council item, cutting redundancies to get it to 9 minutes, sometimes shuffling the chronology for clarity, and adding frequent titles to help you follow along. It is mainly about the council discussion and vote. Included, Lynette Lee Eng, Anita Enander, Jeannie Bruins, Jan Pepper, Neysa Fligor, Cindy Hill (NCLA Library Task Force), Nancy Howe (SCCL Director), Roberta Phillips. The prior 23-minutes video is now at the end of this post . Visit the City granicus site to see the full video…. is on the City Website.
Google playlist of all short videos on this topic.
The NCLA Library Task Force consists of about a dozen members from Los Altos in Los Altos Hills. It was formed some months ago. For their first task, They arranged for an architectural study of the current building. The study was to determine its deficiencies, if any, and the potential for expansion such as by adding a second story. The architect found that a second story was NOT a possibility. Furthermore, desired improvements to the electrical wiring and the other infrastructure behind the walls was not possible. The architect recommended a teardown and rebuild. The second task was a space needs assessment. It determined that about 40,000 square feet is necessary for adding the desired 21st century library services. [The current building is about 29,000 square-foot.]
The third task was a Godbe survey designed to test willingness to pay for a bond at three different price tags. The highest ‘yes’ response was only 62%, not quite enough to pass a bond which requires 67%.
The NCLA Library Task Force says the next step is to hire an outreach consultant who may be able to help them interest over 67% of voters in paying a tax for the library expansion.
The NCLA Library Task Force has spent $78,000 so far. The three groups – Friends, LALE and NCLA shared the costs of the architectural survey and space needs assessment. But NCLA alone paid for the Godbe survey. In addition, LALE has put aside $150,000 which would pay for the election process if the measure were to be put on the ballot in the future.
The Political Headwinds Examined
All council members praised the NCLA Library Task Force volunteers for their hard work, careful research, and energy… thanking them profusely. However, concerns were raised by two council members and confirmed by a third. That is the majority of the Council. What are these concerns, doubts, questions?
Anita Enander pointed out that although there was no cost to the city, there would be a cost to residents. They would be shouldering another property tax. She pointed out that by 2020, the state and the regional governments will probably have placed many new tax measures on the ballot. These will all be competing for a share of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents’ wallets.
At the meeting, a public speaker closely associated with Mayor Lynette Lee-Eng — Roberta Phillips, her campaign manager in fact — correctly pointed out that the Trump income tax changes now limit the deduction we can take for all our state/local taxes to a mere $10,000. This change will take a big bite from the income of many residents of Los Altos in Los Altos Hills. In other words, it has become less easy to vote yes on a new local tax measure if Uncle Sam isn’t paying for any of it.
Anita Enander questioned the kinds of new services the library hoped to be adding. She felt that only books/materials circulation and family restrooms were recognizable as library services. She opined that all the other proposed program services may actually belong over at the Hillview Community Center.
In a few weeks, the Los Altos City Council will be revisiting the final blueprints for the Noll & Tam Hillview plan. Enander and Lee-Eng believe that the current plan might be too small. They believe the plan should be stopped and expanded now if it is too small.
A bigger Hillview plan would mean there would be spaces the library could use, and the library would not have to build its own program rooms.
Enander says this would be of great benefit to the library because she seems to expect the library bond to fail if it were to go to the ballot in 2020. Paraphrasing, “Won’t we be happy we stopped the Hillview Plan now and redid it to be bigger!”
Mayor Lynette Lee-Eng’s concerns were also about ballot measures competing for taxpayer money. She said the City has many facilities that need bond money. In her opinion, the police station was the city facility that had the most dire need for fixing…it is cramped and currently flooded. [Lalahpolitico: there is a basement where there is one jail cell.] Earlier a public speaker — Roberta Phillips — read from the Harder Survey which says there is 90% customer satisfaction with the current library services and facilities. [ For everything EXCEPT meeting room access and capacity.] Mayor Lee Eng said that “information shows the library is doing an excellent job the way it is now.” Therefore, she supports a police bond, not a library bond.
Council member Jeannie Bruins was apparently persuaded by Anita and Lynnette’s remarks and jumped on their bandwagon really getting it rolling. She asked that the NCLA Library Task Force “widen their lens“ as they looked at taxpayers’ willingness to pay for new facilities. Bruins reiterated Anita’s and Lynette’s message that other City facilities will need voter-approved funding. She wants the NCLA Library Task Force to survey voters as to what value, what ranking they place on a menu of city facilities… including the police station. The menu of facilities to be ranked would be determined by staff and council tbd.
In contrast, Jan Pepper and Neysa Fligor raised no concerns at this stage of the NCLA Library Task Force exploration of a tax measure for library expansion. They both pointed out that “the ask before them that evening” was merely to approve the NCLA Library Task Force continuing to investigate the possibility of passing a bond measure. The group wants to take the next step of hiring an outreach consultant for a few months, with NCLA paying for that.
The “ask” before council is extremely limited. It is not to approve ballot measure language. It is not to approve a new building design for a new library. It’s just to continue to explore a possible bond. – Neysa Fligor
Neysa expressed her confidence in the intelligence of the task force to NOT PROCEED with a bond IF the future surveys do not show adequate support — 66+%.
Both Neysa and Jan exhorted council members to be unanimous in moving the NCLA Library Task Force exploration forward. Neysa pointed out that the council of Los Altos Hills had recently voted unanimously to approve the NCLA Library Task Force moving forward. Fligor she wanted the same voting result for the City of Los Altos.
Jan made a simple motion seconded by Jeannie, who urged the NCLA Library Task Force to refer to her taped remarks for her concerns about “expanding their lens.” Anita Enander wanted it clear that her affirmative vote was NOT in support of the library project. She does not support the project. The final vote on the motion was 5 to 0.
Los Altos Political Analysis
It’s clear at least two Los Altos City Council members will be actively working against the NCLA Library Task Force expansion of the library. Not directly, but indirectly by advancing competing “facility alternatives.”
Anita appears to be looking forward to stopping/pausing the current Hillview Community Center Plan. And re-doing the plan to add more meeting rooms/program rooms.
Anita says the librarians can come over to Hillview and read stories to little children at the Hillview Community Center and then walk them all back to the library to pick their books.
Lalahpolitico says Ha ha! Go look at the parents and little kids that show up for a reading at the Orchard Room now. You will see moms or grandparents with one two or maybe three children in tow. I cannot visualize these families, these caretakers, struggling over the 500 feet between the buildings. The distance is nothing to an adult, but it is a real chore juggling toddlers and strollers all lined in a walking line like ducklings. It will disrupt the parking lot traffic to have such a large group attempt to move en masse. A crazy parade scene!
Cindy Hill — Chair of the NCLA Library Task Force — pointed out that sharing space between two separate public organizations is not that easy. The Cupertino library tried to share rooms with the City Hall and is now having to add program rooms to its building instead.
And Los Altos Politico would like to point out that City recreation staff may not be the best qualified to vet the outside lecturers using the free library space. Librarians are committed to freedom of speech. A recreation department, not so much.
There seems to be quite a lot of contention over which jurisdiction — the SCCL library vs. the City rec. dept. — should be providing what kind of teen spaces. Lalapolitico believes both buildings could provide different kinds of teen spaces and programs. Hillview should provide more “jock” activities, basketball, maybe some gaming, digital and otherwise. The library could provide more “brainy” programs, robotics lab equipment, 3-D printing, coding camps, political action meeting rooms, poetry slams, tool borrowing corrals.
And Lalahpolitico would like to point out that teens like to self-segregate into cliques. It would be nice if they don’t all have to share seats directly next to each other but can be in separate buildings.
Also, consider the example of the much-admired combination Mitchell library – city courtyard in Palo Alto. It has a library building run by librarians. And it has a separate set of community rooms around the courtyard next-door managed by the Rec. Dept. The library building has a teen space. And the community room city courtyard also has a teen room.
Lalahpolitico has witnessed both Mitchell Park teen rooms at a 3:30 on a weekday. The community teen room was full of kids playing those physical games like shuffle puck, pinball, etc. The library building teen room was packed with kids socializing and chattering all at once at a very high volume. [This is similar to what you can see (hear) currently at Los Altos Library in that glassed-in room.] So there are at least two different kinds of kids. Let them self-segregate.
Having teen space in two places is not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s “duplication and redundancy” our city can afford. – Lalahpolitico
Lalahpolitico Predictions –
Hillview Accounting nit-picking
Faux Crime: Will there suddenly be a perceived crime wave in Los Altos like there has been a misperceived crime wave in Los Altos Hills? You can read the article about it in the Town Crier? The police there have assured the community that burglaries have not increased at all, even though some people “feel” they have.
Lalah asks how does this kind of misperception or feeling get started? Are our seniors going to senior programs and hearing scary things from each other? From volunteers? From well-meaning police informational visits? Are people hearing about crime on next-door.com…where one incident can get magnified into a flurry of fear?
Hillview Nitpicking: Watch out for the upcoming City Council review of ALL the work of the Hillview Task Force, of the Tam and Noll architects, and of the relevant City Staff. You can see all the prior Hillview Task Force work, all the consideration of all the issues… that has already been performed in open meetings here at the City link. This “revisiting” appears to be an underhanded attempt to stop the whole Hillview project indefinitely. If the Hillview Project derailment succeeds, this will be the ninth (?) failed attempt to rebuild Hillview.
At the this upcoming City Council study session, Anita and Lynette want to want to see a staff report on how the spring 2017 recreation program as described in the booklet could be accommodated in full at the new building as currently designed. I don’t know if that whole list of courses fits in. And that should not be the go vs. no go to acid test.
The old Hillview actually has had excessive space, extremely underutilized space. Our City Recreation directors have had to use outside contractors from the Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education department (a dept. of the MVLA High School District) in order to use more of the Hillview rooms. The better question to ask is which 2017 spring classes actually went forward? Which ones meet the student quota? And what was the student quota? Eight? Fifteen? And perhaps the least popular 2017 courses can be replaced with new offerings that will attract higher participation?!? Now that there is a new building, will new instructors come forward with superior courses for all ages?And this gets into the issue of our City funding. In the past, the recreation operations were told to try to self-fund all their operations without subsidy if possible. That means there has to be charging for courses and room rentals such that the outside commercial course instructors get paid, and there is enough margin to pay for city employee salaries and materials and also presumably for building upkeep. In the past course payments were not expected to pay down any mortgage or an implicit building rent. Maybe courses should pay a rent portion?
Of course in the past, not all Hillview rooms were charged rents all the time. However, there are 40 or 50 groups that are/were charged rent. The City holds some of its events at Hillview there for free of course. Occasionally the City lets the SCCL Library use the LAYC building for free. In the future Hillview building, it will almost always be “free” for individuals as individuals to hang out in the new senior area, the new teen area, the new lobby, and unused new outdoor spaces. But your organization will be charged rent.
Prior city council’s have hoped that with a new Hillview building, there would be more costly courses, more cost-recovery, not less, more margin to cover the uncharged for areas…senior, teen, lobby.
In contrast, as Cindy Hill of the NCLA Library Task Force explained, virtually all library programs are free and don’t do cost-recovery. If an outside contractor comes in to do a magic show for toddlers, there is no fee to attendees. The magician is paid out of taxes already collected by SCCL. I did see a 3-D printing program in the orchard room where there was a small fee but it was for materials consumed, not for tuition, not for the instructor, not for renting the equipment, not for renting the room. All that was paid for out of already collected SCCL taxes. The SCCL librarians are paid out of taxes already collected. City Rec staff are supposed to try to cover the cost of their salaries with course fees and room rents.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: March 6, 2018: Elayne Dauber of the Friends of the Library reports that NCLA funds pay for only librarian salaries. When the library brings in outside instructors, magicians, etc., it is Friends of the Library that funds those contractor labor fees. “All the children’s, teen, and adult programs in the library are funded by the Friends of the Library. The JPA of the NCLA jurisdiction does not budget any money for programs outside of the salaries of the librarians that run them.”
Bottom line – Groundhog day
Lalahpolitico does not like how one city need is cynically being played off against another city need. Constituencies are being told that their need is the most important. The police are being played off against the public library readers. The community gatherers are being played off against the police and against the toddlers. I do not like it at all. I think this is an orchestrated effort to prevent Hillview center from being built indefinitely….to prevent the building of an upgraded library. And actually to prevent a police station as well!
UPDATE March 6, 2019: Former Mayor Jean Mordo says the idea that the city will have to borrow up $10M to pay for the new Hillview Building is a canard and is based on overly conservative staff revenue forecasts. Council members using that forecast are attempting to delay the project. Mordo forecasts that there will be about $10M of development fees from in progress El Camino projects coming into city coffers. “I can guarantee that we will not need to borrow a penny. The only thing a delay will do is increase costs of construction because of inflation and increase waste of funds used to keep Hillview in repair.”
Why do some council members seem to want to prevent fruition of projects? I dunno. But for voters whose number 1 issue is tax minimization, who say “new taxes over my dead body”…project delay with the intention to kill is a common tactic. And for nearby neighbors who don’t want any increase in traffic in front of their house, in passers-by, in out-of-towners… keeping amenities crummy and uninviting is a good thing.
And what about the out-dated police station and improved public safety when we are already one of the safest cities? Remember how when we discuss the police department in Los Altos, it always comes up that maybe we should close our city police department and instead contract with the County Sheriffs department like the City of Los Altos Hills? Remember that conversation? The one we have again and again?
UPDATE March 6, 2019. Former Mayor Jean Mordo says total closure clearly goes too far. “People LOOOVE our dear officers – we can outsource certain functions such as the jail, equipment storage, and others to the Sheriff. We could also outsource everything but the local officers…” [Lalah: I think the city already an arrangement with Mountan View to use their prison cells when incarceration is a need. At the Los Altos station there is just one cell…in the basement!..and by today’s codes it’s probably cruel and unusual punishment!]
You ask… what’s so bad about Councilmember Bruins asking NCLA Library Task Force to now “expand their lens” when they look at City facilities needs? Well, it seems improbable that the NCLA – composed of two distinct cities – can pay for a survey which includes only Los Altos City buildings/facilities — police, a new city hall, a pool, a new Halsey House, a new Garden House, a new Grant Park Center. Clearly, the survey should not exclude exploration of new LAH taxes for new Los Altos Hills facilities — do they need a new community center or new staff offices, or what in LAH? The first Godbe survey was fielded to voters within the NCLA boundaries, not just to voters within City of Los Altos boundaries. How can NCLA pay for survey services which benefit one city more than the other?
It is disturbing to see ambition for a 2019 new Civic Center Master Plan, one where we don’t plan in “siloes. ” The problem is we already have a unified, holistic, unsiloed plan from 2008. Calling for a new 2019 master plan will just spoil the efforts of NCLA Library Task Force and derail the Hillview Community Center project.
Are we really AGAIN here in 2019 going to consider moving around all the civic center pieces — the heritage orchard, the police, the city hall, the sports fields, the library, etc. — like so many pieces on our chess board as was done in the 2008 Civic Center Plan? Last year, the NCLA Library Task Force was instructed it could not change its site, its footprint. Now we are going to change our collective minds about the location of the library and of Hillview? And spend another 4 years in a master plan process? Madness.
How did 1990 library remodel ever get done? It was a miracle.
UPDATE from Elayne Dauber about that 1990’s remode miraclel. “I was on the library commission when we went to the city to ask to double the size of the library (it was 18,000 square feet at the time). The library commission did a lot of work up front (without hiring any consultants) visiting 7 or 8 comparable libraries and producing a chart comparing physical spaces in all of them compared to Los Altos. We then showed the city council a slide show comparing spaces in our library compared to spaces in Cupertino Library (they have rebuilt their building about 3 times since those pictures). The slide show was dramatic; light airy spacious v. dark crowded. After the slide show Dave Reeder said, “How are you going to pay for it?” We said, if we find the money can we do it? We had unanimous approval. We had done our homework. We knew how much we needed, and we renewed our parcel tax with enough to pay for the bonds.
VIDEO: 23 MINUTES VERSION. Lalahpolitico takes the original 90 minutes of the city council item, cutting redundancies to get it to 23 minutes, sometimes shuffling the chronology for clarity, and adding frequent titles to help you follow along. It is 90% about the council discussion and vote. Included, Lynette Lee Eng, Anita Enander, Jeannie Bruins, Jan Pepper, Neysa Fligor, Cindy Hill (NCLA Library Task Force), Nancy Howe (SCCL Director), Roberta Phillips. I believe it fairly portrays everyone’s point of view. The full video is on the City Website.
six prior posts about the Library http://losaltospolitico.com/category/library-2/
Planning the New Los Altos Library and Programs (6 months ago)
Will the Los Altos Library be the next City Project (1 year ago)
some prior posts about the Civic Center plans, Measure A
search results for Measure A
Los Altos Civic Center Master Plan – The New Strategy... (6 years ago)
Los Altos Civic Center Architects Update (4 years ago). This was essentially the final planning behind the failed Measure A. A building of 55,000 square feet a lot of people said was too big. It would have permitted an expansion of Rec. Dept. courses, gathering spaces, etc. and more utilization of Hillview. Maybe a doubling.