The public has spoken: No new civic center, if it means more money out of our pockets.
Message received, said the Los Altos City Council Tuesday night, after hearing disappointing survey results, testing a $65 million bond measure to finance Phase I of the proposed civic center, from the city’s consultant, Bryan Godbe of Godbe Research.
“I have to say I’m disappointed in these results, but I’m not surprised, having been out in the community for the last few months presenting this,” said Mayor Val Carpenter, after hearing that there was not enough support among likely voters for a two-thirds approval needed for passage.
Godbe had conducted telephone surveys of residents to test the feasibility of a bond measure by mail-in ballot in August.
No matter how a bond measure for a new 18-acre civic center along North San Antonio Road was presented to most-likely voters, it was clear from their responses that the city was not going to get the necessary two-thirds vote, Godbe said.
Plans for a new city hall, library, police station, and multi-generational community center are now on hold for a year or more, the council concluded.
Phase I would have included replacing the deteriorating , building a new earthquake-safe police station and emergency operation center, and making other infrastructure improvements.
Godbe walked the council through survey results that showed voters were soft on support. His firm surveyed 404 registered voters for an average of about 18 minutes each in late March. Of those, 288 were likely voters for a August 2012 mail ballot, and 116 were “lower-propensity voters”.
Survey participants were asked up front if they supported a new civic center complex, then were asked a series of questions informing them of some of the benefits, as well as outlining some of the negatives. Despite the information, voters remained firm in not wanting to shell out more money for the center.
The combination of “definitely yes” and “probably yes” likely mail ballot voters was at 55.5 percent, and the combination of “no’s” was at 39 percent. To win, the bond measure would need 66 percent.
“I think in moving forward you could move those numbers, and I think the economy improving over the next couple of years could help as well,” Godbe told the council.
Residents who addressed the council encouraged the city to go back and rethink the project.
“I would ask that they revisit this plan and reflect today’s sensibilities and preferences on the plan that today looks a little too luxurious for us. I think you’re seeing that in the numbers,” said Suzanne Ambiel.
Carpenter remained hopeful that alternatives could be found. As an example, she said she had spoken with the Los Altos Hills Town Council, and that at least some members were supportive of possibly entering into a Joint Powers Agreement to fund construction of at least part of the community center in the future.
For now, the council said the city must move forward on making repairs to the existing buildings. Numerous repairs were deferred while the council waited to hear public input on the future community center.
“My real hope was we would get a clear thumbs up or thumbs down, and we have a clear thumbs down, at least on Phase I at this time,” Carpenter said.
Later, in an email, Carpenter wrote, "There are a number of possible ways forward: (1) wait a year or two and try again; (2) work with the Los Altos Hills Town Council on a Joint Powers Authority similar to the North County Library Authority to jointly fund a community center; and (3) work with LASD to help them identify a 10th school site, ideally north of El Camino Real in Mountain View or Palo Alto."
Council directed staff to return with a set of alternatives at the April 24, 2012 Council meeting.