Residents Not Willing to Foot Civic Center Bill

The City Council reluctantly puts on hold plans for the center after a survey shows insufficient support at any of the dollar figures offered.


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.


Penny Lave April 12, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Why does "working with LASD to help them identify a 10th school site" have anything to do with a way forward for the proposed Civic Center?
Joan J. Strong April 13, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Because the Hillview site is being talked about being returned to its original role as a possible elementary school campus for LASD. There are ideas being floated about putting a school there and perhaps combining this with future CC plans (mixed use?). New families come buy our expensive houses here for one reason more than any other: our schools. If our schools fall below Cupertino, Mountain View and Sunnyvale in terms of performance, we can kiss these real estate values goodbye. We have a BIG problem right now with our schools here: we have 10 thriving, top-performing tight-knit school communities and only 9 campuses. With the wealth we have in this area and the no-brainer financial return on improving education here--and the fact that we only need a 55% majority to pass a school bond--I think this is an idea whose time has come.
Jennifer Carlstrom April 13, 2012 at 01:06 AM
I guess I don't understand all the dust up. LASD has been kicking around the idea of using the current Hillview site which will be torn down if the City Council follows through on its plan. Why not preserve that space, lease it to the school district and allow them to renovate at it their own cost (from a potentially more successful bond measure with a lower passing threshold based on the Godbe research). The funds that flow from the school district to the city with the lease could then be used to complete the majority of the Community Center plans as currently outlined, without a second higher threshold bond needed. And if you let LASD update Hillview first, the city could possibly use the empty portables at Egan as temp space while they complete their remaining Community Center updates. And furthermore, lets keep some portables at Egan and move the Underground there and give the Seniors more space at the Shoup Park facilities. I really see this a potential win-win for everyone involved with some thoughtful planning.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »