Mountain View Voice

News - October 29, 2010

History museum site proves unpopular at candidate debate

by Daniel DeBolt

In a council candidate debate Thursday, Cuesta Park neighborhood residents were uniformly unenthusiastic about the location of a City Council-backed Mountain View history museum in the 12-acre Cuesta Annex. It wasn't a popular idea among the candidates either.

At the end of the discussion, council candidate and 21-year-old Google employee Aaron Jabbari called for a show of hands among among the 20 Cuesta Park neighborhood residents in attendance.

"How many of you would like the museum in your neighborhood?" he asked. No one raised a hand. "I would have to vote against it," he said in response.

Cuesta Park Neighborhood Association president Russ Jones later confirmed that it was indeed an unpopular idea in the neighborhood.

In 2008 the City Council approved a master plan for the Cuesta Annex which allowed the Mountain View Historical Association to begin fund-raising and designing the museum. It is planned for the rear corner of the Annex, a former orchard next to Cuesta Park. A 35-foot height limit was placed on the building to reduce its impact on the view of the mountains from the Annex, a concern expressed by many residents.

"It seems like another kind of chipping away at the park," said candidate Dan Waylonis, a software engineer at Google. "Isn't there another place for a museum?"

Longtime resident and candidate Greg David agreed. "I don't think it is an appropriate location," he said. "It should be downtown."

Among the six candidates, only incumbent Margaret Abe-Koga supported the plan, which she and four other current council members have backed. She mentioned the field trips her elementary school-aged daughters take to places such as the Rengstorff House.

"Knowing the past can be of value to the community," she said.

Incumbent and mayor Ronit Bryant said she was "the only council member who voted against" the museum.

Incumbent Jac Siegel has had to abstain from such votes because of the proximity of property he owns to the Annex. He said he was advised by the city attorney not to comment on the issue either.

Flood basin more popular

The candidates were more supportive of the controversial plan to put a flood basin in the front third of the Annex, which some residents say would ruin the Annex and mean the loss of several beloved trees.

"If (an engineer) tells me thousands of homes could be flooded there's probably something we should do about it," said David, who called it "a reasonable plan for the property."

Waylonis disagreed, saying that he believed that the $56 million flood project, which includes flood basins in Los Altos, would save people from flood waters only one foot deep. He also questioned how fiscally responsible the Water District could be with the project.

"I grew up in Ohio, that's nothing," he said. "What's harder to put a price on is the loss of open space."

Jabbari said he liked the fact that the plans called for a "pretty" landscaping in the flood basin, which is important as parks are "the most important asset Mountain View has."

Bryant, who founded the tree preservation group Mountain View Trees, addressed concerns from the neighborhood about the loss of trees in the Annex. She said that the most valuable trees, the oaks on the rear half of the Annex, "will not be touched."

She called it "a good plan that will leave the area as undisturbed as possible with a view of the hills, kids, birds and whatever rodents the birds like. I think we can have all that."

"We do have a responsibility to make good on what voters voted for," Abe-Koga said of a flood-protection measure voters passed in 2000, even though the measure didn't lay out the design of the project.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District's project would catch waters from Permanente Creek in the event of a so-called "100 year flood," an event that has a 1 percent chance of happening in any year. The council has approved the idea in concept and will soon vote on a detailed plan.

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