Mountain View Voice

News - December 9, 2011

Council OKs teen center construction funds

by Daniel DeBolt

The City Council took decisive action Tuesday in support of a new Mountain View teen center, allocating $1.1 million to build one inside the former Rock church on Escuela Avenue.

The City Council vote showed almost unanimous support for expanding the city's small teen center, which currently serves 20 kids a day in a converted home across from the church. Only member John Inks was opposed.

"From a fiscal standpoint, it is probably not the right priority," Inks said after questioning whether a new teen center is what teens really need.

Tuesday's decision makes the teen center nearly a done deal. The council would still have to approve as much as $130,000 in additional funds every year for the annual operation of the larger center, which may serve adults when teens are in school.

The move was the result of a half-decade of advocacy by community members who say teens need a place to go after school to stay out of trouble.

The campaign peaked in May 2008 meeting of 200 people packed the basement of St. Joseph Church downtown for what became a tense discussion with then-Mayor Tom Means.

"We will not rest until the Mountain View City Council commits to building a teen center," said parent Christina Corona, who added that since the campaign for a teen center began, "Violence in gangs has increased and nothing has changed."

The advocacy appeared to be working in 2009 when the city paid $3.5 million to purchase the Rock Church, which sits across from the city's senior center and Rengstorff Park. Some council members said it might be a good place to build a teen center.

Nearby, there are a huge number of kids live in apartments without much space of their own, said council member Ronit Bryant on Tuesday.

"Kids need a place just to be, (where they have access to healthy food while) doing homework and hanging about with their friends. In the long run saves us money because they won't be getting into trouble," Bryant said.

The youth on the city's Youth Advisory Committee have made some recommendations for the new teen center, including a lounge area, a quiet area with computers, free healthy food, video games, exercise classes, tutoring and counseling according to a city staff report. The new center will also have to be named.

"It's somewhat of an equity issue," said Means, who has questioned the need for a teen center in the past. "We supply a lot of resources for seniors."

To do the same for teens is "only appropriate," he said.

The new center would be built using park "in lieu fees" paid by developers. On Tuesday the council decided to add $600,000 to $500,000 in funds already approved, which had allowed only a bare minimum of improvements, including the removal of church pews, lead and asbestos abatement, new bathrooms and new roofing, flooring and paint.

The additional $600,000 will allow the city to furnish the inside of the building, buy kitchen equipment, build a multi-purpose room, make security improvements and make the church look like a teen center on the outside, with signage. Council members passed on approving an additional $800,000 for additional exterior improvements, mostly for repaving the parking lot.

The existing teen center, named "The House," could be demolished if the council chooses, adding visibility and a few parking spaces to the Senior Center, said recreation manager Regina Maurantonio.

Council members debated how much the new teen center should be used by adults and seniors, especially when seniors flatly refused to allow teens to use the senior center during off hours, noted council member Margaret Abe-Koga. She said it was "ironic" that seniors were now asking to use the teen center for activities, such as exercise classes, as the senior center was apparently built without enough exercise facilities, Inks noted. Council member Macias said if adults were to use the center, parents should have a priority.

A parent named Elena said a group of parents were looking forward to using the new teen center for computer classes. "We want a safe, positive place to be on Escuela," she said. "Please help us do it."

Phillip Cosby of Peninsula Interfaith Action, which has been advocating for a new teen center for years, said it was a sign of progress that council members were there "not to decide whether to have programs, but how much money to spend on them."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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