During several weeks of discussions, a majority of the council said the project had veered from its intended goal of providing a substantial amount of subsidized child care to low-income families in the neighborhood. But in the end, members approved the funding 5-2, with Jac Siegel and Matt Pear opposed.
I feel very strongly that there is a need for this," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga, later adding that "we're not going into a deficit to do this."
This year, 27 families became qualified to receive subsidized child care from the county, Abe-Koga said. By building this facility that number could double, she argued, because 30 percent of the spaces are guaranteed as subsidized spots.
Council member Nick Galiotto said Abe-Koga had convinced him that the center would be a good idea because it could provide free or discounted child care to city employees in the future. Galiotto's opinion was quite a change from a previous council meeting, when he said the center might become one of those projects that he "might very much regret being the swing vote" on.
"I did approve it once. I guess I'll go ahead and do it again," Galiotto said.
Several members said that, once loans are paid off in eight years, the child care center is expected to generate about $200,000 a year in revenue for the city, which could subsidize even more child care for either low-income families or city employees.
Community Action Team member Volga Mela was one of three residents who spoke through a translator in favor of the project. She said there has been a lot of discussion about gang problems in the neighborhood, and that preschool could be one more way to prevent gang activity by preparing children to do well in school.
"Our children deserve a good education," Mela said. "These children are going to be our future."
The center will be operated by the Children's Creative Learning Center, whose chief executive, Ty Durekas, also spoke at the meeting.
"I've been doing this for 15 years," he said, adding that the plan "is fiscally sound. It's not going to be a burden for the city."
When asked how much it would cost to subsidize the 30 children, Durekas estimated between $200,000 and $300,000 a year. The operator has already committed to providing $50,000 to subsidize about six children, and the rest of the funding is expected to come from the county voucher program and other sources.
The building would be provided to the operator for free.
Another previous critic of the center who changed his mind was council member Tom Means. He said the project was "an example of how the public process sometimes doesn't work well," but he agreed to support it with future discussion "to figure out where we're going."
"I'm still convinced we're all over the map on this," he said.
Means mentioned several child care facilities that could not fill openings, including one near Google which is using only 138 spots out of the 168 available.
Abe-Koga, however, said that there is already a wait list for Google's own child care center at the old Slater School, suggesting that there is a huge demand for lower-cost child care in the city. Costs can be over $1,000 a month to send a child full-time.
There was some discussion about a lack of parking at Rengstorff Park, where the new Senior Center routinely packs the current parking lot beyond capacity. The new child care center would go next door, and its staff would use about 15 of the 195 spaces.
For Siegel, a dissenting voter on the project, reducing parking at the Senior Center for seniors who couldn't walk very far was a big issue. So was the fact that the center would not serve enough low-income families.
Council member Ronit Bryant, an ardent parks advocate, expressed support for building the center at Rengstorff even if it meant increasing the park's density.
The surrounding area "will only become more dense," Bryant said. "We need a lot of services there."
Mayor Laura Macias agreed.
"It's always been my goal that Rengstorff Park be just as nice as Cuesta," Macias said. "I think this just adds to it."
Bryant added that the project "has taken absolutely forever." She said she wants the council to examine its processes for future projects "so it doesn't take 10 years."
Cautioning the council was dissenter Pear, who said the city would be forced to bear any more cost increases for the project.