The new program does not address the original goal of providing activities for at-risk youth in the Rengstorff neighborhood — a goal that last month led the council to entertain thoughts of letting teens use the Senior Center at Rengstorff Park. The idea was proposed after years of controversy over increased gang activity and the lack of an adequate teen center in the city.
But it failed to gain the support of council members John Inks, Laura Macias and Jac Siegel. And seniors worried that teens would be disrespectful to them and their building, despite the fact that city staffers would have provided a structured environment for teens and the building would only be used when seniors were largely absent.
Staffers, council members and the city's Youth Advisory Commission worked quickly to come up with the alternative plan, which uses Los Altos and Mountain View high schools for after-school tutoring and classes like as yoga and kickboxing. Special events, such as concerts and open mic nights, would be held at places like the Graham Sports Pavilion, the Community School of Music and Arts and the Rengstorff Community Center, though that's often in use. Several of the programs would be directed towards selected at-risk youth.
City staff also presented a long list of sites that didn't fit the bill, including Saint Athanasius Church on Rengstorff Avenue and the small teen center on Escuela Avenue.
The council voted 5-1 Tuesday in favor of the new plan, with member Ronit Bryant absent and John Inks opposed. Inks later explained that he was concerned the $50,000 would exacerbate the city's budget problems.
Because the proposed plan was less than ideal and the city was in a hurry to start the program before the end of the fiscal year, Margaret Abe-Koga was set to propose that the council revisit the idea of using the Senior Center. She decided not to, however, after complaints from the council's own Senior Advisory Task Force that the idea was never formally brought to the group's attention.
Before the meeting, Senior Advisory Task Force chair Elna Tymes said her group could have helped the council gain traction with the senior community. Instead, Tymes said, "What I got the most umbrage about was that nobody asked the seniors what they thought of this. We think that is bad form."
There was talk that dozens or even hundreds of seniors opposed the Senior Center plan, but only one spoke out against the plan Tuesday: Don Letcher. Letcher submitted a letter with 74 signatures from seniors opposing the plan. The council chambers was largely empty by the time the agenda item came up at around 10 p.m., and some seniors had left to go to bed, Tymes said.
Several seniors spoke and wrote letters about how little the Senior Center was used on certain nights, including Fridays and Saturdays.
Former Mayor Jim Cochran said he supported the plan to use the Senior Center. But like most seniors, he was unaware that it was on the council's agenda in January. So he watched the meeting on the city Web-site, after the fact.
"I found myself talking to the screen," Cochran said. "It had absolutely no effect so I thought I'd come down tonight and try to tell you what I was saying. I think if the seniors understood what this is for — if seniors' programs stopped at 6 p.m. and teen programs started after that — it would work very well. If the teens tear up the billiard table or lose all the ping pong balls that would be another problem."
"The seniors really don't have the story," Cochran said. "They hear teens would be running up and down the hall and that's not good. These youngsters are somebody's grandchildren. If there is something seniors can appreciate, it's grandchildren."
Local youth leader Eduardo Olmos, 17, said after the meeting that he was "just happy we're getting somewhere." There are kids who "need something right now," he said. But he was also disappointed that the Senior Center couldn't be used, as it would have been more accessible to the city's Rengstorff neighborhood, often thought of as home to the city's most at-risk youth.
"We might be able to revisit the issue of the Senior Center but we need to have a really open conversation about that," said council member Laura Macias. "We're just a very involved community — we all like to know what's going on."
Olmos told the council that he hoped the city would use modern media to alert teens of the new programs and events.
North Whisman housing discussed
A plan for up to 800 homes along Ferguson Drive came into clearer focus during a Tuesday night study session where the council discussed a draft environmental impact report for the project.
Though the EIR discusses over 1,000 units on the 18-acre site, Drew Hudacek of Regis Homes said there would be a maximum of 560 homes in the first phase of the plan, along with a 2.6-acre park.
During the discussion, a representative of Cisco said the company's server farm on the southeast corner of the site, known as the Webex property, would remain a commercial use indefinitely.
The council voted 5-1 in favor of Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga's proposal for an Asian American Heritage Month celebration to be sponsored by the city and funded with $3,500.
Council member John Inks said his vote against the celebration symbolized his concern about the city's budget problems, while member Mike Kasperzak expressed concern that it would set a precedent for other ethnic groups to ask the city for money to fund celebrations.
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