Issue date: July 14, 2000
Council challenged on transit plaza offices
Council challenged on transit plaza offices
(July 14, 2000)
Building would serve waiting rail passengers, may house Chamber of Commerce and small retailers
By Karen Willemsen
The big question emerging from Tuesday's city council meeting appears to be, "Why does Mountain View need the proposed downtown transit plaza project?"
The city council duly debated the philosophical underpinnings of the proposal to build a combined Chamber of Commerce/commuter services building at Castro and Evelyn, and then approved the idea at the meeting.
Local resident Gary Wesley challenged the council to prove that the project is more than just a ruse to provide a nearly rent-free facility for the Chamber of Commerce.
"I like the concept of moving the Chamber out of Pioneer Park and closer to the noisy train tracks. In fact, my first choice would be to move them onto the train tracks," joked Wesley.
The Chamber has long contended that it has outgrown its present offices at the edge of Pioneer Park, which it leases for $1 per year from the city.
Wesley believes that the Chamber should not get such a "sweetheart deal" from the city, because it is not part of the city government.
The project is being built jointly by the city and the Chamber. The city, which has budgeted just over $2 million for its portion, has contributed the initial design and part of the construction costs. The Chamber will occupy 5000 square feet of the building and must come up with its own funding, or work out a satisfactory lease with the city.
City attorney Michael Martello assumes that the rent will increase once the Chamber moves in.
Chamber president Carol Olson spoke enthusiastically about the proposal, because it would locate the Chamber where transit commuters enter the downtown area. Olson believes proximity to Caltrain and lightrail could encourage riders to get information about the local business community from the Chamber.
The council voted 5 to 2 to recommend a design for the transit plaza that could incorporate retail space, the Chamber, an ATM, a passenger waiting area, bike storage, and a break room for VTA engineers and bus drivers. Council members Ralph Faravelli and Mario Ambra voted against the package, contending that retail of any kind would not be viable in that location.
"Back east the train stations have some kind of newstand with magazines and coffee in a space about five feet by six, and they do well. But they have a tremendous amount of passenger traffic. We don't have that yet," Faravelli argued.
Faravelli's colleague Sally Lieber contended that rail passengers would enjoy sitting at a cafe, with a cup of coffee, waiting for their train. Without retail, it would be just for the Chamber and the VTA, Lieber argued.
But Mayor Rosemary Stasek disagreed.
"I think we need to pull away from the idea that anybody is going to be sitting around here waiting," Stasek said. "There's no way I'm going to sit 870 feet away from my train. It's too stressful. If you want a destination something (to get people to walk from the transit parking lot to the plaza), let me just say A-T-M."
As an alternative to including one or two shops, several members said that a news and coffee cart could do well, because the vendor could locate right by the tracks.
Despite those reservations, the majority voted in favor of giving the project to the architectural firm of Hawley, Peterson, & Snyder, to begin the initial design. The retail space issue will be explored further, before a final decision is made.
Only Faravelli voted to hold out, because of his objections to retail. Ambra objected to the lack of handicapped parking closer to the site. The closest parking is more than 500 feet away, at the Caltrain lot.
Later in the meeting the public got a rare chance to hear council members delicately broach the subject of installing one or more public restrooms downtown.
City staff suggested leasing a DeCaux, the popular self-cleaning restrooms now found in cities up and down the Peninsula.
"I'm not sure I'm that fond of the French 'facilities'," said Council member Mary Lou Zoglin.
Carol Olson said the Chamber would be willing to maintain public restrooms located inside the Chamber. Outside facilities could incite users to engage in " 'illicit activities'," she contended.
"I don't need a French 'toilette'," said Faravelli, who wants visitors to use bathrooms installed inside the proposed building.