Publication Date: Friday, March 30, 2001
"The issue is really whether we should be paying for a building we don't need."
-Greg Perry, Parks and Recreation Commissioner
"I would make the argument that one of the reasons the community center is not fully used is because the facility does not meet the needs of the community."
-Rosemary Stasek, Council member.
City moves forward with design plans for new community center
City moves forward with design plans for new community center
(March 30, 2001)
Parks commissioner protests use of city money
By Justin Scheck
Nearly seven years after Mountain View's aging community center became a subject of discussion for the city council, the council voted Tuesday to go ahead with plans for a $14 million project that would replace the existing building with a new, larger, more modern structure.
But for the first time since the idea of building a new facility -- rather than renovating the old one -- came up more than two years ago, the plan has drawn criticism from a city parks and recreation commissioner.
Greg Perry, the commissioner and a former city council candidate, says the project is unnecessary, since the current community center is not fully used, and he feels that the funds allocated for the building could be better used for community mini-parks and infrastructure improvements.
And while no official commitment has been made by the council to build the community center, a Tuesday night vote by the council committed up to $1.2 million to a San Francisco architect to design the new facility.
Perry, who handed out fliers at Tuesday's city council meeting and spoke during the public comment period, said last week that while the current building is clearly in need of work, the seismic upgrades and facility expansion could be completed for far less money than it would cost to build a new facility.
He said that upgrading the current facility would allow the city to build more open space, upgrade water and sewage systems without raising utility rates, and save money in a time of economic uncertainty
Other city officials disagree. Council member Rosemary Stasek said the council's decision to build a new community center was based on years of research and forethought and since the money for the project is now available, the city should meet the need for a new facility.
"This has gone through a lot of work," Stasek said. "Greg has been on the parks and rec commission for two months, and I appreciate his efforts, but this has undergone a lot of council consideration."
Perry maintains that the funding for the community center, which will come from the city's capital improvement fund, could be better used to build small neighborhood parks around the city.
He asserts that the open space would receive more public use than a new community center, and cited data from November 2000 showing that the community center has at least one room vacant at all times.
"The issue is really whether we should be paying for a building we don't need," said Perry.
But Stasek disagreed, both with Perry's use of data, which she said was taken during a three-week period, and with his conclusion.
"I would make the argument that one of the reasons the community center is not fully used is because the facility does not meet the needs of the community," said Stasek.
But Perry said this approach is, in his opinion, an inappropriate method of assessing whether a building is needed.
Perry also objects to the use of open space in-lieu fees for the community center. "My feeling is that open space in-lieu fees are for open space. It's wrong to take money from developers for open space and use it for a building," said Perry.
The in-lieu fees, which are collected from developers of residential property, are intended to pay for community park resources, according to Mike Percy, the city's principal planner.
Percy said these fees are allocated by neighborhood, and are spent in one of three ways: priority is given to acquisition of land within the immediate area of a development; if this is not possible, the money goes to community-level projects, such as parks in the general area; if no projects of this nature are on-line, the funds will go to city-wide projects, like the community center.
According to Bob Locke, the city's financial and administrative services director, $1.2 million in open space in-lieu fees, collected from six residential projects built over the past two years, have been allocated for the new community center.
Council member Sally Lieber said a bigger community center will benefit residents from all over Mountain View.
"It just doesn't make sense to try and rebuild a community center that's just too small for the community's needs," said Lieber.
Council member Ralph Faravelli agreed, saying that while he initially objected to the idea of building a new community center, he feels that the cost of remodeling the existing building is prohibitive.
"Rengstorff Park is probably the first park and one of our most important parks. And we opened Mercy-Bush Park last weekend, so we are addressing that need for open space, Faravelli said.
Another issue surrounding the new community center is the fact that the council's vision for the new center includes a child-care facility that, if completed, would help to fill the child-care void the city has experienced in recent years.
Kevin Woodhouse, the city's child-care coordinator and staff representative to the Mountain View-Los Altos Childcare Task Force, said the community center project is currently the task force's "foremost opportunity" to expand the city's child-care capacity.
"There's a significant need for increased child-care capacity in the city," said Woodhouse, adding that one of the task force's goals is to have "at least 30 percent" of the children in any new facility be recipients of subsidized care.
But he said that none of this is definite, and while the city's vision for the community center supports the child-care facility, there is still a feasibility study to be completed by the task force, as well as the building plan.
Faravelli said the child-care component of the project will likely be funded by money collected by the task force, although it will be integrated into the structure of the community center.
In a preliminary budget for the project compiled by the city in 1999, the cost of building the child-care center is estimated at $2 million, bringing the total price of the project to $16 million.
And while Woodhouse did not say the community center is the only option for the task force, he said that it is the one that has received the most focus, effort, and funding from the task force.
Perry did not dispute the city's need for more child care, but he reiterated his belief that the $16 million the city has allocated for the project could be better directed toward projects that would be less expensive and more accessible to the community.
"I think there's no excuse for replacing the community center," said Perry.