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June 18, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, June 18, 2004

Council stalls on creating child-care center Council stalls on creating child-care center (June 18, 2004)

Leaders fear financial risk, loss of park land

By Jon Wiener

Will the city enter the child-care business? A long and, at times, passionate debate at a Mountain View City Council study session Tuesday night did little to answer that question, and city staff promised to bring the issue back for a decision before the end of the summer.

At issue is a proposed $2.8-million loan from the Packard Foundation to pay for construction of a child-care center at Rengstorff Park. The loan would be due in seven years at a 1 percent interest rate.

Under a scenario laid out by city staff, the city would lease the space to Children's Creative Learning Centers, a private child-care provider, and refinance the loan after seven years. The council has been studying the feasibility of such a center at that location for nearly four years, but exhibited a lack of consensus about formally applying for the loan on Tuesday.

"Right now I can't support this project," said Mayor Matt Pear. "It doesn't work out with the economics."

Mountain View has chronic shortages in child-care availability in large part because of the complexities involved with getting a license to provide it, according to Ken Jaffe, who directs the nonprofit International Child Resource Institute.

Kevin Woodhouse, senior administrative analyst at the city, said that the area around Rengstorff Park "is consistently the highest-need area for infant care and child care alike throughout the city."

With Council member Rosemary Stasek absent, the six remaining council members agreed that the city should take steps to increase the amount of child care available in Mountain View, but differed on how to do so. But while Pear and others hedged on taking the loan, Vice Mayor Matt Neely and Council member Mary Lou Zoglin spoke of the unique opportunity to provide close to 100 child-care slots afforded by the prospect of the loan.

Council member Greg Perry said the loss of park land would be a difficult trade-off, and suggested hiring a child-care coordinator for the city.

"We could take three acres of park land, rent it out and treat it as free money. But there's a huge hidden cost," he said.

Many neighboring cities have one or more full-time staff people charged with making it easier for private individuals to provide child care. Perry asked staff to see if they could determine whether hiring a child-care coordinator would get the city a better value in terms of dollars spent per slot created.

A translator helped four Spanish-speaking residents of the area follow along during the meeting. They showed up in support of the center, but arrived too late to speak to the council.

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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