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April 21, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Portola Valley residents want say in use of new Town Center Portola Valley residents want say in use of new Town Center (April 21, 2004)

By David Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer

The mind of a seasoned chess player is adept at sorting through complicated processes and anticipating events of the near future.

The near future of Portola Valley may need such minds as the town moves beyond ideas and begins to grapple with the reality of putting on a charrette, in which a group of architectural professionals collaborate with a group of citizens over four days to design a complex of municipal buildings for the Town Center.

The current big questions are: Who decides how the buildings will be used, and when should those decisions be made?

Councilmen Steve Toben and Ted Driscoll, together with Sally Ann Reiss of the Parks and Recreation Committee, drafted a two-page questionnaire to solicit the community's ideas on programs to be held at the Town Center. But at the April 14 Town Council meeting, Councilman Ed Davis pointed out the complexities of soliciting community ideas.

"Is this a popularity contest? ... Who decides?" Mr. Davis asked, adding that he's been told that charrettes work best when they focus on design, not use.

The priorities published by the town list administrative offices and maintenance facilities first, followed by a library, multi-use room, classrooms and several facilities for recreational uses.

The questionnaire should explain that the information is being sought "in a surprise-free way," given a base of decisions that have already been made, Mr. Davis said.

Mayor George Comstock, Mr. Toben, Ms. Reiss and Town Administrator Angela Howard will collaborate to rewrite and explain the questionnaire.

Ships in the night?

Along with helping on the questionnaire's first draft, Ms. Reiss sat on the 38-person Town Center Citizens Advisory Committee that met eight times last year and came up with its own priorities.

"I'm feeling frustrated. You guys are right," she said, "but I don't know what action you want us to take. ... People want to be included."

The council needs to calm people's fears and avoid polarizing the town, said Virginia Bacon, who also sat on the advisory committee. One committee priority missing from the town's list is a community plaza, she said.

The community is not interested in administrative offices and maintenance yards, said resident Mike Reich. "People are really fearful that we might leave some of these gathering places out," he said.


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