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June 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The right decision on childcare center The right decision on childcare center (June 02, 2004)

By Mary Gilles

The recent City Council decision to remodel the old Menlo Park police station for a childcare center, rather than build a new, much more costly building, is another example of how the majority of Mayor Lee Duboc, Mickie Winkler and Nicholas Jellins have tried to keep the city's budget in balance with moderate growth.

Deciding whether a city should continue the practice of providing subsidized childcare was one of the council majority's first public acts. What could have been described as political suicide (the majority council is against the children) did not deter our leaders from making a well-thought out decision on a very high-ticket item.

Clearly, remodeling the old police station to the tune of $3.6 million is a huge savings from the alternative -- to build a luxurious new building at a cost of $6 million to $7 million. The council majority sought a compromise with an outspoken group of people who have been lobbying hard for the new building.

But, should the City of Menlo Park even be in the business of providing childcare? If my math is correct, the council's decision reduces the city's financial commitment from $33,333 per child to $20,000 per child (using 180 children as the divisor).

There are other city services that meet the needs of hundreds or thousands of residents (gymnastics, for example) whose budget is nowhere near $20,000 per individual. It seems this small microcosm of the population is receiving an undue share of funds. These numbers don't even take into account the staff costs.

The people who have championed the cause for city-provided childcare continue to attack the council for not building a new building. Some of us wonder why these people feel so strongly that our collective tax dollars should be spent subsidizing their childcare, much less pay for a luxurious new building.

I can understand there might be a need for childcare for low-income families, but those who are most vocal about their entitlement to receive this subsidized childcare live in one of the wealthiest areas of Menlo Park.

Finally, Measure T was primarily marketed as a recreation bond measure and the childcare center was pork barreled into that measure. Typical of these types of bond measures, the voters did not focus on the fact that a "yes" vote on Measure T also meant we were saying "yes" to a hugely expensive, brand new childcare center that most of us would never use. That'll teach us. I believe many residents applaud the council's action to scale back on this.

I would go further to say that there is mounting fervor to lobby the council against spending huge chunks of our tax dollars to continue subsidizing childcare. We should thank the childcare special interest group for bringing this to our attention in the media. Perhaps we should put the matter on the next ballot.

Mary Gilles lives on Hermosa Way in Menlo Park.

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