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November 02, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 02, 2005

PORTOLA VALLEY: Background: Why council plans a new Town Center PORTOLA VALLEY: Background: Why council plans a new Town Center (November 02, 2005)

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

The Portola Valley Town Council says it has no choice but to build a new Town Center complex because experts found the former facilities would collapse in a major earthquake.

These findings have threatened the town's liability insurance coverage and have scuttled any possibility of legally retrofitting the buildings formerly used by Town Hall staff and the library.

In June 2004, Town Hall staff moved to a temporary building on the site that's not considered endangered by earthquake faults. In June 2005, the county library authority moved the town library to the campus of Corte Madera School.

After-school activities -- cultural, science and fitness classes -- are continuing at Town Center, and artist studios and the art gallery remain open, but signs posted since March 2004 warn of earthquake risks.

A new Town Center complex, designed with extensive community input during a public design workshop in 2004, is planned for a location on the 11.2-acre site that is considered safe.

All along, opponents have disputed the geo-technical, liability and legal issues, claiming that the council has painted the town into a corner, that the risks are being overblown, and that the complex of 55-year-old former school buildings has stood the test of time and should not be destroyed.

For the new complex, estimated to cost $20 million, the council has earmarked about $3.5 million -- most of the town's unrestricted reserve. The rest of the funds would be raised from private donations and/or a general obligation bond measure that would require approval by two-thirds of the voters.

If not enough money is raised, council members said they would consider scaling back the plans.

"It all revolves around how well the private fundraising goes," said Councilman George Comstock. "If it all goes well, that solves the problem."

If Measure H -- the proposal to renew for four years the 5.5 percent tax on utility bills -- fails November 8 and the rejection is interpreted as a vote against the Town Center complex, it could hinder fundraising.

"Nobody wants to write a check for something that's unpopular," said Sally Ann Reiss, who co-chairs the fundraising committee and is a council candidate. "The Town Council and the Architectural & Site Control Committee need to come up with a plan that the community can get behind."

A special ASCC meeting is set for 8 p.m. Monday, November 7, to give the public another chance to participate in the design of the complex. The council has held numerous public meetings on the project over the last two years.

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