Atherton: Plans rev up for new $32 million Town Center


Will Atherton residents be willing to contribute nearly $20 million toward a new Town Center to replace the decrepit buildings that now house town services, the police department and the library? Community leaders helping to plan the center -- which is projected to cost close to $32 million -- intend to find out as the plan moves into its design phase.

The City Council on March 19 endorsed the project's master plan, crafted over several years of advisory committee meetings and a series of neighborhood meetings.

The plan calls for a complete redesign of the existing Town Center area bounded by Fair Oaks Lane, Ashfield Road, Maple Street and the train tracks. It includes a 25,500-square-foot, two-story administration building, more than half of which will house the police department; a 9,000-square-foot library; 37,000 square feet of parking areas; and a large open-space "town green" between the administration building and the library.

The estimated project cost is nearly $31.8 million: about $21.9 million for the administration building and about $9.8 million for the library. Those figures include costs that cover associated elements such as required environmental studies, infrastructure, and common space throughout the center.

Special funds will be tapped to pay for $12 million of those costs: $9.8 million in the library fund, which is expected to have accumulated that amount by the time construction is in progress; and $2.2 million in building department reserves. Money in those funds must be spent on projects related to those services.

The town will seek private contributions for the remaining funds.

Members of a resident advisory committee appointed by the City Council last year, the Civic Center Advisory Committee (CCAC), are "comfortable with a fundraising range of $20 (million) to $25 million," according to a report from City Manager George Rodericks. "This amount is comparable to similar, privately funded civic projects in the area," he wrote.

One such project was successfully completed in 2008 in Portola Valley. Some $17 million in private funds were raised for the $20 million Town Center project.

Atherton appointed a small citizens' task force several years ago to begin looking into a Town Center renovation plan. Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, who led the task force, said in 2010 that members believed residents would be willing to open their wallets to cover most of the costs. "I think if Portola Valley can do it, so can Atherton," she said.

Town and library services are now delivered out of cramped quarters that, in some cases, don't meet seismic standards and need major upgrades to meet code standards. The planning and building divisions have operated since the 1990s out of "temporary" quarters -- portable buildings near the administration building and police station.

Voters in 2012 approved Measure L, which endorsed the building of a new Town Center, now being referred to as a civic center, using primarily private funds.

In addition to approving the civic center master plan and cost estimates, the council also authorized the city manager to initiate an environmental review process, and begin preparations for the project's design phase.


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2014 at 11:12 am

Over 13,000 sq ft for Atherton police services! You must be joking. Is the police union requiring a spa, game room, shooting range and private restaurant?

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2014 at 11:21 am

I seem to remember a number of years ago a developer offered to build Atherton a free city hall and library as part of a development project near the train station. Could have sworn there was something in the Almanac back then including a comment from the developer.

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Posted by Nearly new to Atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm

This is absurd. There's a vacant building on the corner of El Camino and Watkins looking for a tenant.

Who will use the admin building and library ? Huge space for the APD who should be on the road not in an office.

Considering most of the Town's employees are contractors (nearly all the building and planning dept, arborist, etc.) please tell me why they deserve to work in premiere office space.

Primarily private funds should be more than 62 percent of the funding.

Please...don't come knocking at my door for a contribution.

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Posted by matt
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 24, 2014 at 1:04 pm

hey cmon people. theres a lot of serious crime around here. Just last week i saw a strange man walking down the street, by himself, talking loudly and waving his hands... then i noticed he was wearing a phone headset.

People here need to get a grip.

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Posted by Oldtimer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Nearly new to Atherton, I like your thinking. The new building is about the right size. Tear down the trailers at building permits, keep the library and use the existing Admin bldg. for the PD and we are finished. This solution should be a lot less than $32 million.

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Posted by Astonished
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 24, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I'm relieved to see that the comments thus far are all on the same logical track regarding this absurdly over-designed Town Hall project. How surprising that the police and their union still have the audacity to wheedle delegating over half the new facility for themselves. Not too many months ago, it was very iffy whether Atherton residents really wanted or needed our expensive police department in this essentially crime-free town. It still is because we don't. Yet here they are with their foot in the door again. Clearly, with good ideas like the nicely located, new, vacant building available in town, we need to change the committee making these Town Center decisions. Good candidates are writing here already!

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 24, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

small point of fact. the building at Watkins and ECR is actually in Menlo Park. I'm sure Atherton can lease it though if they can come to mutually agreeable terms.

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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 24, 2014 at 9:15 pm

A new admin building should only be big enough to replace the existing structures used for administration: the PD building, council chambers and the temporary buildings. And no bigger.

However, those buildings do need to be replaced. The current buildings are seismically unsafe.

If this can be done with no tax dollars, then I think it's a no-brainer that it should be done.

Question: I saw some of the candidate plans, but I don't know which one was decided on. Which one one?

Question #2: Also, I was told that there were plans to improve drainage on many of the streets in Atherton (I bring it up here because I know that topic has been discussed as part of the City Center work). Does anyone know the status of that planned work?

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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 24, 2014 at 9:16 pm

> Which one one?

Which one won, I mean :)

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Posted by Peter
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 24, 2014 at 10:19 pm

How about a mixed building in which something useful occurs along with the usual sitting around? Maybe it could include housing for employees. How about a 50-story apartment or condo complex in the mix?

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Posted by Get It Done
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 25, 2014 at 4:59 am

For almost 20 years this building has been debated with organized opposition from about 20-40 residents and support from about the same number. Finally the voters approved it. The council should move forward with the project. The delays have just increased the cost.

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Posted by good question
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 25, 2014 at 8:10 am

The comments and suggestions about using the existing new building at the corner of Watkins and El Camino Real (located in county Menlo Park) is a good question. The building was built on spec with permits as a medical-dental building. Although the interior never finish when built it has now been completed and is still a medical dental building configuration.
Over the years since it was built several Atherton police Chiefs and council members have looked at it as a possible police headquarters since the existing police building is so bad. Several obvious problems come up in that it does not have an adequate parking capacity and the ability to provide security. It would require extensive remodeling to add communications, a prisoner holding facility, record storage and offices and spaces to house the entire department staff including administration. These are just the obvious ones but only by designing a building with the end use for police use will you have something that will work for many years. The new police building will be funded with private donations.

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Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Why is every one of the comments anonymous?

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Why is every one of the comments anonymous?"

Because this Forum fosters a culture of posting statements which people would never make in their own name and hence be held accountable for making.

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Posted by Marty
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 26, 2014 at 3:04 am

". . . essentially crime-free town." could it be that Atherton is crime free because of its police department? Try doing without the local police and see how long Atherton maintains its low crime rate.

$32 million does seem excessive. Please don't ask me to pay for it.

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Mar 26, 2014 at 9:12 am

Thank you, "public servants" of Atherton, for doing what you plainly have such expertise in - building a monument to yourself!

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Posted by member
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 26, 2014 at 9:40 am

Great plans! The police station is a sad building and a new city center would be fabulous. If the city can only raise some of the money required, let's pay for it with some tax payers' monies.

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Posted by Hold on
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:50 am

Pay for it with taxpayer money? That's not what the taxpayers voted on (private donations only). If it's going to be taxpayer money, the taxpayers would need to approve a 13,000 square foot police station for three cops working on any one shift. Frankly it's ridiculous.

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Posted by Sore eyes
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 26, 2014 at 2:06 pm

What about all the construction trucks not to mention the white and red Delta bus parked in the "atherton dumping ground"? Who's making money on parking lot? If rent is being charged that could be applied to a nicer town center and get rid of the trailer permit center "temp" sitting there for at least 15 years.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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