Atherton seeks residents' input on design of new civic center


Atherton is holding a series of June meetings to find out what residents and others who use its public buildings want in the design of a new civic center.

Architects Adam Woltag and Pauline Souza, the partners in the WRNS Studio architectural firm who are responsible for designing the civic center, showed two possible concepts for the new complex at the first meeting, on June 3. They said the schemes are based on the master plan completed in March 2014, but consider information uncovered since then, including the location of a 36-inch-diameter water pipe running under the town's property.

One of the major questions they sought opinions on was the location of the new library and the police offices. One option is a stand-alone library near where the current library is; the second is to share a location with the town administrative offices.

Putting the library with administrative offices and the police headquarters in a separate building makes financial sense, Mr. Woltag said, because public safety activities must "be able to function in a disaster" so the police building must be built more robustly.

Both schemes show mostly two-story buildings clustered around open green spaces. The noise from and the view of the nearby train tracks would be muffled and screened by buildings, landscaping and built-up berms.

One unknown impacting the civic center design is the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's (SFPUC) water line. "We don't know exactly what the condition is," City Manager George Rodericks said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, a member of the Civic Center Advisory Committee, said the town is hoping the SFPUC will move the water line closer to the railroad tracks, allowing more flexibility in building placement.

One of the group of about 25 people who attended the June 3 meeting asked whether there is anyone who "might gear up to fight" the new civic center. Ms. Lewis said the town has been working with neighbors of the site for seven years. "A lot of their fears have been allayed," she said. "The goal is to mitigate the traffic impact and any additional noise."

Five more meetings are planned this month. The first three will be at Atherton residences (a postcard with the locations is being mailed to Atherton residents): Sunday, June 14, from 4 to 6 p.m.; Monday, June 15, from 6 to 8 p.m.; and Tuesday, June 16, from 6 to 8 p.m..

Both of the other two meetings will be held on the same day, Tuesday, June 23. One will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Atherton Library at 2 Dinkelspiel Station Lane; and the other, a Civic Center Advisory Committee meeting, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Atherton council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road.

The town's website has more information on the civic center project.

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11 people like this
Posted by Be upfront
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Here is the same question presented with two different pretexts:

1. What do you want to see in the new town center? Someone else is paying for it.

2. What do you want to see in the new town center? You're paying for it.

We all know they are going to get very different answers.

Rather than be up front about the lack of private donations materializing, and the fact that at a recent council meeting the mayor admitted that the council would be putting in for a bond to pay for this town center (which will, of course, be an ADDITIONAL parcel tax on Atherton's residents), these meetings are proceeding as if choice #1 above is still the case.

I'm guessing the plan is to present the new tax as something to pay for a town center that the residents decided they wanted. But again, we all know that if residents understood they are supposed to be paying for it, they would undoubtedly scale back the very grandiose vision for this town center.

The right thing to do is to be up front. If scaling back is needed in order to sell this to voters, let's do that on a collaborative basis. There's certainly a lot of room to scale back with. We don't need an athletic center as part of the town center for town employees. We don't need a cafe. We don't need an office for the city manager fit for a Rockefeller instead of a Rodericks.

Also, it's really perplexing that the Almanac has not reported on this stunning about face. During the last election, this town center was sold to voters on the basis that private donations, not public funds, would be paying for it. That is what the voters approved.

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jun 10, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Mayor Rick DeGolia says "nothing has been discussed by the council" about a bond measure for the civic center. The issue of any public funding for the civic center, other than funds that have been set aside for the library and the building department offices, has not been on an agenda for discussion, and it is a violation of the Brown Act to discuss items that are not on the agenda.

If someone has some evidence to the contrary, please let me know. I assume that if this topic was discussed it would have been videotaped.

Members of the group that is raising funds for the civic center say they still expect to raise the money privately.

"There is sufficient money committed to get us through the design period and into the construction," Mr. DeGolia said. "We don't have the construction money pledged or committed yet, but we didn't expect to have that by this point because we haven't had any architectural images to show people as part of a marketing campaign."

5 people like this
Posted by Be upfront
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm

The plot thickens. The new website offers residents two choices for the town center they'll be paying for. Option #1 includes a 14,000 square foot police building. Since DeGolia and Lewis want to give residents a choice, as an alternative, Option #2 also includes a 14,000 square foot police building.

City hall? 8,300 square feet. Library, potentially the building with the most value to the community? 9,000.

Why would a tiny police department like Atherton's need a 14,000 square foot police building? Police are supposed to be primarily working outside the building, policing the community.

Some work needs to be done to compare the size of Atherton's police department with neighboring communities, and the size of this proposed building with the sizes of their police buildings. I can't see how there's going to be any congruence.

Of course the bill…will be presented to Mr. and Mrs. Atherton Taxpayer. No one's saying it, but the cat is out of the bag now, and the private donations haven't come through.

5 people like this
Posted by Be upfront
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 10, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Barbara, your post came through as I was writing mine, but I want to clarify a statement you made:

"A majority vote would be required for any additional general fund tax money or parcel tax funds to be used for the Civic Center. A bond would require approval by 2/3 of voters."

Are you referring to "majority vote" of the town council, or Atherton's voters?

Atherton's taxpaying residents already decided that the town center would be paid for using only private donations on a ballot measure. The council cannot override the results of a ballot measure via a majority vote.

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jun 11, 2015 at 10:40 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

​An election would have to be held. Any new tax, or a bond measure, would require 2/3rds voter approval.

Here is the text of the 2012 ballot measure passed by 73.5 percent of the voters:
Measure L: "Should the Town of Atherton primarily use private donations to construct and design a new Town Center? Other funding sources might include funds derived from Building fees or future grant money but would not use general fund or parcel tax money."

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