Atherton sends civic center architects back to the drawing board, again

Design unveiling is postponed for a month

They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

In Atherton, the Civic Center Advisory Committee appears to be trying very, very hard not to end up with a camel for the town's new civic center, which will have new town administrative offices, a library, the police department and the council chambers.

The advisory committee met on Feb. 8, and was scheduled to approve the schematic design for the project, including the building's exterior appearance, site plan, energy conservation elements and circulation system. Instead, the committee sent architects WRNS Studio back to the drawing board and postponed by a month the public meeting scheduled to unveil the design.

Part of the problem may be the difficultly committee members are having communicating to the architects exactly what they want. One committee member said that when her husband was shown the latest drawings, he commented that it "wasn't Atherton" and walked out of the room.

Just what is "Atherton"?

Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said the town wants something that is "timeless and beautiful."

"I feel that we're getting there, but we're not there yet," she said. "I don't want to feel that we're compromising."

That "close, but not quite there" comment was echoed by several other committee members, including the other council member on the committee, Rick DeGolia, and by Didi Fisher, who is co-chair of the Atherton Now committee raising funds for the project. Ms. Fisher also commented that the current plan "almost looks like a jail."

"We've given you an impossible assignment," committee chairman Steve Dostart told the architects at one point. Mr. Dostart ought to know what he is talking about, because as the president and founder of Dostart Development Company, he has supervised many major business campus projects in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Dostart did have some concrete suggestions. "The building desperately wants to be symmetrical," he said, echoing the comments of several other committee members who said the police department wing is too different from the town offices wing.

The committee has asked for a design in the "Santa Barbara Mission" style, and the architects made liberal use of white stucco, tile roofs, arches and iron multi-paned windows in an attempt to comply.

Mr. Dostart and several other committee members also asked the architects to move the town offices wing back toward the courtyard behind it so the two wings are flush across the front. "We want it to look the most residential possible from Fair Oaks," he said.

But Mr. DeGolia disagreed. "The one thing that I think really would be a mistake is if the whole building was flat across," he said.

The good news was that while the plans aren't quite ready for public consumption, the committee is unhappy about only one face of the new complex, that facing Fair Oaks Lane, where the front entry to the joint police department and town office building is located.

The committee was, for the most part, happy with the back of the buildings, which faces a courtyard and what will be the town library. They had one small niggle with a blank wall that needed more architectural embellishment, they said.

The appearance of the library, which has a sleek, modern design, was approved by the committee months ago.

The community meeting to unveil the plans is now scheduled for March 21, with the advisory committee planning to meet again on Feb. 22 and March 7 to look at what the architects can come up with.

The delay will add cost to the project because it will be another month behind schedule, the committee was told. In July, committee members were told by the consultants hired to manage the project that every month of delay in getting the project started would add about $90,000 to the final construction cost.

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4 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Folks in Atherton have never been known for good taste. Sadly, it looks as if their civic center is going down the same kitsch path. But like every Atherton building project, this one can't be hidden by a big fence!

8 people like this
Posted by Payment?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2016 at 7:43 am

Who is paying for these $90,000/month delay fees? Private donors? How much in donations has been raised so far?

We all know if the donations don't materialize that Elizabeth Lewis has said she will insist on floating a bond for Atherton taxpayers to pay for. It is extremely irresponsible to ask taxpayers to pay $90,000/month delay fees while this committee gets their act together. This has been going on for years.

Of course, since Lewis successfully exploited a loophole (that never existed) to get taxpayers to pay for all of the work to date, including architectural, all of these shenanigans are being tolerated. Private donors would never be paying for all of these architectural plans.

I say exploited a loophole that never existed because the ballot measure said the town center must be paid primarily with private funds. Zero in private funds have been used so far, but lots of taxpayer money has. That's a violation of the ballot measure. Lewis got the city attorney to take a view that doesn't make sense (the taxpayer money vs. private donations have to be viewed in the totality of the project, but because the private funds haven't been raised, there is no totality of the project).

No big deal. Just rules and laws that voters decided, right?

7 people like this
Posted by Payment?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2016 at 7:44 am

(By the way, if Lewis didn't spec out a 20,000 square foot police station for a department with four cops on duty at any given time, tops, and who are supposed to be out on the streets patrolling instead of in an office, maybe the building wouldn't be looking so lopsided).

2 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Atherton's City Manager George Rodericks has posted some FAQ's about the Civic Center project on the town's website:
Web Link

Donor money has paid for much of the architectural work so far, Mr.Rodericks says: At the conclusion of the schematic design (what the town is now working on), Atherton will have spent $177,783 in funds set aside for the library, $54,702 in funds set aside for the building department, and $451,295 in donations from Atherton Now.

9 people like this
Posted by Nice deal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 10, 2016 at 3:18 pm

It's so nice that the civic center organizers have recruited Barbara Wood to be their spokesperson. If they have information to tell residents, they should have the guts and accountability to come on the board and post it themselves. Of course, that would involve being asked rebuttal questions and maybe that's the point of avoiding the issue.

The question was, which Ms. Wood didn't even answer, is who is going to be paying the $90,000 per month delay fees? Taxpayers, or some nebulous private donors? How much of the $40+M cost of the civic center has been committed by private donors so far?

Two simple questions. It should involve two simple answers. Will it?

7 people like this
Posted by George Rodericks
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2016 at 4:52 pm

To Whom It May Concern:

The Town uses regular mail, public notices, Town website, Town Facebook page, Town Twitter, and NextDoor accounts to get official information out to the community. As a matter of policy, I do not participate nor do I authorize my staff to participate in the commentary sections of posted online articles. The sheer magnitude of time and resources necessary to monitor and respond to the various media outlets and blogs would overwhelm the limited staff resources we have and divert our attention from Town priorities and projects that require more direct attention.

Instead, we do our best to monitor articles (printed and online) at the various media outlets and keep apprised of issues and questions raised. We attempt to answer those queries to the extent possible via the Town's official information outlets noted above. In this way, we can be assured that the Town's responses are consistent, official, and distributed to the entirety community so that everyone has an opportunity to be apprised of the issues.

When reading the comments to the article today, I was concerned with some of the inaccuracies. I wrote a few brief responses via FAQs and posted them to the Town's website in an attempt to address the issues. I asked Barbara to pass along the link to the comment section in an effort to direct interested readers to those answers.

Thank you for your continued interest in the Town and I would encourage you to visit the project website for more detailed information, email me directly, contact me by phone, or in person. I am happy to discuss any of the Town's operations or projects.


George Rodericks
City Manager
Town of Atherton
91 Ashfield Road
Atherton, CA 94027
(650) 752-0504

7 people like this
Posted by Nice deal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 10, 2016 at 5:09 pm

Two simple questions. It should involve two simple answers. Will it?


But Mr. Rodericks, here are the two questions again in case you'd like to answer them:

1. How much of the $90,000/month in delay fees will be paid for by private donations vs. Atherton taxpayers.

2. How much of the $40M+ projected cost of the civic center has thus far been raised by private donations.

Two simple questions. It should involve two simple answers. Will it?

6 people like this
Posted by Payment?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2016 at 9:40 pm

George, if you can bend your policy to post your message above, why not just answer the questions?

You're right, citizens can go to the various meetings, but we all know most don't. That's why newspapers and TV exist: to inform tax paying citizens about what's going on with their government. I guess we could just stop the news and tell citizens to go sit in on congress if they want to be informed, but would that lead to more accountability in government or less? For the same reasons, you should answer the questions instead of ducking behind "go to the meetings." I think we all know what inference should be made by the lack of answers.

Barbara Wood, how about doing some reporting and posing these questions to Mr. Rodericks, and writing an article with the answers?

13 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2016 at 10:57 pm

@Nice Deal and @Payment?

If you really want answers to your questions, give George a call or send him an email.

You can always post his response to this forum later on if you'd like.

6 people like this
Posted by Nice deal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:52 am

George Rodericks and Apple: [part removed.]

You want to get the public involved in the civic center through all the normal Atherton channels? Then stop deceiving them about the current state of affairs.

The public, very publicly, understands that this project is supposed to be paid from all private donations. That's because this project was started with a public ballot measure the public voted on.

YOU KNOW that's not going to happen now. YOU KNOW that given the $40 million price, the public is going to be asked to foot a huge portion of this bill because private donations have not materialized at a level even close to being able to pay for this project or even a meaningful portion of it. (And that's why Rodericks et al. simply won't answer the questions about how much private funding has been raised).

SO TELL THE PUBLIC THIS. I'm sure their participation level will increase once they find out they're going to be paying for it instead of all private donors.

My opinion is this is not being done because once the public finds out they're going to have to pay for it, it's not going to be a $40M project any longer. This is what recently happened in Los Altos. The civic center committee, the council members who are supporting them, and Rodericks, are trying to do a "bait and switch."

This is very wrong. Once the town council and the committee and the city manager have some notion that the project cannot be completed as originally envisioned (all private donations), there is a responsibility to let the public know so the ensuing decisions will be made with that factor in mind.

The Almanac should be covering this instead of just reporting Rodericks' spin on the situation like Barbara Wood did above.

4 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2016 at 4:05 pm

@Nice Deal

I'm not sure why you maligned me. I was just pointing out how you could get answers to your questions.

I assumed that was your intent and I wanted to be helpful. I don't understand why you don't want to approach George directly.

3 people like this
Posted by rresident
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2016 at 7:12 am

from what I can see I think the proposed building is "more Athertonish" than the new construction on Faxon for 27 Mil.
I the lovely residents wants something a bit different - look to the town center buildings in Portola Valley with all recycled materials or even the town center building in Los Altos Hills on Fremont
Good Luck Atherton - I think you had better raise your budget you are in for a long haul in coordinating plans & people

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