News

Atherton civic center donor seeks design changes

 

Atherton's City Council held a special joint meeting with its Civic Center Advisory Committee on Nov. 7 to discuss energy and water-saving features and costs of the project, but spent much of the meeting talking about a donor's wish that the town take another look at some of the nearly completed plans.

Didi Fisher, who is a member of the advisory committee and co-chair of Atherton Now, the group raising funds for the civic center, said $3 million in donations is at stake.

One of the concerns, she said, is the lobby, which as now designed is a 28-foot-by- 58-foot space connecting the police department with the rest of the town's offices.

"It's too grand," said Ms. Fisher.

"He perceives it's excessive," said Mayor Elizabeth Lewis, who is also on the board of Atherton Now.

Council member Bill Widmer agreed. "My two cents," he said, "I think the lobby is a little big." He said it should be reduced by 800 square feet by pushing in what is now the exterior wall, and leaving part of the current lobby as covered outdoor space.

However, WRNS Studio architect Adam Woltag said exterior finishes cost more than interior finishes, so changing interior space into exterior space could add to the cost of the building, not reduce it.

The donor also has asked the town to look again at the costs of renovating the historic council chambers so the space could continue to be used as a meeting place for the council, as opposed to the current plan that calls for building a new council chamber and renovating the historic building as an auxiliary of a new library.

That option was rejected by the town and the advisory committee more than a year ago when it was determined that it would cost nearly as much to renovate and upgrade the existing building as to construct a new building.

Because the renovated council chambers will become part of the library, which already has its funding in place, the town doesn't have to raise money to pay for it.

Councilman Rick DeGolia, who is a member of the governing board of the joint powers authority that runs the county library system that the Atherton Library is part of, said the board won't authorize the use of library funds to renovate the historic building if it's not part of the library. Currently, the building is to be the library's community meeting room and house the town's history collection, plus a small cafe or kitchen.

"I don't believe we can redo this as a council chambers and have the library pay for it," Mr. DeGolia said.

In the end, the council did not ask the architects to change the plans, but instead asked the contractor estimating the costs of project to come up with a report.

"The reality also is we're going to go out for public financing," Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said. "I think everybody's agreed on that."

Steve Dostart, chair of the advisory committee, defended the current design. "I think it's a phenomenal project," he said. "It's in keeping with what the town is."

Mayor Lewis agreed. "I don't think anybody ... thinks what we have here is overstated," or too grand, she said.

Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As an Atherton resident I would be stunned if one of the wealthiest communities in the nation would not be willing to pass a bond issue to pay for upgrading its own critical infrastructure. The current strategy of both relying on donors to fund this project and also allowing those donors to constrain the design is shortsighted and penurious. The design should be driven by the needs/functional programming and not by the depth of the donors' pockets.

Let's do this very long term project right - not on the cheap - and build something that will last for 50 years and that we will be proud of.


5 people like this
Posted by The Old Sage
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Peter makes a good comment as usual! Why not add bricks that folks can purchase to immortalize, those who's family's were a part of the history of Atherton. My Mom was an Atherton Dame from 1964 till her passing in 1998.


5 people like this
Posted by Uh oh…
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 15, 2016 at 6:55 pm

Mayor Lewis agreed. "I don't think anybody ... thinks what we have here is overstated," or too grand, she said.

…except the fellow you're trying to get $3M from, and many other residents you're turning a blind eye to. Not a good idea.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 15, 2016 at 8:25 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Unbelievable. A town made up almost entirely of the 1% that won't fund replacing the garbage that the town staff operates out of. The optics are unbelievably bad, yet, they continue to deny they need to replace the aging infrastructure of their civic center. God forbid they should provide anything better for "staff." After all, they're just "staff." Honestly, how do you people justify refusing to fund YOUR town's need to replace the ancient buildings of your town's civic center. Seriously? Disgusting.


9 people like this
Posted by Uh oh…
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 15, 2016 at 9:16 pm

@Menlo Voter: taking that one issue in a vacuum, you're basically right.

But it's not in a vacuum. The town (more accurately, the few that control it) insists on having its own police department even though every sensible analysis provides we can get better service at a cheaper price by consolidating/outsourcing. (And yet, the same few are now going after the fire department over cost issues despite the obvious policy inconsistencies).

Next, the town continues to pay the police top dollar, and it's by far the largest item in the budget. Until recently, the town made the entire pension contribution for the officer (employer portion plus officer portion). That changed in the last negotiation, but only after upping the salary to make up for it. They're paid more than anywhere else in the Bay Area, but arguably have the safest job in the Bay Area, and the justification for the high salary is hazard.

Now they want to build a town center (mostly to house the police department) that is more than we need. No one is saying don't build a town center, but how far do we need to go? Huge lobby? Huge offices for the town manager and police chief? Gym? Cafe?

You start stacking all of these issues, and at some point the camel's back breaks. I agree you can pick one of a bunch of issues and argue people are being cheap looking at just that one. This is not that situation.

It's also not fair or accurate to equate questioning the scope of the town center as a position that nothing should be built, because that's not what people are arguing.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 16, 2016 at 7:59 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"It's also not fair or accurate to equate questioning the scope of the town center as a position that nothing should be built, because that's not what people are arguing."

Actually based on other posts I've seen on this subject that is exactly what some people are arguing.

And you're right about APD. Why the town insists on having it's own police force when it could contract with the Sheriff for half the cost is beyond me.


4 people like this
Posted by Facts Only
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 16, 2016 at 8:38 am

@Uh Oh ...

Let's stick to facts. All available in Town Reports and the Town website. And in full disclosure I support our Town Council and Police Department.

The Town reviewed police service costs in 2011 and 2012. Yes, services could be obtained cheaper via a contract but not the same level of service. Less service. Not arguing quality - quantity. Less officers on the street each shift. If it were apples to apples - the cost difference is negligible.

The Town is not talking to the Fire District about service levels - only seeking to clarify for the community the revenues and costs. The Town Council has already said the conversation is not driven by a desire to find another service provider via detachment or to take services or funds away from the District.

Yes, police services are the largest in the budget - it is the largest department and based solely on delivery of services that are people dependent. Duh.

The employees have been paying their share of pension since the 2012 contract not the recent contract. The recent salary survey showed that staff is paid below average not above average and certainly not at the top for the Bay Area. That distinction rests with Hillsborough. They are #1, Redwood City is #2, and Menlo Park #3. Atherton officers are barely in the middle.

Duh again on housing the police department. They have the most personnel and needs. The lobby is big. That's been pointed out already. Total net space is roughly the same as is currently used. No significent increases. Huge offices for chief and town manager? Really? A 15 by 15 office is huge for the CEO? The police chief office is even smaller. These people meet with the community on a regular basis. Having a desk and a small meeting table crammed into that space is pretty reasonable.

The exercise room on the plans mirrors what they have today in a garage. They are on shift for 12 hours at a time. Since they can't afford to live anywhere close to here having access to an amenity benefits the Town since they are required to be in good shape as a fitness for duty requirement. They use the space for hand to hand training and other required fitness training as part of their job. Do you think they go home and take classes in their basement on how to use a police baton, how to disarm a suspect, how to do CPR? Or should they do that training in the palatial Town Manager or Police Chief Office?



5 people like this
Posted by Duh
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 16, 2016 at 9:33 am

I thought especially given what we are paying them they would've had that type of basic training at the police academy before they were hired. If they are at the middle now, it's because they started out of the top, then all the neighboring towns ratcheted up based on the union contract formulas, and Atherton will ratchet them up back to be on the top also. This is what plays out every contract negotiation.


2 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 16, 2016 at 9:58 am

"The town (more accurately, the few that control it) insists on having its own police department"

Actually, the town residents insist on its own police department. Every four years, the town's parcel tax is on the ballot. And a primary purpose for the tax is to fund greater police services. If the people don't want this, they can vote the tax down.

Last time around, three out of four Athertonians voted for the tax. In fact, not one single resident filed arguments against the parcel tax.


5 people like this
Posted by Facts Only
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:08 am

@Duh

Sure, they had training at the academy but the law and technology constantly changes with respect use of force and other enforcement tactics; and do you really want a police officer on shift who's last training or practical exercise was 15 or more years ago? The MOU says that the Council will pay average - not the top and it was the officers themselves that suggested the Town eliminate the clause that required ratcheting of pay based on surveys. That was eliminated in 2012.


4 people like this
Posted by Uh oh…
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:53 pm

Facts Only, you make some fair points. I'm not sure all of them will wind up standing a actual fact check (for example, I think a real fact check will not show Atherton police making below average compensation in the Bay Area, especially if we're not playing games over how compensation is defined), but your basic argument is not unreasonable.

So, I hope you will listen to mine in the same light. Private fundraising failed. The right thing to do, especially for the optics of taking this to the public for public funding, is to scale the plan down in recognition of the private fundraising failing. Taking it from the "nice to have" to "here's the basics/minimum we need." That would be showing the respect for taxpayer money needed to get the taxpayers to agree to pay for this.

I can tell you that I'd be astonished if you're going to be able to get a parcel tax renewed PLUS more taxes for the town center construction.

"You can't always get you want…but if you try sometime you find you get what you need."


Like this comment
Posted by Facts Only
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 17, 2016 at 11:35 am

@Uh Oh

That point is well taken. I disagree on the compensation issue but we can agree to disagree.

Private fundraising has not failed. The group has raised nearly $7 million to date with a $1 million matching donor. The group has paid for 100% of the design costs of the project plus. That's not failure; but are they short of the necessary target of $20 million? Absolutely.

The last rendition of plans in July show a reduced the size of Town Hall by more than 3,200 square feet in exactly the type of exercise you propose - eliminate the nice to haves and settle on the must haves. We can certainly argue about what those are, but the bottom line now is that the net square footage is essentially no bigger than what is there today for a building that has to last for the next 50-100 years of services to you and me. It is likely a good idea to plan in some flexibility where you can.

Just as you, I would not support a new tax for construction AND the parcel tax. The Town is going to have to find money without raising my taxes. I would support the parcel tax and allowing the Town to use any other money it has to get the project done because it is sorely needed.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 17, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Just as you, I would not support a new tax for construction AND the parcel tax. The Town is going to have to find money without raising my taxes. I would support the parcel tax and allowing the Town to use any other money it has to get the project done because it is sorely needed."

Says the 1%. Friggin' amazing!


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 17, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I suspect that the annual payments on a bond to cover the unfunded portion of this project would be much less than the current $750 parcel tax.

I personally would gladly pay both a parcel tax (to preserve police service levels) and bond payments. We are not an impoverished community.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 23, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

Hotel restaurant to open in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 2,621 views

A Concrete Joy: The Life and Love of Charlie Foley-Hughes
By Aldis Petriceks | 0 comments | 1,093 views

Climate Friendly Cuisine Conference
By Laura Stec | 15 comments | 865 views

Couples: Wanting, Yet Missing One Another
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 567 views