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LAH city staff makes case for expanded facilities amid meeting-room hopscotch

Los Altos Hills town hall
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills Community Service Supervisor Sarah Robustelli and members of the Parks and Recreation Committee last week pack up their things to vacate the staff lunch room so that the Investment Club could meet. Proposals circulating to expand town hall would provide additional space for residents to meet and for city employees to work.

The Dec. 10 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, centered on a potential Los Altos Hills Town Hall expansion that could provide additional meeting and activity space for the overtaxed facility, had been underway for a quarter of an hour when members of another group began trickling in and hovering around the table. Wasn’t a Public Art Committee meeting scheduled to commence at that same table in mere minutes?

The room was double booked.

“Wow,” said Community Services Supervisor Sarah Robustelli. “Isn’t this kind of uncanny, as we’re talking about it?”

“This is why we need an expansion,” said Nina Sutaria, Parks and Rec Committee vice chairwoman.

As head of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, Robustelli is soliciting feedback from town committees that could benefit from the addition of a multipurpose activity room, one of several components the Los Altos Hills City Council and Planning Commission are considering as part of a proposal to enlarge town hall.

She started last week by presenting a Parks and Recreation Department staff wish list to the Parks and Recreation Committee: space for three work stations, storage, restrooms, a micro kitchen and audio-visual equipment – in addition to that 1,600-square-foot multipurpose room for classes, workshops and meetings.

“I can’t see us functioning very well if these things don’t happen,” Robustelli said.

Ideally, the new Parks and Recreation Department building would feature soundproofing or dampening, uncarpeted flooring for programming flexibility and a generous ceiling height that mirrors the one in the council chambers. An outdoor community space elsewhere on campus might include a sun shelter, an awning and/or a gazebo.

Currently, Robustelli and recreation specialist Chris Knopf occupy the 880-square-foot Parks and Recreation building, which houses their shared office, a single-toilet restroom, a kitchen and a meeting area.

It’s awkward to be on the phone while the other person is helping visiting residents, and it’s impossible to inconspicuously slip past an in-progress meeting when accessing the office or the department’s other alcoves, according to Robustelli. Classes like yoga and boot camp take place in the city council chambers, which at more than 2,500 square feet is spacious, but the floor there is carpeted and some of the furniture is inconveniently fixed in place.

Conflicting proposals

Robustelli plans to submit lists of “staff needs” and “resident wants” to consultant planner Steve Padovan, the city employee tasked with spearheading the expansion proposal. Residents can expect to hear presentations on the project’s progress at Planning Commission and council meetings in the new year.

The Nov. 15 city council meeting brought to a head conflict between the council and the Parks and Recreation Committee, members of which have bolstered competing plans for the expansion.

Outgoing Mayor John Radford champions a proposal that replaces the Parks and Rec building with a 3,000-square-foot addition. He reprimanded committee member Scott Vanderlip at the meeting for presenting an unauthorized, more expansive plan with a 4,365-square-foot community center to the Planning Commission during a study session. Radford claimed Vanderlip copied a plan he himself proposed years ago, a proposal rejected by town hall neighbors due to its size and associated expense.

All this friction makes a case for pursuing a community-generated project, said Parks and Rec Committee member Kjell Karlsson.

“It’s very beneficial if there’s a clean break between what the council was pushing: It was a top-down design, and that’s what kind of blew up last time around,” he said. “If you actually regroup and do more of a bottom-up (plan), even if it takes a couple more months, it would really have traction.”

In the meantime, it would be prudent to educate residents of the current town hall constraints to get them on board with a future change, Sutaria suggested.

“I’ve been asking around, a lot of people, and everybody has a different understanding of what goes on here,” she said. “A lot of people think there are just empty rooms that sit unused. The town residents, the majority of them have no idea why we need a staff expansion.”

Committee members were forced to start wrapping up their meeting not long after those comments; the staff kitchen they reconvened in after relinquishing the Parks and Rec building to Public Art was booked by the Investment Club, which was displaced from the council chambers by the Pathways Committee.

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