City nixes proposed child care lease

Above, the city of Los Altos is planning to build a new community center to replace the Hillview Community Center at 97 Hillview Ave.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Los Altos City Council has voted 4-1 to reject a proposed 20-year lease for a private day care center that would have charged the group between $180,000 and $200,000 annually for city space after some argued the deal would improperly give the operators special treatment.

The lease proposal, shot down Tuesday night, would have recouped between $4.9 million and $5.8 million over 20 years. The proposal would have included a pledge that the city help build a new facility at the city’s Hillview Community Center for the day care operators, Children’s Corner, which now leases space at the center.

The council, with the exception of Lynette Lee Eng, voted to have City Manager Chris Jordan renegotiate the terms of the lease so that Children’s Corner covers half of the cost of building a new facility.

“As a council, I think your primary objective is to be the stewards of both our land and our resources,” said former mayor Megan Satterlee.

Satterlee discouraged the council from “building a structure for a private entity in order to generate revenue for the city.”

Jordan had recommended that the council reject the terms of the lease given new direction from council.

“In the long term, it could prove to be a good investment,” Jordan said. “However, following the direction received from the council two weeks ago concerning additions to the budget for the community center, staff believes the city has higher-priority uses for the $1.5 million to $2 million the city would need to invest in developing space for the Children’s Corner.”

The city is planning to renovate Hillview Community Center, located at 97 Hillview Ave., off Eleanor Avenue.

Currently the project is budgeted for $25 million, but at a study session on Sept. 26 between the council and the Hillview Community Center Project
Task Force, Mayor Pro Tem Jean Mordo backed the idea of hiking the budget to $35 million.

On Tuesday, council directed Administrative Services Director Sharif Etman to return with a 10-year financial analysis of the entire Hillview project
as well as more information about the construction cost per square foot.

Children’s Corner, a nonprofit, has leased space at Hillview Community Center since 1981 and serves kids from Los Altos and neighboring communities.

Dozens of parents turned up to Tuesday’s council meeting in green T-shirts, some tearfully testifying to the difficulty of finding quality day care
and the value Children’s Corner offers the community in its current location.

One day care board member said, “If you vote no today, you’re effectively closing our doors long-term.”

“I think, for me, it’s a no-brainer,” Mordo said. “Look at our mission. Look at the place of Children’s Corner in the fabric of our community, and look at the minuscule financial commitment.”

But others questioned the appropriateness of a city showing preference to a private entity.

Children’s Corner currently leases 3,375 square feet of indoor space and 5,639 square feet of outdoor space for $4,144 per month. Its current lease will
expire in September.