Sunday, December 3, 2017

Readers Comment on NYT Article on SF Bay Housing

The NY Times published an article on housing and development in the SF Bay Area.

Basically the same old pro-density, pro-growth stuff you read all the time in the corporate newspapers around the SF Bay area, but I found the reader comments interesting because they mostly contradicted the journalist's narrative.  That is unusual in the NY Times.  Usually reader comments agree with the thrust of an article since the NY Times is a liberal publication subscribed to by liberals who agree with the overall content (or they wouldn't subscribe).

This post is different from my previous ones.  It contains the voices of others (in the manner of Studs Terkel) from around the country.  There are many who feel that uncontrolled growth in a very few cities is making life worse.  That was the dominant theme in the readers comments on the NY Times' article.  Of course, there were those who wrote that greater density is necessary and desirable (but one was from Vermont! 😉).

NY Times Readers' Comments:

Andy W - Chicago:

NY, LA and the San Francisco Bay Area are basically at their maximum population levels. It’s time to start rebuilding the vast swaths of America that have been largely ignored since the great industrial exodus. Silicon Valley is already discovering that it needs to seek talent in far less costly and competitive locations.
4 BR, 2,112 Sq.Ft. for $925/mo
What can you get in SF Bay area for that?
The answer isn’t in ruining pleasant suburbs by shoehorning in dense construction that doesn’t fit. The answer is in building advanced infrastructure and transportation out to America’s smaller cities, thereby revitalizing them. .... Middle America feels ignored because it has been.
Louisville, KY Metro Area is 1.3M People
On the Ohio River in the Appalachian Mountains bordering Indiana
It has six four-year Universities

You have to subsidize transportation and communication in secondary cities to make them viable. This concept strengthens the whole country, as America first proved many decades ago. Our ignorance in ending rural transportation subsidies provided an even greater incentive for companies to shutter domestic factories and head overseas. The coastal super-cities don’t need to artificially create more density. They will be far better off not growing anymore.

Benjamin Teral, San Francisco:

Most San Franciscans see this problem as deriving from the City's policy of attracting ultra-dense tech employment through huge tax give-aways. The way the story goes is that all those young tech workers might as well live in those Manhattan-style buildings that are transforming San Francisco's skyline. Of course it doesn't work that way - they'd rather live in a nice Victorian in the Mission.

Many of us don't see the benefit of attracting those big tech employers - the City gets very little tax benefit, and it isn't clear what all the population does. Does a big increase in Uber rides, more overnight deliveries from Amazon, meals delivered from Blue Apron, FedEx diaper services (!), really do that much for the City?  And all that high-rise construction is done by workers who commute, or are bused, from quite a distance. Someone's getting rich, but it isn't the average San Francisco resident.

Is the solution to attract 100,000 new tech workers, and force the quiet residential neighbors of the city to accept higher population density? Maybe the right thing is to let those 100,000 jobs go somewhere else, and leave us to our fog and our neighborhood markets and restaurants.

Waleed Khalid, New York, New York 

Most people move to the suburbs to escape the city and its feel for at least a portion of the day. Also, people want to own a home- no one thinks the height of the American dream is to live in a rented apartment ... Instead of thinking about cities having a housing crisis- let’s think about the large swaths of underdeveloped country that have a crisis of not enough bodies. 

Not the American Dream


Ceilidth, Boulder, CO

The best way to get affordable housing is to disperse jobs. There are literally hundreds of cities with decent affordable housing in the US. But the lemming mentality says that only a few of them: Seattle, the Bay Area, the northern Front Range of Colorado, DC, NY, Atlanta and Boston are worthy of businesses. This is nonsense. There are many pleasant places to live in the US in the kinds of housing that Americans tend to prefer. If more businesses took into consideration the cost of living where they hang their shingles, we wouldn't be in this mess. And if businesses decamped from those overpriced places, the cost of housing would drop there as well.


Blair, Los Angeles

As long as "increasing affordable housing" really plays out as ill-conceived over-development, then every single-family homeowner should fight with every breath he has. We spent over 20 years in a Los Angeles neighborhood that originally provided lots of horizontal air space, two- or maybe three-story apartment buildings, and plenty of leftover bungalows from the early 20th century. Even then things were crowded and parking hard. Then they began "developing." Multi-story apartments rose every corner, and, by the way, built within the existing 1920s-era narrow streets. Is there a word for this kind of stupidity? Traffic became horrendous, parking impossible, and ironically for all the new units, the kind of place no sane person would want to live. To paraphrase the Vietnam War paradox: We had to destroy the neighborhood to save it.
LA Freeways
The Other Side of Housing Density



I grew up in the Bay Area and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1993. Right now my goal is to leave as soon as I can afford to retire. This used to be a wonderful place to live. It isn't anymore. Everything is choked to the gills with people. I don't even enjoy visiting our lovely parks and open spaces anymore because they are so crowded that you can't find parking and you spend most of your walk simultaneously dodging aggressive bicyclists and tripping over an endless stream of kids and strollers. There are long waits at restaurants and nowhere to park so sometimes it feels like too much trouble to even leave the house. It's hard to even get out of the area to go somewhere else because of the traffic. I used to love going to Half Moon Bay on the weekends to walk on the beach, but driving over the hill in stop and go traffic kills the fun. And the solution? Build more more more housing for more more more people. I can't wait to leave this place.

Half Moon Bay is Great...
...If you can get there.


Seabiscute, MA

At least in California the neighborhood residents have the ability to sue. Here in Massachusetts, a developer's dream of a regulation called 40B allows a developer to ignore all of a municipality's zoning if that town doesn't have 10% affordable housing. This is not to say that developments under 40B must have affordable units -- no, only 20-25% affordability is required, and even these can be (I believe) for people earning up to 100% of the regional median income. All the rest can be luxury housing. And we can't do anything.

Seth Tager, Oakland CA

This article is one dimensional. It frames the issue almost entirely in terms of housing affordability without seriously considering other important factors of livability. We, as a society, should be able to shape our environment in a way that makes life enjoyable, making trade offs proactively rather than accepting them as a side effect of acting within the boundaries of narrowly crafted laws. I live in Oakland and commute to San Francisco and the traffic has gotten noticeably worse in just the past 5 years. If you want to solve the housing crisis you have to build up the infrastructure to support it. Public transit development has not kept up. BART is at capacity and more trains cannot be added to the system.
Highway 80, 580, 680 to SF, Oakland, San Jose

Const, NY 

One of my millennial children moved from Long Island to Rochester, NY because he didn't want to spend $1,000/month living in someone's illegal basement apartment. 

In Rochester, he found a good job, very affordable place to live and vibrant community of "young" people who also chose to escape overcrowded and overpriced metro NYC. 
Buy for $425/Month...
...and in a nice neighborhood, too!
The Bay area, NYC, Los Angeles and Denver are not the only places with jobs in our vast country.


Jim S., Cleveland, OH

Cry me a river of tears for the people in Silicon Valley and NYC who keep complaining about the lack of affordable housing. 90% of the country offers affordable housing. There is no reason the work being done in these places, most of which involves sitting behind a computer terminal, can't be done in affordable, yet livable, cities elsewhere.
$1,204/mo to buy in a desirable neighborhood.
Near Lake Erie (Sailing, Fishing, Windsurfing)
Cleveland Metro area has 2M people
Case Western Reserve is the most prominent of many universities


John Dyer, Troutville, VA

Lets say I am a business owner who decides to open up a large store or restaurant in an area already well served. Does the community have a responsibility to provide cheap housing for my workers? Or lets say I am a software developer who wants to open in a location where I can steal employees from a critical mass of other software developers. Again, do I have a right to affordable housing for my workers at the expense of the community? I lean on the side of the rights of local home owners. If a community is already saturated, with full employment, make it so costly that the employers decide to create jobs elsewhere where the population is not as dense. There are many regions of the country that are very rural and accommodating for business. I know this goes against the religion of growth at all costs, but something needs to be said for quality of life.

(Troutville is a small town outside Roanoke, VA in the Blue Ridge Mountains)
Blue Ridge Mountains

Roanoke, VA


Scott Cole, Des Moines, IA

The problem with just building higher density in desirable and geographically limited areas like the bay area is that you will never, ever build your way out of it. People will just keep coming. And unless they provide better public transport, higher density will just make things worse.

Savvy SF

I live in the Bay Area in a small city whose median home price is now 2,000,000. There has been a surge of high density construction near CalTrain in my area but it’s still very pricey. No parking spots are included for tenants under the strange assumption none will have cars. No accommodations or plans were made at local schools for a potential influx of kids, the library, roads — everything stays as if we were still a sleepy town on SFRs. It’s the biggest problem I foresee: no infrastructure changes to accommodate growth, as if the newcomers are just going to stay locked in their condos and have no children.

reader09 Plano, TX

Sorry, I agree with the neighbors. That's a small house on a small lot. The houses that they're proposing are going to be small and if there are two adults (a couple) living in each house, then you have 3 houses + 6 vehicles in that small space--and you'll also have a more noise.

Who would want to live next door to that? Certainly not someone who perhaps moved there 10 years ago and chose the neighborhood because it's quiet and has more greenery. The challenge is not trying to cram more people into tiny spaces, but getting companies to let go of this fixation they have with just a handful of US cities when there are plenty of other locations that they could hire talent in and for less.

Just Curious Oregon

Against this backdrop, why do we continue to measure economic vitality in terms of “growth”? For decades, progressive economists have proposed using other metrics, such as education, infrastructure, access to outdoor spaces, etc. But No, we pursue relentless growth, even as we spoil our own habitat.



4 years ago I bought an SFR in Seattle. I bought it because I liked the neighborhood, the views, and the balance of history, culture and community. The recent HALA initiatives put that in jeopardy with 5 story apartment boxes without sufficient parking being zoned in, destroying the views and - basically - devaluing my property. I didn't buy this for astronomical appreciation, I valued the neighborhood feel of Seattle - something very unique compared with most US cities. I want to protect the lifestyle I bought - one in which I can see the skyline and the coastline while dog walking, not a 5-story crevasse void of sun.
This is free market dynamics, supply and demand, apple pie. There is no more land in Seattle. SF is still the 7x7 mile square. The island of Manhattan isn't growing. No one is entitled to cheap rent just because they want to live there.

I want to live in Manhattan or London - I really enjoy it when I visit - so should I insist they make property available that I can afford? Regardless of the impact to what people there already own?


Abby, Pleasant Hill, CA

I moved to this area from Ohio too. My boyfriend is a Berkeley native, who owns a house in Oakland. I am on the Millenial/Gen X cusp. I am shocked at how people in my own age cohort move to the most expensive area in the country for "good jobs" and demand that the "gentrification" stop so that they can buy affordable housing in a fun, desirable area. You are a gentrifier! You made the cost of housing go up!


greatsmile, Boulder, Colorado

sigh. c'mon New York Times, ask some questions about the YIMBY movement. It is funded by real estate interests. And the problem it claims to solve -- affordable housing - isn't solved. Developers build for the wealthy, not the lower and middle class. The developer in this story bought a crummy house and will sell three $1 million homes. That's not affordable. Period. But developers want to maximize their investment so you will rarely see someone build three houses to sell for $500,000 each. Nor do you see many developers building affordable condos, at least not in places where lots of folks want to live. You have bought the Yimby line hook and sinker. shame. (click image to enlarge)


J Jencks, Portland, OR

For what it's worth I spent many years in architectural academia (at UC Berkeley) and have a Master's Degree in Architecture.
DESIGN at a much higher geographic level, by creating state-wide policies that encourage economic growth in existing under-developed cities. Taking California for example, that would mean creating tax, land use and infrastructure policies that would encourage new businesses to set up in places like Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield, thus relieving some of the pressure from cities like San Francisco.
(Click on images to enlarge). 
$1,018/mo to buy
Right outside Yosemite National Park

Unfortunately, large scale, long term planning is not something we do very well in our fractious democracy.
Fresno Movie Festival


The End

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Other City Halls

PermaLink to here:

A Variety of City Halls - Classic and Modern

Following my discussion of Sunnyvale's design for a new Civic Center here:
and here:

I thought it might be nice to look at what other cities have done.

First Sunnyvale's old city hall, which was torn down when the Sunnyvale Town Center Mall was put up.

In that same traditional look Calabasas, CA  (population 24,000) built a new city hall and library complex.  Here are some photos.

Interior of Library

City web site is:

Laguna Niguel is in a similar vein:

Los Altos' city hall has a traditional European look:

For those preferring modern, Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin County Civic Center is hard to beat:

Austin TX city hall is modern but completely different:

And one list of top ten nice US city halls (modern and traditional) here:

Including Philadelphia:

and Dallas:

The End

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sunnyvale Civic Center Plans - Traffic - 3

PermaLink to this posting:

More detail on traffic - following up post 2 which is here:


1.  The increased traffic activity generated by the new Civic Center will overload the intersection of Mary and Olive with nearly 4 minute wait times in the morning and nearly 7 minute wait times in the evening rush hours, regardless of whether Olive is closed or not.  The proposed solution there is to make it exit from Olive onto Mary right turn only during rush hours.  That's a lot of u-turns by people who would otherwise have turned left.  It leaves open the question of how, or if, people would be able to enter Olive from Mary by turning left during busy traffic.

2.  If Olive Ave. is closed, as in Option 2, it would appear that it will be very difficult to exit from the new Civic Center.  Like "Hotel California" you can check in but you can't check out.  This is because the proposed exits along All America Way and the driveways of the proposed parking structure do not allow for left turns, again resulting in a lot of extra driving to get to a place where a u-turn can be made.


Please come to the City Council Meeting on Tuesday Nov. 7th at 7 PM 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA and share your thoughts about how to proceed.  If you cannot come, please email the city council at:

This entire design process will take at least a year so don't think that just because you couldn't make the meeting it is too late to give your opinion.


A preliminary traffic analysis is available as attachment 4 at the city web site

This document, submitted by Mr. Ben Huie, of Kimley-Horn, shows (page 21) that as a result of the extra activity from the "Modernized" Civic Center - regardless of whether Olive Ave. is closed - we get:
  1. traffic at the intersection of Olive and Mary will have peak waiting times of 230 seconds (3 minutes, 50 seconds) in the morning.  This is 24 seconds longer than without the project but includes expected private construction not yet completed,
  2. traffic at the intersection of Olive and Mary will have peak waiting times of 389 seconds (6 minutes, 39 seconds) in the evening.  This is 1 minute & 55 seconds longer than without the project but includes expected construction from other private construction not yet completed,
A proposed solution is to prohibit left turns from Olive onto Mary and prohibit crossing Mary from Olive during rush hours - see map below (click on map to enlarge):
Impact of traffic added by Civic Center Project

An excerpt from the report (pg 27):

     "For Option #1, the key difference is that Olive Avenue would remain unchanged from the existing conditions. This is beneficial to the site access and circulation because it allows for vehicles to enter and exit the project site from the signalized intersection of W Olive Avenue/Mathilda Avenue."

Next picture illustrates the issue.  The red arrows show that coming off of Olive you can cross Mathilda (there is a stop light there) to go North or go South and have enough distance to get into the left lane to turn East onto El Camino.  From All America Way you can turn right only (blue arrow) because there is a raised median blocking crossing Mathilda. There is not enough distance to cross 3 lanes to get into the left-turn lane to turn East onto El Camino or make a u-turn at the light.  (Click on picture to enlarge)

Further down on page 27: 
    "For Option #2, the major difference is the removal of Olive Avenue between Pastoria Avenue and Charles Street. This change from the existing conditions has made it difficult for vehicles exiting the project site to go northbound on Mathilda Avenue and eastbound on El Camino Real in the PM peak hour. Since the proposed layout for Option #2 restricts access to the intersection of W Olive Avenue/Mathilda Avenue, vehicles have to exit at mid-block driveways and make U-turns to get to their final destinations."

So if you come out of All America Way because Olive Ave. is no longer available, you will not be able to get into the left turn lane because of traffic during busy periods.  You will need to make a U-Turn to go North on Mathilda or East on El Camino.  But where?  You will have to cross El Camino and make a U-Turn near the Tennis Courts.  (Maybe stop off at "Trader Joe's" while you're at it.)  The picture below shows the issue:

This will necessitate using driveways to exit the Civic Center.  These have problems too.  From the traffic document:

     "Vehicles cannot exit the mid-block driveway on El Camino Real (near the southwest parking garage) and go eastbound on El Camino Real or to Mathilda Avenue. In addition to the long queues, the high speeds and high volumes make it difficult for vehicles to find an acceptable gap to cross three lanes to enter into the left turn lane."


     "The driveway on Pastoria Avenue between the Library and the southwest parking garage is offset from the intersection of Pastoria Avenue/W Olive Avenue. This may result in sight distance issues for  the driveway."

These issues are illustrated in the next picture for the corner of Option 2 drawings.  The red circle shows where there would be visual issues because of the offset of the driveway from Olive.  The red X shows the U-Turn you can't make because there is not enough distance during normal traffic hours to get into the left turn lane:

Again, like the problem with exiting the Civic Center from All America Way, it will be difficult to cross three lanes during normal busy traffic to get into the left turn lane to make a U-Turn.  You will need to go all the way up El Camino to the Toyota dealer where there is a cut in the median or turn right onto Pastoria and make a U-Turn on Pastoria.  On El Camino you will likely have to wait a while for oncoming traffic to clear since there is no light there.  With some drivers exiting the parking garage onto Pastoria, and others trying to make a u-turn there, that intersection will be a real mess.


It appears that closing Olive Ave. causes a lot of traffic problems with no clear solution that doesn't cause as many problems as it solves.  If option 2 (curved buildings) is preferred, there are various things that can be done to keep Olive Ave. open.  The proposed new library could be "fatter" and shorter so it will fit in the space between Olive and the existing library.  Or, the DPS building could be done first and then the library could be moved to the other side of Olive Ave. where the parking structure is currently proposed as in the diagram below:

Retaining Olive Ave. in Modified Option 2


Please come to the City Council Meeting on Tuesday Nov. 7th at 7 PM 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA and share your thoughts about how to proceed.  If you cannot come, please email the city council at:

This entire design process will take at least a year so don't think that just because you couldn't make the meeting it is too late to give your opinion.

Michael Goldman
Sunnyvale City Council, Seat 7

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunnyvale City Council Agenda for 11/7/2017

Perma Link:

In the interests of an informed public, this is to note that the Sunnyvale City Council meets at 7 PM on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at City Hall, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086.  The Agenda for the meeting is available at:

There are 3 items.  Item 1 is the consent calendar which is a lot of items none of which staff thinks are controversial so they are only discussed if someone from the public or a council member wishes to select an item.

Item 2 is what plan for the "Civic Center Modernization" will be prepared for an environmental impact report (EIR).  This is expected to generate some comment.  There is a blog post on item 2 here:

with some discussion on NextDoor here:

Item 3 is a charter amendment.

Here is a photo excerpt of items 2 and 3 (click on image to enlarge):

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sunnyvale Civic Center Plans - 2

Perma-Link to here:

This is a continuation of "Civic Center Plans - 1" here:

see also (about traffic problems):


Meeting of City Council on Tuesday Nov. 7th at 7 PM at City Council Chambers, 456 W. Olive Ave. Sunnyvale, CA.  The first item on the agenda is to decide which of the following two designs to pursue for the new Civic Center Plans.  The council may choose to modify either of the designs.  Phase 1 is for a new City Hall.  Phase 2 is for a new library and Dept. of Public Safety building.  The official City of Sunnyvale web site on the Civic Center remodeling project is here:

The public is encouraged to share their thoughts.  If you cannot come, please email the city council at:

This entire design process will take at least a year so don't think that just because you couldn't make the meeting it is too late to give your opinion.

You can say anything you like.  Most people touch on the following when I talk with them:

1. Prefer Option 1 (rectangular buildings) or Option 2 (curved buildings)
2. Keep Olive Ave. or don't keep Olive Ave.
3. Current designs for exterior vs. alternative
4. Scrap the whole thing and just add-on to existing buildings
5. How to pay for this?
6. We need a playground near the library
7.  Reverse the phases so Library and New DPS building get built in phase 1 and city hall gets built in phase 2.
or  (whatever you want to say...)

The two options from the architects currently being considered are (click on photo to enlarge)

Option 1 (Rectangular Buildings):

Completed Civic Center
Blue Lines on Top are Solar Panels
Phase 1 - City Hall and Add-on to Public Safety

(Click to enlarge)

View from Mathilda

View from Center Plaza

Option 2 (Curved Buildings):

Olive Ave. Removed

Olive Ave. Removed

View from Mathilda

Proposed Library 

In both options,  the new library is intended to have 118,000 sq. ft. compared to the current library's 65,000 sq. ft.  The new Lakewood Branch Library will have 20,000 sq. ft. giving a total of  85,000 sq. ft. for Sunnyvale before a new library is built and 138,000 sq. ft. if the proposed new library is built.

Do we need a new library?  For comparison, Santa Clara's main library is 85,000 sq. ft. and Cupertino's (only) library is 54,000 sq. ft.

Cupertino's 54,000 sq. ft. Library

Cupertino Library Court Yard

Cupertino Library Children's Area and Aquarium

A 118,000 sq. ft. library would be the 9th biggest library in California between Kern County Library in Bakersfield and Huntington Beach library.  Sunnyvale is the 37th largest city in California.    C.f.,

Here's a library that is 118,000 sq. ft. in St. Cloud, MN
More photos here:
More on size here:

Most cities the size of Sunnyvale (or a little larger) have a large-ish main library and have lots of local neighborhood libraries people can walk to.  Examples of similar-sized cities and their library system are here:

And in terms of libraries, size is not everything.  Access is more important.  In Fresno (pop. 520,000), two small (22,000 sq. ft. & 10,000 sq.ft.) libraries each have greater circulation than the main library (82,700 sf).  More at:
Fresno's branch library of 22,000 sq. ft. with double(!) the circulation of their 82,000 sq. ft. main branch

Olive Ave

In Option 2 (curved buildings), Olive Ave. is closed because city staff decided not to temporarily close or move the existing library while the new library is being built.  This left insufficient room to place the new library without covering Olive Ave.  If Olive Ave. is considered by the public as important to retain then one alternative is to build a cantilevered portion over a Olive Ave. like this university building below.
Milstein Building, Ithaca NY

Or, City Council could decide that it is important to preserve Olive Ave. and therefore other arrangements for the existing library can be made while a new one is built.  They might move to a temporary space or, simply close off part of the existing library which would be demolished while most of the existing library stays open.

Option 2 with Olive Still Open

Another issue that arises frequently in discussions of Option 2 (curved buildings) is the placement of the parking structure in the lower corner, remote from the City Hall and Public Safety Building.  Many feel it should be more centrally located.  One possibility is that the Public Safety Building could be built first and then the new library.  That would free up the current DPS building site in the corner and also allow for preserving Olive Ave. (if that is desired).  Then the library is given greater visibility from El Camino.  The parking structure could be built more centrally.  In that case, Option 2 might look like the following:

Olive Ave. NOT removed
Parking is moved to a more central location
New library is closer to El Camino

Current Architects:

The architectural design team is "Smith Group JJR".  They did a highly respected, very "green" city hall building for Chandler, AZ, (suburb of Phoenix) that was chosen by the American Institute of Architects as one of the top ten 'green' buildings of the year:

Photos from that site (click to enlarge):
Chandler, AZ City Hall

Financing for Phase 1 (City Hall and Add-on to Public Safety)

Phase 1 for either option includes only the City Hall and an addition to the Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) building.

To pay for phase 1 only, the City of Sunnyvale will sell a number of properties they intend to declare "surplus".  Also, since some of the new Civic Center will be park land, park dedication fees will be used for part of it.  Funding from these sources may not be adequate for all aspects of phase 1.  Phase 1 for option 1 (rectangular) looks like this:

Phase 1 - New City Hall and DPS add-on
Annex and Sunnyvale Office Center are removed - dashed white line outlines.
Blue lines on buildings indicate solar panels

Phase 1 (City Hall and Add-on to Public Safety) for option 2 (curved) looks like this:
Olive is Closed
Phase 1 - New City Hall and DPS add-on
Sunnyvale Office Center and Annex are removed as indicated by the the white dashed lines around them
Blue lines on buildings indicate solar panels

Financing for Phase 2 (New Library and Public Safety)

Drawings of the final phase (Phase 2) are shown at the top.  After phase 1 (City Hall and DPS add-on) is complete, the next big question is how to pay for phase 2 (new library and DPS building).  This would likely cost about the same as phase 1.  There will be no more surplus properties to sell.  The current thinking by city staff is to put a bond proposal up that will raise taxes to pay for a new library and new Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) building.  It will require a 67% yes vote to pass.

The previous bond measure for only a new library received 59% instead of the required 67% and failed.  That resulted in the proposal to lease for 99 years about 60% of the current Civic Center in exchange for a new library as seen below from the city staff proposal.  Purple area on El Camino and light blue area on Pastoria on top of picture:

This proposal was later dropped due to public resistance, though no law or ruling exists to prevent it from being brought up again.

To determine if there was support for a bond measure to pay for the new library and Public Safety building, last year a poll of residents was done by a professional polling company.  They found insufficient support for a bond measure to fund those buildings.  As a result, the decision was made to sell surplus properties and use park dedication fees from new construction to fund phase 1 (new city hall and DPS add-on),   It is hard to see why public opinion would change with respect to a bond measure.  The question remains how to pay for phase 2 (new library and new DPS).  The fear of a long term lease of part of the Civic Center to pay for phase 2 also remains.

What the Chandler govt. did to finance their new City Hall (mentioned earlier) was save up money during the boom years and then when the boom ended and contractors were desperately looking for work, they used the money they had saved to pay for the new city hall at bargain basement prices.  So it can be done! (Even by governments!  Who knew?)

Chandler, AZ City Hall

The head of finance for the City of Sunnyvale said in an open meeting a few weeks ago that due to CalPERS (Public Employee Retirement System) increasing employer (such as cities) costs there will likely be a need to put a tax increase on the ballot in November 2018.  This may pass but asking for a tax increase to pay for public employee retirement costs may make it harder to get a tax increase to pay for a bond for the new library and DPS building, especially since the add-on to the DPS building in Phase 1 removes the urgency of a new DPS building.

Alternative - Add-Ons

In 2003, another architectural group came up with several layouts.  The one with the least changes adds on to all three existing buildings.  This would have resulted in an addition to the existing library resulting in a 100,000 sq. ft. library vs. the existing 65,000 sq. ft. library and a 4-story addition to City Hall.  For comparison, the Santa Clara main library is 85,000 sq. ft. and the Cupertino library is 50,000 sq. ft.  See below:

I have listened to many people about the proposed Phase 1 (City Hall) and Phase 2 (library and DPS) and one question that comes up is what if there is not funding for phase 2?  In that case, phase 1 is going to look a bit strange - a big modern "iconic" City Hall sitting among several unassuming modest brick buildings.  "Modernity vs. Charm" was how one critic put it.

What Will Not Be Decided (But You Can Say Anyway)

Option 1 (rectangular buildings) is some wood and a lot of glass.  Option 2 (curved buildings) has an exterior of white stone to suggest a capitol building like the one in Sacramento.  Not everyone is in favor of that.   The City Council is interested in your opinions on that as well, though the exterior aspects will be decided later.  Many I talk to prefer (without any prompting from me) the wood and recycled copper look of the Packard Foundation building in Los Altos. It is the largest NetZero energy building in the world -  The wood exterior could be on either Option 1 (rectangular) or Option 2 (curved).  See below (click on any photo to enlarge):

Like the Chandler, AZ City Hall that our current architects designed, the Packard Foundation building was honored as one of the top ten green buildings of the year.  More pictures and discussion on the "green" aspects of the Packard Foundation Building may be found on the American Institute of Architects web site here:


Please come to the City Council Meeting on Tuesday Nov. 7th at 7 PM 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA and share your thoughts about how to proceed.  If you cannot come, please email the city council at:

This entire design process will take at least a year so don't think that just because you couldn't make the meeting it is too late to give your opinion.

Michael Goldman
Sunnyvale City Council, Seat 7