Rumor Control – the “14 Acre” Civic Center Fiction

One of the more ludicrous claims being circulated nowadays is that “the City wants to sell 14 acres of the Civic Center!”  This takes on many variations, but it invariably degenerates to a bizarre assertion that Sunnyvale wants to sell off a large chunk of the Civic Center “to benefit developers”, and “14 acres” is the number that’s normally tossed out by people apparently focused on scaring residents into some sort of action.

The source of this particular piece of absurdity is a cartoon in a PowerPoint presentation that the City displayed as part of a discussion of the future of the Civic Center back in 2012.  This was a public study session held at the Sunnyvale Library, well-publicized, and attended by a good 100-150 residents.  In it, staff outlined the problems with the current Civic Center, and they talked about possible approaches to solve them.  One of the solutions that was discussed was the idea of a public/private partnership (PPP), which I mentioned in an earlier post.  To illustrate the general concept of a PPP, staff displayed an overhead view of the Civic Center and overlaid four colored blocks, one representing “Civic Center” services, two representing potential “Residential” property, and one representing potential “Commercial” property.  I looked on the City’s web site to find an image to link to, but the cartoon is apparently no longer even there, for some obvious reasons.

There was no basis in reality for the shapes or sizes of the blocks in the cartoon.  They were primarily intended to suggest layout to the City Council – that commercial property would probably be most viable on El Camino, residential property would probably be most viable on Pastoria and Mathilda, and Civic Center services would probably be just fine in the center.  Staff said as much during its presentation, and the cartoon was an accompanying illustration.  As previously mentioned, staff merely sought Council’s approval to study a PPP as one of many possible funding options for the very expensive Civic Center Modernization effort, and they needed to give Council a sense of what was even meant by a PPP.  Council then approved having staff investigate a PPP as a possibility.

Unfortunately, a couple of residents have used that cartoon to allege the existence of City plans that simply don’t exist.  One person even went so far as to (get this) measure the size of the blocks to calculate specific acreages.  This is the intellectual equivalent of using an episode of “Road Runner” to warn residents about the evils of Acme products.  Hence, the “14 acre” nonsense that’s being circulating.  There was no “authorization of acreage”, since there was no plan, and since it was just a study session (the City Council can only approve specifics of anything at a formal City Council meeting, of course, not a study session).

14 acres represents more than 56% of the Civic Center acreage, so the assertion is laughable at face value.  We need that space for City Hall, the Public Safety Headquarters, the Library, and associated parking, not to mention the Community Gardens and Olive Avenue.  But that apparently doesn’t prevent folks from trying to sell residents the 14-acre claim, unfortunately.  Even worse, the concept shown by staff on its cartoon isn’t even possible – the 2012 presentation assumed availability of a significant chunk of private land next to the Civic Center, and that land is already being developed by its owner.  That’s almost certainly why the City removed the cartoon from its website – there’s no point in displaying something that’s not just factually inaccurate, but also no longer possible. You’d think this would stop people from making the 14 acre claim, but apparently not.  A while back, the same people were circulating flyers claiming the City wanted to replace City Hall with “hamburger stands and nail salons”, sigh.  Same nonsense, different day.

It’s disappointing that such a deliberate attempt to spread FUD is taking place.  That’s politics, I guess.  But none of this contributes to the fact-based decision-making that residents expect.

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