Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Civic Center Change Scenarios - Part 2

The price tags for the various proposed scenarios are now available.  Those scenarios can be seen here: http://cspgs.blogspot.com/2015/12/civic-center-change-scenarios.html

All the scenarios run from a low of $202M to a high of $320M (total project cost).  Since the city is likely to use the high estimate for bond measure just to be safe, we are really looking at $276M to $320M.
Click on Image to Enlarge
For comparison, Sunnyvale's annual budget ("general fund") is roughly $150M/year so these project costs are 135% to over 200% of the annual city budget.  To partially offset this cost, city staff has identified up to $116M of city revenue that could be used to pay for parts of the plan.

Click Image to Enlarge
It is not stated how the sizes of the various buildings were derived.  In the scenarios given, it is not even clear what the sizes of the buildings are.  They can be derived from the cost estimates in the cases where they are completely new buildings.

Click image to enlarge

Size of new library:

Scenarios C, E.1 and E.2 have completely new libraries for a low estimated cost of $57M, $55M, and $55M respectively.  At the construction costs given for low estimates of $450/sf we divide the given amounts by $450/sf and get 125K sq.ft., 122K sf and 122 sf.  These are all larger than the 116,000 sq.ft. library that was proposed in the 2007 defeated bond measure.  The size proposed in 2007 was well documented - c.f.: http://cspgs.blogspot.com/2015/11/2007-library-bond-i-how-big.html

This would be the 9th largest library in CA.  Why does the 38th largest city in CA need the 9th largest library?  There do not appear to be any documents justifying this size.  For comparison, Our current library is 60,000 sq. ft., Santa Clara's is 80,000 SF, Cupertino's is 54,000 sf, and Mountain View's is 60,000 sf.  ABA worked on the interior design of a library as big as this current proposal in Virginia in 2014.  It is a joint library shared with the local community college and the city.  It can be seen here: http://cspgs.blogspot.com/2015/09/aba-libraries.html . Here are some pictures:

125,000 sq. ft. library.  Same size ABA proposes for Sunnyvale
It is 2 stories - same as proposed Sunnyvale library

Other libraries a little smaller (116K SF) and a little larger (144K SF) than that size can be seen here:

Size of New City Hall:

A new city hall sharing space with Nova is costed in the same scenarios C, E.1, and E.2.  They cost $41M, $39M and $38M which at $550/sf gives the proposed city hall size of 74,700 sf, 70,000 sf, and 70,000 sf.  I have not seen any justification for this space requirement.  It should be justified.

Size of New Public Safety Building:

Scenarios E.1 and E.2 show brand new public safety buildings. They cost $44.3M and $38.3M which at a cost of $600/sf gives sizes of 74,000 sf and 64,000 sf respectively.  Why the 10,000 sq.ft. discrepancy?  Why that size and not larger or smaller?  There is apparently no supporting documentation for these sizes.

Parking Structures:

The parking structures are extremely expensive.  The totals for all parking structures in each of scenarios A through E.2 range from a high of $41.7M to a low of $26.9M with an average over the six scenarios of $32.8M.  That is almost as much as brand new city hall or public safety building.  Given how empty existing parking is day or night, it seems extremely odd that so much parking is being provided.  And two of the scenarios put the parking structures right along El Camino.  What an ugly concept! This

is to be replaced with this?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Civic Center Change Scenarios - Part 1

Before showing the scenarios, a little history for context.


Sunnyvale has been making plans to remake the Civic Center for a while now.  Here is one from 2003 by an architect the city hired.

(click image to enlarge)

For $90M it would have:

1. added 40,000 sq. ft. to the existing 60,000 sq. ft. library for a total size of 100,000 square feet (Santa Clara's library is 80,000 sq. ft., Mountain View's is 60,000 sq. ft., Cupertino's is 54,000 sq. ft.)

2.  added a net 128,000 sq. ft. to city hall (149,000 sq. ft. 5 story addition less 21,000 sf demolished)

3.  added 9,000 sf to the public safety building (police and fire depts.).

The above picture is from the February 2003 Civic Center Redevelopment Feasibility Study - front cover below (click to enlarge):

That was 2003 and if the City Council of the time had gone with that simple plan, there would have been no need for a library bond issue, and all public safety officers and city employees would have had lots of office space (more than needed since staff levels are lower now than in 2003).

So here it is 2015, 12 years later and no closer to expanded library facilities, or more room for public safety, and city staff.  "Redevelopment" is now called "Modernization". And Sunnyvale has spent $400,000 for Anderson Brule Architects (ABA) to pretend they are getting public input when it has all been decided before hand.  On to the show.

City Councilman Jim Davis's Proposal

Before we get into the scenarios presented by ABA we need to present one proposed by City Council Member Jim Davis, a former public safety officer in Sunnyvale.  We support this as incurring the least disruption to the current Civic Center and being the least costly and so least likely to serve as justification for selling or 99-year leasing parts of the Civic Center.  Existing buildings are in red.  A new city hall and an add-on to the library are in blue.

"The Farce Awakens":

The city of Sunnyvale sponsored a set of 3 workshops run by ABA to receive public input.  There was one for everyone to give their input over certain issues such as where to locate a new library or a new public safety building (Police and Fire dept.)

At this first one, a lot of people said they liked the library as it is and asked why couldn't a simple add-on suffice for a larger library (it has been expanded several times) and likewise for city hall.  This clearly was not what Pamela Anderson Brule of ABA wanted to hear (no fat commissions there) so at the end of the workshop she declared that the participants weren't representative of the people in general leading everyone to wonder "if we're not representative, why hold a 'workshop' to ask our opinions?"

The workshop for the commissioners and boards on August 26th and the 3rd Community Workshop on Oct. 3rd were limited in scope.  Participants were invited to plan out a scenario for a new Civic Center but with certain constraints they had to include such as selling or 99-year leasing parts of the Civic Center to private development to pay for it all or to allow for a certain (large) amount of underground parking.  Deborah and I attended the one for commissioners as observers and saw it was a rigged farce.  We debated boycotting the one for the general public but figured that would play into the hands of ABA and the city.

Here are some of the scenarios drawn up by the general public and the corresponding scenarios as done by ABA.  The first one is an "Open Space Scenario" from the public followed by one from ABA.

"Open Space Scenario" from the public

Open Space Scenario" from ABA

Clearly, ABA fronts all the buildings along El Camino and Mathilda, and does all new construction while the public wants to keep greenery along the roads and reuse existing buildings.  We all are concerned with recycling cans, bottles, paper etc., but re-using buildings doesn't generate much in architectural fees so ABA minimizes re-use.

Below are more scenarios on the left drawn up by the public.  ABA's versions are on the right.  Click on any image to enlarge it.

In every case, ABA has added (very expensive) underground parking, and moved buildings to front on El Camino thereby removing that refreshing row of trees that breaks up the visually exhausting string of buildings growing ever higher along that street.  ABA has also extended out to Mathilda more buildings and included more retail space when that scenario called for it.  The net effect of ABA's modifications is to make it all much more expensive and destroy the greenery currently seen along El Camino and Mathilda.  The intention apparently is to make it all so very expensive the city will be "forced" to sell or 99-year lease away much of the Civic Center to a developer to pay for it.

Click on Any Image to Enlarge
Click on Any Image to Enlarge

Click on Any Image to Enlarge
Click on Any Image to Enlarge

Part 2 with $ cost can be seen here:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2007 Library Bond - I: How Big?

This is part one of an analysis of the June 19, City Council Meeting which decided to put on the ballot the measure to raise $108,000,000 ($108M) for a new library.  This considers the size of the library that was approved.  The meeting minutes are almost transcriptions.  The bottom of this post has readable copies of the minutes and how to get a PDF or video copy.

It is clear from the minutes that the 143,500 sq. ft. library was preferred but they did not believe the public would support the cost so a 116,000 sq.ft. library was voted for with expansion possible if more money could be obtained.  A 144K sq.ft. library is huge.
144,000 sq. ft. library
Even a 116,000 sq.ft. library is very, very big.  More on what such libraries look like here:
and here:

Anderson Brule Architects (ABA) said a 143,500 sq. ft. library was "needed" by Sunnyvale.  This was estimated at $125M with LEED Platinum, or $108M without LEED Platinum specifications.  The city hired a polling firm to see if such a $125M bond would pass and they found it would not.  So a library of 116,000 sq. ft. was proposed for $108M with LEED Platinum - the same cost as the 144K SF library without LEED Platinum.  An amazing coincidence.

Or maybe not so amazing.  The bond statement said nothing about LEED Platinum or what size library it would be so they could have taken the money and built the larger library and forget about LEED Platinum.  Or even a smaller library.  With no size or other specs given, it was $108M to build whatever they decide is a library.  Wording of the bond measure is here: http://www.smartvoter.org/2007/11/06/ca/scl/meas/B/

In the following excerpts, "Alternative 1" was for a 143,500 square foot library.  "Alternative 7" was for a 116,000 sq.ft. library.

From page 13 of minutes (cf photocopy below):
Melinda Hamilton
Deborah Barrow
"[Library] Director Barrow stated the idea behind ...[Alternative 7] is that if additional funding became available, the library could be expanded. Councilmember Hamilton confirmed that the Board of Library Trustees accepted the 116,000 square foot size library... because of the funding issues."

From page 16 of minutes  (cf photocopy below):
Mayor Otto Lee
Mayor Lee inquired what Jedda's opinion was regarding the recommendation for a smaller library than what was originally proposed. Jedda stated she understands that recommendation came from the studies that were performed on what the community would actually support. Jedda stated she would prefer a larger library, but if the public will not support it then a smaller library (with the ability to expand in the future) is a great way to proceed with the project.

From Page 20 of the minutes (cf photocopy below):
Restated MOTION: Councilmember Swegles moved and Councilmember Howe seconded to approve Alternative 7, 9, 11 and 15: Alternative 7 (as approved by the Board of Library Trustees): Council accepts the plan for a new main library using the "Preferred Facility" option as a basis for a two-story library at Olive Ave. and Charles St., replacing the Sunnyvale Office Center and relocating the community garden to build a library facility at a cost up to $108M for a facility of approximately 116,000 square feet, funded by a General Obligation Bond with an average annual rate of less than $20 per $100,000 assessed valuation; the initial size of the library to correspond to the level of funds approved by voters, and with the capability of expanding the library up to 143,500 square feet

Copies of CC minutes.  Click on any to enlarge for readability.

Page 13 of the Minutes - click to enlarge

Page 16 of the Minutes - click to enlarge

Page 17 of the Minutes - click to enlarge
Page 20 of the Minutes - click to enlarge

Page 21 of the Minutes - click to enlarge

The meeting minutes are not available on the city web site but can be obtained by asking the city clerk for it.  Direct an inquiry for CC minutes of June 6, 2007 document number cc-20070619-m to the city clerk's email: cityclerk@sunnyvale.ca.gov .  You can also ask for a DVD recording of the meeting.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Seismic Retrofitting Homes and Buildings

Over, and over, when some government agency wants to demolish an older building in CA they say "it needs seismic retrofitting" which sounds expensive and complicated so people go along with the idea that it is cheaper to tear it down and build a new one.  Actually, seismic retrofitting is typically 1%-3% of the price of a home and 1% to 10% the price of a major office, industrial, or retail building.

By Michael Goldman, co-founder with Deborah Marks of Citizens for Sunnyvale Parks and Green Spaces

Email CSPGSinfo@yahoo.com to get our quarterly newsletter and information about Sunnyvale's moves on the Civic Center and other developments.

Deborah Marks is also leader of Sunnyvale Urban Forests Advocates

Home Retrofitting:

Seismic retrofitting isn't very expensive compared to the price of a new building.  For a standard home in the SF Bay area it would typically cost about $5,000 though it could go up as high as $10,000 or more in special circumstances.  The following chart shows national costs but no one outside the West Coast worries about earthquakes so it really refers to Western US.

"While there is no such thing as a standard cost for earthquake retrofitting a home, the average price is usually about 1 to 3 percent of the home's cost. Larger homes, those built on hillsides, and those with basements or rooms over garages will typically cost more to retrofit and may even cost $10,000 or more."

"Mudsill" is the bottom wood part of a house - Click to enlarge
Above FAQ from: http://www.boltusa.com/faq.html

Apartment Buildings:

For apartment buildings: "After the retrofit, tenants would see monthly rent increases of probably $8 to $50 a month if they were not classified as very low income."
from: http://articles.latimes.com/2014/feb/23/local/la-me-quake-renters-20140224
  • Seismic retrofit of these buildings has been estimated to cost between $60,000 and $130,000 per building in direct construction costs, taking two to four months with construction limited to the ground floor only."

But it can also cost a lot less.  The most contentious issue is often who pays for it - whether the landlord can pass along the cost of the retrofit to the tenant.  In Oakland, "One tenant, Bill Barragano, recently appealed his landlord's "pass-through" of an $8,500 cost for a seismic upgrade, leaving Barragano with a 13 percent rent increase, but the Oakland rent board rejected his appeal."  The type of apartment most at risk is what are called "soft-story" apartments built over a car park area.
Soft-story Apts. - most at risk but usually easily retrofitted

"The retrofit costs cited in a 2009 survey of 48 Berkeley projects, conducted by the Rent Board were as follows: average cost per unit - $3,280; median cost per unit - $2,500."

The National Earthquake Engineering Simulation at UC-San Diego does a lot of testing of apartment buildings on their enormous earthquake simulation platform.

Types of Seismic Retro-fitting:

Most earthquake damage occurs because a roof slips sideways and takes a wall with it, or a house slides off its foundation and everything collapses.  The basic idea of most seismic retrofitting is simply to tie the parts of a building together more strongly than they were at construction.  A lot of older construction relied on cheap nails and gravity to keep the roof on the walls, the walls on the foundation, and walls connected to other walls.  Reinforcing those points with some steel bracing connections is more a labor cost issue than materials.  It basically involves going to all the corners and installing steel bracing and ties.

The Seismic Retrofit Association ( http://seismicassociation.org/ ) has a lot of very clear, easily understood information for industrial buildings explaining with little animations and photos how the retro-fitting is done.  Most of the retrofitting involves simple metal bracing and tying of corners at wall-wall and wall-ceiling and wall-foundation intersections.  Below are a few screen grabs but for the full animation effect please go to:
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

More here:

Office and Industrial Building Retrofitting:

A paper presented at the Vancouver World Conference on Earthquake Engineering (ref. below) gave a variety of costs which differed on the type of construction and what type of reinforcing was needed.  Costs were relatively independent of size of the building.  Averages were nearly $50/sq.ft. for the most expensive type to less than $5/sq.ft. for the least, as seen below:
Click to enlarge
Note on the chart above that what gets reinforced is often more important than the type of construction being reinforced.  In the chart above, the foundation work for category C (Un-Reinforced Masonry - URM) was far less expensive ($12/sq.ft.) than the Vertically Lateral Load Resisting System (VLLRS) upgrades ($49/sq.ft.) for that type of construction while for category B the reverse was true.

The most expensive buildings by far were 2 historic buildings from before 1927 (when earthquake provisions started) at about $150/sq.ft.  Other buildings from the same time period were in the $30-$50 per sq.ft. range (wood frame being the cheapest) so the two expensive buildings are considered statistical outliers.  Since typical building costs at the time of the study (2004) were around $300/sq.ft., not counting land costs, it was almost always much cheaper to retrofit rather than rebuild even in the most extreme cases.


Some slides by a Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo (SLO) professor on earthquake damage shows what can go wrong and how very simple metal bracing and tying the roof to the walls (instead of relying on gravity to keep it on) can mean a building survives an earthquake without major incident other than a few broken windows.  Un-Reinforced Masonry (URM) buildings (mostly brick) are most susceptible but they can be easily retrofitted as seen here:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Slides from:

But innovative approaches continue to lower the cost of seismic retro-fitting from a conventional approach costing $26/sq.ft. to as low as $10/sq. ft. using an innovative approach as seen here:  "The main difference between the two proposed solutions is that the conventional approach adds wall panels to make the shear walls continuous while the innovative approach uses viscous dampers at selected locations such that discontinuous walls will not be utilized as shear walls. The estimated total construction costs for the conventional and innovative approaches are $4,391,000 and $2,787,000 respectively, a 35% difference."  For the 25,000 sq,. meter building in question (= 270,000 sq. ft.) that works out to $10/sq.ft. vs the more traditional (and less safe) method at $16/sq.ft.
From: http://ip51.icomos.org/iiwc/seismic/Cheung-M.pdf

Steel Crossbeams on the windows dampen friction


So it is usually much cheaper to retrofit rather than tear down and build new.  It is also better for the environment.  Making concrete and steel, tearing down old growth trees that absorb so much CO2, replacing them with new saplings that don't take in much CO2 and require a lot of water are bad for the environment in every possible way.

"I Like Ike" - Elvis on Ed Sullivan - "Happy Days"
In the booming 1950's with the depression and WW-II over, American suburbs exploded and little hamlets of a few hundred became small cities of 50,000.   It made sense then to tear down the old one-room library in a converted house for a grand new structure.  Things have changed, and we are living in a world we increasingly see threatened by our industrial society.  That in turn is threatening our very existence and we need to become careful with our environment and how we treat it or it will double back on us, with a vengeance.

Recycle, reuse, retro-fit.