Just 10 years ago, not only was Oakley not yet a city but its leadership was forced to meet while sitting in lawn chairs in a converted storefront in the Albertson's shopping center. When it finally incorporated in July of 1999, the meager city staff was either sandwiched in portables or in tight quarters in a former women's clubhouse or on Main Street, forcing those doing city business to take their lives in their hands as big rigs bore down on them as they drove to what passed for a City Hall.
Tomorrow, on Saturday, Dec. 8, the city of Oakley will finally have arrived with the grand opening ceremonies for the new Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main St., across from the CentroMart shopping center.
The festivities start at 4 p.m. with speeches, refreshments and tours of City Hall, featuring its new 10,000-square-foot addition. The ceremony will be followed at 6 p.m. by the lighting of the city Christmas tree, an event formerly held in O'Hara Park and for the first time taking place at the Civic Center.
In a visit to the new facility last week it was obvious that there was still work to be done - for example, the controversial motto "In God We Trust" and its less controversial counterpart "E Pluribus Unum" had yet to be inscribed in the vestibule. But city workers were moving into new cubicles this week, and it should be looking pretty good for tomorrow's unveiling.
"Every community, in my opinion, deserves to have a city home, a soul, an anchor, (a
feeling that) this is where we are; we are something," said City Manager Bryan Montgomery. "For so many years Oakley was this thing out at the other end of the county that finally decided to become a city. People doubted whether Oakley would ever make it.
"Well, this building leaves no doubt that Oakley's going to make it. We're here, we're solid and we have a bright future. Our best days aren't behind us; they are in front of us.
"So this building anchoring the downtown is trying to tell people that this is the place that we want to gather. This is your home. We call this courtyard out here 'the park,' but it's really the front yard of the community, the front room of the community and the meeting room of the community."
The state-of-the-art City Council Chambers, which include several large flat-screen television/monitors and the latest cameras and sound system, will accommodate more than 200 people, not only for government meetings but community events as well. The chairs are not fixed in place, so they can be arranged or moved as needed for dinners, classes, films and concerts.
The most unusual aspect of the newest wing of City Hall is the cupola. With its prominent new spear sticking out of the dome, it resembles a German spiked helmet, and it has sparked some comments.
"Most people like it. Of course, they probably wouldn't tell me otherwise," said Montgomery. "We've had the jokes of 'Is it a mosque?' The architect uses the term 'municipalization.' You can have the square box (of the main building), but what tells people that this is a public building? A cupola is very common in Europe and throughout the United States for city halls, public buildings, county
"So in a very inexpensive way, we turned a box into a public building. We don't have the big fancy columns and the steps you walk up to. That's not Oakley, and we don't have the money for that. But fairly inexpensively we can put a round metal top on top of a square and it looks like a public building."
The spike at the top is known in architectural circles as a finial.
"It's an architectural detail that just finishes it off," said Montgomery. "Suisun City has one, and they actually put their flag up there. We contemplated that in the early design, but it's a little complicated. So it's just going to look as it is now. The dome has the green patina. The finial will be black, so it will kind of be a subtle detail."
On a more practical level, the big change that the expanded City Hall will enable is the moving of the city's 26-officer police force from cramped quarters in the sheriff's office on O'Hara Avenue into its own building wing.
"Having the Police Department out of that building over there will be a big, big plus," said Montgomery. "It will help improve the communication and the work with the officers and the police chief. There's a security element as well by having the police officers here … it gives added security to the facility.
"The space they had over there is less than a third of what they will have here. I think they will be more functional. They have had to do a lot of their report writing in their cars or take turns at the two or three desks they have there. Here, there's space for dozens of officers in here getting their work done. We don't have that many now, but some day we will."
The 25,000-square-foot total space for the expanded City Hall will likely accommodate a doubling of the city staff, said Montgomery, although he's not predicting that any time soon.
It's been a busy and noisy nine months of construction at Civic Center Plaza, which includes a fountain, park and amphitheatre. But the construction work is finishing up and the work of building this city will now take place in a much more constructive environment.
The first semi-official government meeting in the new facility will take place at the Meet the Mayor event on Tuesday, Dec. 11, starting at 7 p.m. in the new Council Chambers.
The event will be an opportunity to meet additional city staff and police officers. For those who miss Saturday's Civic Center Plaza Grand Opening, it will provide an opportunity to see the new facility as well as discuss quality-of-life issues with Mayor Kevin Romick.
Oakley Civic Center Plaza
The six-acre Civic Center Plaza on Main Street between Vintage Parkway and Norcross Lane includes a park, the Black Bear Diner and City Hall. An area in the southeast corner of the plaza is available for future expansion.
The park, which preserves three heritage oak trees, will be a venue for community events such as concerts and a farmers' market. It is designed as a natural amphitheatre and includes a stage, walkways and shaded picnic seating areas.
Main Street motorists might have noticed the computerized bulletin board that will announce community events and other public information.
The shell of the Black Bear Diner building is essentially complete, but the interior kitchen, equipment and booths are yet to be finished. The restaurant is on track to open in February.
The expanded City Hall links two buildings erected about three years ago (comprising 15,000 square feet of space) and adds almost 10,000 square feet of administrative offices and the Council Chambers.
A Meet the Mayor event will take place in the new City Hall this Tuesday at 7 p.m. The council's first meeting there is scheduled for January.
The police department, which has been crammed in with the sheriff's office at 210 O'Hara Ave., will move into approximately 4,000 square feet of space in the east wing of City Hall.
A reflecting pool and an entry plaza will adorn the front of City Hall.
The $5.5 million cost of the City Hall addition is being paid for by fees on new development in Oakley.