Elected officials ponder Cubberley options

Schools fear loss of revenue as City Council members search for 'win-win' on run-down site

Pinch points on the future of Cubberley Community Center came into sharper focus Thursday, July 19, as Palo Alto city and school policymakers gathered to ponder their options.

Five elected officials -- three from the City Council and two from the school board -- met to provide guidance to a 25-member "community advisory committee" charged with making recommendations on the Middlefield Road campus's future.

The council must provide notification by the end of 2013 on whether it wants to renew its longstanding $7 million-a-year lease of the site from the school district, which expires at the end of 2014.

The schools have grown dependent on the Cubberley lease income -- now 4 percent of the Palo Alto Unified School District's operating budget -- even as the arrangement has become less financially tenable for the city.

Except for basic maintenance, neither entity has invested in improvements to the aging, 35-acre facility, which the city has sub-leased at bargain rates to a range of community organizations and individuals.

A blue-ribbon infrastructure commission last year advised the council to terminate the Cubberley lease, saying the city cannot afford to continue renting the former high school campus that needs about $18 million in repairs.

"With our city struggling to meet the financial requirements of the general fund, let alone catching up an keeping up with the maintenance of the city's infrastructure demands, now is the appropriate time for the school district to re-establish its management and financial responsibilities of and for the Cubberley site," said the commission, which was co-chaired by former school board chairman Ray Bachetti and former mayor Le Levy.

But council members have said they'll defer that advice pending a search for a win-win solution through a joint decision-making process with the school district.

The agreed-to protocol involves three committees: the "policy committee" consisting of Council member Larry Klein, Nancy Shepherd and Yiaway Yeh and school board members Barb Mitchell and Camille Townsend; a much larger "community advisory committee" co-chaired by former mayor Mike Cobb and former school board president Mandy Lowell; and a "technical advisory committee" that includes City Manager Jim Keene and school Superintendent Kevin Skelly.

The groups are charged with formulating recommendations that can be brought back to the full City Council and school board for action.

While policymakers Thursday urged the citizens' committee to "think big" on long-term options for Cubberley, there was clear anxiety, particularly from the school board members, about the risk of disruption to revenue the schools depend on.

"Seven million dollars to the district is a lot of money -- that's the number out there," Townsend said.

"We're using it for operating revenue, and for me it's very important we don't forget that."

Mitchell repeatedly sought to elicit a "consensus interest" of the council analogous to what she described as the school board's consensus to use Cubberley for short-term revenue generation and long-term flexibility.

Klein, who chaired Thursday's session, said it was premature to describe any council consensus on Cubberley.

"It's too early. Some of the decisions you're talking about were supposed to be informed by the recommendations of the community advisory commission. We want that advice," Klein said.

"No decisions will be made until sometime in 2014. The two bodies are free to negotiate some different kind of lease. Extending the lease for five or 10 years is the easiest possibility, but there's nothing to prevent a seven-year lease or a three-year lease or a $1-a-year lease."

Klein said policymakers want "creativity" from the citizens' advisory committee, but also suggested committee members consider short- and medium-term needs.

"I'd say the committee should look at things with most emphasis placed on the short term and medium-term, with much less emphasis on the long term because the long term is so unknowable," he said.

"To me it's a 50-40-10 process."

But former mayor Bern Beecham, who heads the citizens' advisory committee's subcommittee on school needs, said long-term certainty would be required to warrant any capital investment in Cubberley.

"If we restrict ourselves to the short term of five or 10 years I think it will wind up a status-quo operation at that site," Beecham said. "There's no reason to change anything when you don't know where you're going."

"Even for replacing roofs on buildings, you don't replace, you just patch. If it's in increments of five years, nothing changes."

Beecham said he doubted the school district, which is banking on Cubberley to accommodate projected but uncertain enrollment growth, would be able to specify its long-term intentions for the site.

He also said "the committee is presuming a lease will be renewed."

School officials said they expect to build a new elementary school at 525 San Antonio Ave., a 2.6-acre property recently purchased by the school district that backs up to the current Greendell School site, which is contiguous with the Cubberley campus. Skelly said the citizens' advisory committee should not include that property in their Cubberley recommendations.

Community Advisory Committee Co-chair Cobb asked the elected officials for the maximum amount of time and berth for the committee, saying that would be needed to produce creative recommendations.

Klein expressed frustration that advisory committee recommendations, initially projected for the end of this year, now have been pushed to the middle of 2013.

"We're frittering away our schedule," Klein said, alluding to the possibility of a ballot measure related to Cubberley in November 2014.

Klein suggested a Feb. 28, 2013, deadline for the advisory committee, saying the mid-2013 idea is "not acceptable."

Keene and Yeh also made mention of a possible bond measure related to Cubberley, with Yeh suggesting that the council and school board jointly sponsor such a request of voters.

Townsend said Yeh's comments about Council-school board cooperation on Cubberley "sang to my heart," though later clarified that she was not explicitly endorsing a bond measure.

"I don't think we can ignore the lease ... but I like the thought about, how do we, as a group of electeds, deal with this funding issue in a bigger sense of the word?

"Many years ago, bright leaders came forward and found a solution in a really hard time, and that's the spirit Yiaway touched," Townsend said, alluding to the original city-school rental agreement crafted in the 1980s, when the city also adopted a utility users tax that was widely viewed as generating funds for the lease payments.


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Posted by rockaroundtheclock
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I was recently at the Cubberly Center for classes and to visit the library. The site is poor. Any consideration for demolishing the entire former high school and rebuilding.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm

It is the developers of new housing that should be financing the bulk of rebuilding Cubberley and the new elementary school. They are the reason we need more schools because this housing is creating the increased enrollment.

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Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 21, 2012 at 11:30 am

Resident: New housing is not increasing school populations. It is the Seniors who are dying off with their prop-13 savings. Their heirs are keeping the housing and renting it out to families with school age children, or selling the housing off to young families.

It is a fact that condos and apartments do not generate many elementary children but sometimes, due to divorce, provide a few students for the Middle and High Schools.

What is being seriously overlooked here is that the Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto Hills and Stanford communities which are part of the Palo Alto Unified School District want to convert one of the elementary schools on the Stanford campus to be another Middle School. These PAUSD communities were not invited to be represented on the Cubberley Citizens Committee.

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Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm

This is the first time I've read anything about a possible bond measure going on a 2014 ballot.

If this is what Larry Klein and the other four members of the Policy Committee want, have they considered the following.

8 acres belongs to the City and will have to be voted on separately from the 27 acres belonging to the PAUSD, why, because they cover different jurisdictions. The 8 acres will go on a Citywide ballot. The 27 acres will have to be voted on by the PAUSD community which includes: Palo Alto, half of Los Altos Hills and Stanford.

Plans are presently being discussed by all three committees for the whole 35 acres - how will this work?

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Separate bond measure? Holy cow. We have an existing bond measure that was crafted so that if it the board wished, it could include Cubberley.

We have the money to rebuild or repair Cubberley just by re-examining the existing expenditures for changes we could make to the choices we've made that dramatically increase the cost of school construction, without sacrificing improvements.

For one, if Cubberley is a part of the picture, we could re-examine some of the extra classroom space being built at Gunn and Paly. They still need new classrooms, they just don't need to accommodate 2500 students each if Cubberley is open, in fact, Gunn and Paly could have some of their space budget shifted to improvements.

Two, we've gone crazy putting two-story buildings everywhere around the district, even though two story square footage is far more costly in school construction per square foot than single-story. On some campuses, Paly and Ohlone, it's probably necessary. On others, Gunn and JLS, probably not with better planning. Millions could be saved just from reducing the number of two-story buildings, without sacrificing square footage overall, that could be applied to Cubberley construction.

We've pass two bond measures for the district. I'm starting to feel like they think we're an ATM they can go to whenever they wish rather than being a little wiser with our money.

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Posted by Just-Say-No
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm

> We've pass two bond measures for the district.

Two bond issues and two parcel taxes. And remember .. this is still not enough for the PAUSD.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Wrong about the seniors moving on being the cause of the increased enrollment (although there is a lot of that too). The new developments are full of families with children, not singles, seniors, or divorced parent with partial custody.

We now have x more living units than a decade ago, and x more than when we had 3 high schools. The likelihood is that we are going to have x more living units and they are going to produce more children for our schools.

Get the developers to pay for the schools, not those of us who have lived here for over a decade!

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Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Thanks for this article. It may help explain what happened at Cubberley to the unsheltered people who live there later that Thursday night after the meeting you describe.

Police came and shown flashlights into people's vehicles and faces and informed them they had three days more to live there. If they were there Monday night (tomorrow), they will be cited.

The Community Cooperation Team was formed a year ago to deal with the then-impending ordinance against vehicular habitation. We (unsheltered people, local homeowner/activists, and committed Stanford students) formed to fight that proposed ordinance. So far the good will of the citizens of Palo Alto, our efforts, and the far-sightedness of the City Council have staved off the dreaded ordinance.

What's wrong with the ordinance is the same thing that's wrong with evicting people who live in their vehicles and camp on the ground from Cubberley--it only makes everything worse. And solves nothing.

Homelessness is not something you dream about achieving. You go homeless only when everything else is an even worse choice: you're getting beaten regularly where you now live, you can't find anywhere to live that you can afford, or you lost your job (home or unemployment) and living without conventional shelter is better (safer, cleaner, more legal).

Cubberley has obviously been a community resource for all segments of the community for many years. Let the committees you mention keep that in front of them as they deliberate. Not only are the little, poor, diverse organizations an integral part of the health of the community (diversity in a population is a strong contributor to survival)but have nurtured the interests of generations of children and adults. Please keep that in mind.

And besides things like cardiac care, yoga, wounded animals, art, and teen socializing--Cubberley is an important resource for those of us who sleep there.

Is there anyone who thinks that taking away a place for peaceful people to sleep will improve anything in the community in anyway? If so, I'd like to learn what that improvement is and how making people already unsheltered deal with yet another blow to their survival and stress levels would help.

Is there someone who has another place for us to go? Perhaps you can suggest a neighborhood who'd like more unhoused residents? Maybe a street where the residents are lonely for neighbors?

I'll tell you where unsheltered people have been MOST welcome--businesses or institutions--like the Palo Verde Elementary School that just lost $5400 worth of computers to theft (lead story in this edition of Palo Alto Online 7/22/12)--which would like to cut down on graffiti, trespass, break-ins, and theft. In communities that match recreational vehicle or car campers with businesses or institutions that want a cheap way to cut down on vandalism, there have been significant reductions in such problems.

The whole effort to push unsheltered people out--making San Francisquito Creek a park so no one could live there, Palo Alto's sit/lie ordinance, closing of single room occupancy hotels in downtown Palo Alto, tearing down of cheaper motels on El Camino, the rules against hanging out in public spaces that the City Council adopted recently, and the still-under-consideration-but-not-voted-on ordinance against people living in or out of their vehicles--it's all going in the wrong direction.

First of all it won't make poverty, homelessness, or people doing publicly things others do in private--cause they have private homes in which to urinate, defecate, drink, smoke, and lounge about--go away or even remain out of sight. Go to any urban (or even rural) location and you'll see street people, unsheltered folk, people parading problems publicly.

Secondly, the present onslaught to transfer money from the poorest of us to the richest (AKA The Great Recession, Housing Bubble, Credit Crisis, etc., etc.) of us is not over. Many more--people you know or are related to--will be stricken with the tragic trifecta: joblessness, foreclosure, and homelessness.

Thirdly, the surest way to continue to have a problem is to ASSUME you must always have it. So what we all should be doing is some of that creative problem solving mentioned in the article on Cubberley (to which we'll get back to in a moment) to SOLVE the problems WE have.

And I emphasize WE because in case you missed Marshall Mc Luhan who was born a hundred years ago and blew up in the 60s when he taught us that "the medium is the message," we are all part of "a global village."

In more ways than he meant it we ARE all together in this. We can no longer look at those less fortunate and ignore them. It's like we're all together on this world-wide airliner and if the people in third class go down, those in the more expensive seats go down as well. Like on the Titanic.

And didn't Jesus say "as you do unto the least of your brethern, you do unto Me"?

And is that what you want you're children to learn? To avoid, ignore, shun those less fortunate? In the better schools in this nation students are REQUIRED to volunteer at some community agency in order to graduate.

And what about this Cubberley situation? I think ABSOLUTELY creative problem solving should be involved. And what about all the local classes in public schools, in Stanford, apparently EVERYWHERE--where students learn how to be entrepreneurs for the betterment of all? I read about a course at Stanford like that where students do things like start a business to make you regulation of stress during the day a matter of fairly automatic feedback through your smartphone.

Do you really think poverty, houselessness, being out of work can stand up to the creative brain power of the titans and tots of Silicon Valley? You'd have to be from somewhere a long way from here to answer in the affirmative.

So let's get going, Folks. How about a couple of Palo Alto's richest getting together and sponsoring a local prize for (even small but) creative solutions for keeping Cubberley as a community resource that encourages and expands the fertile incubator for small, not well funded community activities and resources for unsheltered people that Cubberley is and has been for a long time.

The answers can be many and small. They don't have to on a par with the Marshall Plan. Just let's keep some basic principles of what we've got and not lose that as we solve problems of funding; infrastructure--speaking of which, maybe some of the contractors who've built the homes in the area contribute in kind help to rehab the roofs and other things that need work; and long range planning.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Chuck: Unfortunately you don't get it. The City has a problem, they are self-insured in other words they don't hold liability insurance, therefore, they don't want occupied cars hanging out on City property. 27 acres of Cubberley are owned by the School District and leased to the City. I don't know which entity covers the liability insurance for Cubberley, but until that is sorted out the City and the School District have a problem.

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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2012 at 8:58 am

The condo complex where Hyatt Rickeys was is full of families with teenagers and all of them attend Gunn. Why do you think they bought there? More development, more students.

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Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

To Resident: Haven't people been sleeping their cars at Cubberley for a long time? Decades, even? What was the insurance situation for all those years--however many it is?

One of the ongoing myths about Cubberley is the "increasing" and "exploding" number of people who camp there. The actual count by those of us who spend time there is that the population of people living there--on the ground and in vehicles--has actually DEcreased. During the winter there were approximately 15 vehicles parked there at night. Now it's more like 9-11. The number of ground campers has also decreased.

What sort of insurance would be necessary to protect the City and the School District? How much would it cost?

What is the social cost of people having no place to live?

- People living without homes die four times as fast as housed folk
- Adding to the burdens of displaced people is not likely to accelerate their ability to contribute to society
- Many of these displaced people grew up here, still have local family, have made and do make contributions to the community, and are as much a part of the community as anyone else--just with fewer resources

Yesterday (Monday 7/23/12) the office manager of the Cubberley Administrator's Office called the Palo Alto PD and requested that they NOT come back and cite people living in their cars there on Monday night as they had said they would do on Thursday night.

We still have not been able to find out who sent those police, why they were evicting people, and what the next shoe to drop will be.

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