Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 1, 2011

School district asserts need for Cubberley land

Opposing 8-acre sale to Foothill, board asks to work with city on 'joint interest' in property

by Chris Kenrick and Gennady Sheyner

With the fate of the Cubberley Community Center at stake, Palo Alto school board members laid their cards on the table, saying future Palo Altans will need the entire 35 acres of the former high school for K-12 education.

The assertion by the school board in a formal, unanimous vote came Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Palo Alto City Council agreed to consider the possible sale of 8 city-owned acres of the dilapidated Cubberley site to the Foothll-De Anza Community College District. The school district owns the remaining 27 acres of Cubberley.

School board members indicated they do not back a sale to Foothill and want to work with the council to "define and address" the joint city-school interest in the property.

With school headcount quickly rising again, Cubberley could be needed for a fourth middle school as early as 2015 and for a third comprehensive high school by 2021, school board members said. Until now, they had been reticent about when and how they might use the 4000 Middlefield Road acreage.

Cubberley operated as a comprehensive high school from 1955 to 1979, when it was closed due to declining enrollment. Following that, it was leased to the city, which has operated it as a community center. The city took ownership of 8 acres at Cubberley in 2001 in exchange for returning the Terman campus to the school district when it was needed as a third middle school.

Foothill, which currently serves up to 4,000 students in five leased Cubberley buildings, is looking to purchase and upgrade part of the former high school campus to create a "state-of-the-art educational center." Foothill is also considering building its center in Mountain View or Sunnyvale.

School board members said they were acting on behalf of "future Palo Alto residents and school trustees" to preserve the Cubberley option for K-12 growth.

Admitting they "could have done a better job" of planning, board members said they now believe working with the city "will produce effective and mutually beneficial decisions for the residents we serve."

"A deadline of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, much as I love them, should not be framing or driving this decision," board member Barb Mitchell said.

"If the city or school district loses control over this property, it's a forever decision. We'll never have the choice to change our minds."

Palo Alto's district-wide enrollment, at 12,024 last fall, has been on a steady upward trajectory since hitting a post-Baby Boom nadir of 7,452 in 1989.

Elementary enrollment in particular has grown quickly in recent years, and officials are scrambling to add up to 40 K-5 classrooms across the district.

At its historic high in 1968 when Palo Alto had three high schools and more than 20 elementary schools enrollment reached 15,575. Currently, there are two high schools, three middle schools and 12 elementary campuses.

Two former mayors Mike Cobb and Lanie Wheeler and two former school board presidents Diane Reklis and Carolyn Tucher pleaded with the school board Tuesday to block sale of the 8 acres.

Another former school board president, Susie Richardson, advocated striking a creative deal with Foothill as "a springboard to the high school of the future."

While board members said they support technology-based innovations in education, they said they had difficulty envisioning a feasible space-sharing arrangement with Foothill.

"There's likely to be fundamental change in how education is delivered in the future, but the issue we have is one of time," board member Dana Tom said. "I'm not willing to bet the farm on the nature of the change, or when that change will take place."

Noting the school district, the city and Foothill "all have some overlap in what they want," Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said nonetheless she doubts "the site is big enough to give everybody part of the sweet spot."

Caswell indicated the district "does not have additional money floating around" to buy the 8 acres, adding that she "can guess" but does not really know the city's financial constraints and therefore would like to work together.

In a presentation to the City Council Monday, City Manager Jim Keene said capital improvements and annual maintenance at Cubberley is projected at $10.2 million from 2012 to 2016.

The city currently pays the school district $4.48 million a year to lease Cubberley, with that lease expiring in 2014.

In addition, the city pays the district $1.7 million a year as part of a "covenant" under which the district agreed not to sell off any more school sites for private development. It pays the district another $600,000 annually in exchange for land at all 12 elementary schools that provide space for after-school child care, which is managed by the nonprofit Palo Alto Community Child Care. It also pays for utilities on the site.

The payments are roughly equivalent to the amount the city raises through the utility-users tax, though not a direct payment from that account. The city-school cooperation on Cubberley arose after passage of the 1978 tax-cutting initiative Proposition 13, when community leaders were concerned that financial losses could threaten the schools.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com. Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

I am so pleased to hear the Board talking like this at last. They are definitely looking forward and admitting some mistakes.

I hope they soon define their plans. I also hope they are using the school impact fees from developers and homeowners to fund at least some of the costs for Cubberley in the future rather than squandering it or losing it in the general funds.


Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2011 at 10:37 am

To Resident - The school impact fees from recent new developments have already been spent on portables for kids that showed up several years back. It's like a ponzi scheme where new developments pay impact fees for kids that moved into existing homes when empty nesters move out and the kids from new developments that came before. There's no "savings account" for school impact fees because the impact fees do NOT pay the true cost of providing space for new students, not even by half! Only thing that breaks the cycle is new bond money.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 29, 2011 at 11:40 am

If the PAUSD want's to reclaim Cubberley (the part the City owns) they will have to pay for it and they don't have any money to do that.

They sold it and many other campuses then spent that money keeping programs running. I'm not saying that was a bad idea at the time but to buy back the land then rebuild the campus will cost a significant amount of money. Developer fees won't come close.

Personally I'd vote to raise money to pay for this but I'm not sure how many others would.

I also like Foothill and think they should have a nice new campus - it's quite a benefit to us.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 29, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Reclaiming Cubberly (and fixing up Garland) will probably require another parcel tax. There's no other way.


Posted by Agree with Frank, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I believe that PAUSD should buy the land and if we need to raise money to make a great high school, we should. The trend is clear: We will need this land and these schools. Let's don't squander the opportunity to get them as we will not easily find this opportunity again.


Posted by District-wide Comprehensive long-term plan for growth is needed, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Check your facts. The money for fixing up Garland (north Palo Alto) is covered by the last bond measure. They also have earmarked money to improve Duveneck (also in north Palo Alto)--though these improvements don't add much in the way of classrooms from the last bond measure.

PAUSD should redraw attendance boundaries in the north and move some students from other north sites to the new Garland campus. Stop expenditures on the Duveneck project until they have made a comprehensive plan for growth for the rest of the district. So far, all they have planned for south Palo Alto elems is to add a two-story building to the small Fairmeadow campus and add a two-story building to the Ohlone site for Mandarin Immersion (a program which draws evenly from the entire district.) This does NOT serve impacted areas of south PA.

WHAT are they going to do to accomodate enrollment growth in the south? We need a district-wide comprehensive plan for growth k-12 to guide these development decisions.


Posted by Is Palo Alto for Sale?, a resident of Professorville
on Jun 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm

During Monday night's City Council meeting, Larry Klein stated "The community can not be a land bank at it's cost."

What is a land bank? A land bank happens when the government acquires, manages, and repurposes vacant and foreclosed buildings.

The NY Federal Reserve has a great article about land banking.
Web Link

Why does Klein see City ownership of Cubberley Community Center as a land bank? Does he really think it is a vacant building that has gone through foreclosure? Does he not know that it is fully occupied and functions as a Community Center? Does he not understand that it is a success story as a public-private partnership where numerous entities provide the community with daycare, education, arts, dance, gathering spaces, playing fields, tennis courts, etc?

Why does Klein place no value on the benefits that Palo Alto derives from the community services at Cubberley Community Center?

Is Lucie Stern Community Center a land bank? Is City Hall a land bank? Are the libraries land banks? They all require significant capital investment over the long term and they all have deferred maintenance expenses. If someone were to offer to buy Lucie Stern, City Hall or a library, would Larry Klein want to sell them? Would City Council want to sell them?

With 20:20 hindsight, we know what happened when PAUSD sold school sites in the 1980.


Posted by Two-High-Schools-Are-Enough, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm

> I believe that PAUSD should buy the land and if we need to
> raise money to make a great high school, we should.

You are talking about an expenditure in the $200M to $400M range (before financing is considered). And you are also talking about increasing the operating expenditures of the district by 15%-20%. That is a lot of money.

Maybe it would be better thinking about how to use the existing land on the other two high school sites to accommodate the increase, should it come to that.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Why does the School District need more than the 27 acres it owns when the Palo Alto High School occupies less area than that?

If the City cancels its lease on the PAUSD 27 acres and allows the District to reclaim the 8 acres by its right of first refusal, where will the District get the money to build on the 35 acres? At some point the owners of the buildings - currently 8 acres by the City and about the same amount by the PAUSD - will have to rebuild them. They do not meet current seismic safety codes and contain asbestos which must eventually be removed.

The City cannot continue to lease the 27 acres when the its budget is stretched to the limit. The District must stand on its own; either sell, lease, build, or give up the property. Postponing any decision (kicking the can down the road!!) may lose the Foothill opportunity and leave dilapidated, unsafe structures which will cost more to correct in the future.

The City, the PAUSD and Foothill must get together now to resolve this problem. None of them can do it alone.


Posted by Jean Wilcox, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Now that the School Board has stated that they don't want the City's 8 acres at Cubberley sold to Foothill College - what's next?

Does the School District have the money to re-purchase those 8 acres from the City? Probably not.

Then what. Way back when the School District was negotiating with the City for return of the Terman site (which belonged to the City), the City asked for 8 acres of playing fields at Cubberley. The School District said "no" they wanted to keep the playing fields, the City settled for the present 8 acres with old buildings on it.

This was a mistake on the part of the then School Board. Playing fields cannot be sold off by the City or anyone else as they are dedicated open space.

Over time the City has demonstrated that they are excellent stewards of playing fields. For example they still own and look after the playing fields at Terman.

If the City's 8 acres are not sold to Foothill; hopefully the City and School Board will get together and renegotiate the 8 acres so the City can swap the their 8 acres for 8 acres of playing fields, which they wanted originally anyway.

At the same time the terms of the lease agreement for the remaining 27 acres which expires at the end of December, 2013 needs to be renegotiated. This acreage needs to be returned to the School District so the City is off the hook for the $4.M they pay each year for Cubberley's 27 acres.

When the lease agreement expires it is unlikely that the City will have the money for the Cubberley lease anyway. If the School District wants to keep Cubberley they should be prepared to look after it, and decide long term what they want to do with the site.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

There is plenty of space there for a Foothill campus, and a high school and elementary school if all these are well designed. It would be a win for all of us, except for the current tennants of the Cubberly site. If the city and the school district work together with Foothill, I'm sure they can come up with an agreement that works and takes into account the long term best interest of the most residents. Adding more capacity to Gunn and Paly is not an ideal solution because they are already enormous schools where the students suffer from crowding and transportation problems, as well as anonymity. A third high school is needed and the Cubberly site is the place for it. Thanks to all who are working to keep this option open and viable.


Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2011 at 11:56 am

There is no way that there is enough space for Foothill and a high school campus, let alone another school. There are 12 acres of fields that cannot be built upon. They need space for parking. I believe that the two high schools we currently have are about 40 acres each.


Posted by question, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm

What if we built two-or three-story buildings?


Posted by answer, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm

We don't have money floating around? Then why have the other high school plans proceeded as if we do? We don't need most of the multistory buildings being planned -- it's not too late to put in a few new single-story buildings instead and save tens of millions of dollars, literally. More than enough to buy the Cubberley property.

In answer to "question", two or three story buildings are horrendously expensive per square foot compared to one story in school construction, it's not at all the same as residential development. State experts say it's virtually never financially sensible and recommend against unless there really is no land at all.


Posted by Get to work. It is already too late., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

The city and school district need to get to the table NOW...and deal with this.

The district needs to make a long-term comprehensive plan for growth. Stop frittering away money without having done this. The city needs to clearly define for the district what kind of support they need to make Cubberley continue to work as a public facilty until the district needs it.

This was a successful long-term strategy that needs fine-tuning as we move forward. So GET TO IT. Stop pointing fingers and do your jobs.


Posted by NewGuyInTown, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm

As a new resident with a pre-school child who spent a lot of money to move to Palo Alto for the school system and just got his child enrolled in Cubberley, I have to ask (in all honesty and with all due respect), does a school like Foothill College seriously add to the "education" for Palo Alto? How could a community college that accepts enrollment from anyone, anywhere be more valuable than the taxpaying residents who need childcare and education for the future?


Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm

If Foothill were to focus the Cubberly campus on the transfer program (where kids take their first 2 years of college classes at Foothill then transfer to a 4 year school) with the goal of actually offering the necessary classes often enough so that students could complete school in those 2 years, then there would be a true educational benefit to Palo Alto. A true vocational alternative for the Paly/Gunn students last 2 years of school might be great also. It would be nice if kids graduated from High School prepared for something besides just more school.


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