Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 16, 2011

News Digest

School board dips toe into Cubberley discussion

As the Palo Alto school district and City Council prepare for talks on the future of Cubberley Community Center, school board member Dana Tom said Tuesday the district needs to clarify its own "working models" for the 35-acre parcel.

Talks are slated to begin this fall on Cubberley, located at 4000 Middlefield Road, which closed as a high school in 1979 and has been leased to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center in the decades since.

Worried about a rising rate of enrollment growth, the school board in July blocked a plan for the sale of 8 city-owned acres of Cubberley to Foothill College for construction of what Foothill said would be a state-of-the-art satellite campus.

Without detailing its intentions, the school board asserted it would need all of Cubberley's 35 acres to accommodate prospective growth and vowed to work with the City Council to clarify a future for the aging campus.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Tuesday that city and school staff members are collaborating on the issue, and the council is scheduled to discuss Cubberley Oct. 3.

The current, decades-long management agreement for the popular and well-used Cubberley campus represents costs for the city and income for the school district.

Currently, the city pays the school district $4.48 million to lease Cubberley and an additional $1.73 million not to develop vacant school sites, according to a draft document prepared in August by the city's Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission.

The city collects $2.54 million a year in rent from various Cubberley users and spends $2.21 on maintenance of the facility.

Parking program a tough sell for Professorville

Residents of the Professorville neighborhood, which abuts downtown Palo Alto and has been plagued with people parking their cars all day on the residential streets, have been pleading with the Palo Alto City Council for more than two years to set up a program under which parking for visitors would be limited to two hours.

They reiterated these concerns Monday night (Sept. 12), during the City Council's broad-ranging discussion of parking problems downtown and near California Avenue.

Ken Alsman, a Professorville resident who is leading the effort to create a new parking-permit program for the neighborhood, said he supports downtown businesses but doesn't want to "subsidize their success with destruction of our neighborhood."

Downtown business leaders reject this characterization and note that they have already sunk millions of dollars into creating new parking structures.

Russ Cohen, executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, acknowledged, "We have a problem in Professorville," but he urged the council not to launch the permit program until the city has a chance to evaluate other less drastic proposals on the table. These measures include new way-finding signs leading visitors to downtown garages (many of which remain underused, according to a recent city survey) and new rates for parking permits to encourage downtown workers to buy these permits and park in garages.

"We need to see if those incremental changes make a difference," Cohen told the council.

The council did not make any decisions about the permit program Monday but members were generally sympathetic toward the Professorville dilemma.

Councilman Larry Klein was the only council member who advocated speeding ahead on a new permit program in Professorville. The neighborhood, he said, is a "unique situation" that does not require a citywide solution.

Others were more cautious. Mayor Sid Espinosa said he was concerned that downtown workers would take their cars to other neighborhoods, including Downtown North, once a permit program is in place in Professorville.

Explosion rocks Midtown apartments

Palo Alto police and firefighters responded to a small explosion in a Palo Alto apartment complex Tuesday night. The building was evacuated, and traffic was halted in the surrounding area due to toxic gas, police said.

A resident of the building at 2727 Midtown Court reported the explosion and subsequent noxious odor in a 911 call at 7:20 p.m.

The Palo Alto Fire Department located the source of the odor in a pool-supply area beneath a stairwell. Firefighters found a 5-gallon bucket containing a chlorine-based substance that was violently "off gassing," police said.

The substance was removed from the building and firefighters were able to stop the hazardous fumes. Residents were allowed to return to their apartments at around 9:30 p.m.

Seven residents and one Palo Alto firefighter were evaluated for exposure to the substance and were treated on the scene. The Red Cross assisted one family who were unable to return to their residence.

Firefighters stored the substance for further evaluation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Investigators do not yet know if the explosion was accidental or intentional.

— Bay City News Service

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