During a broad and wide-ranging discussion Monday night, May 13, the City Council voted 7-1, with Greg Schmid dissenting and Karen Holman absent, to publicly declare the city's interest in renewing the city's lease with the school board for the busy 35-acre center at 4000 Middlefield Road. But the council also made it clear at Monday's public hearing that the new agreement will have to be very different from the one that the city signed in 1988 and that is set to expire at the end of next year.
Though the council was hesitant about committing to any specific changes (it plans to consider these changes at a closed session next week), several members said they would like to eliminate the covenant not to develop that is included in the current existing lease. The council also voiced general support for a recommendation from a citizen-advisory committee to perform a community-needs assessment as part of the process for determining Cubberley's future.
The public hearing on Monday was the latest chapter in the city's long and complex discussion over Cubberley, which is currently co-owned by the city and the school district. The city currently owns 8 acres on the northeast side of the campus and leases the rest of Cubberley from the Palo Alto Unified School District under an agreement set to expire in 2014. The contract costs the city about $7 million a year, in addition to maintenance costs.
The fate of Cubberley has been a source of anxiety for the many patrons of the campus, including residents who use its playing fields, artists who rent space at its studios and parents whose children use its day-care facilities. In March, a citizens committee composed of neighborhood leaders and former council and school board members released a report urging the city to renew the lease for 10 years and to pursue with the school district a master plan for "joint use" of the community center. The new lease, the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee recommended, should include a commitment to "make concrete plans for long term sharing of the site."
Council members all agreed that the city should maintain its interest in Cubberley and pursue a new lease. But with a closed session on the topic scheduled for next week, some were hesitant to show their hand too much. Councilman Larry Klein urged his colleagues not to be too rigid about staking out a position on Cubberley before the closed session and argued that doing so would tie the hands of City Manager James Keene and the city's negotiators. And Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Liz Kniss both stressed that they should not be held too strictly to what they're saying publicly before the closed-door negotiations.
But even despite these precautions, the council voted to support Klein's motion to express the council's support for renewing and modifying the lease. Members also generally agreed that they should consider a needs assessment, as urged by community members, though they stopped short of voting on this topic. Instead, they directed the council's Policy and Services Committee to explore this recommendation further.
Councilwoman Gail Price, a former member of the school board, said that Cubberley offers the council and the school board a great opportunity to collaborate.
"We have a tremendous opportunity here to show how well we can work together — the school district, the City of Palo Alto and community members — to come up with innovative and creative and noteworthy resolutions," Price said.
Price also argued that the concept of a "joint use design" should be further refined before any commitments are made. Kniss and Shepherd both agreed.
"The devil is always in the details and these are devilish details," Kniss said.