Palo Alto restarts talks with Foothill College
Council votes 8-1 to discuss 'use and possible sale' of 8 city-owned acres at Cubberley
Palo Alto's stalled proposal to sell a portion of Cubberley Community Center to Foothill College officially re-emerged Monday night after the City Council agreed to schedule a meeting with Foothill officials to discuss the possible sale.
The sale would make possible a phased rebuilding of Foothill's Middlefield Campus.
After an hour of debate behind closed doors, the council voted 8-1 to schedule a meeting with officials from the Foothill-De Anza Community College District to discuss selling 8 acres of Cubberley to the district. Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa was the lone dissenter, but he declined to comment after the meeting, citing Brown Act restrictions.
Mayor Pat Burt said the meeting between council members, college officials and members of the Palo Alto Unified School District will be scheduled within the next 60 days. The discussions, the council agreed, will focus on "exploration of the use and potential sale" of the city-owned portion of Cubberley, which is located at 4000 Middlefield Road in south Palo Alto.
The city had previously considered selling a portion of Cubberley to Foothill in 2008, but talks collapsed after several council members insisted on leasing the land instead. College officials wanted to buy the land outright and hoped to fund the purchase with the $40 million the district has leftover from a 2006 facilities-bond measure.
Foothill currently leases about 57,000 square feet at Cubberley, where it serves about 4,000 part-time students each quarter. College officials had hoped to build a new "education center" at Cubberley, a project that would expand the college's share of the Middlefield Road facility by 43 percent.
Councilwoman Gail Price said Monday that the discussion between city, school district and college district officials would go beyond the specific land-sale proposal and consider the broader issue of land use at Cubberley. Price is one of four council members who joined the council this year and did not take part in the earlier negotiations.
"We are also assuming that in the discussion it would be an opportunity to clarify the existing relationship, agreements and background to the overall current and future potential uses of the broader Cubberley site," Price said.
Though none of the college district's trustees attended Monday's meeting, one Foothill professor publicly encouraged the council to cut a deal with the college. Ken Horowitz, a Palo Alto resident who teaches at the college's dental-hygiene program, called the sale a "win-win" situation for the city and the school.
"We'd have a beautiful facility," Horowitz told the council. "The district is committed to putting in $40 million for the project.
"It will be seismically safe and a great asset for the city."
In discussions two years ago, Foothill indicated that some of the college would be willing to share some facilities with residents and the city.
Horowitz noted that some of the council members who opposed the sale in 2008, including former Councilman Jack Morton, are no longer on the council. The city also has a new city manager, James Keene, and a $6.4 million budget deficit in the 2010 fiscal year.
The turnover on the council and on city staff, coupled with the city's economic struggles, could make Palo Alto's negotiations with Foothill more fruitful this time around, Horowitz said.
"There's a new council, a new city manager and a new environment where the city is talking about making staff reductions and service cuts," Horowitz said. "Meanwhile, Foothill has $40 million that's just sitting there and waiting to be used."
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.