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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Save Palo Alto's park land

Uploaded: Jun 5, 2019
In 1981, Elizabeth F. Gamble willed to Palo Alto her large house and garden on a 2.3 acre lot at the corner of Waverley Street and Embarcadero Road. The Palo Alto City Council had to decide what to do with that beautiful parcel. A number of housing advocates clamored that affordable housing be constructed at the site.

The clamor was the same need then as there is now for below-market-rate housing. It was housing enthusiasts vs. the residentialists who wanted the Gamble property preserved as a garden that the community could enjoy in all year long. I supported the latter group.

The garden proposal won council approval, and to this day, 37 years later, residents continue to enjoy strolling around the flowered pathways or just sitting in the gazebo. Gamble Gardens are a site for weddings and celebrations, plant sales and classes.

The same type of issue (housing advocates vs. park land preservers) is now before the community. The city council and the Palo Alto School District will have to decide which is more important.

For the past couple of years, consultants have been working with residents, the school district, and the city on plans for how to redevelop the Cubberley site at 4000 Middlefield Road as public land. The school district owns 27 acres of this former high school site, and the city owns eight acres. The city has been managing the property.

Current proposals include an area for several health-centered programs for young and old, art studios, a new pool, and a place for many other community activities. Ideas have blossomed, but there was no real mention of housing for the site.

But suddenly affordable housing supporters have stood up to say Cubberley’s 35 acres must contain some affordable housing for seniors, teachers and city workers.

Yes, Cubberley could be a great site for housing, but, once again, I want park activities on that land. I want Cubberley preserved for parks and sports, and as a wonderful spot for many community service organization. I do support more housing in town – just not on the Cubberley property.

What if nearly four decades ago the Gamble Garden acres had been used for below-market-rate housing? Would that have been a treasured amenity in town the way Gamble Gardens now are?
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by jh, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jun 5, 2019 at 1:27 pm

jh is a registered user.

It would be adding insult to injury if private developers were able to use land specifically zoned as PF for the benefit of ALL residents and then profit from it!

Interestingly, the only vote against including housing in the study was Greg Tanaka who observed noise from public playing fields is incompatible with housing because, judging by previous experience, noise would be a very contentious issue.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 5, 2019 at 1:59 pm

Diana, it is good to have you chiming in on this on your blog.

There are several threads on Town Square with some good thoughts on this. It seems that we are as residents on the same page here, for the most part although of course there are some with other opinions.

Here is a copy of something I posted.

At one time we had 22 elementary schools, 3 middle schools and 3 high schools in Palo Alto. When these schools were built they were designed for much smaller school populations, about 350 per elementary, etc.

Now there are some of our elementaries that are around 500 students. We closed several elementaries and have since reopened them. Some of the closed sites are used by other schools although still owned by PAUSD, and others were closed and the land sold and housing was built.

At one stage Terman and Jordan were both closed and since reopened. At one time JLS was the only middle school and changed its name from Wilbur Middle School to JLS to make the transition easier.

The 3 high schools were well sited geographically around town. Cubberley was closed and at one time Gunn was in danger of closing, but fortunately that was changed at the eleventh hour. There has been plenty of discussion about Cubberley being used as a liberal arts high school or some other type of magnet high school.

We should be learning lessons from all this. There are more residential units in town now than at any other time Palo Alto history. There are housing projects galore and the senior population aging out are being replaced with families. All these factors mean that our population is growing and will continue to grow. These units are going to produce children. Even two bedroom units are housing children. Many grown children are moving back in with parents who live in Palo Alto and there are moves for those homes to have granny flats for the older generation while the younger families live in the main house.

We can't keep building more housing and assume that the school population will not grow. We may be in a static bubble at present, but the likelihood is that once again the school population requirement will increase. Housing produces children who have to be schooled.

Don't use school facilities to house anyone, particularly when that housing is likely to be adding to the number of children that have to be schooled.

We can't buy back the schools that have already been turned into housing. Don't make the same mistake again.

Posted by Novelera, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Excellent opinion piece, Diana. Palo Alto is pretty well built out. Your analogy about the Gamble Center was right on. Where is it written that everyone gets to live in Palo Alto? And why do we have to sacrifice public spaces for those who do live here and will live here for short-term housing that could prove unnecessary if there's another tech crash.

Posted by No Housing at Cubberly, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Diana thank you for your blog. Well said! I appreciate you educating us on the fate Gamble Garden narrowly avoided to become housing.

Our family completely agrees with you, along with the many community members who for the past several years participated in the Cubberly renovation input process with the city consultant, all the community members who spoke at the City Council meeting this week, all those who wrote letters to PAUSD and City Council, and many who have opposed housing via comments on PA Online articles this week.

The community residents who generously participated in the Cubberly renovation input process, along with the consultants, had made great progress until what was supposed to be the last input meeting last month. At the fourth and final meeting, all involved were blindsided by City Council member Alison Cormack's request to add housing to all iterations of the Cubberly renovation proposal. It's unfortunate a City Council member does not seem to have the wisdom and long view that you do Diana,and operates in such an underhanded manner. Councilman Alison Cormack singlehandely derailed a year's long process with her lone agenda and undermined community trust in the input process. (This undermining by the way was noted by both community members and a fellow City Council Member at this week's City Council Meeting on this topic). Even our PA Park and Rec Supervisors even issued a statement against housing at Cubberly by a vote of 6 to 1 when it suddenly appeared in the consultant's designs. If a bond comes up for Cubberly renovation, and includes housing at Cubberly, it will fail -- and City Councilman Alison Cormack will have to take full ownership for that failure after spearheading the Cubberly Housing effort and tanking many years of work and great ideas for a Cubberly renovation.

Preserve Cubberly for the Community, not housing.

Posted by Ferdinand, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Thank you Diana and other contributors. It is places such as Gamble Garden that give Palo Alto some character. There will always be a demand for housing due to a variety of factors: good weather, Stanford, tech attraction, etc. There was a very impassioned speaker who pointed out how the city ignored past opportunities to build low-cost housing and built parking garages [eg, ongoing behind Ca Ave]. If we want to be environmental leaders [and dis-incentivize driving/parking] we need to commit our design functions/entities to this, while siting appropriate amounts of housing in optimum locations. Once again has the city [and school board?] brought together a committee, only to ignore their recommendations? If so, this is disrespectful and damaging to citizen participation.

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Community Center,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 3:25 pm

26% or 7 square miles of Palo Alto is parkland. I don't know if public amenities like the Art Center, Lucie Stern Center, the last community garden, the libraries and Gamble Gardens fit into that definition. Their signage does not indicate that they are "parks", unlike the truly open space parks. But if the acreage for the Art Center etc. is included in a measurement of "public space", it brings "parkland/public space" to nearly 41% of Palo Alto. So Palo Alto is not hurting for public/park space.

In any event, what is being proposed at Cubberley is not strictly a "park" in the true sense of being open space, it is a variety of publicly accessible activity spaces, including playing fields.

Given the fact that over a quarter (or more) of Palo Alto is "parks", I think that the public amenity of 112 units (an acre? 2?) of badly needed senior or teacher housing on the 35 acre Cubberley site is not an unreasonable decision.

Posted by HerbF, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 6:08 pm

HerbF is a registered user.

I am an advocate for open space and housing. I have put my money where my mouth is for many open space projects. I participated in the Cubberley Community working group through all 4 meetings. The open and park space element was not compromised when housing was added.

Posted by bob, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Why did we have the 4 meeting and suggest uses for the property if the city
is going to change the results of the meetings

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jun 6, 2019 at 7:42 pm

@ Bob

I attended all four meetings. At every meeting housing, both senior and teacher housing, was brought up and added to the suggestions our table made. If the folks running the meetings and compiling the comments did not include the housing as part of the suggested uses, it was because they decided to leave it out. It was not because the suggestion to include needed housing was not made.

Posted by jh, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jun 7, 2019 at 11:33 am

jh is a registered user.

"if the city is going to change the results of the meetings"

Because at a PAUSD/city liaison meeting, which is open to the public but few were in attendance, our newest council member, Alison Cormack, asked staff to add senior housing to the options recommended by the community advisory committee. Having not got her way at the community meetings, this was a go around for her, perfectly legal, but possibly underhanded, to get what she wanted.

Posted by Derek Gurney, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jun 8, 2019 at 9:49 am

Coincidentallly I visited Gamble Gardens last night for the first time after 22 years of living here. The gardens seem nice enough, but I can probably go another 22 years before visiting again. Worse, I was astounded that the Main House is a very underutilized resource, being open only Monday to Friday 9am - 2 pm. I can think of many uses for such space after 2pm.

So, I wouldn't hold up Gamble Gardens as an example to emulate.

Posted by Derek Gurney, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jun 8, 2019 at 10:25 am

Mea culpa: I wasn't fully informed about the uses of the Main House when I posted previously. The website indicates that it is used for business retreats and weddings on weekday evenings and weekends. I'm not sure those are the highest and best uses, but at least the house is used.

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