Palo Alto's city and school officials agree that the sprawling, run-down Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto is vital to the community's needs.
But with the long-standing agreement between the city and the school district entering its final year, neither side has a clear vision of what the future will hold for the 35-acre site, which currently houses a Foothill College campus, various playing fields and a scattering of studios, day-care facilities and nonprofit groups.
On Tuesday (Nov. 1), the City Council will launch what promises to be a long and complex discussion with the Palo Alto Unified School District about what will happen to Cubberley when the city's 25-year lease of the center expires in December 2013. The discussion will force the two sides to confront a host of issues and conflicting priorities, including the city's ballooning student population, the wishes of the various community groups currently using Cubberley, and the need to upgrade and possibly redevelop the dilapidated center.
The Tuesday discussion will focus on a staff proposal to start this conversation and to create a "master plan" for the community center by the end of next year. The proposal, detailed in a report from Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, calls for creation of three different advisory committees to explore the myriad issues surrounding Cubberley, including the future of playing fields, potential for re-development and possible cost-sharing arrangements between the city and the school district once the lease expires.
The city currently pays the school district about $7 million a year for leasing the Cubberley space.
The first of the three committees under the proposal would be co-chaired by City Manager James Keene and school Superintendent Kevin Skelly. The committee, called the Technical Advisory Committee, would begin its work in November and would focus on "developing the technical foundations for eventual policy decision making," according to Emslie's report. The Policy Advisory Committee, which would include members of the council and the school board, would provide "general policy direction" to staff and would ultimately be charged with forwarding a recommendation to the council and the school board for a Cubberley Scenarios Master Plan. The final committee, called the Community Advisory Committee, would consist of various stakeholders, including Cubberley tenants, recreation users and neighborhood leaders. Its main function would be to "provide feedback to staff and the PAC (Policy Advisory Committee) on use/re-use scenarios."
The future of Cubberley has been a hot topic in Palo Alto in recent months with Foothill College, the City Council, the school district and Cubberley tenants each offering their own visions for the center. The Foothill-De Anza Community College District had considered buying an 8-acre parcel of Cubberley owned by the city and building a state-of-the-art "education center" at the site. The plan was vehemently opposed by many of the tenants, who voiced concerns about having to leave their space to make way for the new college. The school district, meanwhile, has maintained that it would need the entire property to support the swelling student population, particularly in south Palo Alto.
The council agreed on July 11 not to pursue further negotiations with Foothill-De Anza. At that time, council members also directed staff to hold discussion with the school district about Cubberley's future and to consider possible redevelopment opportunities at the community center.
Under Emslie's proposal, the discussion would be split up into two phases. First, the three committees would work on creating the Cubberley Scenario Master Plan. Once that's done, the city and the school district would consider their lease options for the site.
"It seems that discussion of the lease renewal question will be best informed by completing scenario planning for Cubberley -- to take discussions out of the realm of vague or theoretical, to more realistic and specific," Emslie wrote. "At this point in time, staff recommends that Council defer decisions on the specific process and review structure until 2013."
The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.