Cubberley Community Center's future still up in the air

Palo Alto's city, school officials set to debate plans for sprawling center

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by History matters
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm

It should be noted that the city's "rental" payment of Cubberly arose in part from agreements made in, I believe, the 1980's about the utilities tax, which was passed in part on the premise that some funding would be used to keep school campuses in the hands of PAUSD. If the city proposes to no longer pay this use tax to the schools, will it also revoke the utilities tax passed for this purpose? Please note that this $7 million isn't just a charity realized by PAUSD but part of a thoughtful negotiation made by Gary Fazzino and others to enlist the entire community to help support schools, or so I understand. The history of this $7 million matters and should be considered. PA Weekly - this is what I understand to be the case but if I am incorrect please weigh in. Thanks!

Like this comment
Posted by Stuart Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2011 at 10:52 am

History Matters,
You raise a very interesting angle on this topic. I, too, would like to know more about the purpose of the utilities tax. The schools are desperately short of funding and the pressure appears to be increasing as school enrollments increase.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 1, 2011 at 11:40 am

History matters: There was nothing in the ballot for the Utility Tax that stipulated that it had to be used specifically to pay the PAUSD for the use of Cubberley. The Utility tax can be transferred and used for other purposes.

It just so happened that the Utility tax was passed by the voters of Palo Alto at around the same time as the City needed money to lease Cubberley from the School District. Paying $7 Million a year for a very rundown decaying facility like Cubberley is a waste of taxpayers money. It's time to transfer those funds to the City's infrastructure needs.

If the School District needs more money they should place another parcel tax or bond measure on the ballot specifically for that purpose.

Like this comment
Posted by also neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Actually, the school district has lots of money, because Measure A has already been passed and could be used for Cubberley (just as the board proposed using Measure A funds to buy that couple of acres that used to be that preschool nearby).

The proposed construction at Gunn and Paly has many needed improvements, but in addition, tens of millions are being spent to make those campuses house an ultra-large school population, a trend that will strain most of the outcomes (like connectedness, math scores, the achievement gap, extracurricular availability, among many others) we want to improve, not spend money making worse. Many millions are being spent on multistory construction that is the costliest of all in school construction, that wouldn't be necessary if we opened Cubberley instead. In other words, Gunn and Paly could still get all of the planned improvements, but be more optimally-sized schools, and the saved money could be redirected to Cubberly, if Cubberly were included in the planning.

Unfortunately, the planning for Gunn and Paly never included Cubberley, administrators stated several times their belief that the community would pay more when needed. In the meantime, construction as planned at Gunn and Paly is being pushed as hard as possible, even while the board hems and haws about Cubberly. Also, unfortunately by the time the community will really understand what is happening by seeing the results, it will be too late to spend the money more wisely.

Like this comment
Posted by bill g
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Now the PAUSD wants to buy the Day Care Center site for $8.6M? And they don't know what they want to do with the Cubberley site which is adjacent to Greendell and the Day Care Center? Someone is confused.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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