Palo Alto council backs 'principles' on Cubberley

Members also appoint commissioners, revise assumptions on retiree benefits

The Palo Alto City Council kicked off a community discussion on the fate of Cubberley Community Center Monday when members backed a set of principles to guide the talks.

The principles will also be considered by the Board of Education as the two bodies contemplate a future of possibly joint use of the 35-acre site, most of which is owned by the school district.

In the decades since Cubberley High School closed in 1979 due to falling enrollment, the school district has rented the campus to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center, garnering about $7 million a year in lease revenue for schools.

That lease is up for renewal in 2014 but, this time, school officials have indicated they may need to take back at least part of the campus because of rising school enrollment, particularly in the southern part of town.

A San Francisco architect has drawn several "conceptual plans" for a future Cubberley, several of them showing shared use between schools and community groups.

Officials stressed those sketches are nothing more than informal concepts to see whether multiple interests could be accommodated in the 35-acre space, eight acres of which is owned by the city.

Nonetheless, members couldn't resist commenting on them.

Council member Karen Holman said she didn't understand why none of the conceptual plans included the kind of green quad typical on many campuses. After the recent closure of Palo Alto Bowl, planners should consider adding a bowling alley, she said.

Council member Greg Schmid said the site maps are "very exciting because they do give the true notion of a joint use.

"Another striking factor is that everything's new. It's hard to think of that campus without the existing buildings, and this shows us we're completely open and free to do what we could do. I like the notion of exploring shared uses of that site," Schmid said.

Resident Bob Moss cautioned that shared use is problematic because schools generally don't permit unknown adults to enter their grounds during school hours.

He suggested adding an additional principle to the effect that, whatever city facilities are located on the site, they should be publicly accessible at all hours, regardless of school activities.

"I don't want to see a joint use of Cubberley that, over time, significantly reduces public access to the city's land," Moss said.

"I have no problem with sharing, as long as it's thoughtful -- a fence or something would be OK."

The guiding principles and concept plans will be discussed Friday in a meeting of a Cubberley "policy advisory committee" consisting of three City Council members and two school board members. The Cubberley discussion also will be augmented by a "community advisory committee" consisting of representatives of more than 20 community groups.

In other business Monday, the council voted to revise some of the assumptions used to calculate the city's health-care obligations to retired employees, thereby somewhat reducing the projected liability. The 7-1 approval came over the objections of Council member Greg Schmid, who said the revised estimates amounted to a postponement of "dealing with the structural problem we have."

Other council members said the new assumptions are within allowable practices, and always can be altered to reflect new data.

The council voted to revise three of seven actuarial assumptions, resulting in an annual set-aside for retiree medical benefits that will be $12.5 million instead of $13.4 million.

Also Monday, the Council voted to appoint civil engineer Garth Hall to an unexpired term on the Utilities Advisory Commission. Hall, a Palo Alto resident, works as a senior civil engineer with the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Council members also chose three of six applicants for vacancies on Palo Alto's Public Art Commission, including re-appointment of Richard Ambrose, director of the Pacific Art League and a resident of El Cerrito. The other two applicants appointed were arts journalist Vikki Tobak, who listed a Redwood City address, and Palo Alto resident Patricia Walsh, who has worked in public art in Massachusetts and, more recently, in San Jose.

For three spots on the Human Relations Commission, the Council re-appointed incumbents Ray Bacchetti and Theresa Chen, and also appoionted a new member, lawyer and mediator Diane Morin, who was raised in Italy and came to the United States at the age of 18 for college.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 7:05 am

Greg Schmid was the only one who showed fiscal responsibility last night in voting against the lax investment assumptions used to fund the city employee retirement benefits. The council decision today is putting off decisions on how to prioritize spending, and is going to put this city in a further financial bind 10-15 years from now; but all of the council members will be termed out of office by then.

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Posted by really?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm

A bowling alley?! LOL!

Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm

rem is a registered user.

Hey, I have a GREAT IDEA.. How about “refurbishing” plus leave the trees and grass along. In OTHER WORDS leave it green.

“refurbishing” - “refurbishing” - “refurbishing”

In other words leave it as is!!!!!

It is a outstanding working campus!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Shari Lieber Silverman
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

@ really? - what's wrong with a bowling alley?

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Generally, School Districts operate SCHOOLS, not bowling alleys.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Nothing’s wrong with a bowling alley, but taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund it! Karen Holman has no sense of fiscal reality.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm

If we were to build a bowling alley, it should be built someplace that could become an entertainment center, with other recreational activities close by to share amenities such as youth friendly eateries, basketball, etc. perhaps near Rinconada swimming pool, etc.

However, a bowling alley might be a good idea but not stuck in the middle of Cubberley.

What was the point of this suggestion?

Like this comment
Posted by Lost-In-LA-LA-Land
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm

> However, a bowling alley might be a good idea but not stuck
> in the middle of Cubberley.

Since when does operating a bowling alley become a legitimate function of government?

With $550M to $1B in backlogged maintenance and "infrastructure" spending on the table .. how does anyone justify a bowling alley as a "good idea" for the City of Palo Alto?

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Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Bob Moss is absolutely right. After the tragedy of Columbine High School in Colorado, schools throughout California no longer allowed people other than school personnel and students onto any school campus while school is in session.

Therefore, the idea of a joint use with both city and school using Cubberley during school hours will be impossible. I think the State legislature passed a law because no school in California allows just anybody onto a campus without reporting to the main office.

I checked this out at Terman. The playing fields and tennis courts belong to the City but there are notices everywhere which say no one is allowed to use them while school is in session.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Yes, bowling alley might be a good idea, but not stuck in the middle of Cubberley and not at city expense. However, as a business venture as part of a recreational enterprise, run like any other business in town, we could be looking at a successful enterprise.

Like this comment
Posted by Lost-In-LA-LA-Land
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm

> but not stuck in the middle of Cubberley and not at city expense.

But Council Member Holman said--

> After the recent closure of Palo Alto Bowl, planners should
> consider adding a bowling alley, she said.

So it certainly seems that she thinks that a bowling alley, subsidized by City money (at least on City/School land) is something she wants. (Wonder if she is also thinking about selling beer on-site, like most bowling alleys do?)

If you are suggesting that Palo Alto needs a bowling alley .. fine. But it should not be involved in any City-funded facilities.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

Our City Council rejected the idea of allowing Foothill College the opportunity to build a small Junior College campus on the City owned 8 acres of Cubberley.

Now Karen Holman is proposing that the City build a bowling alley on those 8 acres. That certainly gives us an idea of what she thinks is important to our community.

Like this comment
Posted by This-Cubberley-Plan-Not-Sound
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2012 at 10:03 am

This whole idea of the Cubberley site being used for new schools seems just a little more than insane, unless the City/School District has decided that the population of Palo Alto is going up, up, up!

It stands to reason that this is going to be a very expensive project—possibly costing over $300M (just a SWAG) and possibly requiring 200-300 new teachers and staff. Given that Palo Alto is a Basic Aid school district, this means that all of the capital costs, and at least 70%-80% of all new staffing costs are going to have to be borne by the property tax payers. At the moment, somewhere between 15%-25% of the parcels in Palo Alto are still assessed under 1976 assessments, per Prop.13. These properties are generally paying less than $1,500 per year per parcel. Add to that all of the properties owned by non-profits, like Channing House, which cater to senior/affordable housing occupants—and we are seeing about 65-70% of the residents of Palo Alto not paying property taxes directly.

It stands to reason that the growth in new residential housing that is not non-profit, or “affordable”, will be generating new property taxes, but the cost of educating students will be increasing faster in the coming years than we can expect to see growth in base property tax assessments—meaning more parcel taxes and even more bond issues that will drive the cost of living here ever higher and higher. Has the City Council forgotten that it has between $500M and $1B in backlogged maintenance and outstanding new building projects that it wants to fund with new property taxes?

It is inconceivable that we have so badly managed our municipal and educational assets over the past 50 years, and seem to have learned so very little about money management by local government.

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Posted by Walt
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 18, 2012 at 11:57 am

Boy-o-Boy, this is another perfect example of zero vision PAUSD lobbying, and a group of municipal policy makers that swallowed the whole thing, hook, line, and sinker.

There is a *massive* trend line toward more distributed education models, including migration of qualifying 11th graders into Community Colleges. Online learning is in its infancy, but give it 10 years. YOU are going to be amazed.

So what does Palo Alto do? It turns down the gift horse that Foothill offered, and they keep building for the *past*. Of course, Palo Altans have the cash to deal with these decisions; we're a successful, driven population. The sad thing is that the developments I spoke of will place Palo Alto in a distinctly disadvantageous position relative to the other well-off districts in this region, and statewide, down the road. The lack of vision, and hubris, coming out of PAUSD - not to mention the gadflies who show up every week at City Hall for Council meeting with their "expertise" - is going to cost Palo Alto an *optimal* long-term solution. What a waste! Buy, hey, we can afford it! So what? It's amazing to watch potential get washed down the drain, like so much $300-per-bottle cabernet.

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Posted by Walt
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Also, when are Palo Altans going to realize that the plodding, muddle-through-endless-revisions-of-every-little-thing, middle-of-the-road thinking and demeanor that suits Planning and Transportation members is NOT the kind of talent we need in our City Council.

Karen Holman (a nice person) and just about every other person that has come from T&P to the Council just don't cut it in terms of vision, and enlightened leadership. They are more gatekeepers than leaders. That membership on T&P somehow qualifies a person for Council membership is the Achilles Heel of the mythos of City Council.

But again, we're a rich city (for now), with a talented population and lots of cash to pull out of the hat when we need to. Hubris is a wonderful thing to watch, from afar.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

@This-Cubberley-Plan-Not-Sound - I'm not sure I follow you. If the school population grows, we have to educate them - it is not optional. These plans are being discussed specifically because the school population has been growing, lately particularly at the lower elementary level, which eventually may lead to growth in middle and HS population. We have already filled Terman, for instance, and will need more middle school capacity fairly soon.

So these plans, still in the conceptual stage, are to accommodate the growth that might be coming. If it does come, we need to do something. Is there another approach you are suggesting?

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Posted by Walt
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Me Too: The fact is that near-long-term we are going to begin to see a migration of students from high school to college starting at the end of 10th grade. Already, 8 states have programs that enable early college entry, and with good results. Ultimately, this means that high schools will not need be as concerned about physical brick-and-mortar carrying capacity.

As for earlier grades, why not build UP? Or, look for another solution that would have kept Foothill local. It's too late for that, now. PA has backed itself into a corner, and has little room to set the restart button.

Here is an interesting (but not parallel to PA's) take onschool construction innovation: Web Link

Online education for K12 is also just starting up; there are some very hard questions to be thought through, but online education and other innovations are going to reduce the long-term need for more brick-and-mortar construction.

And, blowing alleys at Foothill, as part of a school construction program? What next, Orca at Gunn?

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Posted by This-Cubberley-Plan-Not-Sound
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2012 at 9:20 am

> If the school population grows, we have to educate them

Well, just who is “we”? Education in California is a state obligation, not one that is to be borne by each community alone.

Who says that students from Palo Alto could not be assigned to schools in neighboring communities, such as Los Altos or Mountain View—such there be openings? Walt has picked up on the general idea, so no reason to duplicate his thoughts. Just want to point out that both Gunn and Palo Alto High are only utilizing about 35% of their respective sites. There is no reason that they can not build multi-story classrooms, and/or reduce the amount of space that is being utilized by parking and playing fields—to accommodate increased student enrollment.

And then there is this issue of on-line delivery of education, commonly called: “distance learning”. Given the high achievement levels of so many young people in PA schools, the idea that many classes that require on-site facilities, and teaching staff, is subject to rethinking. Certainly we have seen the proven arrival of e-books, so that virtually everything that a student needs can be stored on a flash drive, or made accessible on the “cloud”.

It’s also highly likely that we might see some of these AP course be offered by universities and colleges in the coming years, meaning that students can take these classes at home, on their own time.

And we can expect to see more distance learning appear for the lower grades—both for advanced students and those needing special care, for whatever reason.

There is little evidence that the School District has considered any of these ideas seriously, and the Palo Alto City Council is currently little more than a tool of the labor unions.

Add to this, the underlying fiscal problems facing the City, and the possibility that long-term shifts in the global economy will result in declines in the housing prices, which would result in lower-than-expected revenues for both the City and the school district.

These are just a few of the reasons why one might say that this plan is unsound.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Some Los Altos schools are already using online math programs from

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