Palo Alto scraps 'premature' closed session on Cubberley

City Council agrees to hold another public hearing on future of community center before starting negotiatinos

The City Council's closed-session discussion on the future of Cubberley Community Center was abruptly canceled Monday night after members of the community protested that the controversial subject deserves more transparency and public input.

The council was scheduled to meet behind closed doors to discuss the hot-button topic of Cubberley, a 35-acre community center in south Palo Alto. The city currently owns 8 acres at Cubberley and leases the remainder from the Palo Alto Unified School District, an agreement that is set to expire in late 2014. Over the past year, the Palo Alto council has been weighing its options for the well-used but dilapidated center. Last month, a specially appointed Cubberley Community Advisory Committee released a report on Cubberley which advocates a lease renewal, shared use between the city and the school district and space for a third high school.

On Monday, several members of this citizens committee spoke out before the closed session and argued against holding the private meeting. According to the council agenda, the council was to discuss real property negotiations regarding Cubberley and Ventura School.

Jennifer Hetterly, vice chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission and member of the Cubberley committee, told the council that there is "significant concern among residents about not only what will happen there, but about the process we'll follow" to resolve the issue. The council's closed session meeting, she said, "creates an appearance that the council's goals and priorities have already been determined, such that you can provide specific guidance to negotiators."

Diane Reklis, former school board president and member of the Cubberley committee, also counseled officials not to meet behind closed doors. She urged the council to hold a public hearing and give people a chance to understand the committee's report before discussing Cubberley in a closed session.

"There needs to be more openness before you get to the closeness," Reklis said.

Sheri Furman, who also served on the Cubberley committee, called the closed session "premature" and also asked for a public hearing.

The council agreed, with Councilman Larry Klein proposing a public hearing on Cubberley on May 13 and a closed-session discussion on May 20. Klein, who served on the Cubberley Policy Advisory Committee (which included council members and school board members), said he has heard from various members of the community, who urged against the closed session discussion. The council should respect their wishes, Klein said.

Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd, who also sits on the policy committee, told the Weekly that the closed-session discussion was scheduled because some council members felt they had received enough information about Cubberley in recent months to enable a "substantive discussion" of the issues involved. But she agreed Monday that another public hearing would be beneficial in that it would promote transparency.

While Klein proposed the May 13 public hearing, he also pointed out that the main decisions when it comes to the community center will ultimately be made behind closed doors.

"There may be certain basic points, such as -- Should we have a new lease? -- that might be appropriate for a public discussion," Klein said. "But I think the people will be disappointed quite frankly that a public meeting isn't going to result in what many people would like to see. There isn't going to be a great moment -- at least I don't think there should be -- where a City Council or a school board member lays out a whole menu of things they'd accept in a particular lease."

Klein also noted, in response to Furman, that the city would like to reach a decision on Cubberley by the end of this year, which doesn't leave officials very much time.

"This is a major issue and I think we'd need to get moving on it and not put things off and put things off, which is of course a human tendency, but I don't think we can afford it on this issue," Klein said.

The council supported Klein's proposal with an 8-0 vote (Liz Kniss was absent). Councilwoman Karen Holman sided with the speakers and said that another public hearing would add transparency to the process. But it was Councilman Greg Schmid spoke most forcefully against the closed session, saying that he found the proposed discussion "striking" and tantamount to a broken promise to the community.

"It's critical we have a process that gains the public's trust and confidence," Schmid said. "Finally, I'm a firm believer that an open and transparent process leads government leaders to better decisions and I can see no value added by moving to a closed session."

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Posted by No-Need-For-Closed-Sessions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2013 at 7:59 am

Since the school district is a public agency, and the city is a public agency--why should there be any "closed door" sessions involved in this process? What information about the City, or the school district, could be, or should be, secret?

Do the right thing, Council Members--deal with this matter in open session.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2013 at 9:06 am

Whereas I don't like the idea of secrecy or lack of transparency, I don't like the idea of this meeting being cancelled/postponed. I want to see the City and school board getting on with progressing on this topic so just make the meeting public. There are always delays in Palo Alto and at this rate we are going to delay it another year from opening.

We know this is on the cards, it is no secret. Many have already made their views felt officially and unofficially.

Please, can we get on with this.

Like this comment
Posted by Don't trust Scharff!
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2013 at 9:08 am

As mayor, Greg Scharff controls the Council Agenda. He managed the process that put Cubberley on the agenda as a closed session. Yet, in public it's as if he wasn't involved. Don't trust this one!

Like this comment
Posted by Take a lesson
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

The school board could take a lesson from the city council on how to handle the public's business. The school board has known for months about a federal finding of civil rights violations in the schools, and we're now up to 1 finding of a violation, 1 settled complaint with OCR, and 2 pending complaints being investigated by the federal government. Yet the school board refuses to discuss this situation in public, choosing instead to do so only in repeated closed sessions. There is another probably related item on the board's closed session agenda for today. The only public discussion has been to hear the district's lawyer, whose comments were designed more to mislead and misinform the public than to illuminate the situation.
School board president Dana Tom and VP Barb Mitchell control the school board agenda, and have chosen secrecy over transparency on this one.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2013 at 10:10 am

> Please, can we get on with this.

There is no hurry to resolve this matter--particularly behind closed doors.

There are a lot of financial issues which have yet to surface. Hurrying to "do something" will insure that these matters never see the light of day.

Let's have some public hearings. Cubberley isn't going anywhere.

Like this comment
Posted by Alice
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 23, 2013 at 10:36 am

After the debacle of Alma Street's market, I would think that most Palo Alto people would be concerned about any decisions for our city reached behind 'Closed Doors'.

Like this comment
Posted by One Has To Wonder
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

To Take A Lesson - in agreement with you about Dana Tom, and Barb Mitchell. The fact that the entire school board knew about the OCR complaint while school board elections were happening, and then for them to blast Ken Dauber about accusations of discrimination in the school district - really outrageous! I have seen Dana Tom at school board meetings, really not a good, strong leader. But, Palo Alto gets what it elects in terms of all it's elected officials. It is very apparent that most of those who are elected simply are interested in power, and using these positions to become "career" politicians, and bounce from one elected office to another once name recognition has been established. Yes, city council and school board positions require lots of dedication, time and work, but still, if you want the offices, do what is right for the community, and city when elected. Don't use these positions to be entirely self serving. And, get on with the work of Cubberley, or it will become another Mitchell Library fiasco.

Like this comment
Posted by Sir Sneaky
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm

So they canceled the meeting because the public found out and complained that it was behind closed doors.
So I guess they are postponing this meeting until they can have it again but this time under our citizens radar?
Why does this not surprise me..

Like this comment
Posted by Sir Sneaky
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Never mind my last comment I read the whole article and see that they are willing to have a open meeting..

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

The easy and PROPER answer: Both agencies are PUBLIC agencies, therefore ALL meetings MUST BE OPEN AND TOTALLY TRANSPARENT!.
No secret deals, no " golden handshakes " to developers, no con jobs where the outcome is already decided and a waste of people's time, ALL PUBLIC BUSINESS IS TO BE DONE PUBLICLY.
You don't like it? RESIGN!

Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I agree with the posters above, kudos to the City Council for quickly backing off a closed process. Shame on the school board for trying to pretend like nothing is happening and hope the public fails to notice.

Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Why was a private meeting proposed in the first place, with a subject that was so controversial, where many people would want to weigh in? I understand Real Estate deals are often done in private by cities as a first step. But in this case? I can't understand how routine process could have been considered good.

And what kind of agreement could have been made at a private meeting, so hearing the public afterwards would just be out of courtesy? That has happened recently in Los Altos and in Mountain View.

Years ago, I remember one Palo Alto council person was so bored by hearing the public speak, she was drawing her hand as a diversion.
"My mind is made up" attitude. The public is talking to a wall.

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

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