Palo Alto looks to renew, change Cubberley lease

City Council set to begin negotiations with school district on new agreement for 35-acre campus

The future of Cubberley Community Center may still be in flux, but Palo Alto officials sent a strong signal on Monday night that they would like to maintain the city's investment in the eclectic but dilapidated complex on the south side of the city.

During a broad and wide-ranging discussion Monday night, the City Council voted 7-1, with Greg Schmid dissenting and Karen Holman absent, to publicly declare the city's interest in renewing the city's lease with the school board for the busy 35-acre center at 4000 Middlefield Road. But the council also made it clear at Monday's public hearing that the new agreement will have to be very different from the one that the city signed in 1988 and that is set to expire at the end of next year.

Though the council was hesitant about committing to any specific changes (it plans to consider these changes at a closed session next week), several members said they would like to eliminate the covenant not to develop that is included in the current existing lease. The council also voiced general support for a recommendation from a citizen-advisory committee to performing a community needs assessment as part of the process for determining Cubberley's future.

The public hearing on Monday was the latest chapter in the city's long and complex discussion over Cubberley, which is currently co-owned by the city and the school district. The city currently owns 8 acres on the northeast side of the campus and leases the rest of Cubberley from the Palo Alto Unified School District under an agreement set to expire in 2014. The contract costs the city about $7 million a year, in addition to maintenance costs.

The fate of Cubberley has been a source of anxiety for the many patrons of the campus, including residents who use its playing fields, artists who rent space at its studios and parents whose children use its day-care facilities. In March, a citizens committee composed of neighborhood leaders and former council and school board members, released a report urging the city to renew the lease for 10 years and to pursue with the school district a master plan for "joint use" of the community center. The new lease, the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee recommended, should include a commitment to "make concrete plans for long term sharing of the site."

"The CCAC believes that this shared use goal can be achieved to the betterment of the entire community -- if the City and the School District work cooperatively together with the common goal of a shared use that will serve both the educational and community services of future generations of Palo Altans," the committee's report states.

Numerous members of the committee attended the hearing to further drive this point home. Sheri Furman, who served on the advisory group, called Cubberley a "diamond in the rough" and urged the council to "let it shine" by investing in its redevelopment. The city, she said, should look beyond the lease negotiations and consider its "larger goals" with Cubberley.

"Ten years from now, we should have a new community center on the site," Furman said. "That should be the ultimate goal for the lease, five years to plan, five years to build. We cannot keep pouring money into an aging facility that will eventually be demolished."

Council members all agreed that the city should maintain its interest in Cubberley and pursue a new lease. But with a closed session on the topic scheduled for next week, some were hesitant to show their hand too much. Councilman Larry Klein urged his colleagues not to be too rigid about staking out a position on Cubberley before the closed session and argued that doing so would tie the hands of City Manager James Keene and the city's negotiators. And Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Liz Kniss both stressed that they should not be held too strictly to what they're saying publicly before the closed-door negotiations.

But even despite these precautions, the council voted to support Klein's motion to express the council's support for renewing and modifying the lease. Members also generally agreed that they should consider a needs assessment, as urged by community members, though they stopped short of voting on this topic. Instead, they directed the council's Policy and Services Committee to explore this recommendation further.

The Monday meeting was the council's first chance to discuss the broad and detailed report from the advisory committee since the March meeting when the report was first unveiled. The discussion indicated that on the broad topic of lease renewal, the council is by and large on the same page. The biggest disagreements Monday pertained to how much members were willing to publicly discuss before the May 20 closed session. While Klein urged his colleagues to be cautious about their public comments, Councilmen Pat Burt and Greg Schmid had no qualms about voicing support for pursuing a "joint use" vision for Cubberley with the school district, which hopes to one day build a third high school at the site.

The council, Schmid argued, is "not negotiating with an unknown force" but with one whose interests are in many ways aligned with the city's.

"We both are going to need to go to the voters for capital expenditures on the Cubberley site and the same voters are going to want to make sure that we have worked together cooperatively to create a future that worked for everybody," Schmid said. "I don't quite get the fact that we shouldn't show our hand. Our hand should be very public."

Some of his colleagues, including Mayor Greg Scharff and Klein, said that while they share some of these sentiments, they would rather not be too explicit about directions before the closed session. Councilwoman Gail Price, a former member of the school board, said that Cubberley offers the council and the school board a great opportunity to collaborate.

"We have a tremendous opportunity here to show how well we can work together -- the school district, the City of Palo Alto and community members -- to come up with innovative and creative and noteworthy resolutions," Price said.

Price also argued that the concept of a "joint use design" should be further refined before any commitments are made. Kniss and Shepherd both agreed.

"The devil is always in the details and these are devilish details," Kniss said.

Shepherd stressed the need to modernize Cubberley and suggested that it might be worthwhile considering a lease extension that goes beyond the 10 years that the committee had recommended. A longer-term lease, she said, would allow the city to "think longer-term about capital improvements."

Burt suggested that his colleagues adopt some basic principles, including eliminating the existing covenant not to develop and earmarking funds for infrastructure improvements at Cubberley. His proposal fell by a 3-5 vote, with Schmid and Marc Berman the only colleagues joining him.

The council's discussion Monday sets the stage for what promises to be prolonged negotiations between the council and the school board, a process that will begin with the closed-door discussion on May 20. The council was originally scheduled to hold its closed session on May 6, but members backtracked after members of the public urged council members to first have an open hearing.

Former Mayor Mike Cobb, who co-chaired the citizen committee and who serves as president of a softball league that plays at Cubberley, was one of many committee members who asked the council to postpone the closed session and to give the public a chance to voice its concerns. On Monday, Cobb urged the council to get on with the work of renewing the lease and proceeding with a master plan for the site.

"When you look back at your council careers, I hope you can look back with the idea that you helped the community come up with a truly visionary solution that will serve the needs of future generations," Cobb said. "If you can do that, you can look back with pride."


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 14, 2013 at 9:33 am

One change I would like to see is the City’s managing the finances of the Cubberley Center in a completely transparent fashion, and on a P&L (Profit & Loss) basis.

Currently, the finances of the Center are buried in the budget, or have to be requested via Public Information Requests. The City should change course and provide the residents, and the PAU ratepayers, a fully disclosed picture of the Center’s finances.

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Posted by Dean
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2013 at 11:35 am

With all the personalities on CC, I wonder if any actually attended Cubberley as many of us did. Some us us, Palo Alto ex-pats, wonder how deep are the roots of the current crop of city officials.

Can anyone inform me if any have bee around long enough (pre 1978) to have attended Cubberley?

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Posted by just rename us Casas Altas
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I know, let's rezone Cubberly to make it a high density development! We could put baby seals or low-income seniors there, no one could argue with that! And as we know from other projects, seniors don't eat, go anywhere, or need any services! Four, five stories high! HUNDREDS of units!! Congestion to eliminate congestion! Who cares about quality of life? We'd never have to worry about satisfying ABAG again!

And as we all know, satisfying ABAG is the City's only priority.

(Note: I was joking in the first paragraph above.)

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Posted by Ree
a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm

For those of us who go there to use the Gyms (Cardiac Therapy Foundation or Foothill's Rehab Center, or other classes, I am wondering who is responsible for maintaining the safety of the property? The bathrooms are a mess, the water fountains are in such terrible disrepair that the "Health Department" should be taking a look at them. Is the problem, one of "it's not my part of the ownership that takes care of maintaining the buildings, etc.?

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2013 at 11:39 am

If joint use of the property is pursued, it will be interesting to know how that will work. Many of those who use Cubberly right now may not recognize that all PAUSD schools place a premium on security during the school day. In other words, school property (including fields, gyms, pools, etc.) is off-limits to non-students/staff.

Unless they set up a compartmentalized campus/comm-center, it seems doubtful that PAUSD will want to share the property during the school day.

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Posted by Progressive?
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

The innovative City of Palo Alto now has more union employee grievances than any other city in the Bay area! To be proud!

Many Managers have taken to harassing employees, "encouraging retirement", and blatant nepotism of hiring their children as "volunteers" and then training them on the job site for the next opening.

Managers are also not hiring for professional expertise, they are promoting their peers, for themselves for their pay and retirement advances from within in fear of "hiring people who know more than we do".

Several managers have taken to harassment and manufacturing lies about employees, so they can contract out positions. It is easier to show position cuts - than it is explaining millions on projects gone wrong.

Double dippers (retirees) are legally returning to 960 hour work if they retired before January 1, 2013. Palo Alto lists 50+ of these employees.

In the City of Palo Alto the "News Media" has taken advantage of the national war on civic employees by publishing news releases from management.

Employee working conditions, and pay cuts are NOT portrayed or investigated in the news media. Four years now of bashing employees wage and benefits...? There is no "furlough" just pay cuts so you work same hours, for far less pay AND continue to be bashed in the media

The next time there is a major weather crisis - wait to see what electric lineman status and SCADA employee staffing looks like.

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

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