City, school district at odds over Cubberley provision

Palo Alto hopes to eliminate 'obsolete' covenant from new lease with school district

When Palo Alto agreed 25 years ago to lease most of Cubberley Community Center from the school district, both sides had plenty to gain from the arrangement.

For the district, which owns the sprawling community center at 4000 Middlefield Road, the deal represented an annual financial windfall at a time of declining enrollment and revenue. Between 1989 and 2013, the school district has received about $136 million from the city. For the city, the agreement created 27 acres of space for community services (the city owns the remaining 8 acres of Cubberley) and an assurance that the school district won't sell the five school sites (Ohlone, Garland, Greendell, JLS and Jordan) listed in a "covenant not to develop" that accompanied the lease.

The agreement is set to expire at the end of the year and as the two sides close in on the final stage of a long negotiating process, the covenant stands out as a sticking point in negotiations, according to a new report from City Manager James Keene that the City Council will consider Monday. The covenant, which comprises about $1.8 million of the $7.16 million that that the city will pay to the school district for Cubberley in 2014, has become a reliable funding source for the school district, which no longer faces the types of enrollment or financial pressures that it did in 1989. But for the city, it is an obsolete relic drawing on city funds that would be better spent on improving the center.

A specially appointed Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, which included stakeholders from the city, the school district and the broader community, wrote in a March 2013 report that the school district's long-term plans presume that the covenant will be extended and alludes to the district's "dependency" on city funds.

"The School District is counting on robust increases in property tax revenue and the renewal of the Lease and Covenant Not to Develop to balance budgets for the 2014-2019 time frame," the task force reported.

Yet the task force also took a unanimous position that the covenant is now obsolete and should be scrapped from any new agreement. All the sites listed in the covenant are now occupied by schools, the task force noted, which makes a potential sale of these properties a moot point. The task force voted 18-0 to recommend eliminating this provision.

"It is the City's promise to pay the District in return for the District not selling its land," the task force wrote. "This is no longer an immediate issue as the school sites identified in the Covenant are now all in use."

City Council and staff share this view. In his report, Keene wrote that the City "sees no rationale for continuing to pay for a purpose no longer necessary," particularly when funding is needed for infrastructure repairs at the community center. He pointed out, however, that the District "does not want to lose the money provided through the Covenant terms."

"Both parties see great value in developing a new lease and an agreement seems within reach on a number of terms," Keene wrote. "We have not been able to reach tentative agreement yet at staff level regarding the Covenant Not to Develop."

The removal of this clause is one of eight recommendations that Keene is recommending for council's consideration when it comes to renegotiating the Cubberley lease. Others include eliminating the "Consumer Price Index" annual increases; exploring a potential "reconfiguration" of the 8 acres of Cubberley owned by the city; continuation of the child-care program at Cubberley; and a longer-term lease to accommodate long-term planning for the city-owned site, facility improvements and public access to the playing fields at the community center.

If reached, the new agreement would mark the latest in a series of dramatic transformations that Cubberley has undergone since it opened in the 1950s as a high-school site. Cubberley High School closed in 1979, one of several schools to shut down because of financial pressures and declining enrollment. Since the city leased Cubberley, it has become home to a Foothill College campus, playing fields, child-care facilities and artist studios. In 2012, Foothill announced plans to move to Sunnyvale, throwing another wildcard into the Cubberley mix. The school board, meanwhile, is now once again looking at Cubberley as a potential school site.

In its 2013 report, the advisory group acknowledged the critical importance of Cubberley to a wide variety of stakeholders, including artists, youth soccer players and students. The report characterized the new negotiations as an "opportunity so important, so significant, and so far-reaching that it will profoundly impact future generations of the greater Palo Alto community."

In addition to eliminating the covenant, the task force recommended a long-term plan for shared use of Cubberley between the city and the school district and an investment in repairing the center's aged infrastructure.

The Monday discussion will give the City Council its first opportunity in almost a year to publicly discuss a topic that been limited to closed-door talks since last May. At its May 13 meeting, the council publicly stated its intention to renew the lease, subject to significant revisions. These include elimination of the covenant and a reallocation of funds toward infrastructure maintenance.

"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 an innovative, creative and noteworthy resolution," Councilwoman Gail Price said at the May 13 meeting.

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Like this comment
Posted by come home to roost
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 4:48 pm

"the task force recommended a long-term plan for shared use of Cubberley between the city and the school district and an investment in repairing the center's aged infrastructure."

Well, the chickens finally come home to roost. I am not a big Kevin Skelly detractor as some, but I think his contributions will long be overshadowed by the monumentally bad decision not to use the Measure A funds available to rebuild Cubberly along with improving Gunn, rather than just building extra space at Gunn to expand that campus.

Measure A was written to quite clearly allow the board discretion to repair rebuild or reopen Cubberly, but after Mr. Skelly arrived, it quickly became clear we would be asked for money again. Chickens...

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2014 at 11:45 am

SteveU is a registered user.

For years I have wondered why it was so much better to turn Gunn into a monster campus and bus students in adding to the traffic mess at Foothill and Arastedero, when we had another High School campus going to waste and ruin.
I remember looking over my backyard fence in the 60's and seeing a thriving campus full of LOCAL AREA students.
How is Busing and multiple drop-off car trips a BETTER for the environment solution than true local schools?

Fix the Campus. Design it so it can be easily reconfigured (movable fence) to support any size combination of the 3 school divisions.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Honestly, in the end you're going to need both Gunn and Paly to be expanded, as well as re-open Cubberly. It won't be a "one or another" solution. Expanding the existing schools is happening now. Whereas any action on Cubberly couldn't be taken until after the lease was over anyway.

Pay me now or pay me later...but the end result will be the same.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I think the shared use is complicated.
Still, I would knock the crumbling place down entirely (sure needs it) and rebuild it as a wonderful, new up to code high school. IT WAS wonderful as Cubberley HS once upon a time.
Secondarily, a minor portion of land could be used for community/city purposes. Look, we have the huge new Mitchell Park Community Center right down the street -- that should fulfill most "community" needs. I hope they expedite getting that facility open ASAP.

Like this comment
Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 24, 2014 at 8:58 am

The covenant is not completely obsolete. While Garland may be occupied by a school, it is a private school and there is nothing stopping the school district from selling the site. They have already proven that they are so greedy that they will continue to lease the school space while our neighborhood school enrollment climbs to 550 kids. At the same time, all three middle schools are completely full and Garland could be an easy add-on to Jordan.

Like this comment
Posted by Cubberley User
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2014 at 11:35 am

I want to correct one important piece of misinformation in the comments here. The new community center space at the future Mitchell Park Center will NOT "fulfill most community needs." In fact, it will fill a small fraction of the existing community need. The MP site community space is being designed to the same size as the previous MP center. It will not provide adequate space for community choirs and orchestras, dance programs, cultural outreach, child care, art programs, the extensive athletic programming, senior services, and many other programs that currently reside at Cubberley.

A shared city/school use is a really good idea that should be actively explored.

If we lose Cubberley as a community Center, the community service void that will be created will be gigantic. It is very important to understand this.

Like this comment
Posted by Dump Cubberley
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 24, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Dump Cubberley and save 10 million a year. Let the rich school district fend for itself.

For 10 million a year the City could do lots of good things for lots of people or just save the money.

Like this comment
Posted by Dean
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Once again in the interests of full disclosure I'm a former Midtowner and Cubberley grad (also De Anza RIP /Wilbur grad).

Should the campus be razed or substantially renovated, I would hope minimally two icons would be saved --- "The Totem" (aka the school yearbook as well the ediface in the middle of campus) and the basketball arena (aka "The Presley Pagoda". If you have to ask who Bud Presley is you were not part of the south Palo scene in the mid 60s).

Cubberley grads are in their mid 50s to early 70s now---the few still in the Palo Alto area will hopefully voice their opinions to the PASD and help preserve some remnant of the campus.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Far less expensive to knock down the Cubberly buildings and build new than to try an renovate the existing buildings.

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

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