As Palo Alto gets closer to the finish line in its collaborative effort to redesign and rebuild Cubberley Community Center, one glaring question continues to divide residents and city leaders: What to do about housing?
The question surfaced Thursday at the final community meeting on the Cubberley Master Plan, a document that will serve as the blueprint for the redevelopment of the 35-acre campus. Led by the consulting firm Concordia, the "co-design" process was marked by extensive collaboration, with hundreds of residents attending the prior hearings to offer ideas about Cubberley's future uses, building heights, density of development, campus design and traffic circulation.
But while city officials and residents have lauded Concordia for its ability to engage the community and ensure that the new Cubberley plan has something for everyone, the goodwill began to strain at Thursday's meeting, where residents were presented for the first time four different options for housing at Cubberley.
The most modest alternative, and the one that came out of the third community meeting, includes 32 units for Palo Alto Unified District staff. Known as Option 1, the proposal calls for building these units at 525 San Antonio Road, a site that is adjacent to Cubberley, owned by the school district and is already zoned for housing.
The other three call for between 64 and 164 housing units and entail building housing at the Cubberley campus. Option 2 would have 64 units for school district faculty, with half of these located at 525 San Antonio Road and the other 32 in a new building near a site that is being reserved for a future school campus.
Option 3 and Option 4 would add more housing in other parts of Cubberley, either by constructing new apartment buildings, adding levels to proposed recreational structures or both. Option 3 includes 112 units: 64 units for school district staff (much like Option 2) along with another 48 units not affiliated with schools. These would be placed across campus from the proposed school site, near tennis courts and other recreational amenities.
The most ambitious option, Option 4, includes 164 units, with 100 units constructed on top of Cubberley's Community Center itself, taking it from two stories to four.
The proposals elicited a strong reaction from meeting attendees, some of whom complained that presenting the new housing proposals in the final meeting represents a "bait and switch" by the city and its consultants. When given cards and asked which of the four options they prefer, many in attendance wrote "no housing" in the comment section.
City officials and consultants repeatedly assured residents that the four options are just concepts to be discussed. Not everyone was mollified by this explanation. Some complained that the city is basically disregarding residents' opinions from prior meetings.
"We're starting a new process on housing, which is not as far along as the rest," Community Services Director Kristen O'Kane told the crowd. "We have not made any decisions on housing."
Some said that while they support having more housing in the city, Cubberley is not the right place for it. Midtown resident Sheri Furman, co-chair of Palo Alto Neighborhoods, an umbrella group of neighborhood associations, said building housing in the midst of Cubberley's recreational facilities would create new safety, traffic and parking concerns.
"It's the wrong place for housing. It's a public facility. ... It should benefit the whole community," Furman said.
Bobbie Hill, a consultant with Concordia, told the crowd at the beginning of the meeting that the new housing options were added at the behest of city and school officials. After the third community meeting in January, Concordia presented its studies to various board and commissions. At its Feb. 11 meeting, some members of the City Council asked Concordia to come up with some options that have housing. Councilwoman Alison Cormack, who has participated in all of the Cubberley community meetings, said at that meeting that at least one option should have affordable senior housing, though she also indicated that she would be open to market-rate senior housing.
"I believe it's important for us to see what that looks like," Cormack said at the meeting.
In adding the new options, Concordia assured the crowd that it is responding to that feedback.
Concordia plans to use the input from the Thursday meeting in completing its final report on Cubberley, which would then be vetted by various city commissions, the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education and the City Council.
So far, both bodies have lauded Concordia's highly interactive process, which resulted in a "shared village" concept for the sprawling campus at 4000 Middlefield Road, which is jointly owned by the school district and the city. Under this concept, district facilities (including a new district headquarters and a new school) would occupy the side of the campus closest to Greendell school, while a new Health and Wellness Center would be on the opposite side, closer to Charleston Shopping Center.
Between these sites, Cubberley would have classrooms, art studios, performance spaces and other community amenities, which would be shared by the district and the city.
The plan would also increase green space at the 35-acre campus by 60 percent, largely by eliminating parking lots and creating underground parking.
In concluding the final meeting Thursday, Hill thanked the participants and noted that while one chapter of the process has concluded the next one is about to begin.
"We know some things are challenging. That's OK, we're used to that. There's plenty more to do to make this a reality," Hill said.