Parks commission takes a stand against housing at Cubberley | News | Palo Alto Online |


Parks commission takes a stand against housing at Cubberley

Commission endorses memo urging the City Council to preserve community center for recreation

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As Palo Alto's elected leaders prepare to consider the future of Cubberley Community Center, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission took a stand Tuesday night against including housing at the sprawling, 35-acre campus.

After a debate that could foreshadow a broader community discussion over Cubberley, the Parks and Recreation Commission threw its support on Tuesday behind a letter penned by three of its members: Chair Don McDougall, Vice Chair Jeff Greenfield and Commissioner David Moss. By a 5-1 vote, with Commissioner Ryan McCauley dissenting and McDougall absent, the commission signed off on the letter, which urges the City Council not to include any housing on city property at Cubberley.

The vote comes just days before the council is set to have its own debate about Cubberley, a community center that is jointly owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District and the city. Under a lease that expires at the end of this year, the city leases from the school district 27 acres and owns the other 8). The city and the school district are now in the process of putting together a master plan for Cubberley, which envisions the center as a "shared campus" with space for a new school, a swimming pool, art studios, gym space, nonprofit spaces and other uses.

The biggest wild card is housing. At the fourth and final community meeting on Cubberley, which took place on May 9, city staff and consultants unveiled four options for including housing at Cubberley. The options ranged from including 32 units on the school district-owned site at 525 San Antonio Road, adjacent to Cubberley, to building 164 units throughout the Cubberley campus, which would include building a four-story building on the city-owned portion and adding two stories to the community center itself.

The proposal to build housing at Cubberley was met resistance at the meeting, with nearly 75% of the 140 residents who filled out surveys at the meeting choosing Option 1 (32 units for school district staff at 525 San Antonio), Option 2 (64 units, all designated for district staff and located near the proposed school site) or writing in "no housing."

The Parks and Recreation Commission took a similar stance by endorsing the memo, which recommends that Cubberley be "designated as a public recreation resource to meet our evolving program and services needs over the lifetime of the new Cubberley Community Center."

"As stewards of our recreation and open space resources, the Parks and Recreation Commission strongly advocates maximizing recreation facilities and programs at Cubberley and not including any housing on City property at Cubberley," the memo states.

Greenfield, who had participated in all four Cubberley community meetings, argued Tuesday that while housing is a pressing need, properties that are zoned for "public facility" use (including Cubberley) should be devoted to increasing the recreational opportunities for the city's growing population, not used for housing. Recreation assets like Cubberley, he said, "will become even more scarce and valuable and important to our community as we grow."

"Over the lifetime of the new Cubberley center, which is Palo Alto's largest hub for recreation programs and services, continuing to meet our community's increasing recreational needs is going to be a challenge," Greenfield said.

Commissioner Keith Reckdahl concurred and urged his colleagues to send a clear message to the council about preserving Cubberley for recreation.

"What we have right now, we have to do our best to conserve," Reckdahl said. "Even though I see the advantage of putting housing on it, I don't think this is an appropriate spot."

Not everyone felt as strongly about taking a hard line on housing. Moss said he could see a scenario in which the city would want to build housing for utility workers or emergency responders, recognizing that having these employees living in the city could constitute a public good. And Commissioner Jeff LaMere, while agreeing that recreation should be given a high priority, was hesitant to rule out housing completely.

While both ultimately supported the letter, McCauley firmly rejected it. Housing, he argued, need not conflict with recreational amenities. The two functions can support each other, he said, pointing to the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, which includes the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center and the Moldaw Family Residences, a senior-housing complex (others, including Greenfield, noted that this is a private development on private land and, as such, is fundamentally different from Cubberley).

"I'm concerned we're viewing it as sort of an all-or-nothing issue, where it's housing or no housing and nothing in between," McCauley said. "I guess I don't see the inherent conflict between having a reasonable number of housing units in that space and the recreational purposes that we are all dedicated to."

McCauley proposed deleting from the memo the sentence calling for "not including any housing" at Cubberley but his colleagues rejected the change, which Reckdahl argued would dilute the message.

The memo will now go to the council, which is scheduled to consider on Monday tonight its next steps for Cubberley. Specifically, the council will consider hiring a consultant to develop a business plan for Cubberley's redevelopment and future operations. It will also decide which of the four housing options — if any — should be evaluated in the upcoming environmental analysis for Cubberley.

The parks commission's input notwithstanding, at least one council member has already voiced support for including housing on city property. Councilwoman Alison Cormack, who serves as liaison to the commission, first brought up the idea of including affordable housing for seniors at Cubberley last fall, when she was a council candidate in a debate (the debate, which was hosted by the Weekly, was held, incidentally, at Cubberley).

Cormack said she is not surprised by the backlash to the idea of including housing, which she said is normal whenever any housing project is proposed. But like McCauley, she rejected the notion that more housing will mean fewer recreation opportunities.

"I don't believe having housing on the site would be taking away the opportunities that we have today," Cormack said during the Tuesday meeting.

Hear Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.


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37 people like this
Posted by In The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 29, 2019 at 1:10 pm

BRAVO Parks commission members who rejected housing on our recreational spaces!! Cubberley should be maintained for all of our community to use!!
Thank you.

21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Every day we hear messages about getting more exercise, participating in sports, etc. Well, Cubberley is very heavily used for sports and exercise now. IMHO, it provides a vital function in that regard, and that sports and recreation capability needs to be preserved in whatever plan is adopted.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 29, 2019 at 3:28 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

YEAH = good going. The city also owns land elsewhere on the East side of 101. If the city feels compelled to build housing then they should look to other land that they own that at this time is either idle or used for storage or overload work. The city owns land - we know that. So given that fact then they can go use that other land then that is what they should do. They don't need to sell city owned land to Google, FB or any other businesses. Trying to make Cubberely an all or nothing argument for land use is gaming the whole project. Not going to work.

8 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2019 at 3:57 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we choose to not even consider an option. We did this a year or so ago when a couple of CC members wanted to ask Staff to look at rental protections. The idea was lambasted as rent control and torpedoed. Cubberley presents an opportunity to consider mixed uses, including housing. Our housing deficit is enormous; if we can add ADUs in every qualifying yard we should be able to at least LOOK at the possibility of adding a little housing on this massive piece of land. Is it not a perfect place for some designated teacher housing?

Good for Mr. McCauley for suggesting the idea at least get a look.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 29, 2019 at 5:40 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Perfect timing - read the other article about raising prices for use of properties and raises. People's comments tell you what they feel about what the city has to offer and at what cost. Cubberely is a very large property because it has a major sports section - soccer, running track, tennis, gymnasium. You cannot get that anyplace else unless you are at a high school and your use then is limited. So developing more of the capabilities for this site makes financial sense. Increase the size of the theatre so that it can have more music productions. Lucie Stern is very limited in size and old. The city can make a lot of money for the entertainment element. Lots of additions that everyone can use that wants to.

5 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2019 at 8:21 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

I have to wonder if the same people who are saying “no” to housing on City owned land are the same ones who fully support the County adding the condition that Stanford must build at least 2100 units of housing - 70% of which must be on Stanford campus? Maybe Stanford and the City work together on this?

Like this comment
Posted by JR’s right
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2019 at 8:22 pm

JR’s right is a registered user.

13 people like this
Posted by PAF
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2019 at 10:02 pm

PAF email sent to supporters:
Monday 6/3 at 7:40 PM in Palo Alto City Council Chambers: Cubberley Community Center Master Plan discussion. Councilmembers Alison McCormack and Adrian Fine have led the charge to make housing a priority for this site. This will be an excellent chance to advocate for sorely needed housing. Our goal is to ensure that it is built at Cubberley.

32 people like this
Posted by Developers Win; Public Loses
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2019 at 10:44 pm

I've heard many people say that PAF is just a front for developer interests, so I'm not surprised that PAF now wants housing built on public lands. But why should public school and recreational areas be used to solve a housing shortage created by private developers?

Councilmembers Fine and Tanaka even went so far as to lower fees that developers were going to pay for affordable housing. So the developers got richer while we the public are told we need to contribute more .. including now our school and recreation lands.

Let's insist instead that Palantir and all the other local companies creating the housing shortage be compelled to solve it on their dime -- and not using public property.

5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Rez
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2019 at 1:26 am

Crescent Park Rez is a registered user.

@ Developers Win. I have looked into Palo Alto Forward (PAF) and have NOT found any evidence/indication that they are in any way affiliated with "developers." "Fake news" is damaging. Unless you have information that indicates they are some cover/lobby group for developera, please don't make these accusations. We all have different opinions. I am not part of PAF and I support building housing at Cubberly. Since, residents don't want/won't allow increased density anywhere (would allowing a duplex on every corner really impact everyone's quality of life? Seriously?) we have to look to city lands for housing.

22 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 30, 2019 at 7:22 am

I was surprised and frankly taken aback at the way council member Cornack interfered with the Commissions hearing on Tuesday night.

She also clearly stated her opinion on how she would vote on the Cubberley issue days before the CityCouncil public hearing. Is it legal/ ethical under the Brown act and the council procedural handbook for a Council member to publicly proclaim her position on a matter in advance of hearing her colleagues and the public’s concerns in a public city council meeting ?

She was clearly trying to pressure the Commissioners to not support the colleagues memo. Which is clearly not allowed in the CC rules.

The lack of integrity in our local government has gone way to far, sadly mirroring national politics.
Our city council members our elected to represent their constituents by acting on evidence and following the law.
They are not dictators or emperors who get to do what is best for themselves.

It seems that no one was against the idea of teacher housing on the San Antonio property, it was the last minute addition at the last community meeting of housing in the city owned public facility acres that created concern.
Being against open ended use of public facility land to benefit certain private entities should not be an option in a well and honestly run city and by no means does it indicate an unwillingness to build housing elsewhere across the cities.

For instance the location nearby on SanAntonio where the two Marriot hotels are being built would be a great location for housing and were designated as housing sites in our Comp plan but when Council flipped flopped and allowed a private business..... so who is really for housing on the Council????

2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2019 at 7:37 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

So someone in Crescent Park wants a duplex on the corners. How is that going to work in Crescent Park with the price in homes? Is that a recommendation for the rest of the city only? As to the city using city owned lands I agree - the city owns a lot of land that can be turned into housing. How about the Rinconda Park area - the garden in back of the library. We would appreciate a map of the city owned land. However Cubberely is a unique site for the city as a whole to use for numerous activities.
I want to know how the city is going to deal with unused buildings on El Camino. The Compadres restaurant has been closed and boarded up for years. That section of El Camino is a prime location for tear down of buildings that are not up to spec and replacement with multi-level apartments and condos.
How about some buildings on West Bayshore that are always empty and "for lease"? Why are there empty buildings sitting around with no push by the city to either make them profitable or turn them into housing?
And if the city sells any city owned land to Google or fb at this point in time then watch out. Tanaka and Fine - you do have to run for reelection at some point in time.

8 people like this
Posted by Politics as usual
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 30, 2019 at 8:43 am

People who are pressuring the City to put housing on public land are barking up the wrong tree. Developers have repeatedly resisted putting housing on private land, preferring to build high-profit office space instead of housing. Changing developer behavior will have much, much more of an effect on the housing supply than a couple hundred units at Cubberley.

To me it seems that PAF is harnessing a bunch of well-meaning housing advocates to take positions that happen to help developers. Coincident? Perhaps...

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2019 at 8:50 am

When we have another 10% people living in Palo Alto, we will need Cubberley and the community space even more.

It will be necessary for schooling, for sports and recreation, for adult classes, for events, for use by hobby groups (you know those things that people like to do in their spare time and need group space for), for childcare, for senior activities, for you name it.

Once it is gone and we increase the number of people living here, we will have even less space in which to spend our down time. We can't just turn Palo Alto into dormitories. We need to have quality of life space too.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2019 at 9:55 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Let's all be reminded that there are legal actions relevant to the sale or conversion of land from one tax designated base to another tax designated base. Also laws concerning Conflict of Interests. Many school systems discovered that once they got into the process and then had to back out after wasting funding allocated to the project.

Funding - that has a lot of legal implications relative to who is providing it and what portion of the public budget is being used. Private Funding? Bond Issue? Go no further than the Alum Rock School District which is awash in legal issues and money laundering. That is wasting a lot of time for the Santa Clara County legal teams as well as the Alum Rock School District that has nothing to show for this whole boondoggle. We have a lot of lessons of late in poor program management.

3 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2019 at 10:29 am

Mary O is a registered user.

@Anon. A public official stating at a hearing what he or she supports is exactly what he or she is supposed to do! Public officials' positions on issues is formed, not just from what they hear at meetings, but also all the background information and analyses that they read in preparation for hearings. Good for Councilwoman Cormack for being forthright about her position on this issue. An option to put housing in has come up and she supports housing. Good for her! Palo Alto needs to do something about housing OR we will end up subject to a bill like SB50. Others have said the City owns land elsewhere; great! Let's explore putting housing there!

@Resident-1-Adobe Meadows. I live in Crescent Park - close the the edge by Middlefied. There are quite a few apartment buildings close to Middlefield. I would be fine with more duplexes or triplexes on my block.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2019 at 11:04 am

From the article published today, EPA are building a new office development with 5,000 new jobs.

Housing and shuttles/bus routes that cross city borders are now a must.

13 people like this
Posted by Bob Moss
a resident of Barron Park
on May 30, 2019 at 12:18 pm

Building a small amount of housing, such as 32 units on San Antonio for teachers or city staff, is fairly reasonable, but more than that or any development on the Cubberly site is a very bad idea.
First, we need parks and open space to serve the community. Since more housing will continue to be built, we'll need even more park space than we now have, but there are no vacant lands of any size in the developed area of Palo Alto where such a park can be installed - unless a number of existing buildings on a site are bought and removed at huge cost.
Second, former City Manager Keene reported to the City Council several years ago that residential properties cost Palo Alto about $2750/year more for city services than they pay in local property taxes. Thanks to Proposition 13 the assessed value of properties increases no more than 2% per year, but operating expenses for city services increase more, so the net cost to the city budget for each housing unit (existing and new) grows annually. In 1970-71 that net cost per housing unit was about $730/year, so the growth in net cost over time is significant.
Third, in the past 10 years most residential development has happened south of Oregon Expressway and that area, which includes Cubberly, has a growing shortage of parks, open space and community space compared with the city overall. Allowing development on the Cubberly site is a bad idea and should be minimized.

2 people like this
Posted by I agree, Bob.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2019 at 1:30 pm

I agree, Bob. is a registered user.

I completely agree with Bob Moss' comments.

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