The Cubberley co-design process presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Palo Alto community to envision a new future for 35 acres of publicly owned land and to make meaningful investments in our future.
While Cubberley is currently used as a community and recreation center, our community's conversation surrounding its future use need not be constrained only to recreation and community uses.
Recreation, community and open spaces are undoubtedly important. These are among the many reasons why we and many Palo Altans chose to raise our families here. We need to continue to build upon the wonderful investments made by prior generations — to preserve, improve and expand these community assets.
While we do so, we must also keep our eyes on another ball and make investments in our world-class public schools. Quality teachers are the backbone of our public schools. The community's ability to attract and retain A+ quality teachers will hinge on whether we make the necessary investments to house our teachers.
If we fail to provide housing for our teachers, we are doing a great disservice to ourselves, our kids and future generations. Teacher housing isn't just a perk or benefit, it's a community resource that benefits us all, and it doesn't have to come at the expense of recreation and community space.
If we work together thoughtfully as one community, we can do both. By taking the time to comprehensively and carefully design the Cubberley campus, we can include teacher housing while mitigating traffic, parking, neighborhood fit and safety concerns.
To date, the city and region have failed to mitigate the impacts of decades of jobs and office growth by not building sufficient housing. Our schools are feeling the impact of this negligence. An insufficient supply of housing at all price points, makes it difficult for our teachers, as well as service workers and public sector and public safety workers to find, yet alone afford, housing in or near Palo Alto, forcing them to find housing farther way, which creates additional greenhouse gases and traffic.
Our teachers endure daily 1- to 4-hour commutes. This is time spent in cars, instead of with our kids. It's unsustainable for our teachers: It impacts their physical and mental well-being and threatens their ability to continue teaching in our schools.
It's also unsustainable for our community because it affects the health of our community, environment, economy, kids and schools, which are all inescapably tied to the values of our homes and our community vitality and desirability.
Building on public land also happens to be the cheaper and more fiscally responsible way for cities and school districts to build much needed teacher housing — that's why Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian — former Palo Alto mayor, school board president and state senator — and the county board of supervisors approved using county-owned land to build teacher housing. We've also seen teacher housing and mixed-use projects on public land done successfully in other communities.
The City and School District should not prematurely take teacher housing off the table without fully engaging our community. We prefer that Cubberley include some form of teacher housing and currently favor housing Options 3 and 4 (which include 112 and 164 units, respectively, for both teachers and other community members). While we believe there will be a strong community benefit from building teacher housing, we want to ensure that all voices and concerns in our community are heard and addressed. We ask that the City and School District take just a couple more months to conduct additional and broader community outreach and complete a financial analysis to inform how we can make teacher housing work at Cubberley.
We have the imperative to ensure teacher housing is part of any future plans for Cubberley. It's time for a bold and innovative solution that addresses multiple community needs. We imagine a beautiful, neighborhood-appropriate, compact and well-designed shared-use campus that incorporates space for a new secondary school, recreation and community programs for community members of all ages, as well as teacher housing.
It won't be easy, but nothing worth doing is ever easy. We have no doubt that in a community as dynamic and engaged as Palo Alto, that we will find sensible and fact-based ways to move forward together. We can and must do this!
Gail A. Price is a former Palo Alto School Board member (1999-2007) and city council member (2010-2014). Steven Lee is a Palo Alto Human Relations Commissioner and Midtown Residents Association steering committee member. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.