News

Editorial: Just studying the possibility for some housing at Cubberley brings a disappointing knee-jerk reaction, from both sides

Unclear about public sentiment, City Council compromises and agrees to look at some housing

Just three months ago, the emerging conceptual designs for the redevelopment of the former Cubberley High School site on Middlefield Road in south Palo Alto were receiving universal praise for the elegance with which consultants seemed to have accommodated the diverse needs identified by community members after a series of public brainstorming sessions.

The plan envisioned the phased demolition and rebuilding of both the former high school buildings and the two adjacent smaller elementary school sites, Greendell School and the former school site now leased by Athena Academy fronting on San Antonio Road.

The concept drawings illustrated how a "shared village" could be created that would include gyms, swimming pools, a theater, a health and wellness facility and artist studios in the center, where they could be shared if and when a new middle or high school was needed by the school district. Open space could actually be increased by creating multistory buildings and either an underground or a multistory parking garage. All current uses could be accommodated. And an unspecified number of subsidized multistory housing units for teachers, seniors or others was also among the ideas considered in the developing plan.

None of these elements was or has now been fixed in concrete. They are simply the ones that will be studied as an environmental impact report is prepared in the months ahead so that the City Council and school board can make informed judgments on redevelopment options.

Unfortunately, a false narrative began circulating through the community that housing had been mysteriously sneaked into the plan when the latest draft was unveiled in May. That triggered a reaction that quickly led to a conflict between housing advocates, who are pushing for increased housing in Palo Alto at every opportunity, and those who consider Cubberley a place that should be exclusively for public use and for whom housing is viewed as competing with such uses.

Advocates of both views turned out their supporters in force at Monday night's City Council meeting, creating an all-too-familiar "us versus them" atmosphere. It was unnecessary and unproductive conflict and council members struggled to achieve a compromised middle ground. The issue before the council was simply the scope of what an environmental impact report should study over the next few months, not whether and how much housing should ultimately be included in the development. But fears over imagined trade-offs turned what should have been a universally applauded plan to be studied into a needless debate. Similarly untimely was the discussion over whether housing, if ultimately approved, should be reserved for school teachers, seniors or some other lower-income group.

In the end, on a 6-1 vote (Greg Tanaka dissenting) the council decided to study the impacts of building 112 housing units instead of 164 units, satisfying neither side. But it allows the environmental review process to move forward.

A much more complicated issue, around which everyone is tiptoeing, is the fact that the city only owns 8 acres of the 43 acres being discussed. Those 8 acres include the tennis courts behind the buildings and some classrooms. The rest of the property, including all the playing fields and the two contiguous elementary school sites, are owned by the school district.

Although the district agreed to split most of the cost of the current master planning process, it declined to pony up its half of developing a business plan for the redevelopment and has not explained how it will approach its own review of the overall project. In previous years, the district has steadfastly been unwilling to relinquish any of its flexibility for reusing the site for school purposes. That, and the fact the district has been financially benefiting from the millions of dollars in annual lease payments from the city to use the site as a community center, has caused the district to be less than enthusiastic about committing to any changes.

The City Council and school board have planned a joint study session in the fall, but it will take far more than that to negotiate the financial and other terms that will achieve both the district's potential future educational needs and the community's expectations for the site it has enjoyed as a community center for almost 40 years.

We're worried that all this effort is at risk of going nowhere, as has happened in previous efforts. The sooner the city and school district start a mediated public process of negotiating the myriad of ownership, financial and zoning issues, the more likely that both agencies will be in a better position to take serious action when the EIR for this ambitious master plan is completed.

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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Comments

51 people like this
Posted by Cubberley Should Remain All Public
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 7, 2019 at 12:17 am

As more and more people come into our city, preserving community space is vital. Cubberley may will be needed to handle growing school enrollment -- and also as precious public space for the increasing number of other city residents.

Housing can be provided at many, many other sites in town. It needn't be at a public school / community center. Wherever you put housing at Cubberley, even on the fourth floor of some conceivable new building, you could have put classrooms, health programs, studios, and all the myriad other wonderful ways to serve children and adults in our community.

We did not create our housing shortage. Avaricious developers keep building offices, cramming in more and more workers without regard to where they'll live. Let's have those developers use their land to provide housing rather our giving up the scarce community resources we have left in our city.


39 people like this
Posted by It Doesn't Fit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2019 at 1:26 am

Folks in the south of town need and use our community center and its joint use playing fields. Housing is needed but not when it scavenges other vital resources such as at Cubberly.

Though you say "everything will fit together", it won't, not in the long future when space for many more services will be badly needed, including space to build up. And it won't fit now, really. Someone pointed out that the one public pool (other than a kiddie pool) for all of south Palo Altans, will need to be moved inside to accommodate housing on the city land there. That is substandard and not an acceptable facility. So things don't fit from the get-go.

Housing is no more appropriate at Cubberly than at Lucy Stern Community Center where there is land to tuck in 20 or so units, or Mitchell Park Community Center and Park where we could put a lot more. But that would be wrong. The Parks & Rec Commission has it right.


30 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2019 at 6:42 am

The more we build, ADUs, any small lot around town, the more residents we have.

The more residents we have, the more space will be needed for schools and community recreation.

Simple mathematics.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 7, 2019 at 6:45 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

So what we now know:
1. Relative to Los Altos - they closed one of their high schools way back when and now need a another high school. Response to problem is charter schools which are now in a contentious city argument. Short term gain, long term loss.
2. We know that the state and cities are arguing over charter schools since that takes away funding from public schools and the teacher's are not in the teacher's union - one of the biggest in the state. And most politically connected.
3. What we also know is that any housing would require management by a separate corporation if on campus and has that been priced into any estimates? Who specifically was priced for that effort? And at what cost?
4. SU has indicated that relative to their housing the teacher's do not want to live on campus. The want separation of their personal and public life.
5. Any housing if on San Antonio - south side of street - would be separate from the campus. What ever corporation that runs any off-campus housing would be a corporation that has no direct involvement with the PAUSD or City of PA. They would be on their own nickel for legal and tax issues.
6. Housing for old people is a distinct classification of corporation which has to be compliant with federal, state laws and has to be separate from PAUSD and the City of PA for both legal and tax purposes. They cannot be on the actual campus site.
7. The city and PAUSD have to be able to open CUB at a later date when the two remaining high schools reach their maximum effective level. Which they are probably close to now. Any outside corporation that is on campus will create another legal situation that would be prohibitive. All would be boxed in.
8. Creative PAUSD financing for teachers could be with an apartment building off-campus where teacher's pay a lower rate that the PAUSD offsets to the apartment corporation.
9. Bottom line is no outside corporations on campus for housing of any type to retain flexibility and retain tax advantages for direct control of the environment. The city cannot entertain any outside considerations for legal and tax issues.


22 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2019 at 7:40 am

Can someone explain why housing wasn't also proposed for the Jr Museum rebuild? Why does all the dense housing proposals go in South Palo Alto?


16 people like this
Posted by Incredulous
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 7, 2019 at 9:09 am

3 areas have been targeted for dense housing in town - Downtown, Cal Ave, and El Camino in S. PA. And now, Cubberly. And maybe along San Antonio. Yes, most is in south PA. Justifications are made for these areas being designated for dense housing - they are close to transit or there's land to be had, though this week MTC & ABAG admitted locating jobs and building housing near transit was mostly a failed policy.

When taken as a whole, the impact of all housing for the south is inescapable - people there will feel it when they drive, in their schools, at local parks, and guess what - at their community centers. But not so much for those folks living in north Palo Alto. It's not an equal burden to shoulder. So when Cubberly gets added to the list of big housing for south Palo Alto, outrage ensues. A new line is crossed in the sand (on the playing field?), because now the powers that be are not just creating more impact, but actually taking potential services from us in the future.

Having the most used library in the city, and only 1 in south Palo Alto of 5 (totally run down, inadequate little building adjacent to a small inadequate community center) wasn't enough to get people to finance a new library and community center. The way a 2nd bond measure passed was when remodeling some of the 5 libraries in north PA was added. Good it passed, but also discouraging that it took that to sweeten the deal to get more north PA votes for what south PA badly needed for its one and only library.

The idea that housing plus more services and rooms for artists and cultural groups, pools (south PA has not pool), room for a new high school, the PAUSD District offices, the auditorium, etc. all will fit in the exact same space and nothing will be lost for local residents is insulting. Who is kidding who?


1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 7, 2019 at 11:25 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Why don’t we get the rock bands, third eye blind, train, blink-182 and AFI to play a big benefit concert to raise additional money for housing at Cubberley. Not. Parentheses they all played at Cubberley in the 90s we should keep the space as an art center


2 people like this
Posted by Pa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 7, 2019 at 11:32 am

Typical full of bias self-serving gaslighting and dishonest proposals


10 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2019 at 11:58 am

JCP is a registered user.

Thank you PA Weekly for calling out everyone for escalating this to such a degree. As you state, this is a baby step in a very long process.

However, the point that gets lost is that it is painfully obvious that City Council members have their own agendas and with every larger issue public trust has been lost because of the lack of transparency and last minute shennanigans.

I'm sure City Council would like to have empty chambers every Monday night so thay can do what they want without worrying about those they represent.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 7, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

There is a bottom line here. Whoever is preparing ideas of all the things a person can do with land is nearing incompetence. There is no understanding of the legal and tax liability issues concerning old people's homes and housing. Some one cannot just make up stuff and try and sell it as a well-thought out idea. It is like throwing jello on the wall and watch it trickle down. We have a legal staff for the city and PAUSD has a legal staff - I hope. They have yet to surface here. What are you people paid to do? Not to buckle under sheer incompetence.


16 people like this
Posted by Exhausted.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 7, 2019 at 1:19 pm

Exhausted. is a registered user.

Hundreds of Citizens attended the CoDesign meetings and worked together in a process that City Council laid out for us. The purpose of this process, they said, was to create a plan that would have community support for a future bond measure. We were well on our way. Then a Council Member, at the City School Liaison Committee, asked staff to add housing options which were first introduced to the public at the final meeting.

The presentation boards at that final meeting were densely packed with an overwhelming amount of brand new information about multiple housing options and phasing. It was difficult to digest. People said they felt the promised public process was subverted. "Where did this housing come from?"

Our last, large parcel for a community center and public school use is sorely in need of redevelopment. Everyone supports that. Before the last meeting, we were moving toward a plan that participants supported. At the last meeting 75% of participants rejected the higher density housing options 3 & 4. Council opted to study Option 3. Consensus and trust were seriously undermined in this process. You can't build a project you can't fund with a well-supported ballot measure.

This is not a false narrative. It is what happened.

We NEED this community center/school space preserved for additional future expansion because the city has just completed upzoning for housing in multiple large areas, including largely in south PA. Housing is coming citywide. We are going to need this space to provide public service and schools for a growing population.

We need to look at this proposal in larger context.





5 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 7, 2019 at 6:52 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

Why not look at what Menlo Park is doing. They are pushing back on Facebook regarding more development unless there is more housing as part of the company's plans.

Why not look at making cities be cities for homes and minimize the businesses that are within the city? We are creating our own problem in my opinion. We want more business for taxes yet there are more people needing housing that work within the businesses that are within the cities. Perhaps I am missing something here...


14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2019 at 7:15 pm

@cmarg,

The part you are missing is the majority of our city council members owe their campaign victories to generous contributions from the real-estate industry.

Commercial/office construction is a two-for for the real-estate industry. The real-estate industry profits richly from commercial/office development and simultaneously banks future demand and zoning concession leverage for housing by driving the jobs/housing balance out of whack.


5 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2019 at 8:19 am

I think there is so much angry sentiment on both sides because each of these instances is being proposed and evaluated in isolation without an overall plan or guiding sentiment from the total community.

Why don't we get consensus of the entire Palo Alto population and use that as the guiding principles for all planning. Put a referendum on the next ballot with some clear and decisive questions:

Do you want more housing in Palo Alto, Yes or No. If No, then end of discussion. If Yes, then there will be more housing THROUGH OUT ALL OF PALO ALTO. No NIMBY, no "protect our neighborhood". All of Palo Alto gets more housing.

Do we want more traffic calming, Yes or No. If Yes, then we will blockade more of our streets and make it harder and harder to transit the city. If No, then the city will do everything it can to increase the flow of traffic throughout the city.

Do we want more jobs in Palo Alto, Yes or No.

And so on. Break it down. And once we get the sentiment of the city residents, that ends it. No more special interest groups, No more city hall workings deciding the future of the city in secret. No more city council trying to ramrod their personal vendettas on the city.

Put it to a vote and then live with the result.

/marc


Like this comment
Posted by Space 4 Whom?
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 8, 2019 at 1:28 pm

All those land and home owners in favor of preserving open space - please relocate to the Cetral Valley where there are lower commercial tax incentives and you get a better bang for your buck in building Mc Mansions. And don’t forget to take your mega giant technology job hubs with you. Jobs are desperately needed there. And. Do tell me we’re all the said “designated” affordable Palo Alto housing is going? Please! ADU’s is a ridiculous excuse not to accommodate those within reason wage earners. You’d think there was a psychic hoarder disorder going on around here. Take the volume down a notch folks.


Like this comment
Posted by The Other
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 8, 2019 at 1:39 pm

What is this editorial justifying ? The predidicial behavior of the so called “haves” v. the near voiceless renters “.. or some other lower-income group.” Excuse me? Careful PA Weeky. This reaks of discriminatory scapegoating. A blatant marginalization of an unfortunate minority people who do a lot of the work and jobs the minority living here would not dare or be too embarrasepsed to perform... And Paolo Alto prides itself as bein* a Sactuary city against a border wall! Jeez Louise!


6 people like this
Posted by Look forward...Big picture. Long-term. Balanced land uses.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Many users of Cubberley are renters. People who live in smaller spaces need affordable public recreational activities. Cubberley is a place they go to find them. Community service and public schools SERVE the residents of all kinds of housing.

Public space and public schools are for EVERYONE at every income level--but they are especially needed by those who cannot afford private schools, unsubsidized child care and other programming. The city has done a lot to upzone for housing, add ADUs and incentives to developers to build housing recently. If we build housing on Cubberley, our last large public facilities parcel that is well-situated for community center and schools use, where will we expand community services and schools for residents of new housing in the future as we grow?

Public space planning should look forward 50 years or more, not just five or ten years. Let's not create a community service/public schools space crisis in our zeal to smack a Bandaid on the present housing crisis. Balanced land use is key to high quality of life. Let's all step back and look at the big picture. Comprehensive analysis of community needs (as the former Cubberley Advisory Committee recommended in 2012) would be helpful to inform this process.

Further, it would help to know the city's plans for San Antonio Road. They have two housing projects in the pipeline that already exceed the total number of units in Cubberley project even though upzoinng for housing was not included in the adopted Comp Plan. Nor was housing at Cubberley. Piecemeal upzoning for housing with no comprehensive planning or Area Plan would be unwise. Let's PLAN what we want to build so that we can PLAN our community services appropriately.

The Weekly correctly points to the elephant in the room. What does PAUSD, the majority property holder, think about all of this? They are as bad as the city. For years they have said they need this space for another high school. Now they are hinting they want housing there too. Is ANYONE doing comprehensive planning to understand long-term community service and public school growth?

I support housing growth--which is why I strongly support preserving this site exclusively to serve the community service an public school needs of future new residents.

Look forward...Big picture. Long-term. Balanced land uses. That is how great communities PLAN for housing growth.




2 people like this
Posted by PTA Member
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 8, 2019 at 4:36 pm

"For years they have said they need this space for another high school. Now they are hinting they want housing there too. Is ANYONE doing comprehensive planning to understand long-term community service and public school growth? "

The school district has done its work and determined that they have no ability to predict long-term enrollment. Current enrollment is shrinking (as in most CA school districts) and will continue to for the next few years; but long-term pressure to build housing (and demographic factors) may lead to the significant growth. So they have sensibly decided to "horde land" to make sure they can deliver additional schools if needed.

Cubberley is the only potential secondary school site they own. But this process seems to be showing they can have a high school there without using the 525 San Antonio site. If so, then housing at 525 is an option. It was opportunistically bought as a potential elementary site in 2011. It is only so-so useful as a school site, and could work effectively as a housing site (there are pros and cons).

The district doesn't seem to know if it wants to build workforce housing or not, but if they are considering it, it would make sense to go there.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

We have so many "experts" out here. Mr. Levy appears to think he is an expert.

1. if we keep adding more people to the city then where are they going to go to school? We need a K-12 set-up in South Palo Alto to accommodate the growth in population. Do any of the experts have an answer?

2. Do Palo Alto Forward people get married and have children? They as a group appear to have great enthusiasm for tearing the place apart. Where are their children going to go to School? If they live in South PA then they do not want to be driving their children across town - they want to have the children close by so they can bike when they get older.

All the people who are for this have to provide the answer as to where they expect the next crop of children to go to school. It is a giant blind spot in this whole discussion. And there is not going to be any approval of funds until the whole story is laid out. We cannot stove-pipe topics so that the consequences are not totally evaluated.


5 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 8, 2019 at 5:19 pm

jh is a registered user.

"Then a Council Member, at the City School Liaison Committee, asked staff to add housing options which were first introduced to the public at the final meeting. "

That would be our newest council member, Alison Cormack. When Ms. Cormack didn't agree with the outcome of the open community process, where 75% of those who volunteered voted to keep the entire Cubberley property as a public facility, she attended a school liaison committee and quietly instructed staff to add housing to the uses to be studied for the Cubberley property

Although perfectly legal, Ms. Cormack's plan of action has the unfortunate appearance of going behind the public's back in a less than transparent manner in order to manipulate an outcome she didn't like.

While there has been discussion concerning the compatibility of housing close to playing fields, there has been none concerning all the noise if/when PAUSD converts Cubberley back to a high school. A scenario that is becoming more and more likely with the continuing push to densify Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

PAUSD needs to work with SU to fund the restoration of the high school and Greendell. If SU teachers and grad students want to live in the town then work together to make that happen and provide the school in the area they will be. We need all of our schools and we need the high school in South PA. We are going to have a glut of children that will be stuffed into existing schools if we don't make that happen.
We cannot kill our educational institutions.


5 people like this
Posted by Sharing Space Will be a Huge Challenge.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 8, 2019 at 9:38 pm

Sharing Space Will be a Huge Challenge. is a registered user.

There is enough room for a high school and a community center IF the city and school district share certain spaces--gyms, pool, art spaces, maker spaces, playing fields, etc.

Given how poorly they are cooperating in this process, how will these two agencies work together to make that happen? The city and school district each has to balance the needs of their many constituency groups--parents who need child care, basketball teams, fencing classes, soccer leagues, softball leagues, students, after-school programs and sports...it's a very long list.

Now add the complexity of a yet a third partner who will manage apartment rentals and tenant relationships.

We should keep it simpler. No housing on the last large publicly owned parcel that is perfectly located for a community center/school space. We are going to need this land to serve a growing population with public services.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Surrounding signals that all is not well.
1. Went to Shoreline today to take that nice walk along the lake and the area is fenced off on the Mountain View side. That whole area that used to be filled with families and children is no longer available. Lady in the food shack said that Google is "doing something with it". That used to be city property. She said they have also carved out part of the Shoreline Amphitheatre. At least you can rent a boat and get a snack. A goose was walking around the parking lot and he came over and complained to me about the whole thing. Poor guy looked lost. He was upset.

2. So then went over to Palo Alto Business Park and some of the buildings now have Google signs outside. Saw a mattress on the street - are some of those buildings being used for housing? The City of Palo Alto has an office on Ewell Court and knows the answer to that question.

3. Note that there is a senior day center at 3803 Easy Bayshore - they have buses to take people around - it is a day care center for seniors. No signage outside of building. There is a child care center in back at 3801 - no signage. Just two buses with signage.

4. Then off to San Antonio Road - note that there are two San Antonio Roads. One is a residential street with a housing project that also has the Charter School. There is a Byron Court that has all apartment buildings so there is your teacher housing. I then noted that there is some type of Karate School hidden somewhere. When they talked about this I thought it was the commercial section of the other San Antonio Road which does have a karate center. What I don' get is that they talked about making San Antonio a commercial zone but it is all housing, including apartments.

So we have some PACC members who are associated with Google. And we have young PAF members who do not qualify as teachers or old people who are very enthusiastic about housing on Cubberely.

Is it time for full disclosure now -
1. what is happening at Palo Alto Business Park - that is not for sale or lease is it by Google? The land still has possibilities for housing?
2. there is a senior day care center there as well as a child care center - 3801 and 3801 East Bayshore. Check that box.
3. Still need to talk to SU about making this a high school again to accommodate the expected inflow of new residents who have families and children. PAUSD and SU - go for it - you will never have another chance at this. It is do or die now or it will be gobbled up by you know who.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2019 at 11:35 am

" ... a disappointing knee-jerk reaction, from both sides"

What did you expect? You knew what the opposing positions were in advance. Stop the pettiness and try to be constructive.


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