Tension over mismatched timelines for redeveloping Cubberley Community Center surfaced in a meeting on Wednesday morning of Palo Alto's school district and city leaders, with little agreement on how to move forward together on a project that has been in the works for more than a decade.
The City Council decided last week to start an environmental study of building up to 112 apartments at Cubberley, which is jointly owned by the district (27 acres) and city (8 acres). While the analysis would include the possibility of building on the district-owned parcels of the Middlefield Road site, the district has not taken any position on housing at Cubberley and has no intention of doing so any time soon, board members and school district administrators have repeatedly said.
At Wednesday's City-School Liaison Committee meeting, board Vice President Todd Collins said it was "surreal" to see the council take this action, pre-empting the district's ability to explore different housing options on its own land.
Yet the district is still unprepared to say how much housing it might need at Cubberley and wants to "do our homework before we start jumping to conclusions," President Jennifer DiBrienza said Wednesday.
With the board's last meeting before the summer break next Tuesday, Collins and DiBrienza said it's unlikely they'll start that process now. Nor will they be prepared to take any action at a joint study session of the council and school board set for this fall, they said.
Superintendent Don Austin expressed frustration at the "accelerated" pace of the project and said he "wouldn't even know where to start" on shaping a potential agenda item on housing for the board to consider.
Council members appeared frustrated by the significant difference between the two bodies' timelines and the board's reluctance to take formal action on housing at Cubberley.
"This is the time for the school district to say whether this (housing) is interesting to them," said City Councilwoman Alison Cormack.
She said she feels an urgency to make progress on the plans for Cubberley given the declining state of the facility and because of the desires of people who make use of it. The city and district renewed their lease agreement at Cubberley five years ago with the stipulation that they would jointly develop a master plan by the expiration of the agreement in December 2019, which is now fast approaching.
Collins floated an alternative that he suggested could yield more progress and satisfaction for both sides: Instead of approaching Cubberley as collaborative co-owners "bound at the hip," they do so as neighbors moving on parallel but separate tracks.
"Like any neighbors, we have an interest in what the other does because we want to be good neighbors ... but ultimately neighbors need to work on their own timeframe and go in their own direction," Collins said. "I look at the path we're headed on and I'm not sure where it ends."
He asked that they consider his proposal at their joint study session, which has yet to be scheduled.
Both DiBrienza and Cormack briefly pushed back against his idea. The other council member on the committee, Lydia Kou, did not comment on Collins' suggestion.
"My personal opinion is it would be a shame if we end up being neighbors instead of partners," Cormack said.