New Cubberley plan sets stage for tense debate | News | Palo Alto Online |


New Cubberley plan sets stage for tense debate

In proposing a 'shared vision,' master plan widens schism between city and school district

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The new master plan for Cubberley Community Center envisions a completely redeveloped campus with facilities shared by the city and the school district. Rendering courtesy of City of Palo Alto.

With the Palo Alto City Council and the Palo Alto Unified School District struggling to forge a common vision for redeveloping Cubberley Community Center, a newly released master plan for the 35-acre complex in south Palo Alto offers a striking picture of what's possible.

The product of a yearlong "co-design" process that concluded in May, the master plan envisions a campus at 4000 Middlefield Road with ample green space, fewer parking lots, more multistory buildings, new swimming pools and a "shared village" consisting of gyms, event spaces, galleries and a performing art center with a new 550-seat theater — buildings that would be jointly used by the city and the school district.

The shared-village concept proved popular over a course of four community meetings, held between September 2018 and May 2019, with hundreds of residents weighing in and ranking it well above two other proposals from the city's consultant, Concordia. In one of the other options, the school district and the city would independently oversee clusters of buildings in different parts of the property. Under the second concept, nicknamed "building in the park," indoor space would be concentrated in dense buildings at the center of the campus, allowing for more green space elsewhere.

If the master plan gets implemented, the sprawling campus would see a 70% increase in green space and 46% less surface parking thanks to the construction of parking garages. With new two-story structures replacing the existing one-story buildings, the plan would allow for twice as much interior space while increasing the footprint of the buildings by just 18%, according to the document.

Yet for all its stated benefits, the shared-village concept has one drawback: It is unlikely to materialize any time in the near future, if ever.

Even though city and school district staff and elected officials took part in the co-design meetings, the two organizations' paths have further diverged since the exercise concluded.

The city, which owns 8 acres and leases the remaining 27 acres from the district, is still hoping to rebuild the popular but dilapidated community center while retaining the artists, dance studios and nonprofits that currently use it. The district, meanwhile, is less keen on constructing anything at Cubberley in the foreseeable future and is more focused on preserving space at the campus for a future school, should one become necessary.

The different priorities have created a tension between the two governing bodies. School board Vice President Todd Collins went so far as suggest at a June meeting that the district and the city no longer see themselves as partners but as "neighbors" when it comes to Cubberley, a pivot that would effectively shatter the "shared-use" vision championed in the master plan. More recently, Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said that the district has no intention of rebuilding the six-decades-old gym and auditorium.

According to minutes from the Oct. 31 meeting of the City/School Liaison Committee, which includes council and school board members, Austin said that the board could not use bond funds to pay for buildings that are not intended for school purposes. Given there are no immediate plans to open a school at Cubberley, funding a community center would constitute an inappropriate use of the bond, Austin said, according to the minutes.

The master plan, by contrast, makes the case for demolishing the existing buildings — most of which were built in the 1950s and lack central air conditioning — and constructing new ones. The plan states that existing buildings are "reaching the end of their functional lifespan" and points to the fact that almost all of the groups that participated in the first community meetings rejected the idea of preserving any of the buildings.

"A reconfigured site with new multi-story buildings will provide far more options for indoor and outdoor program use and will create the possibility of increased interior area to accommodate the long-term vision of a new school and community center," the plan states.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack, the council's leading proponent of rebuilding Cubberley, expressed her reservations about the school board's approach on Oct. 7, when the council endorsed the framework created by Austin and City Manager Ed Shikada for negotiating a new lease once the existing one expires at the end of this year. Under the proposed lease terms, the district will have until December 2021 to decide whether it will build a new school at Cubberley and to submit a development application for teacher housing, should it choose to pursue such a development. Under the lease terms, the two sides will have until the end of 2022 to come up with cost-sharing options for redevelopment.

Cormack voted against the proposed terms of the five-year lease, which will be presented to the council and the school board in the next month.

"I just can't begin to say how disappointed I am that it's going to take us many more years to make even minor progress on redesigning Cubberley," Cormack said at the meeting.

Both the city and the school district are also still trying to figure out whether to include any housing as part of Cubberley's redevelopment, a proposal that generated significant opposition from residents at the fourth co-design meeting in May and pushback from the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. While residents generally backed the idea of building 32 units of teacher housing at 525 San Antonio Road, a site adjacent to Cubberley that is owned by the school district, many balked at some of the more ambitious alternatives on the table, which proposed between 64 and 164 units. The most ambitious alternative called for constructing 100 apartments on top of the community center itself, turning the two-story complex into a four-story one.

The council hasn't endorsed any of the four alternatives, though members agreed in June to explore having up to 112 units of housing at Cubberley as part of a forthcoming environmental analysis of the master plan. That analysis is scheduled to be completed by June 2020.

Despite the various disagreements between the Cubberley co-owners, Austin and Shikada tried to strike a more hopeful and conciliatory tone in the master plan's transmittal letter.

"Through creative sequencing and development options, we believe we can create a space for the residents and students of Palo Alto that reflect the community's needs of today while preserving land for potential educational needs of tomorrow," the letter states. "The Cubberley Master Plan is a vision for the future that can only be realized by continuing the path forward.

"With recognition that the city and school district may proceed at different paces or on our own paths, we commit to supporting one another as partners to realize this once in a generation opportunity and create a community and educational space as unique as Palo Alto itself," Shikada and Austin wrote.


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9 people like this
Posted by They who hesitate...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2019 at 10:06 am

Wow if they were going to take the neighbor path we could have had a new Foothill Campus on that site today instead of in Sunnyvale.

The estimate of how much additional spaces for the footprint don’t seem honest. Multi story school construction also costs a lot more per square foot to build.

9 people like this
Posted by K55
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 29, 2019 at 11:33 am

K55 is a registered user.

should have kept it part of Foothill College, now it will become more dense if CC gets their way.

40 people like this
Posted by margaret
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 29, 2019 at 12:17 pm


having wasted evenings and days on the sham of so-called 'community' process for what to do about this site and see how it was corrupted by the public officials to a point where it did not resemble in any way anything anybody wanted....and now they will find a way to steal funds from us to pay for it.

The best anybody can do here in this kleptocratic government machine of today's Palo Alto is to leave things exactly as they are

44 people like this
Posted by Don't develop
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2019 at 12:49 pm

I hope the school district stands firm and doesn't overdevelop this property. The city just wants to overbuild and overdevelop everything they can get their greedy little developer oriented claws into.

What is wrong with large open spaces and parking lots and one story buildings that don't leave you feeling depressed and smothered like the huge monstrosities we are surrounded by everywhere.

Just because a building is 50 or 100 years old doesn't make it obsolete. As long as it has a good roof to keep out the rain it is fine. It doesn't need to have state of the art wiring and blue tooth capabilities. We don't need every building to have all that stuff.

Further we are faced with a huge environmental issues and massive new buildings are not the way to deal with that. Mining out minerals to make re-bar, cutting trees, and producing and pouring concrete are always more environmentally destructive than remodeling the building that is already there.

Also remember that one day there will be a huge city wide disaster (maybe and earthquake) we will need large parking lots and open fields for people to come together and pitch tents and get services before the rebuilding starts. If we cover it all with giant buildings and stacked parking structures, we will have no where to go.

So many reasons not to let the city have it. So yes to letting the school district keep it and use it for the less intensive needs of giving students room to think and grow and not be crowded and overwhelmed (like everyone else in this area).

9 people like this
Posted by DT North
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2019 at 1:14 pm

"Don't Develop" - have you been there lately? It is sorely lacking in maintenance and the space is totally inefficient. We have to get over the idea that we can have facilities for everyone and housing for everyone with a single story concept. Too bad Arillaga doesn't sponsor Palo Alto like he does Menlo Park. It would be nice to have a rec center with nice facilities. If we don't fit it there, maybe they can somewhere near the old dump, but Cubberley is dilapidated and not an efficient use of space. My kids will be grown and done by the time anything is finished but even so, I would happily support a bond to fix that place up. And no, not every 50 year old building needs to be demolished but that one would probably cost more to fix up than to start from scratch.

6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 29, 2019 at 1:56 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

A great swimming pool from the past. We took our kids to the old pool with the high diving tower on the far end, above the lower diving boards. I think we paid 50 cents each for a one time use visit. There might have been cheaper rates for our kids, but looking back on it, it was one heck of a good deal.

3 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 29, 2019 at 2:09 pm


The place is a dump, difficult to maintain, and not a good use of space.

Your comment is completely irrational and without support.

Next time you comment, spell out what you are upset about.

27 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 29, 2019 at 2:51 pm

No teacher housing at Cubberley. All of the School Board has now agreed that PAUSD has no problems recruiting or retaining teachers. Public assets for the public, not for special interests.

12 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2019 at 4:54 pm

Pls can someone clarify the 3 lane each side road shown. That isn’t what Middlefield looks like there.

1 person likes this
Posted by Publicus
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2019 at 5:25 pm

The notion that there should be two parallel governments for the same place is absurd. Do away with the notion of school boards and school districts. The city government should run the schools just like it runs anything else regarding the public health and welfare.

32 people like this
Posted by The City has overreached
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2019 at 7:33 pm

The City has overreached is a registered user.

I agree with Margaret that there were many coercive elements to the process. But more importantly, the City has clearly overreached in terms of ambition on a parcel it doesn't even control.

I spend a lot of time at Cubberley, and do not believe the place is a dump, as Chris from University South refers to it above. It is much loved, sure. And I imagine it is getting harder to maintain. But there is a very wide spectrum between "do nothing, leave it as-is" and building that outrageously expensive colossus the City is promoting. If those are my two choices, though, I am very strongly in the former camp.

Our City has no shortage of compelling projects to spend money on (train crossings? affordable housing? transit?), not to mention the ongoing and very significant pension problem. Cubberley is an extremely valuable property, but for now we need to dial down our ambition for this lot.

8 people like this
Posted by pmarca
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 29, 2019 at 8:46 pm

By increasing height even slightly, they were able to add more usable space AND increase open green space, so this should be a lesson for all.


If they went even taller, they could have more space, more parking and increase the bang for the buck.

School district should cooperate with the plans, but IF there is need for a school later someday, Palo Alto should cooperate by acquiring or providing new land.

However, we need to STOP doing things the old way or sprawling school buildings.

We need multi-story buildings for schools, office and housing if we are going to make better land use.

The master plan is okay (could be bigger).

14 people like this
Posted by The City has overreached
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2019 at 8:50 pm

The City has overreached is a registered user.

The argument about open space is specious. What does it matter if (for example) there is 30% more open space when you have 300% more people using it?

22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2019 at 6:45 am

Leave it as it is for future generations.

10 people like this
Posted by margaret
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 30, 2019 at 11:26 am

Anybody been to Bixby Park lately? They bulldozed us a big beautiful dead hill of dirt out of what was promised to be a nature area

17 people like this
Posted by Steven V.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 30, 2019 at 11:55 am

We play Table Tennis from 10 to 2 every Tuesday at the Cubberley Gym. There are typically 30 to 40 Seniors who participate every week. The group has been in Palo Alto for more than 20 years. Where is this group going to go for the years it will take for a massive redevelopment. I agree with the comments that Cubberley should stay the same. I graduated from Cubberley in 1966. No, it is not "dilapidated". There is no AC? What? We are not living In Houston! Furthermore, the facility is well maintained and there is free WiFi everywhere on site.

19 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2019 at 4:18 pm

I'm sorry, but, I think that Palo Alto will need that land for public education, including, eventually, a third high school again. I don't want the education use to get discarded forever. That would not be wise. The city is being forced and will continue to be forced by the political power of developers to add housing. We will need more schools and more land for schools as a result. Don't do anything on that land that will preclude educational use eventually as the school-age population grows.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 30, 2019 at 8:14 pm

Public education or re-education.

9 people like this
Posted by Cubberly Resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 30, 2019 at 8:49 pm

We hope you all continue to fight. We enjoy our neighborhood and city counsel should realize their greed does not go unnoticed.

21 people like this
Posted by Look forward...Big picture. Long-term. Balanced land uses.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2019 at 10:38 am

Council should not be surprised. They upended consensus that had been created around a specific plan in the public process by tacking on housing at the last minute--setting a precedent to use Public Facilities-zoned land for housing. At the same time, they pursue rezoning parcels on San Antonio Road and other nearby areas like East Meadow Circles for high density housing--not to mention other sites around the city. These zoning changes will draw large numbers of new residents who will increase demand for community center and school capacity.

Council/Staff, you set up a public process and then abandoned it. Please listen and follow through on your promises.

By adding a surprise housing element in the 11th hour to the Cubberley plans, Council eroded previous public support for the community center/school project and opened the door for PAUSD to back out--something the district had wanted to do right along. You, Council, gave them political cover to do it. That was careless.

If you build all of the housing you envision everywhere else, we will need Cubberley more than ever as a community center and school site. Please do not squander this precious, limited public resource--our city's last, large publicly-owned parcel that can be used for schools, playing fields and community center.

This project origianlly was about meeting the long-term public school and community service needs of a growing, densifying city. Tacking on housing changed that and eroded support. Comprehensive planning requires you to consider future needs. Please do so.

2 people like this
Posted by Member 1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 3, 2019 at 8:02 am

Look for other charters that are kinder to students . Foothill college could run HS students through useful AA programs on site which could serve all the kids. Pharmacy, Dental, comp sci, EMT, Court reporting could place them in careers or could start them off with useful information and certificates they could use for part time college jobs that are above minimum wage.

Of just another high school that has tiny boxes and elaborate rubrics or an elementary school that is so over packaged only the middle low students have relevant instruction.

6 people like this
Posted by MoveCanneryToCubberly
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 3, 2019 at 5:22 pm

I heard an idea that sounded good to me. Take Fry's cannery building and move it to the Cubberly site. Repurpose this large one story structure as a community center. It would preserve its historic integrity and up-cycle it for broad community use. Way less expensive than building a brand new center and would save on carbon emissions. Besides there are gazillion engineers, albeit software, around to see this through. Win, win, win. The Fry's site then could be cleared for affordable housing. Perfect!!!!

1 person likes this
Posted by CubberlyCommunityHousingYes
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 3, 2019 at 6:04 pm

"...setting a precedent to use Public Facilities-zoned land for housing" And just why is this illegal or wrong? Fair, safe, decent, attractive efficiently built housing should be at this site. Wait until the state comes and demands all cities submit to them all their public land holdings because the needed affordable housing is not getting accomplished. Californians are are in a dire housing emergency - the Silicon Valley is the major hub of an American, humanitarian crisis . Get real. Don't shove poor people into ghetto like settings where there are food deserts and massive concrete pollution emitted into the atmosphere . California is 50 years behind in housing and a Century behind in building it. Just be happy the government is not coming after your sacred home for a freeway or train crossing. I believe in your Roman Civilization argument that just by building it they will come. Cubberely is a fantastic space for everyone to share and especially for providing a sustainable, breathable, walkable, ridable compact housing element for our less fortunate neighbors, seniors, teachers, families. Everything is right there.

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