News

New Cubberley lease dashes residents' hopes for improved community center

City Manager Ed Shikada: New lease with school districts makes 'the best of a bad situation'

The City Council favored on June 16 a new lease for Cubberley Community Center that reduces the city's presence, and investment, in the Middlefield Road center. Photo by Veronica Weber.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, June 17, the Palo Alto City Council reversed its decision on leasing space at Cubberley Community Center, where it agreed to a 54-month lease instead. Read the full story here.

---

Palo Alto's vision of a new and improved Cubberley Community Center filled with green spaces and new gyms and auditoriums faded on Monday night, when the City Council agreed to reduce the city's footprint in the popular but dilapidated complex.

By a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, the City Council approved a new lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District that effectively pulls the plug on more than seven years of community planning for the 35-acre south Palo Alto center at 4000 Middlefield Road. The new agreement reduces the city's annual lease payments to the school district from $5.4 million to $2.7 million annually in a year when the council is trying to find $40 million in budget cuts.

The new Cubberley deal also means that the city will no longer rent its entire 27-acre portion of Cubberley that is owned by the school district (the city owns the remaining 8 acres) but limit itself to about 1.5 acres (64,846 square feet) of rentable indoor space. This includes buildings that currently house HeartFit for Life and Friends of Palo Alto Library, as well as the auditorium, which is functioning as a temporary home for the Junior Museum and Zoo. The city will also continue to lease outdoor recreation areas, which make up close to 16 acres.

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The council's decision to reduce its investment in Cubberley represents a complete turnaround from its position last year, when the city and the school district jointly conducted a planning process that brought hundreds of residents to the former high school for a series of meetings. The process, which concluded in May 2019, resulted in a vision of Cubberley as a "shared village" jointly operated by the city and the school district. At that time, officials and residents were considering rebuilding Cubberley's aged gyms and performing arts spaces and adding new community amenities, including pools and teacher housing.

Since then, however, the city and the school district have struggled to bring this vision to fruition. The last Cubberley lease expired at the end of 2019 and the city has been leasing space on a month-to-month basis ever since.

Dancers from the Anjali Natya dance school rehearse at the Cubberley Community Center Theatre on Sept. 17, 2014. The city's annual lease payment to the school district at site has gone down from $5.4 million to $2.7 million. Photo by Veronica Weber.

The city and the school district have long clashed over Cubberley's future, with the city pressing to redevelop the aged center and the district seeking to preserve space that may be needed for a future school. The city's economic crisis further frayed the relationship, resulting in a lease deal that neither side is particularly pleased about.

While the school board approved the deal last month, board President Todd Collins said it did so "reluctantly."

"I don't think the school board is enthusiastic about this," Collins said. "While we can put the space to use, we are reducing positions and drawing on reserves to balance the budget this year, and even more in future years. This is not a desired outcome for us."

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Numerous community members also signaled their displeasure at the new direction for Cubberley. Among them was Diane Reklis, a former school board member who served on the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, a citizens group that in 2013 issued a report that recommended a joint planning process between the city and the school district for Cubberley. Reklis chided city leaders Monday for effectively abandoning a creative, mutually beneficial solution and pursuing "selfish solutions while the community is distracted."

"Today, our city and district act like squabbling siblings, each trying to best each other, rather than wise parents seeking the common good," Reklis said.

Former Mayor Lanie Wheeler said the deal will hurt local nonprofits. One Cubberley tenant informed her that it will have "nowhere to go but out of business," she wrote to the council. The council should not be "complicit in these evictions unless you do have space identified into which these tenants can move," she wrote.

"We are also past the point in time where the city and the school district pledged to work together to propose and hopefully adopt a plan for long term joint use of the property," Wheeler wrote.

Now, she said, it seems like the city and the board are "further apart rather than closer to the finish line on that project."

"COVID-19 is not and should not be used as the excuse to sweep the years of planning away," Wheeler said.

Former mayors Pat Burt, Mike Cobb, Wheeler and community activist Penny Ellson argued that the new agreement abandons the city lease on much of the community facility with little public awareness or policy discussion by the council.

"Instead, a very significant change to community services is being made under the guise of a budgetary decision while the impacted Cubberley users, and the community, and the council are distracted by an avalanche of impacts on the city budget and personal impacts of the emergency," their letter states.

The council largely agreed with City Manager Ed Shikada that the new agreement, while less than ideal, is necessary because of the bleak budget picture. They disagreed with Shikada, however, on the proposed duration of the lease. While staff had proposed a lease that would expire at the end of 2024, several council members suggested leasing the space for only two or three years, thus giving both sides more flexibility to update terms based on post-pandemic conditions. The council settled on 30 months, an adjustment that will require fresh school board approval.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack, who enthusiastically participated in the planning exercise last year, said it's "incredibly disappointing to essentially be going backwards, which is what we're doing."

"I think it's understandable, given the situation we're in," she added.

Mayor Adrian Fine shared her sentiment.

"This is not where any of us want to be, but the circumstances are driving some of our decisions here," Fine said.

Despite its disappointment in the overall direction in the Cubberley planning process, the council was pleased to learn Monday that many of the tenants that currently occupy the community center will be able to remain there. In some cases, the school district has offered them leases. In others, the city was able to find space for them on the city's 8 acres.

Members of the Palo Alto Soccer Club conduct drills at the Cubberley Community Center soccer fields in Palo Alto on Aug. 4, 2017. The proposed lease deal that the City Council supported on June 16 will last for 30 months. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Kristen O'Kane, director of the Community Services Department, said the Palo Alto Humane Society is still evaluating its option for a new Cubberley location, while the Palo Alto Community of Christ Church is looking for a location elsewhere.

"We have found space for the majority of the tenants," O'Kane said. "It may not in all cases be as big as the space they had before or as ideal as the space they had before, but our goal was to ensure they have the space to continue their operations."

Councilman Greg Tanaka, who dissented, suggested that the city shouldn't take funding away from the school district and proposed that the two parties go back to the negotiating table. He also said he would have preferred saving money in other ways, such as lowering the city's capital spending or cutting management at City Hall.

"I would've wanted a more collaborative (process), versus an ultimatum-type of negotiation," Tanaka said.

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New Cubberley lease dashes residents' hopes for improved community center

City Manager Ed Shikada: New lease with school districts makes 'the best of a bad situation'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 16, 2020, 2:17 am

UPDATE: On Wednesday, June 17, the Palo Alto City Council reversed its decision on leasing space at Cubberley Community Center, where it agreed to a 54-month lease instead. Read the full story here.

---

Palo Alto's vision of a new and improved Cubberley Community Center filled with green spaces and new gyms and auditoriums faded on Monday night, when the City Council agreed to reduce the city's footprint in the popular but dilapidated complex.

By a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, the City Council approved a new lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District that effectively pulls the plug on more than seven years of community planning for the 35-acre south Palo Alto center at 4000 Middlefield Road. The new agreement reduces the city's annual lease payments to the school district from $5.4 million to $2.7 million annually in a year when the council is trying to find $40 million in budget cuts.

The new Cubberley deal also means that the city will no longer rent its entire 27-acre portion of Cubberley that is owned by the school district (the city owns the remaining 8 acres) but limit itself to about 1.5 acres (64,846 square feet) of rentable indoor space. This includes buildings that currently house HeartFit for Life and Friends of Palo Alto Library, as well as the auditorium, which is functioning as a temporary home for the Junior Museum and Zoo. The city will also continue to lease outdoor recreation areas, which make up close to 16 acres.

The council's decision to reduce its investment in Cubberley represents a complete turnaround from its position last year, when the city and the school district jointly conducted a planning process that brought hundreds of residents to the former high school for a series of meetings. The process, which concluded in May 2019, resulted in a vision of Cubberley as a "shared village" jointly operated by the city and the school district. At that time, officials and residents were considering rebuilding Cubberley's aged gyms and performing arts spaces and adding new community amenities, including pools and teacher housing.

Since then, however, the city and the school district have struggled to bring this vision to fruition. The last Cubberley lease expired at the end of 2019 and the city has been leasing space on a month-to-month basis ever since.

The city and the school district have long clashed over Cubberley's future, with the city pressing to redevelop the aged center and the district seeking to preserve space that may be needed for a future school. The city's economic crisis further frayed the relationship, resulting in a lease deal that neither side is particularly pleased about.

While the school board approved the deal last month, board President Todd Collins said it did so "reluctantly."

"I don't think the school board is enthusiastic about this," Collins said. "While we can put the space to use, we are reducing positions and drawing on reserves to balance the budget this year, and even more in future years. This is not a desired outcome for us."

Numerous community members also signaled their displeasure at the new direction for Cubberley. Among them was Diane Reklis, a former school board member who served on the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, a citizens group that in 2013 issued a report that recommended a joint planning process between the city and the school district for Cubberley. Reklis chided city leaders Monday for effectively abandoning a creative, mutually beneficial solution and pursuing "selfish solutions while the community is distracted."

"Today, our city and district act like squabbling siblings, each trying to best each other, rather than wise parents seeking the common good," Reklis said.

Former Mayor Lanie Wheeler said the deal will hurt local nonprofits. One Cubberley tenant informed her that it will have "nowhere to go but out of business," she wrote to the council. The council should not be "complicit in these evictions unless you do have space identified into which these tenants can move," she wrote.

"We are also past the point in time where the city and the school district pledged to work together to propose and hopefully adopt a plan for long term joint use of the property," Wheeler wrote.

Now, she said, it seems like the city and the board are "further apart rather than closer to the finish line on that project."

"COVID-19 is not and should not be used as the excuse to sweep the years of planning away," Wheeler said.

Former mayors Pat Burt, Mike Cobb, Wheeler and community activist Penny Ellson argued that the new agreement abandons the city lease on much of the community facility with little public awareness or policy discussion by the council.

"Instead, a very significant change to community services is being made under the guise of a budgetary decision while the impacted Cubberley users, and the community, and the council are distracted by an avalanche of impacts on the city budget and personal impacts of the emergency," their letter states.

The council largely agreed with City Manager Ed Shikada that the new agreement, while less than ideal, is necessary because of the bleak budget picture. They disagreed with Shikada, however, on the proposed duration of the lease. While staff had proposed a lease that would expire at the end of 2024, several council members suggested leasing the space for only two or three years, thus giving both sides more flexibility to update terms based on post-pandemic conditions. The council settled on 30 months, an adjustment that will require fresh school board approval.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack, who enthusiastically participated in the planning exercise last year, said it's "incredibly disappointing to essentially be going backwards, which is what we're doing."

"I think it's understandable, given the situation we're in," she added.

Mayor Adrian Fine shared her sentiment.

"This is not where any of us want to be, but the circumstances are driving some of our decisions here," Fine said.

Despite its disappointment in the overall direction in the Cubberley planning process, the council was pleased to learn Monday that many of the tenants that currently occupy the community center will be able to remain there. In some cases, the school district has offered them leases. In others, the city was able to find space for them on the city's 8 acres.

Kristen O'Kane, director of the Community Services Department, said the Palo Alto Humane Society is still evaluating its option for a new Cubberley location, while the Palo Alto Community of Christ Church is looking for a location elsewhere.

"We have found space for the majority of the tenants," O'Kane said. "It may not in all cases be as big as the space they had before or as ideal as the space they had before, but our goal was to ensure they have the space to continue their operations."

Councilman Greg Tanaka, who dissented, suggested that the city shouldn't take funding away from the school district and proposed that the two parties go back to the negotiating table. He also said he would have preferred saving money in other ways, such as lowering the city's capital spending or cutting management at City Hall.

"I would've wanted a more collaborative (process), versus an ultimatum-type of negotiation," Tanaka said.

Comments

Name hidden
Downtown North

on Jun 16, 2020 at 7:10 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

on Jun 16, 2020 at 7:10 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


chris
University South
on Jun 16, 2020 at 10:44 am
chris, University South
on Jun 16, 2020 at 10:44 am
12 people like this

You have to wonder about the critical thinking capacities of the council. The staff negotiated a great deal for the city for 54 months at Cubberley, and they insisted on kicking a gift horse in the mouth by rejecting the 54 month term, insisting on 30 months. Now the deal has to go back to the school board. They should tell the council "no dice, we will stay on month to month" The proposed lease has a 120-day opt-out so the shorter lease term buys the city nothing and puts the tenants at risk again in 2 years. The council is not going to get a better deal then, but on the other hand, everything is not going to be hunky-dory in 2022.

The unspoken question is, Who was the great mastermind behind the last-minute switch to 30 months?

Please do some investigative reporting on this, Gennady.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2020 at 10:48 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2020 at 10:48 am
6 people like this

>> "shared village"

Hopefully, this will the awful "shared village" concept. We will need that land for a third high school and for other educational and recreational (playing fields) uses. We also need additional space for non-profits. We don't need a "shared village". Bad idea.


Pat Burt
Community Center
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:42 pm
Pat Burt, Community Center
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:42 pm
14 people like this

The discussion last night clarified some things and muddied others.
First, upon repeated questioning, the city manager appeared to admit that he had not requested or been amenable to a sizable reduction in the lease amount the city would pay PAUSD in the near-term as an alternative to fundamentally changing the community center. The school leadership has indicated that they were prepared to reduce the city’s payment while retaining the rest of the lease terms.
The impetus for the changes to the 30-year long use of the Cubberley as a community center was almost entirely a budgetary decision made by the city manager without any policy guidance provided in public by the council.
Many of the tenants are in the process of relocating, although often at higher rents so why couldn’t the city have made up some of the desired savings from modest rent increases?
Other tenants will not be able to find new locations resulting in the community losing their services.
The council directed staff to try to renegotiate the new lease for just 30 months, but it’s unclear why the district would now agree to shorten the term since that would undermine their flexibility in signing tenants or in school uses for the space. Once the city gives up control of this space, it is unlikely they will ever be able to get it back.
The council has one last chance next week to correct this mess. They can restore funding to public safety and community services budgets by only modestly slowing down the record-setting capital (infrastructure) spending for next year. In doing so, they’ll also likely be able to accomplish even more of the infrastructure plan by re-bidding projects that are currently planned to proceed under highly inflated construction costs from the recent boom, and instead, they can take advantage of declining construction costs in the next 6-12 months.


The Truth
Charleston Gardens
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:44 pm
The Truth, Charleston Gardens
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:44 pm
6 people like this

This "about face" smells of lobbyist money..wonder who will show up in a new Tesla?


Ken Horowitz
University South
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:50 pm
Ken Horowitz, University South
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:50 pm
1 person likes this

I disagree with the article’s headline
“New Cubberley Lease Dashes
Residents Hopes....”
After waiting over 30 years for PAUSD to make a decision on what
should become of a dilapidated
Cubberley high school, the City played a different hand in dealing with continuous long term leases with PAUSD. Sometimes in negotiations, one has to take two steps backward to move three steps forward. The City’s actions to reduce the terms of the previous leases was the right call.
Hopefully, their actions last evening will finally lead to a long lasting agreement of what to do with Cubberley and satisfy the hopes of residents


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2020 at 4:15 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2020 at 4:15 pm
12 people like this

Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center

>> They can restore funding to public safety and community services budgets by only modestly slowing down the record-setting capital (infrastructure) spending for next year. In doing so, they’ll also likely be able to accomplish even more of the infrastructure plan by re-bidding projects that are currently planned to proceed under highly inflated construction costs from the recent boom

I find it incomprehensible that the city doesn't defer these new construction starts right now.


Jonah
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 16, 2020 at 5:41 pm
Jonah, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 16, 2020 at 5:41 pm
19 people like this

"By a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, the City Council approved a new lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District that effectively pulls the plug on more than seven years of community planning for the 35-acre south Palo Alto center' - -
Tanaka always dissents, is never coherent, and is never effective. Having said that, I am glad that awful project is gone and hope it does not come back. It was too ugly, too ambitious, and too expensive.


Harry Merkin
Ventura
on Jun 16, 2020 at 9:40 pm
Harry Merkin, Ventura
on Jun 16, 2020 at 9:40 pm
11 people like this

'Councilwoman Alison Cormack, who enthusiastically participated in the planning exercise last year, said it's "incredibly disappointing to essentially be going backwards, which is what we're doing."
Mayor Adrian Fine shared her sentiment.'

And then both of them voted for their acknowledged rotten idea.


Joe in Green Acres
Green Acres
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:32 am
Joe in Green Acres, Green Acres
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:32 am
2 people like this

What most disappointed me Monday night was Council's lack of discussion about the needs of long-term tenants like FOPAL and my group, the Cardiac Therapy Foundation (aka HeartFit for Life) - maybe even Avenidas. We need stability, which is best brought by a long-term lease, not short leases. 30 months is acceptable, but 54 months would have have been much, much better. And some council members talk of a 120-day termination clause was absolutely disconcerting to me as a rep of the Cardiac group. Small non-profits cannot last very long in the hyper-priced for-profit real estate market, and we were hardly mentioned in the Council discussion that took place.

The District has been very consistent with its approach to Cubberley for decades. They don't need it for a school, particularly with entering classes being smaller than graduating ones (per a Todd Collins Op-Ed last year in the Weekly as I recall), and thus aren't prepared to participate in any development of its 27 acres that might adversely impact build-out of the site for a school way off in the future. That was determined by the relatively inexpensive Citizens' Advisory Group some years ago (school not needed before 2029 at the earliest). In contrast, the Concordia consultants review, as at a cost of roughly $500,00, was an absolute waste of time and money. It led people to believe that something was possible, when , in fact, it was not (as I told the consultants at the very first out-reach meeting). Given the sale of three elem schools by the District in the early 80s, and the furor that that caused, the District will never (should never) sell its acreage, so development will presumably wait until the District needs it for a school. Frankly, no surprise.

If the City wants some community center development at Cubberley, it is free to do so at any time on the 8 acres it owns there.

The City got virtually all of what it needs at Cubberley, although some smaller tenants unfortunately got hit in the process, at roughly 1/2 the prior rental. That seemed like a good deal for the City, and is always a good deal for the District as there is a sizeable transfer of money from the City to the District. The City pays for the maintenance and utilities and the District does not have to be in the short-term rental business, which may be a new cost for them.

And, BTW, many people denigrate the Cubberley facilities. Yes, they are old and need constant repair, but they are "home" to many of us, and, at least for my group, it works quite well. The walls stay vertical, the gym flooring is nice, and the roofs keep out the occasional rain (sound familiar to where you live) . We're happy, but would have been happier with a 54-month lease. That type of certainty would have been very nice indeed.



chris
University South
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:55 am
chris, University South
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:55 am
Like this comment

The CC is meeting at 5:30pm tonight to renegotiate the lease terms with PAUSD. The session itself is closed but there is a comment period prior to the closed session.

The 54-month lease proposal has been public for weeks and already approved by PAUSD. There was absolutely no PUBLIC discussion of a shorter lease term. The council should have made their intentions public in advance so that the rationalE of their positions could be debated. This lack of transparency is regrettable and will be remembered at election time this year and in two years when the CC will be back to this issue unnecessarily.


Jeremy Erman
Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:58 am
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:58 am
Like this comment

A special meeting has been called for today at 5:30pm for the City and PAUSD to negotiate the Cubberley lease in closed session. The City Council inadvertently triggered this by voting for a shorter lease than PAUSD did.

Web Link


Jeremy Erman
Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:02 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:02 pm
Like this comment

Chris, the City staff sent the lease to PAUSD before showing it to the Council. Monday was the first time they discussed the actual lease, and not just the proposal.


No overdevelopment
Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:04 pm
No overdevelopment, Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:04 pm
7 people like this

The long term plan for Cubberley was an over-development nightmare and one good thing out of this Covid mess is that it got killed. Hopefully some of the other over-development nightmares that have been thought up for this area will also disappear.

In an age of disease (and pandemics are likely to become more common and wide spread as the earth is being slowly degraded) we need more open space, less bulk to buildings and fewer people. Leave the open aspects of Cubberley alone and let low cost community facilities fill the space.

That being said, the city does have a budget issue but I can't see that we will not need these spaces moving forward so why all of the fuss over a 2.5 year lease vs. a 5 year lease. Seems like the growth contingent on the council just wants to try again to overdevelop sooner rather than later (since they never learn).


Stop the Quibbling Bureaucrats...
Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 1:18 pm
Stop the Quibbling Bureaucrats..., Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 1:18 pm
6 people like this

The school district has stated publicly, on the one hand, that they really didn't want this to happen, but on the other hand, they desperately need the space. Which way is it?

Why doesn't the school district simply continue to lease to these non-profits, as they do with other spaces they rent? [Oh, they also said they really don't want to be "landlords," desite the fact they already are and do!]

It's all our taxpayer money at the end of the day. Stop quibbling about who has to take a little budget hit (PAUSD or the City) due to the Covid thing, and do the right thing for the community and these non-profits.

Is that too much to ask? You are all paid enough to do the right thing here. It's not like any of you will ever give yourselves a pay cut.


chris
University South
on Jun 17, 2020 at 9:03 pm
chris, University South
on Jun 17, 2020 at 9:03 pm
Like this comment

It seems like the CC got some sense knocked into their heads by PAUSD. That may be a first.

The question is who was promoting the short-term lease in opposition to common sense. Nobody came forward to support it. It seems like they have wasted a week on this issue.

Now can the CC stick to its latest position on Monday when they have to approve it in public?


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