News

City Council reverses decision, opts for longer Cubberley lease

Two days after Monday council vote, Palo Alto now set to approve 54-month agreement for Cubberley space

The Palo Alto City Council voted in a closed session on June 17 to move ahead with a 54-month lease for Cubberley Community Center space. The council will formally approve the lease next week. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto's meandering path toward a new lease at Cubberley Community Center took another twist on Wednesday, when the City Council agreed in a closed session to sign a 54-month lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District for space at the complex.

With the move, the council is reverting to the deal that city staff had negotiated with the school last month and that the school district's Board of Education subsequently approved. The council, however, voted on Monday night to change the length of the lease from 54 months to 30 months.

The Monday decision meant that the district would have to approve the new and shorter lease of the aged but popular community center at 4000 Middlefield Road.

The city, which owns 8 acres of Cubberley, has been leasing the remaining 27 acres from the school district for decades through a series of long-term leases, the last of which expired at the end of 2019. The city has been leasing space on a month-to-month basis ever since.

The new deal represents what City Manager Ed Shikada called an "a la carte" approach to Cubberley, with the city only renting those portions of the facility that are heavily used rather than the entire 27 acres. The city will continue to rent playing fields and about 1.5 acres of indoor space, including buildings that have for years housed the nonprofits Friends of the Palo Alto Library and HeartFit for Life.

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The move will cut the city's annual expenditures on the Cubberley lease from $5.4 million to $2.7 million.

It is also, however, creating uncertainty for some Cubberley tenants. While the city has helped some of the tenants on the district's side of Cubberley find new space, several others now find themselves looking for new locations. The latter include the Palo Alto Humane Society and the Palo Alto Community of Christ Church.

Before the Wednesday closed session meeting, Leonor Delgado, education manager at the Palo Alto Humane Society, said she was concerned about the prospect of getting evicted during a pandemic. Given the county's shelter-at-home guidelines and the fact that the nonprofit's employees tend to be in the high-risk group for contracting COVID-19, moving to a new location will "put each one in danger," she said.

She also said she was worried that moving would curtail some of the nonprofit's offerings.

"That eviction at this point will be tantamount to destroying our organization or setting us back tremendously in terms of our programs and goals," Delgado said.

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Several other residents also said they were unhappy with various components of the new lease. Jonathan Erman noted that under the new agreement, the city will continue to rent Cubberley's theater while the school district will be the landlord in the adjoining dressing rooms. The confusing arrangement will require theater users to make reservations with both agencies if they want to use both the theater and the dressing rooms.

"We have to look ahead and realize that at some point we'll be getting together again in spaces and community facilities are of incredible importance, not just to the city but to everyone," Erman said.

Fred Kohler, a resident of University South, said he was disappointed by the council's sudden shortening of the lease agreement on Monday night, which he said was done without adequate transparency.

"The proposed lease has been public for weeks and has been approved by PAUSD," Kohler said. "Without public discussion, the council proposed changing the terms."

The Wednesday decision to revert to the 54-month duration means that the board's original approval of the lease terms stands and the council can now approve the deal next week on its "consent calendar," with no further discussion.

Mayor Adrian Fine indicated on Wednesday that the council's decision to go back to the 54-month duration was made "based on feedback from school officials" about the Monday decision.

Vice Mayor Tom DuBois said the council has received conflicting messages from district leaders, with some saying they don't like the new lease and others indicating that they want to get Cubberley space back so that they can use it for classrooms. After the city decided to reduce the scope of the lease, one board member, Ken Dauber, likened the district's use of Cubberley space for education purposes to making "lemonade out of lemons."

DuBois said the council was interested in shortening the duration of the lease so that the city and the district can get through the COVID-19 pandemic and then re-evaluate the campus. The school district, he said, has indicated that it would like to get the lease in place sooner rather than later so that it can start making upgrades to the spaces that it plans to use. He also said that he hopes the two sides will continue to have broader discussions about Cubberley's future.

"I think several of us are still interested in working with the school board and seeing how we can redevelop Cubberley," DuBois said, referring to yearslong planning process that in 2019 resulted in a master plan for the campus but which is now on hold. "It's a discussion we want to keep having."

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin told this news organization that he "appreciates the City Council decision to honor the agreement we negotiated."

"Like so many things right now, we are navigating a series of imperfect solutions to issues nobody imagined a year ago," Austin said. "We value our partnership with the city and look forward to times when we can look into a future of possibilities after weathering this storm."

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City Council reverses decision, opts for longer Cubberley lease

Two days after Monday council vote, Palo Alto now set to approve 54-month agreement for Cubberley space

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 17, 2020, 9:45 pm

Palo Alto's meandering path toward a new lease at Cubberley Community Center took another twist on Wednesday, when the City Council agreed in a closed session to sign a 54-month lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District for space at the complex.

With the move, the council is reverting to the deal that city staff had negotiated with the school last month and that the school district's Board of Education subsequently approved. The council, however, voted on Monday night to change the length of the lease from 54 months to 30 months.

The Monday decision meant that the district would have to approve the new and shorter lease of the aged but popular community center at 4000 Middlefield Road.

The city, which owns 8 acres of Cubberley, has been leasing the remaining 27 acres from the school district for decades through a series of long-term leases, the last of which expired at the end of 2019. The city has been leasing space on a month-to-month basis ever since.

The new deal represents what City Manager Ed Shikada called an "a la carte" approach to Cubberley, with the city only renting those portions of the facility that are heavily used rather than the entire 27 acres. The city will continue to rent playing fields and about 1.5 acres of indoor space, including buildings that have for years housed the nonprofits Friends of the Palo Alto Library and HeartFit for Life.

The move will cut the city's annual expenditures on the Cubberley lease from $5.4 million to $2.7 million.

It is also, however, creating uncertainty for some Cubberley tenants. While the city has helped some of the tenants on the district's side of Cubberley find new space, several others now find themselves looking for new locations. The latter include the Palo Alto Humane Society and the Palo Alto Community of Christ Church.

Before the Wednesday closed session meeting, Leonor Delgado, education manager at the Palo Alto Humane Society, said she was concerned about the prospect of getting evicted during a pandemic. Given the county's shelter-at-home guidelines and the fact that the nonprofit's employees tend to be in the high-risk group for contracting COVID-19, moving to a new location will "put each one in danger," she said.

She also said she was worried that moving would curtail some of the nonprofit's offerings.

"That eviction at this point will be tantamount to destroying our organization or setting us back tremendously in terms of our programs and goals," Delgado said.

Several other residents also said they were unhappy with various components of the new lease. Jonathan Erman noted that under the new agreement, the city will continue to rent Cubberley's theater while the school district will be the landlord in the adjoining dressing rooms. The confusing arrangement will require theater users to make reservations with both agencies if they want to use both the theater and the dressing rooms.

"We have to look ahead and realize that at some point we'll be getting together again in spaces and community facilities are of incredible importance, not just to the city but to everyone," Erman said.

Fred Kohler, a resident of University South, said he was disappointed by the council's sudden shortening of the lease agreement on Monday night, which he said was done without adequate transparency.

"The proposed lease has been public for weeks and has been approved by PAUSD," Kohler said. "Without public discussion, the council proposed changing the terms."

The Wednesday decision to revert to the 54-month duration means that the board's original approval of the lease terms stands and the council can now approve the deal next week on its "consent calendar," with no further discussion.

Mayor Adrian Fine indicated on Wednesday that the council's decision to go back to the 54-month duration was made "based on feedback from school officials" about the Monday decision.

Vice Mayor Tom DuBois said the council has received conflicting messages from district leaders, with some saying they don't like the new lease and others indicating that they want to get Cubberley space back so that they can use it for classrooms. After the city decided to reduce the scope of the lease, one board member, Ken Dauber, likened the district's use of Cubberley space for education purposes to making "lemonade out of lemons."

DuBois said the council was interested in shortening the duration of the lease so that the city and the district can get through the COVID-19 pandemic and then re-evaluate the campus. The school district, he said, has indicated that it would like to get the lease in place sooner rather than later so that it can start making upgrades to the spaces that it plans to use. He also said that he hopes the two sides will continue to have broader discussions about Cubberley's future.

"I think several of us are still interested in working with the school board and seeing how we can redevelop Cubberley," DuBois said, referring to yearslong planning process that in 2019 resulted in a master plan for the campus but which is now on hold. "It's a discussion we want to keep having."

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin told this news organization that he "appreciates the City Council decision to honor the agreement we negotiated."

"Like so many things right now, we are navigating a series of imperfect solutions to issues nobody imagined a year ago," Austin said. "We value our partnership with the city and look forward to times when we can look into a future of possibilities after weathering this storm."

Comments

Ken Horowitz
University South
on Jun 18, 2020 at 1:04 am
Ken Horowitz , University South
on Jun 18, 2020 at 1:04 am
7 people like this

So again another five years renting plus contributing to a Cubberley infrastructure fund plus paying all the maintenance costs, the City has to date (over 35 years)paid for a dilapidated Cubberley high school site over $250M. Mark Twain is attributed with the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results. Palo Alto residents should not be fooled that PAUSD has any interest in developing Cubberley into a joint school/community center. They just want to be hold onto the land.
So the City needs to get out of this agreement as soon as possible so it can find a permanent home for the nonprofits and community groups. Maybe the new Ventura site would be better location since it is more centrally located. Let’s use our City dollars wisely. When the City rents, that money is gone. Bye. Not returning. But when it pays a mortgage, it works toward full ownership. This lease agreement with PAUSD is a bad deal for the City.


Ken Dauber
Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2020 at 8:59 am
Ken Dauber, Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2020 at 8:59 am
12 people like this

This story says that "Vice Mayor Tom DuBois said the council has received conflicting messages from district leaders, with some saying they don’t like the new lease and others indicating that they want to get Cubberley space back so that they can use it for classrooms."

In fact, as I wrote to the City Council last Sunday to correct a similar statement in the City Council agenda, there was no request from district leaders that the City change the Cubberley lease to free up space for classrooms, or any other district purpose. The lease change was entirely at the City's initiative and request:

"However, there was no request from PAUSD to the City to retain portions of Cubberley for the district's use. The Board of Education discussed the lease agreement at two public meetings. At both of those meetings Superintendent Austin stated that the decision to reduce the scope of the lease agreement was entirely at the request of City staff. At no point did the district ask the City to give up any of the space it leases at Cubberley. If you approve the amended agreement and the City does vacate space at Cubberley, I expect that the district will make use of some of it for educational purposes -- but that's in the nature of trying to make lemonade out of lemons."

I agree with Tom that the City and the district should be discussing longer term improvements to Cubberley. I don't actually think that the change to the lease has any implication for the viability of those conversations. The school board has appointed an ad hoc com committee to have those discussions.


Ken Horowitz
University South
on Jun 18, 2020 at 9:39 am
Ken Horowitz , University South
on Jun 18, 2020 at 9:39 am
5 people like this

Conversations between PAUSD and the City have been going on for many, many years. And there have been my multiple committees and consultants have been hired to seek a compromise. And now PAUSD has an other ad hoc committee. Lots of hours and money spent with no progress. It is time to put it in writing with this new agreement. Also does the current state of the old Cubberley structures ensure for the health, safety, and security of the building occupants and assets in the event of an earthquake. No one has addressed this issue. I think that needs to be included in the new agreement. PAUSD can have Cubberley, it belongs to them. But the City should not be enabling them. If the City thinks it is a good idea to give them money, that’s fine! But renting is a bad idea. The money is gone, never coming back.
Let’s find a permanent solution for a community center at a different location or as Tom Dubois suggested improve the eight acres the City owns.


Budget Massacre
Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:12 am
Budget Massacre, Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:12 am
19 people like this

Ken,

The situation is pretty clear to most people, I think. PAUSD liked being a landlord because it meant a flow of money to the District simply for being a land-owner. Now, you have to find tenants for the remaining portions at a similar rent, or make due with less revenue. In the short term, that's acceptable to you because Covid needs will prevail for the next year.

Additionally, your district massively overspent its massively large budget. Your tenant leaving made you look even worse on that front. Unexpected, maybe, but what did you all think a month-to-month lease meant?

Yes, being a landlord is sometimes a pain. Sometimes you need to fix things, find tenants, deal with temporary vacancies, and do a modicum of work involved with getting money for holding property that you don't want to use. Tough life.

I find it sad that the needs of the non-profits there get no thought or consideration in this wrangling between PAUSD and the City. To us, it looks like two bloated public bureaucracies fighting with each other, and wasting a lot of our money in the friction.


Cat Mom Leonorilda
Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:11 am
Cat Mom Leonorilda, Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:11 am
6 people like this

Despite the ongoing dangers posed by Covid-19, PAUSD and the City are intent on evicting tenants from Cubberley with no concern for the possible detrimental effects on the health and even the survival of the human tenants involved. Additionally, both parties place no value on the work of the nonprofits currently housed at Cubberley—what is their reasoning? Nonprofits and human beings are mere nothings when it comes down to saving money—this at the same time that the City forges ahead on public works projects that are unnecessary at this time. People and nonprofits are nonentities and as such totally expendable to the City and PAUSD.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:39 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:39 am
5 people like this

Posted by Ken Horowitz, a resident of University South

>> If the City thinks it is a good idea to give them money, that’s fine! But renting is a bad idea. The money is gone, never coming back.

I always thought of the Cubberley deal as a way for the city to pay PAUSD not to sell off the site to developers, keep the fields available for recreational use (there is a shortage of playing fields in the city) and, keep the site open for PAUSD to finally wake up and reopen the site as a third HS. So, sure, the money is never coming back, but, at least they didn't sell it off like they did all the elementary school sites. It actually is a much more logical site for a high school than the Gunn site. Too bad they decided to expand Gunn, which should have stayed a smaller school considering the local traffic configuration.


parent
Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 1:56 pm
parent, Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 1:56 pm
8 people like this

Some misinformation about the school district's role here:

PAUSD "massively overspent its massively large budget" - No. Due to the shelter-in-place and school closure, there was lost revenue (school facility rental, meal sales) and some additional expenses (more students meals, Chromebooks, hotspots). Since the district didn't lay off its workers, most costs stayed about the same. Revenue ended up about 1% less than expected, and was that about the size of the shortfall. It was neither massive nor over-spending.

The District "doesn't want to be a landlord" - PAUSD was already the landlord at Cubberley - they leased it to the City. As at their other leased sites (Garland, Fremont Hills, San Antonio), they prefer to lease to a single tenant who takes the whole site and handles its own maintenance and services. This is much simpler and lets them focus on their mission - educating children.

"Wrangling between PAUSD and the City" - PAUSD didn't "wrangle." By all accounts, including the City's, the city manager came to them and said "We have to dramatically cut our lease expenses" and superintendent said, "OK, we'll take back some of the space and try to use it." The school board approved the proposed lease without any changes in one meeting with about 5 minutes of discussion. Since they've got their hands full with re-inventing school for the fall, I can see why they wouldn't want to spend time on this.

The school leaders have said over and over (including Dauber above) that they were happy with the arrangement that was in place for 30+ years and had no desire to change it. When the City decided they needed to do so, they accepted it and moved on.


Budget Massacre
Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 2:58 pm
Budget Massacre, Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 2:58 pm
10 people like this

$3 million is a lot of money to me. Maybe not to the PAUSD.

Your budget is a quarter BILLION dollars a year, and you overspent it. Whoops.

It was in fact Dr. Austin who said PAUSD had "no interest in being a landlord." That was strange, because they already were. We agree that PAUSD liked the former agreement, in part, because it required very little to no oversight or attention to get that revenue stream.

The district and the city have been wrangling about Cubbberley for years. Simply search Palo Alto Online, if you want to see the massive archive of historical articles on this issue. Whoops again.


Reality...
Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 3:08 pm
Reality..., Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 3:08 pm
4 people like this

Do Palo Alto schools really have that much budget and overspent? If so, why don't they keep a 5% buffer and get ahead of pensions if it's not needed?

If Mr. Massacre (lol) is correct on the size, 5% would be a lot of money. Or, do we keep a buffer that big in the annual budget, but perhaps it was used?


parent
Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 5:17 pm
parent, Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 5:17 pm
2 people like this

@Reality - PAUSD spent about what they planned, and then had a 1% revenue shortfall for the reasons mentioned. They do keep significant reserves, and that funded the shortfall, with quite a bit left over. They are expecting lower revenue next year, so have cut expenses. They may have to do the same next year, depending on the revenue picture.

@Budget Massacre - you keep repeating misleading statements - why? Do you want to confuse people? Yes, the District is a large organization with a large budget - about the same size as the City's. No, a 1% revenue shortfall is not "massive" - if you make $250K a year, it's the same as a $2,500 shortfall.

I agree, it seems that PAUSD would rather not run a community center, as the city has been doing at Cubberley. They aren't set up for that. You imply the schools are somehow shirking their duty by not doing so, but it's clear why they don't want to.

Historically, PAUSD simply has said that they want to be able to build a future school at Cubberley, when and if needed, and until that time lease out the property to fund the schools. They have no other plan or interest. That doesn't seem like "wrangling" - it seems like common sense. You seem to agree that there certainly was no wrangling in the current instance.


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2020 at 8:00 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2020 at 8:00 pm
2 people like this

Cubberley is such a wonderful location. It would be wonderful to recreate it and correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there an agreed upon design!? I would love to see a school there, and adjacent smaller community facilities would be ideal.


Budget Massacre
Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 8:40 pm
Budget Massacre, Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2020 at 8:40 pm
10 people like this

$3,000,000 is a lot of money. If you work for or with the district, you might be accustomed to thinking of it as only as thirty $100,000 settlements for under-serving your constituents. In that perspective, not such a big deal. Routine for PAUSD.

But as a progressive obsessed with inefficiency in allegedly "progressive" institutions, I prefer to think of it as five hundred thousand Meals on Wheels meals. In short, food for 500 hungry Americans for a full year.

That is the amount of your over-expenditure. Non-trivial, to say the least.

But call it 1% if you prefer. That's where (sadly) most progressives belong, at least when they're associated with public bureaucracies.


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