News

Candidates hope to revive plans to rebuild, enhance Cubberley

While most City Council and school board hopefuls say they want to see housing and new amenities at community center, some urge caution

Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto was once a high school. Photo by Veronica Weber.

For well over a decade, Cubberley Community Center has stood out as Palo Alto's shining example of both untapped potential and bureaucratic sclerosis.

Sprawling, dilapidated and cherished by residents and city leaders for its mix of athletic, educational and recreational amenities, the Middlefield Road facility has been subject to extensive debate for well over a decade about needed repairs and new amenities. These efforts have been hampered by high costs and competing visions about Cubberley's future between the Palo Alto Unified School District, which owns 27 of Cubberley's 35 acres, and the city, which owns the other eight.

Now, with both the City Council and the school board each preparing to welcome new members after the November election, talks of reviving Cubberley are back in the spotlight. Most council candidates said in recent forums and interviews that they support rebuilding Cubberley and adding new amenities, including housing, to the community center. And several school board candidates suggested last week that they would like to remove one key barrier to redevelopment: a school district decision last year to preserve 20 acres at Cubberley for a future high school.

Several members running for the school board, including incumbent Shounak Dharap and candidate Nicole Chiu-Wang, said at a forum on Cubberley last week that they don't believe the district needs to preserve space for a third high school space and that it should work with the city to add community facilities.

Chiu-Wang pointed to the district's declining enrollment, which dropped by about 2,000 students between 2015 and last fall, and the broader trend of declining birthrates and posited that Palo Alto will not need a third high school for at least the next decade. The plan for Cubberley, she argued, should include housing, a wellness center, an art center and spaces for local nonprofits.

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"We cannot be land hoarders," Chiu-Wang said at a Sep. 14 forum hosted by the group Friends of Cubberley. "Land is precious here."

For the school district, scrapping plans for a third high school and partnering with the city on Cubberley's redevelopment would mark a significant policy shift. In 2019, the city and the Palo Alto Unified School District funded a master plan for the center, which culminated in a new vision for Cubberley that included a wellness center, performance spaces, art studios and other gathering spaces.

But after initial fanfare, plans to advance this vision quickly fizzled as the Palo Alto Unified School District declared it has no intention of demolishing the existing gym. District officials also announced last October their decision to preserve about 20 acres for a potential third high school.

While the board can always reconsider this policy, Superintendent Don Austin told the Weekly that the preservation of land for a high school remains the district's position.

"That is still the policy guiding us," Austin said.

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Dharap, who had served as board president during the Cubberley debate and who sat on a subcommittee dedicated to the project, said he was optimistic about how the policy has evolved over the past year. One factor that the city and the school district are exploring is a land swap that would give the city more Cubberley space for a potential redevelopment in exchange for land elsewhere in the city.

One possibility that city officials have discussed is Terman Park, a city-owned site next to Fletcher Middle School. Dharap said he would be interested in exploring a land swap. Like Wang-Chiu, he argued that the district does not need to preserve land for a new high school.

"The idea that we need a comprehensive high school is frankly not one grounded in reality right now," Dharap said.

Shana Segal, who is running for a school board seat, also said she is open to the land swap so that the city can have more space to redevelop at Cubberley. She also pointed to Palo Alto's plans to add more than 6,000 dwellings in the next eight years and argued that the district needs to preserve some space for a future school.

"I'm also wanting to preserve our school land to make sure we're looking forward to having a future school there as with more housing we'll have more families," Segal said at the Sept. 14 forum. (The fourth school board candidate, Ingrid Campos, was unable to attend the forum.)

On the council side, most of the candidates who attended the forum agreed that it's time to think big and to act fast. Vicki Veenker, a council candidate, said her biggest fear when it comes to Cubberley is inaction.

"I'm concerned we're going to pay maintenance costs instead of paying to enhance it," Veenker said. "I'd rather put money toward that, to making it realize its full potential."

Julie Lythcott-Haims, who is running for council, called the city's Cubberley debate "emblematic of the gridlock we're seeing in leadership." She said at the forum she supports a plan for Cubberley that includes a mix of uses, including housing, as well as nonprofits, a gym and a café. The goal is to turn Cubberley into a true community center where people can feel like they're neither at work or at school but in a "true destination you can go to and feel a sense of belonging."

Others also supported building housing at Cubberley, a proposal that was introduced late in the 2019 planning process and that encountered significant community pushback. Council candidate Brian Hamachek said at the forum he would support having a affordable housing for teachers at Cubberley, though he said in an interview later that he would reconsider that position if the neighboring communities object to the idea. Alex Comsa, who is also running for council, identified Cubberley as one of the areas in Palo Alto where the city can build significant housing.

"We can be looking at a mixed-use project where we can have whatever is in place now and multi-family units on top," Comsa said.

Lisa Forssell did not attend the Cubberley forum because she serves on the Utilities Advisory Commission, which met at the same time as the event. She said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Weekly that she also would like to see an addition of affordable housing and a conversion of Cubberley into a "vibrant community space."

"It's a great space, we should make it sing," Forssell said.

Others are more cautious when it comes to Cubberley's future. Ed Lauing and Doria Summa, who both serve on the Planning and Transportation Commission and who are running for council, both said they would like to prioritize preserving what's at Cubberley now. Neither attended the Cubberley forum because their commission also met that day. Each, however, said in interviews that they supported a more limited improvement plan for Cubberley, which may not include housing.

Summa said she doesn't support building housing at Cubberley at this time. Even though the center is "a little rundown and shabby," the goal should be to preserve what's already there, she said.

"We have to keep that community center available for all the nonprofits, individual art studios, for everything that goes on there," Summa told the Weekly in an interview.

Lauing similarly said that while Cubberley could use some repairs, it doesn't need a full-scale reconstruction or an addition of housing. He said he recently visited the center and saw many people enjoying the facility's nonprofit spaces.

"The vibe out there is just wonderful," he said.

Lauing, who worked on a working group that helped come up with a plan to meet state mandates to build 6,086 new dwellings by 2031, also noted that the proposed Housing Element that the group helped put together did not include any Cubberley housing.

"I don't think it needs to be turned into the Taj Mahal. It just needs to be refurbished and functional so nonprofits can stay," Lauing said.

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

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Candidates hope to revive plans to rebuild, enhance Cubberley

While most City Council and school board hopefuls say they want to see housing and new amenities at community center, some urge caution

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 21, 2022, 9:01 pm

For well over a decade, Cubberley Community Center has stood out as Palo Alto's shining example of both untapped potential and bureaucratic sclerosis.

Sprawling, dilapidated and cherished by residents and city leaders for its mix of athletic, educational and recreational amenities, the Middlefield Road facility has been subject to extensive debate for well over a decade about needed repairs and new amenities. These efforts have been hampered by high costs and competing visions about Cubberley's future between the Palo Alto Unified School District, which owns 27 of Cubberley's 35 acres, and the city, which owns the other eight.

Now, with both the City Council and the school board each preparing to welcome new members after the November election, talks of reviving Cubberley are back in the spotlight. Most council candidates said in recent forums and interviews that they support rebuilding Cubberley and adding new amenities, including housing, to the community center. And several school board candidates suggested last week that they would like to remove one key barrier to redevelopment: a school district decision last year to preserve 20 acres at Cubberley for a future high school.

Several members running for the school board, including incumbent Shounak Dharap and candidate Nicole Chiu-Wang, said at a forum on Cubberley last week that they don't believe the district needs to preserve space for a third high school space and that it should work with the city to add community facilities.

Chiu-Wang pointed to the district's declining enrollment, which dropped by about 2,000 students between 2015 and last fall, and the broader trend of declining birthrates and posited that Palo Alto will not need a third high school for at least the next decade. The plan for Cubberley, she argued, should include housing, a wellness center, an art center and spaces for local nonprofits.

"We cannot be land hoarders," Chiu-Wang said at a Sep. 14 forum hosted by the group Friends of Cubberley. "Land is precious here."

For the school district, scrapping plans for a third high school and partnering with the city on Cubberley's redevelopment would mark a significant policy shift. In 2019, the city and the Palo Alto Unified School District funded a master plan for the center, which culminated in a new vision for Cubberley that included a wellness center, performance spaces, art studios and other gathering spaces.

But after initial fanfare, plans to advance this vision quickly fizzled as the Palo Alto Unified School District declared it has no intention of demolishing the existing gym. District officials also announced last October their decision to preserve about 20 acres for a potential third high school.

While the board can always reconsider this policy, Superintendent Don Austin told the Weekly that the preservation of land for a high school remains the district's position.

"That is still the policy guiding us," Austin said.

Dharap, who had served as board president during the Cubberley debate and who sat on a subcommittee dedicated to the project, said he was optimistic about how the policy has evolved over the past year. One factor that the city and the school district are exploring is a land swap that would give the city more Cubberley space for a potential redevelopment in exchange for land elsewhere in the city.

One possibility that city officials have discussed is Terman Park, a city-owned site next to Fletcher Middle School. Dharap said he would be interested in exploring a land swap. Like Wang-Chiu, he argued that the district does not need to preserve land for a new high school.

"The idea that we need a comprehensive high school is frankly not one grounded in reality right now," Dharap said.

Shana Segal, who is running for a school board seat, also said she is open to the land swap so that the city can have more space to redevelop at Cubberley. She also pointed to Palo Alto's plans to add more than 6,000 dwellings in the next eight years and argued that the district needs to preserve some space for a future school.

"I'm also wanting to preserve our school land to make sure we're looking forward to having a future school there as with more housing we'll have more families," Segal said at the Sept. 14 forum. (The fourth school board candidate, Ingrid Campos, was unable to attend the forum.)

On the council side, most of the candidates who attended the forum agreed that it's time to think big and to act fast. Vicki Veenker, a council candidate, said her biggest fear when it comes to Cubberley is inaction.

"I'm concerned we're going to pay maintenance costs instead of paying to enhance it," Veenker said. "I'd rather put money toward that, to making it realize its full potential."

Julie Lythcott-Haims, who is running for council, called the city's Cubberley debate "emblematic of the gridlock we're seeing in leadership." She said at the forum she supports a plan for Cubberley that includes a mix of uses, including housing, as well as nonprofits, a gym and a café. The goal is to turn Cubberley into a true community center where people can feel like they're neither at work or at school but in a "true destination you can go to and feel a sense of belonging."

Others also supported building housing at Cubberley, a proposal that was introduced late in the 2019 planning process and that encountered significant community pushback. Council candidate Brian Hamachek said at the forum he would support having a affordable housing for teachers at Cubberley, though he said in an interview later that he would reconsider that position if the neighboring communities object to the idea. Alex Comsa, who is also running for council, identified Cubberley as one of the areas in Palo Alto where the city can build significant housing.

"We can be looking at a mixed-use project where we can have whatever is in place now and multi-family units on top," Comsa said.

Lisa Forssell did not attend the Cubberley forum because she serves on the Utilities Advisory Commission, which met at the same time as the event. She said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Weekly that she also would like to see an addition of affordable housing and a conversion of Cubberley into a "vibrant community space."

"It's a great space, we should make it sing," Forssell said.

Others are more cautious when it comes to Cubberley's future. Ed Lauing and Doria Summa, who both serve on the Planning and Transportation Commission and who are running for council, both said they would like to prioritize preserving what's at Cubberley now. Neither attended the Cubberley forum because their commission also met that day. Each, however, said in interviews that they supported a more limited improvement plan for Cubberley, which may not include housing.

Summa said she doesn't support building housing at Cubberley at this time. Even though the center is "a little rundown and shabby," the goal should be to preserve what's already there, she said.

"We have to keep that community center available for all the nonprofits, individual art studios, for everything that goes on there," Summa told the Weekly in an interview.

Lauing similarly said that while Cubberley could use some repairs, it doesn't need a full-scale reconstruction or an addition of housing. He said he recently visited the center and saw many people enjoying the facility's nonprofit spaces.

"The vibe out there is just wonderful," he said.

Lauing, who worked on a working group that helped come up with a plan to meet state mandates to build 6,086 new dwellings by 2031, also noted that the proposed Housing Element that the group helped put together did not include any Cubberley housing.

"I don't think it needs to be turned into the Taj Mahal. It just needs to be refurbished and functional so nonprofits can stay," Lauing said.

Comments

GreatPumpkin
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2022 at 11:23 pm
GreatPumpkin, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2022 at 11:23 pm

The school district can't swap or return land because Special Education moved its classes to Cubberley. The district cut classes at the regular school campuses dramatically to center them at Cubberley. It does make a lot of sense they are talking about closing smaller district campuses while opening new classes at Cubberley. Special Education cancelled budget items for continuation schools and therapeutic schools to put them at Cubberley. Possibly Special Education wants a campus it controls to isolate violent students, but it is weird to put Pre-Schoolers and High School students in the same place.


TuppenceT
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2022 at 12:49 am
TuppenceT, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 12:49 am

Doria Summa and Ed Lauing are right. San Antonio will soon sprout thousands of new residential units - we must save the space for a schools to accommodate a larger student body


Resident11
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:25 am
Resident11, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:25 am

If the school district and city are considering rezoning some property via a land swap in order to make land available for high-density housing, then I believe they should consider making that land available somewhere other than this corner of south Palo Alto, which already has 500-600 units in the process of being built.

I also hope that the City and PAUSD will consider why Cubberley is so loved today and use that understanding to prevent a repeating the mistake of the equally-well-loved Junior Museum and Zoo at a larger scale.


Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:38 am
Palo Alto Resident, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:38 am

This seems like it is all on the City - they are the ones who have to build and fund a community center. Where would the funding come from? Rail crossings and the police station eat up any available capital funds, even with the new business tax. They'd have to pass a new bond. Until we see a poll on whether that bond might pass, this is all pretty much empty talk.


PA mom
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 12:15 pm
PA mom, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 12:15 pm

I’m for preservation, absolutely! No need to change an already well loved, well used space. Cubberley is also a historic site, holding many fond memories for Cubberley graduates. It is the site of The Third Wave, Hassling, and it’s alternative school is mentioned in The Environmental Handbook. Go Coogars!


Ugh
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 22, 2022 at 12:20 pm
Ugh, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Isn't Palo Alto supposed to build thousands of new housing units? Those kids will have to go to school somewhere- I'm all for preserving Cubberley and keeping it as a future school. The two high schools are already too large.


Ken Dauber
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 1:18 pm
Ken Dauber, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 1:18 pm

I've been on the school board for 8 years dealing with Cubberley at various points, including participating in a joint planning exercise with the city and clarifying other important points: the boundaries at Cubberley can be changed to help make development easier, the district needs to retain at least 20 acres for a future high school, and the district can't use bond money to pay for facilities that don't have an immediate educational use.

I think that last point was the most disappointing for City Council members, who hoped that the district would help solve the biggest obstacle to a Cubberley community center, which is funding. "Palo Alto Resident" is right: if residents want a new community center at Cubberley, they should advocate for prioritizing it over other projects like the new police station. An election is a good opportunity to force clarity from candidates on the means to build a community center, not just on the desire to get there without details on how to do it.

On another note, it's disappointing to see school board candidates making confident statements that the district will never need a new comprehensive high school. The fact that we don't need a new high school now doesn't mean we never will. The school board is obligated to plan for the long term when it comes to land. We can work with the city within the limits of that fiduciary obligation, but it's dangerous to prioritize non-educational priorities over the long term needs of students, present and future.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2022 at 1:35 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 1:35 pm

I have lost count of the number of times I have read articles and heard that this or that is going to happen at Cubberley over the years!

It is like the grade level crossings and the tunnel/bridge, just hot air and no action. We do have the new bridge, but it took much too long as all things do in Palo Alto. I no longer get excited about discussions about Cubberley.


MyFeelz
Registered user
JLS Middle School
on Sep 22, 2022 at 2:23 pm
MyFeelz, JLS Middle School
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 2:23 pm

New council members call for a custom made stick to be ordered, to use for beating that dead horse. Then, give them a fresh bucket of dollars to order feasibility studies, fiscal studies, environmental studies, architectural plans, and solicit community input by mailing out a survey. This is the same old, same old. Palo Alto needs new vision, because it currently has cataracts and myopia.


mbc
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 2:33 pm
mbc, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 2:33 pm

I would like to echo Ken's comment:

"The fact that we don't need a new high school now doesn't mean we never will. The school board is obligated to plan for the long term when it comes to land. We can work with the city within the limits of that fiduciary obligation, but it's dangerous to prioritize non-educational priorities over the long term needs of students, present and future."

Once district land is sold or traded it is gone, meanwhile birthrates and the corresponding enrollment changes go up and down over time, Califonia is planning for increased housing density and there is a dearth of surplus land in this area.


Ken Horowitz
Registered user
University South
on Sep 22, 2022 at 4:17 pm
Ken Horowitz, University South
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2022 at 4:17 pm

I have spoken to this issue at numerous City Council meetings. The Council should just plan on developing the 8 acres it owns. Hoping to get a “deal” with
PAUSD just prolongs the process. The City can do a lot with 8 acres. Foothill College sought to build a campus there in 2008, but PAUSD blocked it. The Council now needs to make Cubberley a top priority and seek funding with a private/public partnership. The City had done this before, it just requires “walking the talk”. I hope the newly elected members of the Council will do so.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2022 at 2:11 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2022 at 2:11 pm

Fire, wiring, and safety code violations should be dealt with swiftly. This is an unconscionable hazard for the tenants and their neighbors whose homes also are put at risk. No excuses. Get it fixed ASAP.

Thanks, Weekly, for making it public. City of Palo Alto, please do not let these landlords get away with such careless treatment of people.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2022 at 5:42 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2022 at 5:42 pm

Considering what is on or off for Cubberely is a bit of a misnomer at this match point . There are crisis right now w the city and residents and public school students. Good, lasting partnerships about our governance and fairness, and sharing the run-away wealth — personal & corporate is first priority. Getting our libraries open, our elderly securely housed, low-income quality homes, employment retention, wage disparities, cost of housing, food, fuel and Climate, PTSD from Wild Fires, Pandemic, personal loss from combined calamities ! @MyFeelz yes. Visionaries are innovative with ideas, yet it’s the work at hand that has to be doing to get done the undone-ness of last 5 -10-15 years since the last Great Recession where & when Wall Street split and spit us out from “Main Street “ USA, California, Palo Alto. Be the change you, we, he, him she, her, they/them dream to have and to soul survive.


roger
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:25 pm
roger, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:25 pm

I own the schools and the city of palo alto--this is not finger pointing--it us working together to get an action plan--i am 81 years and i hope i live long enough to see a true asset like the magical bridge park, the new police station and the junior museum---we are one of the greatest cities in the world---lets get to work---roger smith


Greene and Paly Parent
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 25, 2022 at 10:04 am
Greene and Paly Parent, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2022 at 10:04 am

I did not look into the Cubberley issue in detail, so I am only evaluating the reasoning of candidates. Among school board candidates, Shana's response seems the most reasonable and balanced. Reliable enrollment predictions can be made perhaps a decade in advance at most but real estate is a much longer horizon issue. It does not make sense to me to use todays trends to make irrevocable decisions for a space the district needed before. The space can still serve the community but in a consistent way with future conversion to a school. The responses by Dharap and Chiu-Wang seem not well-reasoned. The most bizzarre to me was Chiu-Wang's response to this question during the "league of women voters" debate: She said that many students will not be actually physically attending school because the requirement for physical presence changed over the pandemic (therefore we can plan for capacity lower than enrollment). My impression was that she was confusing schools with tech companies.

Pivoting a bit, I am concerned with our district incentives to lower enrollment (PAUSD gets the same funds regardless of enrollment and their quality of service) and board member Dharap aligned with that despite this going against the interests of our families (too many go private and those that remain are not served well). Unlike similar districts, Palo Alto home schooled students can not access clubs and athletics, PAUSD blanket denies requests for "independent study" (where only some courses can be taken at school) despite state recommendations and PAUSD old board policy,
Web Link
options for streaming classes were refused even during the pandemic (always better to allow sick students to stay home). The district insists on one-size-fits-all despite being very well funded.

I predict that addressing these issues would result in short-term (2-3 years) 10%-25% increase in enrollment from more families choosing public over private. We need a board change for that!


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