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Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 19, 2010

Possible Cubberley sale to Foothill resurfaces

Closed-door meeting on 'price and terms of payment for sale' set for Monday night

by Chris Kenrick

A 2008 plan to tear down part of Cubberley Community Center to build a major new "educational center" for Foothill College has resurfaced.

Top Palo Alto and Foothill-De Anza officials are scheduled to meet in closed session Monday night to discuss "price and terms of payment" for a potential sale of the city-owned portion of Cubberley to the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

Foothill's objective is the same as it was when negotiations broke down two years ago — to construct a "state-of-the-art" educational center along with joint-use community facilities on the city-owned 8-acre portion of Cubberley, Foothill sources said Wednesday.

Cubberley is located at 4000 Middlefield Road.

The goal would be to upgrade or replace the 54-year-old infrastructure with modern facilities and try to work with the city and the Palo Alto Unified School District on partnerships to enhance educational opportunities, a high-level Foothill source said.

Currently, Foothill leases 40,000 square feet of Cubberley — which closed as a high school in 1979 — as its Middlefield Campus. It has more than 1,000 full-time-equivalent students.

The remaining 27 acres of Cubberley is owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District and is leased by the city for use as a community center.

Officials with Foothill and the City of Palo Alto provided few details this week about Monday's meeting.

"Foothill showed an interest in constructing a new education center on the city-owned portion of Cubberley," Assistant City Attorney Don Larkin said. "It's a continuation of some negotiations that were going on a few years ago and fell by the wayside."

In January 2008, Foothill unveiled plans for a new, 100,000-square-foot, two-story structure at Cubberley that would house the community college's growing student population. The center would focus on "college skill, career pathways and life-long learning," according to a city report. It would share a dance studio, art space and a child-development area with the city, the report states.

At the time, city staff estimated the sale price at $35 million, or $1.4 million a year (as compared with Foothill's year-to-year lease, which in 2008 generated about $800,000 a year).

The City Council discussed the idea at a study session but took no action. Most council members supported the concept, but a few — along with some residents — resisted the idea of selling any part of Cubberley. Some members discussed a long-term lease.

Foothill officials expressed a desire not to invest substantial funds into buildings on land the community-college district would not own.

Funding for the campus was to have come from the 2006 voter-approved bond Measure C, which alloted $40 million for site acquisition and construction, Foothill-De Anza trustee Bruce Swenson said at the time.

In August 2008, in the city's last discussion with the district, Foothill's executive director of facilities said the Middlefield Campus could function with half the proposed square footage, or as little as 50,000 square feet of classroom space.

Meanwhile, in March 2009 the community-college district announced a partnership with University of California, Santa Cruz, and the NASA Ames Research Center to build a new education and research center on 75 acres of land in the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field.

Monday night's council discussion with Foothill-De Anza is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. in the City Council chambers of City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Andy Dunn, Foothill-De Anza's vice chancellor for business services, will meet with City Manager James Keene, Deputy City Attorney Donald Larkin, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, Director of Administrative Services Lalo Perez and Real Property Manager Martha Miller.

Talk about it

Do you think the City of Palo Alto should sell part of Cubberley to Foothill? Share you opinion on the Town Square forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com. Managing Editor Jocelyn Dong contributed to this report.


Posted by Barbara, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:55 am

Building a "new educational center" at Foothill's Middlefield campus is a wonderful idea! Let's make it happen.

Posted by Interesting, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2010 at 11:04 am

This is interesting. Last year, the city approached PAUSD about selling that property back to PAUSD, since the economy was low, the city needed the money, the price would be good for PAUSD, and Measure A allowed it, but the city was apparently rebuffed.

I think this is actually a good development, but I would have rather seen the negotiation between PAUSD and Foothill (if PAUSD had repurchased the property). Whether or not we can reopen a third high school -- and have three smaller rather than two very large high schools -- has profound implications to our youth and future education in this district (particularly in light of recent tragedies and focus on stress in our schools, which have never been larger).

However, redevelopment of that campus by Foothill, and a partnership with PAUSD could be an extremely positive development. In typical fashion with our district, things won't proceed strategically but will happen on an ad hoc basis when they can't be optimized economically.

If this negotiation precludes PAUSD ever reopening Cubberley as a high school, the implications should be discussed openly with parents, especially since PAUSD had the opportunity to buy that property back last year.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 18, 2010 at 11:55 am

Good idea IF the buildings replace current buildings. Bad idea if the new buildings result in loss of the playing fields which act as a buffer for the Greenmeadow neighborhood behind the property.

Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Interesting: You are living in a dream world if you ever think Cubberley will reopen as a High School. For starters the PAUSD could never afford to support a third high school, let alone rebuild one.

I'm very much in favor of the sale of the City owned 8 acres to Foothill/De Anza if a good price can be agreed upon. Ultimately such a sale will help the PAUSD both academically and economically.

The City pays the School District $6 Million a year for the Cubberley lease (the rest of the complex minus the 8 acres already owned by the City.) With declining revenues the City may not have $6 Million to spare over the next few years. However, if the City gets a good price from Foothill/De Anza for the 8 acres they own; they will be able to continue financially supporting the School District.

Meanwhile, Cubberley is physically deteriorating and with the School District/City lease ending some 5 years from now, the long term future of Cubberley is uncertain. In fact, if the City does not have the money their lease agreement with the PAUSD may end, and the School District may be forced to sell Cubberley for possibly a massive housing development.

With the long term future of Cubberley so uncertain I do hope the City can made a deal with Foothill/De Anza and a good profit at the same time. The nice thing is that Foothill will be building classrooms if the PAUSD ever wanted to buy the whole complex back.

Posted by JFP, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2010 at 2:34 pm

As long as the playing fields are preserved, I don't see a problem.

Posted by rem, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Another traffic JAM....

Leave it a SCHOOL!!!!

It is deteriorating BECAUSE the City and Foothill are not keeping it up....

No massive housing development..............

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2010 at 2:52 pm


You are making a great many presumptions which cannot be taken as anything other than that, presumptions.

I agree that the likelihood of PAUSD reopening Cubberley as a third high school is remote, but I do not think it is out of the question that they may decide to do something else with it. By thinking outside the box, there are many innovative ways of releaving pressures at Gunn and Paly by using Cubberley. Many of these ideas have been mentioned here and they include a magnet high school and a 9th grade/freshman school. In the age of technology, it could be possible to hold classes here for both Gunn and Paly in certain subjects, perhaps foreign languages. It is also possible that a daughter school or an expansion of junior college programming could occur also.

Some of these ideas could possibly be done in conjunction with Foothill. Certainly Foothill uses some of the campus now and if they injected some money into the campus they would be entitled to expand and utilise the facility ideally with the high schools administration in cahoots.

Whatever happens, PAUSD should be approached and be part of any discussions on the future of the premises. PAUSD should not lose the option of doing anything with the site as once it has gone to housing (or any other non-academic use) it will be gone for good.

Cubberley is ideally situated in an area where schools are crowded at all levels and where it is relatively easy to commute from all over PA. PAUSD does have classes there at present and the adjoining Greendells facility combined with Cubberley makes this an asset for education in our City. Thinking innovatively about this site is crucial when it comes to the future of education in Palo Alto.

Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 18, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Resident: The law requires that before the City sells any portion of its 8 acres at Cubberley it must first offer the site to the PAUSD, and I'm sure the City will follow the law. If, however, the School District declines to buy the 8 acres, the City may offer it to anyone else.

Don't forget the City bought Terman from the PAUSD, and then Terman was returned to the PAUSD in a land swop that gave the City 8 acres of Cubberley. The problem now is that the City must pay the PAUSD $6 Million annually to rent the remaining Cubberley facilities (I think it's 23 acres.)

Unfortunately the City's budget has sharply declining revenues and money must be found to pay the $6. Million annually to the PAUSD. The School District relies on this $6 Million for it's operating budget.

An updated Foothill/De Anza facility at Cubberley will be a huge asset to the PAUSD as many high school students will be able to take advanced classes there.

Posted by Brad, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Foothill College in Palo Alto sounds very good to me. High schoolers and adults alike may find a quality education just an easy bike ride away. When a public building ages past 60 around here, it is probably more cost-effective to scrape it and start anew.

That could prove to be another great South Palo Alto asset to go with the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center on the drawing boards now.

Given the grief that constantly seems to wash over the City, when you stand back and look at it fairly, good things do get done.

I'm hopeful for a good outcome for them all; Foothill College, the City, and the school district.

Posted by Marsha, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Now that I look at the concept drawings done in 2008, I see a few things that excite me.

The Large Forum looks like it might seat 4-500. That is of particular interest since that could host any number of community meetings that just can't find a home today.

It also looks like the site design team paid special attention to providing a green belt in front on Middlefield Road. Landscaped well, that could really be a neighborhood improvement.

Posted by Look Carefully, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2010 at 12:37 am

1. The City of Palo Alto is selling the 8 acres it bought from PAUSD in a land swap for Terman.

2. The remaining acres that belong to PAUSD that are leased to the City of Palo Alto will continue to be leased for $6 million per year. So the City's annual lease payments will continue, as will PAUSD's revenue.

3. Although not legally dedicated for this purpose, the original intent of the City's Utility Users Tax was to pay for leasing of school sites (such as the $6 million for Cubberley) and sidewalk repair. If the tax had been legally dedicated to that purpose, it would have required a 2/3 vote, so instead "general taxes" are passed.

4. The sale of the City's part of Cubberley involves a land use decision that has not had much public analysis. The current Comp Plan update makes no mention of this significant proposed change to Cubberley.

5. There are current uses of the space that will presumably be displaced. There are art and dance studios, for example. There are also small one-room school programs there. Is there a plan for where they would go?

6. Where would be proceeds go? Since it is a sale of a capital asset, the money shouldn't go into the operating budget. Perhaps the infrastructure reserve. If the money went into capital improvements throughout the City (or perhaps just in South Palo Alto), it might go much further in these times of low construction costs.

7. Like in the Eagle's Hotel California, "This could be heaven or it could be hell." But no matter which it is, such a major landuse decision should be made only with full public involvement and full hearing of the pros and cons. A closed session negotiation seems like the antithesis of full public involvement. That the plan was discussed two years ago does not mean no further public outreach is needed. City officials thought that the limited public outreach on the changes to California Avenue landscaping that occurred years ago were sufficient to make a change last year (even though the originally publicized plan differed considerably from the plan implemented). Let's not make the mistake again of using dated public outreach discussions to make an important land use decision today.

Posted by agreed, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2010 at 9:33 am

Look carefully:

I'm especially in agreement with your point#7. Everything going on in our school district right now with a lot of facilities use and planning seems to be pushed as much under the public radar as possible.

The consensus among district higher-ups seems to be in line with JW -- they make sweeping statements and assumptions about what things might cost, without making any attempts to decide what is best for the district and put hard numbers to the underlying assumptions.

Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Look carefully says: "The remaining acres that belong to PAUSD that are leased to the City of Palo Alto will continue to be leased for $6 million per year. So the City's annual lease payments will continue, as will PAUSD's revenue." Not so, the lease agreement between the City and the PAUSD has only a limited time left and the City may not have the money to renew the lease and continue to pay the PAUSD $6 Million indefinitely.

The City will have to make some critical decisions over the next few years and one critical decision will be, can they afford to continue paying the PAUSD $6 Million annually for the Cubberley lease? Obviously City staff have taken a long hard look at the future of Cubberley and found it necessary to come up with creative ways of funding to pay out $6 Million a year to support the PAUSD.

One of those creative ways is the current proposal to sell the City owned 8 acres of Cubberley to Foothill/De Anza. I am sure the City fully intends to give the public every opportunity to give their imput to the plan. I am just expressing my own support for it because I support the idea of having a new and improved Foothill Campus located at the Cubberley site, other people may have different opinions.

Posted by bob, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm

> can they afford to continue paying the PAUSD $6 Million
> annually for the Cubberley lease

The money for the lease payment comes from the Utility Tax. Although not dedicated (as pointed out in a previous posting), nonetheless, the money is available because of the tax. There is no "can we afford it" involved in this transaction.

A deeper question which does seem to have arisen yet is: what will the city of palo alto do with the 6-odd million dollars a year (and upkeep money) that it is currently taking in from the Utility tax if it were to get out of the lease arrangement with the PAUSD?

By the way, the Utility tax is bringing in over $11M a year, and as the utility rates will continue to grow, this $11M will grow too. It is not "dedicated", so it can be used to pay salary and benefit increases.

Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Bob, as I understand it the utility tax is part of the City's general fund. Yes, it was passed by the voters as a way to finance the Cubberley lease agreement with the PAUSD but it can be used for other City expenses.

The City is faced with a $6.5 Million shortfall this coming year and a possible $11 Million shortfall the year after. Obviously, the City is looking around to see where they can make up that shortfall.

The City has plenty of other uses for the $6 Million they presently give the PAUSD for Cubberley. I think this is why Staff are taking a second look at possibly selling the City's 8 acres to Foothill/De Anza.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2010 at 7:02 pm

> The City has plenty of other uses for the $6 Million they presently
> give the PAUSD for Cubberley. I think this is why Staff are taking
> a second look at possibly selling the City's 8 acres
> to Foothill/De Anza.

A little over a month ago, one of the local papers carried an article about a memo (or report) that the city manager sent to the city council about his view of the salary increases he expected to see over the next 10 years. The article claimed that he anticipated paying people about 60% more--bring the salary component of the general fund up to $150M (or thereabouts).

The article did not provide any other details about the memo/report, concerning other expenses that the city might expect--like higher post-retirement expenses (the city is now spending about $30M a year from its general fund for these sorts of costs).

So .. anyone who really believes that: " The City has plenty of other uses for the $6 Million they presently give the PAUSD for Cubberley" and doesn't understand that the "other uses for this money" is to put even more dollars in the city's employees' pockets is either not very aware of what's going on here .. or on the staff and looking to soak up more of the ratepayer's dollars without providing one second more in productivity to justify these dollars.

This poster obviously doesn't believe that the money he/she makes belongs to him/her, since he/she seems so willing to give it to the city for nothing in return. Certainly the Cubberley outlays (which will be about $225M at some point), would have been better off in the ratepayers pockets. For the most part, it's not clear how many people actually benefited from this arrangement. The people using the grounds did, but lots of those people aren't from Palo Alto. Non-resident artists did, because they have enjoyed below-market rates for their leases. But what have these artists done for Palo Alto to justify this gift?

At any rate, this ratepayer would rather keep the money earned by himself .. than give to other people for nothing in return.

Posted by bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I like Walt Hays' remark, somewhat paraphrased - (concerning the use of Bixbee Park for an aerobic waste disposal project) - a decision should be made for the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest period.

It seems to me that most of the posters are looking at the possible sale to De Anza/Foothill in a thoughtful manner and have brought up some excellent points. A welcome change from the uninformed rants that appear too often in these blogs.

Posted by John the Man, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Know what is going to happen with all this sale talk between the district, Foothill, and Palo Alto? The same thing that has happened before: nothing.

What exactly does any of those entities have to gain with a change in the present arrangement? Nothing. Each one has power over the other, it's an uneasy 'truce'. So nothing will change.

Besides, FHDA has zero money to tackle any commitment to such a capital project. They have zero money now and have no idea how to fill the 'structural' deficit they anticipate for the foreseeable future anyway. It's just talk to keep the idea of it all on the table.

But there won't be any change. Why? Because no one has any money to make any change work.

Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 21, 2010 at 7:03 am

John the man says: "Besides, FHDA has zero money". Wrong, a bond measure for building was passed by the voters so Foothill/De Anza could build another campus; that's why they are looking at both Cubberley and Moffett Field as locations to build.

The reason talks ended two years ago was because a majority of our City Council did not want to sell off City owned property. The City wanted a long term lease which was not acceptable to Foothill. Since then the makeup of our City Council has changed, so an agreement may be possible.

"What exactly does any of those entities have to gain with a change in the present arrangement?" The present arrangement is going to change anyway when the lease between the School District and the City ends. Meanwhile, for the next 4 years, the City must find $6 Million a year to pay the School District under the present lease agreement.

The City has a $6.5 Million deficit next year which they have to make up. Selling the City owned 8 acres to Foothill would be a source of revenue to pay the School District for the remaining 27 acres under the terms of the present lease agreement.

Posted by Look Carefully, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2010 at 10:35 am

@JW: It is a fundamentally bad idea to use capital revenue (like sale of property) to fund operating expenses.

The $6M to pay for the lease of Cubberley is fully paid for, out of the Utilities Users Tax, as I and others pointed out.

That being said, the sale price of this 8 acres could go a long way towards tackling our infrastructure backlog, particularly in this economic climate of lowered construction costs. Using capital revenue for capital expenses is a great idea.

I am concerned about what happens to the current uses at Cubberley that may be displaced by this sale, and also about increased traffic.

Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 23, 2010 at 10:14 am

Look Carefully says: "I am concerned about what happens to the current uses at Cubberley that may be displaced by this sale, and also about increased traffic."

There may be room to house some of the current tenants in other rooms at Cubberley or Greendell now the JCC has vacated Cubberley. Also, it will take over a year to go through the planning process before any construction starts, so tenants will have more than a year to decide their future.

The City did a traffic count on Middlefield Road a few years ago and found that Middlefield between San Antonio and Charleston had far less traffic than other stretches of Middlefield. Foothill is only replacing one complex with a more up-to-date complex so there may not be a whole lot more traffic. Also many students ride a VTA or shuttle bus to Cubberley.

Posted by Bad idea., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

The liklihood that PAUSD will reclaim the site is high. Check PUASD web site for readily available enrollment growth data.

Gunn is maxed out. Jordan, Terman, and JLS will be built out after this round of expansion. (Terman is maxed with current improvments and JLS is close to maxed already.) Foothill wants 700-1200 parking spaces (as many as the ENTIRE Cubberley campus currently has). Why? This will be a regional traffic draw. Thirty PAUSD students currently cross register to Foothill. That's it.

The joint campus sounds good until you THINK about it. 15-year old ninth graders sharing a campus with 20 and 21 yesar olds (and older students) from all over the region. There is a huge difference in the maturity of these age groups. They do not belong together.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 27, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Bad idea - I agree that PAUSD should take over the space if they can afford it. And alot of freshman are 13 - not 15 when they start HS.

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