The vote comes just days before the council is set to discuss the future of Cubberley, a south Palo Alto community center that is jointly owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District and the city. Under a lease that expires at the end of this year, the city leases from the school district 27 acres. The city and the school district are now in the process of putting together a master plan for Cubberley, which envisions the center as a "shared campus" with space for a new school, a swimming pool, art studios, gym space, nonprofit spaces and other uses.
The biggest wild card is housing. At the fourth and final community meeting on Cubberley, which took place on May 9, city staff and consultants unveiled four options for incorporating housing into the redevelopment.
The most modest alternative includes 32 units for Palo Alto Unified District staff. Known as Option 1, the apartments would be built at 525 San Antonio Road, a property that is adjacent to Cubberley, owned by the school district and already zoned for housing.
The other three call for between 64 and 164 apartments and entail building housing on the Cubberley campus. Option 2 would reserve 64 apartments for school district faculty, with half of these at 525 San Antonio and the other 32 in a new building on campus.
Options 3 and 4 would add more housing on the Cubberley campus, either by constructing new apartment buildings, adding stories to proposed recreational structures or both. Option 3 would have 112 apartments — 64 units for school district staff and 48 for tenants unaffiliated with the school district. These 48 apartments would be placed near the current tennis courts and other recreational amenities.
The most ambitious option, Option 4, proposes 164 apartments, with 100 constructed in two floors on top of the community center itself.
The proposal to build housing at Cubberley was met with resistance at the fourth community meeting, with nearly 75% of the 140 residents who took a survey at the meeting choosing Option 1 (32 units for school district staff at 525 San Antonio), Option 2 (64 units, all designated for district staff) or writing in "no housing."
The Parks and Recreation Commission took a similar stance, recommending that Cubberley be "designated as a public recreation resource to meet our evolving program and services needs over the lifetime of the new Cubberley Community Center.
"As stewards of our recreation and open-space resources, the Parks and Recreation Commission strongly advocates maximizing recreation facilities and programs at Cubberley and not including any housing on city property at Cubberley," the memo states.
Greenfield, who had participated in all four Cubberley community meetings, argued Tuesday that while housing is a pressing need in the city, properties that are zoned for "public facility" use (including Cubberley) should be devoted to increasing the recreational opportunities for the city's growing population, not used for housing. Recreation assets like Cubberley, he said, "will become even more scarce and valuable and important to our community as we grow.
"Over the lifetime of the new Cubberley center, which is Palo Alto's largest hub for recreation programs and services, continuing to meet our community's increasing recreational needs is going to be a challenge," Greenfield said.
Commissioner Keith Reckdahl urged his colleagues to send a clear message to the council.
"What we have right now, we have to do our best to conserve," Reckdahl said. "Even though I see the advantage of putting housing on it, I don't think this is an appropriate spot."
Not every commissioner felt as strongly about taking a hard line on housing. Moss said he could see a scenario in which the city would want to build housing for utility workers or emergency responders, recognizing that having these employees reside in the city could constitute a public good. And Commissioner Jeff LaMere, while agreeing that recreation should be given a high priority, was hesitant to rule out housing completely.
While both ultimately supported the letter, McCauley firmly rejected it. Housing, he argued, need not conflict with recreational amenities. The two functions can support each other, he said, pointing to the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, which includes the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center and the Moldaw Family Residences, a senior-housing complex (others, including Greenfield, noted that this is a private development on private land and, as such, is fundamentally different from Cubberley).
"I'm concerned we're viewing it as sort of an all-or-nothing issue, where it's housing or no housing and nothing in between," McCauley said. "I guess I don't see the inherent conflict between having a reasonable number of housing units in that space and the recreational purposes that we are all dedicated to."
McCauley proposed deleting from the memo the sentence calling for "not including any housing" at Cubberley, but his colleagues rejected the change, which Reckdahl argued would dilute the message.
The council is scheduled to consider on Monday night hiring a consultant to develop a business plan for Cubberley's redevelopment and future operations. It will also decide which of the four housing options — if any — should be evaluated in the upcoming environmental analysis for Cubberley.
The parks commission's input notwithstanding, at least one council member has already voiced support for including housing on city property. Councilwoman Alison Cormack, who serves as liaison to the commission, first brought up the idea of including affordable housing for seniors at Cubberley last fall, when she was a council candidate in a debate. (The debate, which was hosted by the Weekly, was held, incidentally, at Cubberley).
Cormack said she is not surprised by the backlash to the idea of including housing, which she said is normal for opposition to form whenever any housing project is proposed. But like McCauley, she rejected the notion that more housing will mean fewer recreation opportunities.
"I don't believe having housing on the site would be taking away the opportunities that we have today," Cormack said during the Tuesday meeting.
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