Questions surrounding the lease are the latest indication of the disconnect between the city's and school district's desires for redeveloping Cubberley, though the two agencies are engaged in a joint master planning process for the site.
District Superintendent Don Austin told board members at an Aug. 16 retreat that he has been unable to negotiate an extension of the lease, which expires at the end of the year, with city staff. He had at one point discussed a two-year extension, which was later reduced to one year, then six months and "most recently, it was taken off the table, staff to staff," he said.
Board members suggested that the city is using the soon-to-expire lease as "leverage" in talks with the district.
But City Manager Ed Shikada told the Weekly that he thought there had been miscommunication with the district on the lease extension and that "the city has been clear that we want to continue supporting community use of the Cubberley property.
"At the same time, the city has spent millions of dollars repairing facilities that should be replaced as they have been used far beyond their intended life, so we want to ensure that further investments in the property will have lasting value," he said.
The district owns 27 acres in the 35-acre campus and leases them to the city, which owns the other 8 acres. In March 2016, former Superintendent Max McGee and former City Manager James Keene signed a new lease that calls for the completion of a master plan for Cubberley by Dec. 31, 2019. A recently completed draft master plan, created after a monthslong "co-design" process that started last fall, includes proposals for more green space, a new gym and performing arts center, a future school and four different options for housing at Cubberley.
Shikada said the City Council has directed him to propose lease terms that "continue progress on the master planning effort."
The Aug. 16 retreat marked the board's first formal discussion of the draft master plan. A majority of the board reiterated that they are in no rush to build any school facilities on the district-owned land but do want to preserve land for a potential secondary school in the future.
"I think we can be great neighbors. We can swap land; we can move boundaries ... but what I don't think we can be partners in is financing and paying for new facilities that we don't know if and when we're ever going to need," Vice President Todd Collins said.
Member Ken Dauber also said that the district should be willing to reconfigure the city's 8 acres or expand it by doing a land swap for other land in Palo Alto but that "the idea that somehow we're going to be fully joint development partners with facilities that are going to be built that don't have an educational purpose — I just don't think that's going to happen."
Board member Shounak Dharap, however, advocated for a more proactive stance on Cubberley. Even if the district doesn't want to build a school now, that shouldn't preclude exploring its other interests at Cubberley, including moving the district office there and building teacher housing, he said.
"I don't think we can split up the city's portion and our portion and say ... 'We're going to take our time,'" Dharap said. "My thought is we really should move forward with the city on this."
A majority of board members voiced support for building teacher housing at an adjacent, district-owned site at 525 San Antonio Road. The draft master plan proposed different alternatives for building 32 to 64 units for district staff and teachers at 525 San Antonio Road. Several board members said they'd like to see options for even denser housing there, which would require the city to rezone the site.
Collins said he's "a big fan of teacher housing if we have the need" but questioned whether that need has been demonstrated, asking for further study of the issue.
The board and council are tentatively scheduled to hold a joint meeting on Cubberley in October. Several board members said they're uninterested in participating at the moment in what they believe would be an unproductive meeting.
At an Aug. 15 City/School Liaison Committee meeting, Austin said staff from both agencies are having difficulty setting the agenda for a meeting for which there is no "clearly defined purpose." He suggested forming an ad hoc committee of board and council members to "frame up what that session will look like" and, potentially, discuss the lease agreement.
"What we appear to be stuck on at the moment is the question of how to reconcile the various goals the district and city have for the property," Shikada told the Weekly. "The next step really needs to be a focused joint effort to articulate these goals and agree on a path forward. I'm pretty sure our goals are not mutually exclusive, but this will require direct communication."
Mayor Eric Filseth did not respond to questions for this article, and council members Lydia Kou and Alison Cormack declined to comment on the lease at the City/School Liaison Committee meeting saying that it was not agendized.