Town Square

Palo Alto considers new gym near the Baylands

Original post made on Feb 15, 2013

A regional effort to calm the flood-prone San Francisquito Creek continues to evolve and expand, with Palo Alto officials this week agreeing to evaluate the possibility of including a new Baylands gym in the project.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 15, 2013, 9:56 AM


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

Never mind who the gym might be getting built for, the fact is an unfunded project like this will fall firmly on the shoulders of Palo Alto tax payers. The grant money will only go so far when it comes to the vital improvements needed for the creek/levee project. Any development pertaining to the golf course and/or athletic fields should be kept to the bare minimum. Palo Alto is notorious for its cost overruns on capital improvements, and the last thing we need to add to the list is a costly new gym. The bottom line is that we can't afford it.

Our city leaders and elected officials have set a civic priority in the years to come to place our essential infrastructure on the very top of the list. It's high time for the rhetoric to be matched with tough decisions and action. No more lip service. What we need to focus on is repairing and updating our basic infrastructure ie: roads, sidewalks, sewage systems, flood control, and public safety. In order to accomplish that we need to stop spending on niche, feel good projects like art center renovations, bike bridges, playground construction, and commercial district make-overs. We need to seriously evaluate whether or not our tax payers need to continue to fund programs like the Opportunity Center that serves very few Palo Altans, or the Children's Theater which is an entirely elective, non-essential venture.

The city is still very much in the midst of a financial crisis. We have not had a balanced budget for many years running. Our city leaders have not set or followed through with any sound or logical financial priorities. They continue to spend on non-essential projects and expenditures, and then float the notion of yet another bond measure and tax increase to pay for our truly essential civic needs. Needs that should have been planned out and paid for many years ago. Enough of the irresponsibility. Until our vital and essential needs are met, no new projects of this type.

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Posted by Bad idea. Here's a better idea.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2013 at 11:35 am

This is a terrible location for a community facility. A community gymnasium should be close to where people live and work and go to school. The baylands do not qualify. So much for thoughtful land use planning. Look at Cubberley for additional gym space!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2013 at 11:43 am

I actually think this is a good idea. The development of this area of town makes sense to me and using it as an athletic center with a view to making it a hangout place for our youth may be a good idea. We would also need to get some sort of restaurant/coffee shop in the area also to turn it into a destination for many people, not only Palo Altans or those who use the athletic facilities.

However, and it is a big caveat, we don't have the funds to do it. Unless some corporate sponsorship can be found, we should not be even thinking of doing something like this as we can't justify the cost.

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Posted by JM
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

"Corporate Sponsorship."

..and then Palo Alto will have yet another building to maintain in 5 or 10 years time when the corporate sponsor has disappeared...and we don't have the money to pay for the infrastructure we have now.

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Posted by Estupido
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

This would be a location too far away from the mainstream of things to be practical. They would never get enough enrollment to make a go of it financially. It a bad location environmentally as well. Stupid all around.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2013 at 8:41 am

Paul Losch, former Parks and Recreaation Commissioner here. (I stepped down in December after 3 terms and 9 years on the Commission.)

First of all, it is premature to draw any conclusions about this concept until it is further evaluated.

I have consistently expressed my concern about the lack of gym space in Palo Alto. Volley Ball teams have to drive out of town for their games. Recreational basketball is very limited (Cubberly)

Baylands already has baseball and sofball on its footprint, as well as golf. We may need to modify access to the area if new playing fields and a gym are placed there, but I am a bit confused about the pushback due to location. As a built out community, we are going to face challenges on where to locate any community resources. We could have a fantastic recreational complex at the Baylands if we put our minds to it.

There is the question of financing, and it remains open at this time. Private funding is a possibility. Fees can be structured to cover maintenance and operating expenses. Note the recent news that a private party is going to help fund revamped gymansiums at Paly.

We have the potential to provide our active Palo Alto community with new facilities that promote fitness, community cohesion, and reduces out of town trips for people who play an indoor sport for which the is limited or no space availabe in town at this time.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 16, 2013 at 9:46 am

Mr. Losch, I and I'm sure a majority of Palo Altans would love to have a "fantastic" recreational complex, but it's irresponsible to place that on the front burner of our civic priorities. With all of the financial challenges our city faces and vital infrastructure needs that exist, it seems ludicrous to be discussing a project like this, certainly not with public dollars. Private funding can't just be a possibility in this scenario. It must be a requirement, because if it isn't, I can guarantee you that we tax payers will be stuck with the bill.

With the San Francisquito Creek levee project moving forward with grant money, I realize and accept the city must modify the existing Baylands golf and athletic facilities. No problem. I get it. All I'm saying is that whatever improvements and adaptations that are made should be kept to an absolute minimum to meet the requirements of a basic operation. No fancy clubhouses, pro shops, field houses, amenities, etc.

When our city leaders and elected officials discuss potential projects like this, in the midst of the current financial mess we're in, they are acting irresponsibly, void of logic and reason. The words and actions must match the situation. We cannot balance our city budget and haven't been able to for years. We have millions of dollars of vital and essential infrastructure work that needs to be done and we have no money to pay for it with. How can they face the voters and talk about building a gym in the Baylands, while at the same time suggest floating another bond measure and tax increase to pay for essential work that should have been paid for and completed already.

The same scenario plays out. Tax dollars are squandered away, and continue to be, on frivolous feel good niche projects and programs. The politicians play to the special interest groups and try to keep everybody happy. In the meantime, the vital civic work that needs to get done like sidewalk repair, street paving, sewage system, flood control, storm drains, and public safety get pushed aside and neglected. Why? Because politicians don't get elected with that agenda. It's not sexy enough or appealing, or maybe a just case of being out of sight, out of mind. And what happens when the infrastructure needs deteriorate to the point where they can no longer be ignored? Why simply go back to the tax payers, hands out, crying poor and ask for more money.

Again, I am not opposed to improving our quality of life with fun and exciting programs and facilities that we can all enjoy. All I'm saying is can we demonstrated some financial common sense and pay for our foundation needs without increasing taxes.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2013 at 10:43 am


It is Saturday morning. I am sitting at my dining room table, while outside my house there are Caterpillar tractors, cement saws and jack hammers providing me enjoyment on an otherwise peaceful weekend day. It has been going on for weeks, needs to be done, and is a huge pain in the butt for all of us in this neighborhood.

I agree with you that fundamental infrastructure work is imperative, and should be the priority. I believe the activity under way on my street is an example of that.

I don't know your opinions other than what you post on this site. You do appear to me to be someone who wants the "basics" covered before Palo Alto invests in other community opportunities.

Respectfully, it is too simplistic a notion.

For all too many years, cities such as Palo Alto neglected adequate upkeep of its physical infrastructure. We now must pay the proverbial piper for deferring maintenance, etc. for decades. We in Palo Alto also are faced with the simple fact that things wear out after a period of time. Some of the work under way right now is dealing with roads, sewer lines, water mains that are at least 50 years old.

The policy issue there going forward is how do we make sure we do not get into such a rat trap again? City management and City Council are responsible to figure out the right strategy. No kicking the can, which we witness all too much at every level of government.

Is that happening? I have had my nose under the tent for the last 9 years, and I honestly do not know.

Where you and I part ways is the notion that current circumstances put other opportunities on hold.

The question of what to do with the space at the Baylands must be examined on 2 levels.

First, what is the best use of that property. Call it the "spending decision."

Next, how will be paid for? Call it the financing decision.

Don't conflate the two separate questions.

Will the community decide this is a bad idea and scrap it? The community may say great idea, let's move forward.

It then becomes a matter of how it is paid for. The great idea may not find funding that can bring this about, which would also end it. Taxpayers may or may not be asked whether they are willing to finance this project. It is too early to tell.

We are not all wealthy in Palo Alto, and we do live in a community where there are people of means, and businesses, which may be interested in helping fund this project. If such parties were part or all of the funding question, what is then your point of view?

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

Mr. Losch,

Glad to hear that some of our civic improvement work has reached your neighborhood, as noisy and dusty as it might be. That may represent an example of work moving forward on these projects, but according to estimates provided by our city officials, we are still facing a projected number exceeding 50 million dollars to adequately fund these improvements, and that does not include the glaring need for a new public safety building.

For the most part I believe that we're very much on the same page. I stated in my previous post that I would support an addition to the Baylands Sports Golf/Sports Complex, but only if it was funded privately. Why? Because we can't afford it.

You suggest that my way of thinking may be overly simplistic. I respect your opinion, but I am of the belief that we need more simple, common sense, and logic applied to these fiscal challenges that we face. I agree with you wholeheartedly that one of the main reasons we got into this mess was because we deferred and ignored our infrastructure needs for many decades. Needs that in my opinion should have been planned out and paid for a long time ago. I also believe that one of the primary reasons those vital needs weren't funded, was because we allowed the special interest groups to influence our city leaders to invest in frivolous, non-essential, niche projects and services. Items that should have only been entertained if we had our house in order and our bills paid.

The way to fiscal health and balancing the city budget is really no different than how we manage our household budgets. You manage things so you can maintain upkeep of your home and pay the bills. If a vital, essential need arises, then you have to look at spending cuts elsewhere in order to pay for it. If your roof leaks, your driveway is cracked, and your plumbing is falling apart, then that's not the time to add an addition on your home, buy a new car, or take an expensive vacation. It's called fiscal responsibility.

Applying this premise to civic government, our city leaders and elected officials have even a deeper responsibility in this regard as they are managing our collected funds. By them continuing to support these non-essential projects and services under the dark financial cloud we're under, and then coming back to the voters and asking them to pass another tax increase, is no different than a homeowner who spends frivolously and then asks his employer to give him a pay raise because he can no longer afford to pay for their lifestyle.

So quite frankly Mr. Losch, I really don't want to hear about public dollars being spent for a new gym in the baylands while our vital needs remain unfunded, and we are seemingly incapable at this point of balancing the city budget. It really is simple. We have other priorities. In light of those priorities we look ridiculous talking about a project like this. We simply can't afford it.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 16, 2013 at 11:57 am

I have to agree with Marrol. I would love to see a gym at the Baylands and planning for that possibility is a great idea. But as a City, we spend too much on special interests (think 5 libraries, the Children's Theater, bike bridges) and not enough on smooth streets, working sewers, water mains, etc.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm

People have many points of view about what is an essential and a non-esstential service. There also is a limited public understanding of the different sources of funding that must be considered and developed for different projects.

Do the people who want to ride bikes deserve a safe passage to and from work from Palo Alto and the Google, Intuit and other campuses in MV? We got a grant from Santa Clara County, thanks to then Supervisor and now again Coouncilwoman Liz Kniss to bring that about. It will reduce traffic, improve safety, and promote healthy access to the Baylands for recreational purposes.

Children's Theater appears to be a constant source of allegations of a non-essential program. It is not a resource that everyone in the community uses, and it is highly valued by those that do. If it were eliminated altogether, it would be a drop in the bucket in terms of financing cpaital needs, and it would take away a major community resource for children and their families. It is an example of what contributes to the vitality and character of Palo Alto.

I invite the naysayers to do what I did, and get involved in local government. There are plenty of opportunities to do so, it will open your eyes, and help you both understand and appreciate how things work and what really needs fixing.

Forgive me, but I am going to pull a Senator Marco Rubio, and grab a bottle of water.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Mr. Losch -

I think most people would consider safety and infrastructure "essential" (for example, fire, police, streets, and sewer). The next level would be things that many enjoy (for example, the library and parks). One could argue that a gym would be more highly valued than some of the other places we put our money such as the Children's Theater, Summer Camps, etc. Not to say that we should stop funding them, but perhaps they should be significantly self-supporting, or funded by private contributions. Using the schools as an example, many of the things we "value" require private contributions through Booster Clubs, "Friends of" groups, etc. Athletics, Drama and Music in our schools receive significant private $$. Art and even Science at our schools receive private funding through PiE.

Do I feel "bikes deserve a safe passage to and from work from Palo Alto and the Google, Intuit and other campuses in MV" as you stated - yes I do. Do I feel that the kids commuting from home to school IN Palo Alto deserve safe, well paved streets even more, you bet. Do I think Palo Alto residents communting WITHIN Palo Alto deserve safe passage on Palo Alto streets? Yep.

We need to fund our needs before our wants. As has said many times, if your house needs repairs or your kids need medical care, that comes before new clothes or a vacation.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Ah Alcheck - what an ironic thing to say! You'd be building it on land stolen from EPA, anyway.

Marrol - excellent points. So many city budgets are tight & I know it's tough right now in PA. You laid it out clearly & well.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2013 at 6:46 pm

If we want to build the bridge, then fine--- use the grant money and not a penny more. No grandiose structure pushed by Holman. The children's theatre should be funded by the users, not a penny from the taxpayers-- especially given the financial problems with that institution. We need to deal with the infrastructure problems that have been neglected for years and for get about the touchy feely projects. And we needs accountability from our council and we need to take comments from city insiders like loach with a grain of salt ( I mean how many people who are having their street fixed would make a constant issue of it on this forum?)

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Posted by EPA resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2013 at 6:25 am

Nice Mr. Alcheck! Build a friendship bridge and then tell us we can't use it to visit your fancy park. Very classy! Maybe we should have built Ikea and Home Depot in the middle of our city so Palo Altons couldn't take advantage of their convenient location.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 17, 2013 at 8:27 am

Mr. Losch,

I would argue that the "vitality and character" of a community as you put it, would be better based on a foundation of a strong infrastructure, public safety, and sound financial structure. Again, your way of thinking is in large part what got us into this fiscal mess that we're in.

Like many of our local politicians you display that scared cow mentality and suggest that even if we did eliminate public funds for a program like the Children's Theater it would only represent that proverbial "drop in the bucket" toward necessary budget cuts. I couldn't disagree more. Every cost cutting measure begins to add up and accumulate. We cannot bow to every special interest, nor can we allow ourselves to be shouted down by these vocal minorities. It has to start somewhere.

The Children's Theater was faced with budget cuts I believe in 08-09. They were successful in stopping the process entirely because they "promised" to raise private funds to off-set the public expenditure. That was part of the deal, and a huge part of our city leaders backing off the proposal. Let me ask the question again. Has the Children's Theater been successful in that endeavor? If our city leaders relied on that promise to continue funding the program, has any follow up been done to see if they have met their end of the bargain? Where is the accountability here?

Failure to outsource our animal services is another example of sensible budget saving measures being shouted down. Tax payers could have saved an estimated 2.5 million dollars in the first five years alone by outsourcing, but once again our city leaders and elected officials deemed yet another program untouchable. The funny thing is that no one was suggesting that we eliminate these services. Outsourcing would have provided us a perfectly adequate alternative that over time would save us millions of dollars. Again, the vocal supporters of a local animal service program "promised" to raise private funds and increase fees to offset the public expenditure. Like with the Children's Theater, I wonder if that will ever get done.

You also suggest Mr. Losch, a bit arrogantly I might add, that naysayers like myself presumably should get involved in local government to have us open our eyes and come to a better understanding and appreciation for how things get done. So I ask, what make you think that I'm not involved and express my opinions based on that experience?

Forgive me, but I am going to pull a President Obama now and go on a golf vacation.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 17, 2013 at 8:59 am

It’s hard to add much that Marisol hasn’t already touched on. But I’ll try ..

Where did this idea come from? Is there any demonstrated need for such a facility at that location? Paul Losch’s comments seem to be driven by a frame of mind that calls for spending as much money as possible on “amenities”—without having any idea what the initial construction costs, and long term maintenance costs, would be for such a facility.

Who exactly would be using this facility, and how elaborate would it be? Does the City have any metrics that actually give us insight into unmet need for this sort of recreational facility?

Since this is Palo Alto, would it not need an Olympic-sized pool (or maybe two), smaller pools for children, weight rooms, coffee shops, bar, child care facility, fifteen or twenty indoor tennis courts, several indoor basketball courts, hand ball courts, squash courts, meeting rooms, office space, gymnastics training areas, changing areas, pro-shops, and extra room for expansion—just to mention a few of the offerings that Palo Altans would expect? And then there would be the cost of the obligatory employer-providing housing for the people who work there.

With a recent article in the Weekly about a $20+M gift being offered for a rehab of the Paly gym, we get a good idea about the target zone of costs, at the low end. With all of the Measure A money going into the PAUSD sites, now with two Olympic-sized pools, and possibly two new gyms (if the gift is accepted)—would school aged students be the likely customers for this facility—leaving the PAUSD facilities idle?

The City has not done a very good job managing its assets (in my opinion)—which includes a failure on their part to provide the residents a comprehensive inventory of public assets, which includes all of the recreational facilities available to them. Without such an inventory, there is no way to begin to consider unmet need. Sadly, those who have become “involved with government” (such as those sitting on the various Boards and Commissions) don’t seem to think along these lines—seeing their role as aiding and abetting the expenditure of public money to create “character” for the town—whether it needs it, or not.

> Joe Teresi, a senior engineer in Public Works who is managing
> the project, said there was an "overture" late in the project by
> someone who might want to add a gym.

It would be really interesting to find out who the “someone” interested in adding a gym to the flood abatement project might be. It would also be interesting to find out why Mr. Teresi didn’t say “No!”, and send this “someone” packing. It’s a real shame that there is such a lack of transparency in City-run projects.

All-in-all, this seems like another bad Palo Alto idea.

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Posted by CCAC Member
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 18, 2013 at 10:26 pm

This is being proposed at exactly the same time that $20 Million is being gifted to Paly to build two state-of-the-art gymnasiums, a wrestling room and dance facilities.

Meanwhile, the CCAC (Cubberley Community Action Committee) report is about to be released which will call for the ultimate rebuilding of the Cubberley Community Center whose facilities will be shared between both Palo Alto and the PAUSD. There are two large all purpose gymnasiums on that site which ultimately will be rebuilt for the joint use of the PAUSD and the PA Community. It is envisioned that Cubberley will ultimately be a state-of-the-art shared recreational facility. Why do we need two recreational facilities?

How many gymnasiums/recreational facilities does Palo Alto need or even want? We have more important things to give our tax dollars to without building a fifth gymnasium and recreational facility in the Baylands. I hope this idea is dead on arrival.

At least wait for the Cubberley Commission's report to be released in early March.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:25 am

I agree with the "simplistic" Marrol and palo alto mom. Nothing wrong with simplicity, especially when planning budgets: buy what you need and what you can afford.

BTW, I think there's supposed to be a basketball gym in the Mitchell Park Community Center--assuming it's ever completed.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

FYI - an "Olympic sized pool" is a minimum size of 50-meters long by either 25-yards or 25-meters wide. Neither the Paly or Gunn pools are close to that size - about 30m x 25y.

The term "Olympic" refers to the 50m length - which is the standard for Olympic and International competition.

If you want to see the difference, check out the two Olympic sized pools at Stanford.

//end swim education

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Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm

The article states, "Joe Teresi, a senior engineer in Public Works who is managing the project, said there was an "overture" late in the project by someone who might want to add a gym."

Who is it that made this "overture"? If it's a city employee/planner, what took them so long? If it's a citizen, since when can one citizen force the study and possible change of project this size? It's no wonder nothing ever gets done in a timely manner in this city.

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Posted by Another EPA Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Ahh, the irony of trying to keep people from East Palo Alto from crossing the friendship bridge. Luckily, we in EPA already have a wonderful, state of the art, gym to go to. Forget building costs, what is the point of building a new gym in an important local habitat that also serves a vital role in flood control. Heck, with the current rate of climate change, it just might end up under water.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Can someone document a real demand for another gym, especially one on the other side of 101?

Except for a few hours on the weekends, the gyms at Cubberley are rarely used. If there were really this great need for another gym, shouldn't these other gyms be open and packed with activities?

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Posted by That guy
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:34 pm

You guys are so funny. I usually read these posts when I want to get a good laugh. Most of the Palo Altans want to keep Palo Alto like the way it was when it was founded in 1894; simple minded people with simple minded city leadership that does whatever the public tells them to. Why do you all complain about your city leadership here on a meaningless blog, but don't you don't actually TELL YOUR CITY LEADERSHIP face to face how you really feel? After all, didn't you elect them to run your town? You should seek their answers and their input on how to solve your problems...oh wait, they'll just turn to staff to find the answer for them. This is just a concept, not an actual project to be started.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm

> Except for a few hours on the weekends, the gyms at
> Cubberley are rarely used

This is an interesting point. Does the City, which has been managing this facility for a couple of decades now, provide the residents, and rate-payers of the Utility (who are being taxed in order to subsidize this facility) any use information so as to understand who is using the Cubberley Center (including the gyms), and how much the facility is being utilized?

There has been another "commission" reviewing the use of this facility in future years. It will be interesting to see if these folks will be providing the community at large this sort of information, or if they will decide that we don't have a "need to know".