Palo Alto's effort to craft a new vision for Cubberley Community Center is set to kick off in earnest in September, when the city and the school district kick off a series of community meetings to solicit resident ideas about the center's future.
The effort to create a master plan for the sprawling center at 4000 Middlefield Road is being led by Concordia, a New Orleans-based firm that the city and the school district hired in June. The firm is now in the midst of recruiting Cubberley "fellows" -- members of the community who will help Concordia consultants perform outreach and prepare for meetings, Bobbie Hill, a principal at Concordia told the City and School Liaison Committee on Thursday.
The fellows will also help facilitate the discussions during the four community meetings that the city plan to hold as part of the master plan process. The first of these meetings is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 27 in the Cubberley gym.
The city and the school district, which jointly own the site, hope to have the plan completed by the end of 2019, a deadline that was set in a 2016 agreement between City Manager James Keene and former school Superintendent Max McGee. The goal is to come up with a "joint vision" for the 35-acre community center in south Palo Alto. The school district owns 27 acres and leases them to the city, which owns the remaining eight acres.
The future of Cubberley became an increasingly urgent topic in 2012, as the long-term lease agreement between the city and the school district was reaching its end (the old agreement expired in 2014). In 2013, a specially appointed stakeholder committee released a report urging the two sides to come up with a new vision. Known as the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, the group called Cubberley "one of the most critical and important issues" facing the city, as well as a tremendous opportunity to plan for the future.
"We strongly recommend taking steps now to prepare for eventual joint use of the site to provide both the school and community programming that are key to our quality of life in Palo Alto," the report states.
Councilwoman Karen Holman, who chairs the City and School Liaison Committee, suggested Thursday that creating the plan based on four meetings seems "extraordinarily fast." Hill said she is confident that it can get the job done. She pointed to the firm's work on the post-Katrina plan.
"We designed the process and managed the Unified New Orleans plan and that was done in seven months," Hill said.
"That was crazy time. I think we can accomplish what needs to be accomplished in these four meetings."
Meanwhile, Hill said her firm is reviewing all the existing master plans as well as the city's zoning requirements to better understand what uses would actually be allowed at the site. The firm will also be conducting a needs assessment and talking to homeowners, business owners and stakeholders around Cubberley.
The fact that her firm is not from the area, Hill said, carries both advantages and disadvantages.
"We don't come with particular bias or bent or baggage, but we do rely on the local community -- folks who know their community, who have connections to networks, people and resources to help us understand the community and help us understand what is culturally appropriate," Hill said.
Hence, the "community fellows" -- people who will work with planners and consultants to prepare for meetings where they will sit at tables and make sure people understand all the activities. In recruiting these fellows, Concordia is looking for people "who don't come with a particular bias or strong advocacy position," Hill said.
The meetings will be designed to allow residents to join the planning process at any point of the planning process. She also noted that all the materials pertaining to the meetings will be posted online at the project website.
Editor's note: The community meeting that was initially scheduled for Oct. 4 was rescheduled to Sept. 27. The story was modified to reflect the new date.