With Palo Alto's long-standing lease of Cubberley Community Center from the Palo Alto Unified School District just days away from expiration, the two sides have entered into a month-to-month arrangement to preserve their partnership in the popular but dilapidated complex on Middlefield Road.
The City Council and the Board of Education have both endorsed the basic tenets of a new lease, with the council directing staff in early October to bring back the document by the end of the year for approval. But despite a stated commitment by City Manager Ed Shikada and school Superintendent Don Austin to work together on a new vision for Cubberley, the two sides have not been able to finalize a new deal for the 35-acre community center. The current lease between the school district, which owns 27 acres of Cubberley, and the city, which owns 8 acres and leases the rest, expires on Dec. 31.
Despite the October vote, the lease agreement never came back to the council, which concluded its final meeting of the year on Dec. 16 without any discussion of Cubberley. The city's Chief Communication Officer Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said that city and the school district are working on a new lease for consideration in early 2020.
"Until then, we will be extending the current lease on a month-to-month basis," Horrigan-Taylor told the Weekly in an email.
The most notable and potentially controversial feature of the new lease would be a schedule of deadlines for determining Cubberley's future. The city released last month a "concept plan" for Cubberley based on a series of community meetings led by the city's consultant, Concordia. The concept plan envisions a series of shared facilities, including gymnasiums, swimming pools and theater spaces.
The concept plans also allocates space for the school district to build a new school, should the district decide that it needs one, and to add teacher housing at 525 San Antonio Road, a site adjacent to Cubberley (The plan can be viewed here. Comments on the document can be submitted to [email protected]).
While the effort to craft a new Cubberley vision has proceeded with significant community interest, actual redevelopment plans for Cubberley remains hazy. School district officials have recently declared that they have no intention of redevelopment Cubberley's theaters and gyms, a position that puts it squarely at odds with the plan's vision of brand new buildings and expanded green space.
The district has also been loath to decide whether to build a new school at Cubberley — a project that would have significant implications for the site. The proposed lease aims to make the planning process more predictable by requiring the district to answer that question by December 2021. It will also have to declare by that time whether it wants to build teacher housing at 525 San Antonio.
The city, meanwhile, would have to complete an "infrastructure assessment" for Cubberley by December 2020, a study analyzing the center's near- and long-term needs. By December 2021, the city would have to complete a conceptual design for the first phase of improvement. And by December 2022, the two sides would have to complete their discussions of a cost-sharing plan.
The negotiation principles approved by Shikada and Austin acknowledged that the "sense of urgency to settle the development plans at Cubberley is not calibrated between PAUSD and the City." To bring the sides closer together, the lease would establish a new ad hoc committee, made up of council members and school board members, that will meet regularly to discuss the Cubberley plan.
The proposed lease also calls on the city to continue paying $1.86 million annually for infrastructure improvements to Cubberley and to pay $5.1 million a year for leasing the 27 acres.
While the school board has in recent months downplayed expectations for redeveloping Cubberley's (it has recently backed away from the idea of teacher housing), the city's Parks and Recreation Commission has been far more enthusiastic about the community center's potential. Last week, the commission approved a letter thanking the community for its involvement in the planning process and encouraging the partners "to realize the opportunity to create social and educational spaces" based on concepts presented by the residents.
Commissioners generally lauded the concept plan, with Commissioner Keith Reckdahl calling it "beautiful" and noting that it has "something for everyone." Vice Chairman Jeff Greenfield, who participated in the Cubberley community meetings, called the concept plan "excellent."
"It's really done a great job in channeling and synthesizing the feedback from the community. ... Clearly, the community has been very engaged in the process and it's important to show the community progress — that their effort and their feedback has been listened to," Greenfield said. "I think the concept plan does that."