Palo Alto tackles Cubberley's conundrum | November 4, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 4, 2011

Palo Alto tackles Cubberley's conundrum

City Council, school district prepare for 14-month discussion over community center's future

by Gennady Sheyner

For Palo Alto officials, the sprawling Cubberley Community Center in the southern portion of the city is both a head-scratching conundrum and lucrative opportunity.

The center, which the city is leasing from the Palo Alto Unified School District under a 25-year agreement, houses a host of studios, nonprofit groups and playing fields, along with a Foothill College campus. But with the lease set to expire in 2014 and the school district eyeing the center as a critical location for new school facilities, the future of the Middlefield Road center and its tenants remains one of the city's most glaring wildcards.

On Tuesday (Nov. 1), the City Council took a major step toward resolving the Cubberley dilemma when it approved a staff proposal to proceed with a new master plan for the 35-acre center. The process, which the council approved 8-0 with Gail Price absent, entails a 14-month work plan involving three committees comprised of high-level staff from the city and the school district, Cubberley tenants and a broad swath of stakeholders from surrounding neighborhoods.

The school district has maintained that it needs the entire Cubberley site to support a swelling student population. The city currently pays the district about $7 million a year to lease the site.

In approving the plan, the council stressed the need for transparency as it seeks to figure out Cubberley's future. Council members Nancy Shepherd and Karen Holman were particularly adamant about the process being open to the public. Earlier this year, the council faced criticism from Cubberley tenants and former elected officials for not being transparent enough in its negotiations with the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which was hoping to buy an 8-acre portion of Cubberley and build an education center at the site. The council voted in July not to sell the land after hearing from tenants who were worried about losing their space if the education center were built.

The new process should allow these tenants to have a greater say in what happens to Cubberley. One of the committees would include a large swath of community stakeholders, including tenants, neighborhood leaders, members of environmental groups and planning commissioners. Another committee, called the Technical Advisory Group, will be chaired by City Manager James Keene and school Superintendent Kevin Skelly and will be charged with doing the necessary research to facilitate a policy discussion next year.

When the technical group completes its work, the Policy Advisory Group — consisting of council members and school-board members — would consider possible scenarios for Cubberley and make recommendations to the council and the school board.

Keene said the process could be a "huge win-win" for the community if the two elected bodies can work well together.

"Nothing in the process will work well if we aren't able to work in a spirit of mutual interest and consensus in terms of the school district, the city and community stakeholders," Keene told the council Tuesday night.

The council had some disagreements about the proposed process, with Holman calling for the Planning and Transportation Commission to be involved in the land-use decisions surrounding Cubberley and Councilman Larry Klein calling her proposal a "classic 'Palo Alto Process' overkill," given the deadlines. The council ultimately agreed that the commission should have some involvement, though the nature of this involvement would be considered at a future date. The council also accepted a suggestion from Holman and Councilman Pat Burt to include connectivity between Cubberley and surrounding neighborhoods in the study.

Council members characterized Cubberley at Tuesday's discussion as a prime redevelopment opportunity for the largely built-out city. Holman said it's rare for a site as large as Cubberley to be available for redevelopment in a city of Palo Alto's size and called Cubberley an "enormous project."

"Whatever it takes to do it right, we ought to commit to that," Holman said.

Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh was one of several council members who praised the plan as a reasonable way to reach a mutually beneficial decision about Cubberley's future.

"I think that, in the best sense possible, this has set up a great bureaucratic process and I'm very happy we get to be engaged in this discussion across the stakeholder groups," Yeh said. "While there's tight time frames, I feel there's adequate time to address these issues."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by Anne McKnight, a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2011 at 3:47 pm

What lovely pictures of my old HS (class of '64). The flood of memories they brought was almost overwhelming. Perhaps because it is the autumn of the year and my life. Thank you, Anne

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm

<Keene said the process could be a "huge win-win" for the community if the two elected bodies can work well together>

Hate to say, but this is a big IF, particularly in light that the two elected bodies are both partly going to be up for election next year.

I strongly suggest that all candidates next year are questioned about their views on this before the elections.

Posted by city employees move out, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

The great Non-brainer in the History of Men kind is to use the site for the 3rd High School, and Greendel for Elementary School, and Peninsula day care for Pre School Family. Also, Get all the City Employees out of there forever :(government smaller). and Since the land belongs to the PAUSD, tell the city Supervisors to not to get involved because it is not their business after the lease expires.

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I have to agree with 'city employees. . ." This site is needed as a high school, middle school, elementary school and preschool by this part of town. We have gone long enough with hideous commutes to high school. Since one problem with opening a new high school there is the lack of great reputation it would come with, why not make it a second campus for Gunn High? Gunn 2.0? Don't know how you have all those public schools while having no government employees there. Still trying to figure that out.

Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2011 at 9:40 am

This is a no-brainer. Cubberly needs to be a high-school again as anyone who has looked at PAUSD enrollment figures should understand. Community groups will just need to find somewhere else to locate for cheap rents (and I say that as someone who has a kid in preschool and another in piano at Cubberly). This is a town whose property values are largely driven by its excellent schools. We can't risk that for some "feel-good"ism and Palo Alto process. Schools have to have priority.

Posted by Cougar, a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2011 at 9:52 am

"one problem with opening a new high school there is the lack of great reputation it would come with"

There should be ho Hassling over this. Call it Cubberley, and assume its great reputation!

Happy U-Day!

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 3, 2011 at 10:12 am

OK, so you all want Cubberley to be a High School again - great, but that is not the responsibility of the City Council, it is the responsibility of the School District.

The City should exchange the 8 acres of buildings they own for 8 acres of playing fields which they should guarantee maintenance on as they do the playing fields at Terman.

Then hand all the buildings back to the School District and let the School District and the Parents decide what to do with Cubberley.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2011 at 10:48 am

I don't see what the problem is.

The site primarily belongs to PAUSD and should be used primarily for educating our children. The majority of present uses for Cubberley are after school hours which means that many of the present activities, dance, music, sports, etc. can still take place after school hours. Those that can't could be offered space to rent at Lucie Stern or some of our library space since we have so much of it.

Posted by GM Neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

The buildings are a disgrace and some of the volunteer or non-profits are the culprits. The campus is infested with rats. I've seen them with my own eyes. The parking lot (which paved over the swimming pool) has quite a few homeless people living in vehicles; where will they go? The trash pickup after a weekend of sports use is lacking. PAUSD and CPA will have to deal with many problems in making this a viable campus again. That being said, I like the concept of Peninsula Day Care for PreSchool Family, Greendell an elementary school again, and Cubberley a high school! We moved here right after Greendell was closed and before Cubberley was closed and our kids schlepped to Fairmeadow and Gunn. Nothing wrong with using the Cubberley name--might take some of the pressure off the kids! Of course, those who want the "prestige" of Gunn will howl.

Posted by Edward Perez, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 3, 2011 at 11:36 am

NOOOOO!!!! Traffic on Middlefield is a mad-house as it is. All we need is 2,000 more SUVs flooding the place at 8 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. to gather up their little bundles of joy. There is insufficient parking for all the students and teachers and administrators and janitors. The relative serenity of SoPa will be ruined by Friday night football, proms, balls, basketball games, soccer, and all the other events that go along with a high school and a grammar school.

Its great the way it is with the dance schools, the friends of the Palo Alto library, the day care, the Foothill College Extension, and the various artistic endeavors therein. Fix it up but leave it as it is.

Yes, I live across the street.l

Posted by Sheri, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm

It's not as simple as converting everything back to schools. There are more than just students in town and those people also deserve community services. We need to figure out how to best use the properties to serve both needs. In fact we need to look at how to distribute youth and community services all across the city.

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Most of this is school district land that others have had the opportunity to rent at low rates for a long time. While perhaps they and their customers have come to feel they are entitled to this, they should be thankful for what they've had, and move elsewhere with grace. Having actual schools return to this part of town will cut down on traffic because many more students will be able to walk and bike to school. When you buy property across the street from school district land, you are taking on the possibility that it might one day be a school again.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Cubberley in its present condition will never be a school again because it doesn't comply with School required earthquake standards. If it is ever used as a school again, the School District with have to put a bond measure for over a hundred thousand on the ballot and only if it passes will Cubberley be rebuilt to become a school.

Posted by build, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 3, 2011 at 1:50 pm

So, build it.

Posted by Cubalum, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm

We need another High School for many reasons.
- current schools too large, not one place to meet with the whole student body
- More students can get involved in the sport teams and not get cut as a 9th grader.
- Have a high school for the south PA kids so they don't have to go on the Arastradero traffic nighmare
- Cub was a great school with lots of spirit
@Edward it seems you need to go live in the boonies and not in a city

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2011 at 7:22 am

Here is Steve Emslie's staff report which is preliminary:
Web Link

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

Due to Palo Alto's growing school enrollment, we need a 3rd high school and a 4th middle school.

Gunn and PALY are currently at 1900 and expected to reach 2300. If you research it, the "ideal" high school size is 600 - 900, for reasons including greater opportunities for each student to participate in high school activities -- plays, choir, marching band, sports teams, clubs, etc. See e.g. Web Link

Palo Alto residents highly value education. It makes no sense to cram our students into two over sized high schools when they'd be much better off in 3 smaller high schools. Costs of building the 3rd high school shouldn't be a factor in a community of so many wealthy (millionaires, and even billionaires). It's an exciting opportunity to have a state-of-the art new high school.

Our middle schools are also severely impacted. The Cubberley site acreage isn't large enough for both a middle school and a high school. Gunn and PALY are currently over 40 acres; Cubberley is smaller than that.

I invite ideas on how to address the need for a 4th middle school, while also building a 3rd high school on the Cubberley location.

I also invite ideas on where to relocate the artists presently serving our community in the Cubberley Community Center. These artists a tremendous resource for our community. Again, given the wealth of this area, we should find the funds for a new Palo Alto arts center to house these artists.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2011 at 11:13 am

I'm betting it will be less expensive to knock the whole thing down and build a new campus.

Posted by exactly, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

yes,exactly,less expensive and less hassle and less unexpected costs.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Wow!! Talk about the Palo Alto process run a-muck.

Three Committees to decide what the City should do with their 8 acres!!! That does not include any future Committees that might be formed by the School District to decide what to do with the School District's property presently leased to the City that may be returned to the School District in January, 2014.

Then to help make the correct decisions $150,000 for consultants, architects, land use specialists etc.

I have the answer right now that will save the City $150,000 and lots of time. Swap the City owned 8 acres of buildings for 8 acres of the playing fields with a covenant that promises that the land will never be built on.

Then on 1/1/14 the City should return all the leased buildings on the remaining 27 acres to the School District, the PAUSD can then decide to keep all the tenants in the buildings as is, or rebuild the Cubberley complex as a Middle or High School. This it will be the School District's responsibility!!

Problem solved!!!

Posted by exactly, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

by that time,it is too late.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm

My understanding is the committees will discuss the use of the entire Cubberley site (35 acres), not just the City owned 8 acres part.

It's also my information that a new school will require a tear down of the existing buildings due to asbestos and earthquake concerns. Which creates an exciting opportunity for a state-of-art new school.

I hope the committees will discuss how best to meet the needs for a 4th middle school (2 middle schools will soon be at 1100 each, exceeding their capacity), a 3rd high school, and a new Palo Alto arts center for the artists currently providing wonderful programs for our community.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Nancy says: "My understanding is the committees will discuss the use of the entire Cubberley site (35 acres), not just the City owned 8 acres part."

The City does not have jurisdiction over the 27 acres owned by the School District, they only lease it. Therefore, if it is decided by the various Committees to return the 27 acres to the School District on 1/1/14, the School District must make the decisions as to their future and perhaps form their own Committee of Parents.

You are correct that any new school built at Cubberley will require a complete tear down of the existing buildings.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm

The idea that tenants should dictate the use of this major land resource in ridiculous. They are negligible in the big picture of community/citywide needs.
As it was previously, this is an ideal location for a 3rd high school and yes, it will need to be rebuilt, and I am pleased to support this worthwhile idea.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2011 at 9:56 am

There appears to be confusion about the three committees.

The three committee process is a joint effort of the City and the School Board, working together to discuss the future of the entire Cubberley site.

It's a "work plan involving three committees comprised of high-level staff from the city and the school district, Cubberley tenants and a broad swath of stakeholders from surrounding neighborhoods."(for further detail about the committee members, please see above article).

So, there won't be a need for a separate School Board committee process -- the School Board is working with the City in the three committee process detailed in the article above.

Posted by Another neighbor, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Fixing Cubberly does not require a new bond measure, just as it didn't require a new bond measure for the district to buy that preschool property. Measure A allows for it. We've already approved the bond, and it's almost $200million dollars.

We could free up tens of millions to do the Cubberley work if the district revised current construction for all the extra classroom space to make Gunn and Paly take all those hundreds of extra students. If we don't need the extra classroom space and the multistory buildings (which are really expensive) on those campuses, they could still get all of their planned improvements, AND we'd have more than enough money to rebuild Cubberly new, without spending extra money. But it would take pressure from the community, because the district administration doesn't seem to have it together on this.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 8, 2011 at 1:57 am

Another neighbor, the decision has been made to expand Gunn, Paly, Jordan and JLS with additional classroom pods. The architects have drawn up the plans and the contractors hired, it's a done deal.

If you want to stop these expansions and transfer the bond money to rebuilding Cubberley you should run for School Board and become part of the School District's decision making process.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2011 at 8:13 am

Neighbor, wrong.

The school board voted, had plans and contractors for Garland and in the end backed down. They have set that precedent. They can stop the work at Gunn and Paly that hasn't yet started if they want.

The Cubberley site is at last being discussed and there will be an election for school board next year. The Cubberley site is going to be an election issue, mark my words. Nothing is written in stone about Gunn and Paly.

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