Tough planning, finance challenges ahead for Cubberley | March 22, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 22, 2013

Tough planning, finance challenges ahead for Cubberley

Future of 60-year-old facility will need collaboration by city, school district

by Chris Kenrick

A fortune cookie set the tone for a meeting of Palo Alto's elected officials on the future of Cubberley Community Center last week.

"You're going to have to work hard to push this project up to the top of the hill," stated the fortune, which was saved and read aloud by Lanie Wheeler, a member of a Community Advisory Committee on the future of Cubberley.

Wheeler, who was mayor of Palo Alto in 1996, was among the committee members who presented recommendations for shared use of Cubberley, located on Middlefield Road in south Palo Alto, to a joint meeting of the City Council and Board of Education.

The committee painted a vision of a rebuilt Cubberley 15 or 20 years from now, where efficient reconfiguration and shared use of space could allow for a community center as well as a comprehensive high school to meet the growing enrollment in Palo Alto schools.

The status quo — the city's annual payment of $7 million a year to the school district to lease the aging campus as a community center — is no longer viable, members said.

If and when the current lease is renegotiated in 2014 it must contain provisions for longer-term planning and investment, the committee said.

City Council and school board members praised the work of the 28-member committee but said achieving its recommendations will be an uphill task.

Councilman Larry Klein, who two decades ago helped to craft the utility-users tax that continues to finance the city's lease payments to the school district, stressed a sense of urgency.

"We — all citizens of Palo Alto — are sitting on a wasting asset," Klein said of the nearly 60-year-old former high school campus.

"This community prides itself on doing things right, and having our citizens — everyone from little babies to seniors — using a facility that's falling apart isn't something any of us want to be a part of."

Klein said "significant amounts of money" must be spent in the short term to make sure that Cubberley doesn't "fall apart."

"I think we have a short-term timetable, not a long-term one."

Before the city's deadline for notification on lease renewal at the end of 2013, the council and school board have "many issues dealing with finances in particular to work out," Klein said.

The committee recommended that any lease renegotiation contain a requirement that the city and school district within one year develop a memorandum of understanding to determine steps for a Cubberley master plan and a community needs assessment.

Wheeler, who chaired the advisory committee's finance subcommittee, said financing options for future development "will depend on decisions the elected bodies make and the timing of those decisions."

Many options under discussion could legally be financed by a school district-led bond measure that would require approval by 55 percent of voters, she said.

Beyond the complications of needing separate elected bodies to plan jointly is the fact that their jurisdictions are not completely aligned.

The Palo Alto school district includes residents of Stanford University as well as some parts of Los Altos Hills. And residents of Palo Alto's Monroe Park neighborhood, who pay the utility-users tax that finances the Cubberley lease, are in the Los Altos school district.

Alex Panelli and Jim Olstad, who both served on a 2010 citizens committee that examined Palo Alto's infrastructure needs, said the financing of the school district through the city's utility-users tax deserves greater taxpayer scrutiny.

"I don't — and I think a large number of the population of the city won't — think we should just continue the advocacy of subsidization, whether it's through the utility-users tax or other dollars over to the district's coffers," said Olstad, who noted his children also had gone through Palo Alto public schools.


What do you think the future of Cubberley should look like? What combination of school district and community use would be ideal? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.


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