City to study the idea of adding housing to Cubberley

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council voted Monday (June 3) to rule out the possibility of building as many as 164 homes at Cubberley Community Center, deciding to only study the environmental impacts of building 112 units there.

The vote isn’t a commitment to build any housing, but only to factor those units into the city’s environmental impact report regarding the redevelopment of Cubberley, a former high school at 4000 Middlefield Road.

Sixty-four units of housing for Palo Alto school district employees was proposed to go at the district-owned 525 San Antonio Road property, currently the site of Athena Academy. It’s considered to be part of the Cubberley planning area.

The other 48 would go at Cubberley, possibly for seniors, low-income residents, city workers or school district employees.

The school district owns 27 acres of the Cubberley property in south Palo Alto. The city owns the other eight acres.

Councilman Tom DuBois successfully called for studying the idea of putting a larger share of the housing at the San Antonio Road property rather than at the former high school site.

Councilman Greg Tanaka cast the sole dissenting vote after raising concerns about building homes alongside a community center, repeatedly asking how disputes over noise and lights from evening sports games would be resolved.

Where’s the school board?

Tanaka and Councilwoman Liz Kniss both expressed dismay that no representatives of the school district stayed for last night’s discussion about Cubberley.

It was Councilwoman Alison Cormack who suggested 112 units as a compromise between council members and residents who railed against the idea of replacing open space with apartments.

“We tend to undervalue the lifetime value of public land,” Councilman DuBois said. “I think it’s debatable whether the community center part is a good place for housing.”

Where did the housing idea come from?

Some speakers questioned why housing was introduced into the Cubberley planning process at all, stating that residents who participated at planning meetings hadn’t shown interest in it. The housing proposal wasn’t brought in front of residents until the final public workshop about the project.

Cormack responded that she suggested senior affordable housing at Cubberley at a Sept. 27 public meeting, which she attended as a resident before she was elected. She brought up the idea again on Oct. 3 during her campaign, she said.

Cormack added that Palo Alto school district Superintendent Don Austin mentioned at a City/School Liaison Committee meeting early this year that he was interested in adding housing for school district employees to the property.

Concordia, a consulting firm that was hired to plan the redevelopment and conduct public outreach about it, came back with four options for amounts of housing and where it would be located on the sites in question.

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Vice President Karen Holman, a former Palo Alto mayor, said that residents’ “faith in our local government and processes is at stake” as a result of the housing proposal. Holman said people want to know where the idea of adding housing to Cubberley came from.

Housing and parks

Other speakers urged council to take advantage of any opportunity to add more housing.

Intellectual property attorney John Kelley said the council was considering a “false dichotomy” between building housing and preserving park land, which he said was not mutually exclusive. He noted that the Baylands are 1.5 miles from Cubberley.

Kelley noted that several years ago, council members Eric Filseth, DuBois and Lydia Kou said they supported affordable senior housing — just not at the site of a former orchard at 567 Maybell Ave. That project was never built, and is often cited by activists as a missed opportunity.

But not all housing advocates support building homes at Cubberley.
Mila Zelkha, who has advocated for housing construction in Palo Alto for the last seven years, said that in this case, she wants to see Cubberley preserved, calling it a “limited community resource.”

‘More than enough room’

But a speech by Councilwoman Cormack — complete with a slideshow she prepared — ultimately won the vote.

Cormack, who campaigned on her interest in redeveloping Cubberley, said that the redeveloped community center as proposed would include 70% more open space than exists there now. Program space is proposed to be doubled, she said.

“I will respectfully say that this is about more than zoning. This is about what kind of community we will build and who can be a part of it,” Cormack said. “There is enough room for people to live there.”

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