UPDATE: PG&E drops plans to seize part of Cubberley parking lot

This banner has been placed on schools buses in the Cubberley parking lot. Post photo by Kyle Martin.

STORIES BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer

Update: Saturday, Feb. 13: Palo Alto school district leaders prevailed yesterday (Feb 12) when PG&E dropped plans to seize part of the Cubberley Community Center parking lot to install equipment associated with the natural gas lines that run under Middlefield Road.

The utility was threatening to use its power of eminent domain — the ability of a government agency or utility to take private property for a public necessity without the owner’s consent.

PG&E had offered the district in August to pay $154,000 for about
20,000 square feet of access to school-district owned land in the parking lot at the Cubberley Community Center at 4000 Middlefield Road.

PG&E never started eminent domain proceedings in court to get the land.

But the school district, which also has the power of eminent domain, has plans of its own for the Cubberley site that would have been derailed if PG&E got its way.

“I feel like for a period of time, it felt like a war. I was in a war mode and our district was in a war mode,” Austin said yesterday. “I can say now, reflecting back, I couldn’t be happier that we were able to resolve this without an enormous expense or having to continue down that path.”

The utility yesterday decided to ditch its plans to underground natural gas lines that run under Middlefield Road, which are part of a 32-mile line that runs from Milpitas to Crystal Springs.

Austin and school board president Shounak Dharap met virtually yesterday with PG&E representatives, including Vice President of Gas Transmission and Distribution Construction Peter Kenny, who announced that the utility company would drop any potential eminent domain action against the district.

Austin said the PG&E representatives were “gracious” and “amicable” in their negotiations yesterday.

PG&E learned about Cubberley

PG&E learned during its tussle with the district about the importance of Cubberley to the district and community. Once that was clear to them, they decided to find another location for the project, Austin said.

Austin did not know where PG&E was going to look next for its project.

This ends what could have been an extensive legal battle for the land between the district and PG&E. The district hired Oakland-based law firm Wendel Rosen, which specializes in eminent domain, to handle negotiations and legal matters with PG&E over the easement.

Austin said it’s hard to know how much the district saved in legal fees by avoiding a court battle with PG&E.

District was ready for fight

But the district was prepared to go lengths to keep PG&E from getting the easement, launching a full-fledged campaign against the utility by staging buses on the Cubberley lot with banners that urged the public to “Save Cubberley” against the utility company’s request. The district also launched a website called SaveCubberley.org, which linked people to an online petition against PG&E’s easement. The petition garnered over 3,400 signatures as of yesterday.

The city owns eight acres of the Cubberley site and leases 27 additional acres from the school district. Cubberley is a former high school that might one day become a school site again.

 

Original story on Feb. 6: School district plans to fight PG&E over its plans to take part of Cubberley parking lot

Correction: PG&E doesn’t have any gas or electric customers in Palo Alto. This story has been corrected to reflect that fact.

 

Palo Alto school district officials are launching a campaign to fight PG&E over its plans to use part of the Cubberley Community Center’s parking lot for equipment related to the natural gas lines that run under Middlefield Road.

PG&E is threatening to use its power of eminent domain — the ability of a government agency or utility to take private property for a public necessity without the owner’s consent. But PG&E would have to pay for the easement. Ironically, the school district also has the power of eminent domain.

“There’s going to be a battle,” Palo Alto schools Superintendent Don Austin told the Post on Friday. “And I think that’s pretty clear.”

PG&E is offering to pay the school district $154,100 for the easement covering 20,000 square feet of the Cubberley parking lot at 4000 Middlefield Road. But the school district has plans of its own buildings, a potential underground parking facility and more at the site, which would likely be jeopardized if PG&E gets its way.

PG&E has not started eminent domain proceedings in court to obtain the land, but school officials are prepared to fight.

PG&E wants an easement for the area marked in orange.

The site would be used for inspecting and upgrading two underground natural gas lines that run under Middlefield Road, according to PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado. The lines are part of a 32-mile line that runs from Milpitas to Crystal Springs.

Tostado said the site would primarily be accessed underground once PG&E brings in its equipment and crews to work on the lines, and that road closures could happen along Middlefield Road during construction days.

Mayor Tom DuBois said the utility is lowballing the school district with the $154,100 offer. DuBois wants to help but said the city is mostly just a bystander in this dispute. Still, he called PG&E “heavy-handed” in their requests.

“It’s not that we’re against the PG&E project, but we’ve been trying to help the school district,” DuBois said. “We just want to know if there are alternative options.”

The city owns eight acres of the Cubberley site and leases 27 additional acres from the school district. Cubberley is a former high school that might one day become a school site again.

PG&E could use other locations for this work, but Tostado would not tell the Post where they are.

The school district is gearing up a campaign to fight PG&E. On Friday, the district parked school buses in the area that PG&E wants to take over with banners saying “No eminent domain PG&E” with the website savecubberley.org underneath.

The website includes the district’s side of the story and a link to a change.org petition.

“We believe in this case we’re protecting more than a school site,” Austin said. “We’re not willing to give it away.”

The blue lines show the route of PG&E’s gas lines in Palo Alto. Image from a PG&E website.

PG&E sent the district a letter in August expressing interest in the site. Since then, the two entities have been discussing the issue, with the district vehemently opposing PG&E’s offer.

The school district has hired the Oakland-based law firm Wendel Rosen, which specializes in eminent domain.

“We think it’s our obligation to fight this,” Austin said. “PG&E can drop it and find another location along their miles of pipe specifically and more appropriately within the bounds of a city it actually serves. And that would end it immediately. Beyond that, I think it’s tough to predict the speed of the court system.”

Palo Alto provides gas and electric to all of the homes and businesses within the city limits. However, PG&E has some underground gas lines, such as the ones on Middlefield Road, but the utility doesn’t have any customers in the city.

 

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