June 18, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters
What had been widely lauded as a successful process to engage the community in planning for redevelopment of Cubberley took a turn toward controversy on May 9 with the introduction of new housing scenarios, including potential housing on public land and parcels zoned for Public Facilities. The housing concepts were perceived by many as a radical last minute change of direction that was inconsistent with the community priorities expressed throughout the process and threatened future service capacity. Others welcomed the housing concepts as a long overdue recognition of the benefits of housing near services. Approximately 75 percent of participants at the May 9 meeting rejected the housing concepts that might use city-owned land. Fewer objected to housing for PAUSD staff on school district-owned properties. Those willing to accommodate housing only on school-owned land heavily favored the 525 San Antonio Road location that is not already zoned for Public Facilities. Their comments generally argued that Public Facilities zoned land is needed for community use.
The Parks and Recreation Commission similarly did not take well to the prospect of committing limited city recreation land to housing use. On May 28, the Commission voted 5-1 (McDougall absent) to endorse a Colleagues’ Memo authored by Chair McDougall, Vice-Chair Greenfield, and Commissioner Moss, urging City Council not to include housing on city-owned land at Cubberley. The debate then moved to City Council on June 3, where dozens of residents wrote letters and turned out to speak.
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Council was slated to identify how much new housing should be included in an upcoming environmental analysis and business plan for the Cubberley redevelopment. The lengthy debate kicked off with a motion by Councilmember DuBois to explore higher density housing at 525 San Antonio at 32, 64, and 112 units for the environmental analysis. That motion was quickly replaced with a substitute motion by Councilmember Alison Cormack to evaluate up to 164 housing units across the entire site. Cormack’s substitute initially passed on a 4-3 vote (DuBois, Kou, and Tanaka dissenting) only to fail by the same margin when Mayor Filseth called a revote and changed his position. Ultimately council settled on direction to study 112 housing units, with up to 100 units on City land and up to 112 units on PAUSD land at 525 San Antonio and Greendell School.
The 6-1 vote (Tanaka dissenting) on June 3 also requested a joint study session with the School Board in August. Although the school district is the majority landowner at Cubberley, the Board of Education has not taken a position either on the need for or desirability of PAUSD staff housing as part of the Cubberley redesign. Individual board members had called for inclusion of concepts for more housing in the Cubberley plan, but the district indicates no sense of urgency to take a position anytime soon.