ALSJCC relocation proceeds, despite conflicts

Back in early October, Stanford University offered up six acres of premium Palo Alto real estate to serve as the potential future site of the embattled Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center. Despite tinges of optimism on all sides, more than a few folks warned that plenty of hurdles remained before the JCC would be in the clear.

And they were right.

But, fortunately for the JCC, the first — and one of the largest — has been successfully cleared.

After nearly two years of ongoing debates, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Stanford's general use plan in mid-December. This will allow the university to add 4.8 million square feet of academic and residential construction during the next decade while safeguarding 2,000 acres of the campus foothills over the next 25 years.

Stanford's offer to lease land to the city for use by the JCC and other nonprofits was contingent upon the passage of the general use plan. The Palo Alto Unified School District aims to install a new middle school in the JCC's Arastradero Road site by the 2002-03 school year.

So had the general use plan been shot down, it is likely the JCC's hopes for a smooth, rancor-free transition to a new site would have been gone as well.

"That got us in the batter's box; now we've got to circle the bases," said JCC executive director Sandy Blovad of the plan's passage. "The impact of this is the JCC now has access to a very desirable site."

Members of Palo Alto's school board were also heartened by the victory of the general use plan.

"This is huge," said board member Mandy Lowell. "People have said that parcel [of land] is worth over $60 million. To be able to have access to that land would be a tremendous boon to a new community center."

The acceptance of the plan has alleviated some of the concerns that the JCC said necessitated its sending a legal letter to the school board in November.

The letter written by Blovad and Joe Hirsch, chair of the JCC's land use committee, said that without a permanent or temporary replacement home lined up at this time, the JCC could not agree to the re-opening of a middle school on its current site and/or a timeline that would place that opening in 2003.

Among other requests, the JCC, an 18-year tenant of the former Terman Middle School, also asked for compensation for "the 32 years remaining on its lease" if it should be forced early from the building as well as moving expenses. The JCC asked the school district to underwrite environmental impact reports for any possible temporary or permanent future sites of the JCC.

Members of the school district were somewhat taken aback by some of the JCC's claims.

"Well, I thought we had pretty much come to an understanding that the middle school was moving into the Terman site. I think it's pretty well understood that a middle school needs to be there, and we want to open it by the fall of 2003," said school board member Cathy Kroymann, whose term as board president ended Dec. 12. "I was also very surprised at the thought that we should be doing an EIR on all the possible locations the JCC might move to."

The school district also found fault with the JCC's request for 32 years of compensation, claiming the district is only on the hook for seven years.

Blovad and Hirsch maintained that the opinions expressed in the JCC's letter are well known and should not have surprised anybody.

In preparation to possibly obtaining the Terman site via eminent domain, the school district must undertake steps mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. One of those steps requires seeking community input on the matter. With that in mind, Hirsch said delivering the letter was a necessity.

"It's a letter that needed to be done," said Hirsch. "We even end it with a very upbeat statement, saying we are 'willing to work for a total solution that results in a new middle school and a new JCC providing uninterrupted service to the Palo Alto community.'

"Why this should raise any alarm, I don't know."

Despite ruffling each other's feathers in November, both JCC and school board officials said that, following the passage of the general use plan, the process is moving forward.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.