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District Takes Steps Toward Acquiring Property at Onizuka

Foothill-De Anza Community College District's Board of Trustees has identified property at the former Onizuka Air Force Station as the preferred site for a new education center. The board directed the administration to take the necessary steps leading to possible acquisition of the land using a public benefit conveyance process.

In explaining their preference for the Onizuka site, board members cited the unique opportunity to acquire the 9.6-acre property at no cost; its proximity to highways, public transportation and areas of population growth; and its visibility and location in a dynamic and growing part of Sunnyvale.

"This is an exciting time," said Board President Pearl Cheng. "This direction comes after an exhaustive search and review of opportunities that would best meet the district's objectives in finding a permanent home for the education center."

Speaking to the board after the Aug. 8 announcement, Sunnyvale Mayor Melinda Hamilton and Vice Mayor Jim Griffith expressed enthusiasm for the possibility of having Foothill-De Anza open a center in their community. The city of Sunnyvale serves as the local redevelopment authority overseeing the disposal and reuse of the Air Force property.

"We are thrilled to hear you are interested in coming to Sunnyvale," Mayor Hamilton said. Vice Mayor Griffith described the education center as a good match for the base reuse, envisioning it as a place where students could intern at surrounding high-tech companies and area workers and displaced armed forces personnel could gain additional education.

The district must complete the necessary due diligence on the site before a final transaction could take place, and the Sunnyvale City Council, acting as the Onizuka Local Redevelopment Authority, must amend the Onizuka redevelopment and reuse plan to specify that an educational use is preferred for the property.

Upon completion of those steps, Foothill-De Anza could move forward with an application to the U.S. Department of Education for a public benefit conveyance. The only cost to the district in obtaining the 9.6 acres would be the expense of clearing and preparing the site for construction, estimated at approximately $5 million. The education center project would be funded through the bond measure approved by district voters in 2006.

The Onizuka property is located in the Moffett Business Park, a premier center for corporate headquarters and research & development. Park tenants include Juniper Networks, Yahoo and Network Appliance.

The entire Onizuka site is 23 acres, approximately 18.9 of which can be developed. The Air Force has accepted a request by the Veterans Administration to use 4.1 acres and three buildings for research activities. The Onizuka property offers opportunities for potential partnerships and collaborations with neighboring districts.

Foothill-De Anza has been engaged for several years in searching for a permanent home for the education center operated by Foothill College, currently housed at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto. Its goal is to develop a regional state-of-the-art center that will serve individuals in Silicon Valley through programs and partnerships that seamlessly transition individuals from high school to community college to the university and workplace, and offer lifelong learning opportunities.

In April, the district issued a "request for offers" soliciting proposals for properties of eight acres or more along the Highway 101 corridor within the district's boundaries. In its request for offers, the district projected the need for approximately 50,000 square feet of building space, with the opportunity for possible future expansion to 100,000 square feet.

This effort took place at the same time companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and others were rapidly expanding and leasing large blocks of commercial and R&D properties in Silicon Valley.

The district received one offer in response to its solicitation. A joint venture from the development firms of Orchard Partners/Lane Partners proposed a "build to suit" education center on a 10-acre site at 895 Kifer Road, Sunnyvale.

While seeking offers, the district concurrently initiated discussions with the cities of Palo Alto and Sunnyvale about potential education center sites. Talks with Palo Alto focused on eight acres the city owns at Cubberley Community Center, where Foothill's Middlefield Campus education center has occupied leased facilities for many years. The Palo Alto City Council ultimately decided not to offer the land for sale to Foothill-De Anza in order to preserve it for future development by the Palo Alto Unified School District.The Onizuka and the Kifer Road sites were evaluated against criteria that the board established earlier in the year.

The new education center will offer year-round programs and services, leveraging partnerships with other colleges and universities, high schools, regional occupational programs, community-based organizations, local government, business and industry.

Development of a new center at Onizuka would take several years. Even if the education center relocates from Palo Alto, Foothill College President Judy Miner said she hopes the college can retain leased space at Cubberley so Foothill can continue offering courses that are in greatest demand by residents of Palo Alto.

In the meantime, Foothill's Middlefield Campus continues to offer a wide variety of career and general education programs serving approximately 4,000 students.


Posted Aug. 8, 2011