The Mountain View City Council voted on Tuesday, Sept. 12, to end a more than six-decade agreement with the Mountain View Whisman School District for the joint operation of campus fields. The vote came with a caveat that the district could accept a subsequent agreement with non-negotiable terms set by the city.
The council voted 6-0, with Ellen Kamei absent, to accept a city staff recommendation to terminate the joint use agreement for school fields. The council members added a stipulation that the city would lay out its requirements for a successor agreement and give the school board until the end of the calendar year to accept the offer. The proposal is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, not an opportunity for further negotiation, council member Lisa Matichak said.
The vote comes after multi-year negotiations broke down, with the school district announcing that it was pausing the talks earlier this year.
Under the joint use agreement, the first iteration of which dates back to 1959, the city pays for maintenance and improvements to the fields at Mountain View's public elementary and middle schools. In return, the school district agrees to let the public use its open space in a way that doesn't interfere with school operations. In practice, this has meant that campuses are open after school hours. The city has also managed renting fields for sports games and other community uses during these times.
The long-standing agreement was slated to run through June 30, 2025. The school district has said that even if the joint use agreement ends, it will continue to allow public access to school campuses when classes aren't in session.
City staff and council members described trying to continue negotiations as a waste of time and said that the district needs to make clear its position. In lieu of the joint use agreement, city staff said they would prioritize improving the city's own parks and building new ones.
Council member Lucas Ramirez said that the city was getting "deeply mixed signals" from the school district and a "total lack of clarity on where we're in the wrong."
"What I don't want to do is direct our staff to continue spinning their wheels in mud," Ramirez said. "I don't think that's going to be productive. I have no confidence that if we continue to negotiate the way that we have been that things will be any different seven years from now."
School district officials have said that they were surprised by the city staff's decision to place termination of the joint use agreement before the council and that the district's decision to pause negotiations shouldn't be interpreted as wanting to end the agreement.
School board member Laura Blakely, who said she was speaking in her personal capacity, told the council that the proposal to end the joint use agreement was "abrupt and premature."
"It's not a good look for the city and school district to simply cease communicating and attempting in good faith to work collaboratively together for the good of the residents of Mountain View," Blakely said. "It feels like young kids at the playground getting in an argument in the sand box and saying 'I don't like you anymore' and taking their toys and going home."
City Manager Kimbra McCarthy told the council that the cumulative effect of the district's choices made it clear that it wasn't intending to move forward with the joint use agreement. In addition to pausing the talks, McCarthy pointed to the district recently removing city signs on school fields and replacing them with district signs, as well as moving ahead with fencing at Monta Loma Elementary School without checking with the city.
"Ultimately, the words and actions of the district put the city on notice that the school district was disengaging from the partnership and was acting independently over their own land, outside of and despite the joint use agreement," McCarthy said.
Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph told the council that the signs were changed in response to public confusion over how to address issues with the fields.
School board President Laura Ramirez Berman said in a Monday, Sept. 11, letter to Mayor Alison Hicks that the district is committed "to developing a collaborative solution" and has certain concerns it wants addressed.
"It is my belief and hope that we can come to terms on those issues through continued good-faith negotiations. … If we can’t agree on terms, and only in that case, we should mutually agree to terminate the JUA and work towards the seamless transfer of responsibility for the school fields to the District," Berman said.
One question at Tuesday's meeting was what the fate would be of local youth sports if the city stopped managing the rental process. Representatives from local soccer and softball leagues said that the system that the school district would use to manage rentals would advantage expensive travel teams at the expense of local, volunteer-led groups.
Community Services Director John Marchant told the council that the city believes it can accommodate the majority of these groups on city-owned fields. Rudolph said that the district has no intention of wanting to end youth sports, but that it can't give certain groups access ahead of others.
Disagreement over what there's disagreement about
The district and city appeared to be at odds over what issues remain unresolved between the two parties. District officials have said that the city's system for renting out the fields isn't in compliance with the Civic Center Act and that it wants the city to provide broader indemnification from liability for events happening outside school hours.
The city disputes that it is violating the Civic Center Act. City Attorney Jennifer Logue said on Tuesday that the school district has suggested its rental rates are too low and that the way it prioritizes applicants isn't allowed. However, Logue said that both are permissible under the law and that the city had asked many times for specific examples of violations. According to Logue, the city already offered to put in language saying that it would comply with the Civic Center Act.
As for indemnification, Logue said that the city already added language to the draft agreement that both parties would indemnify each other "to the fullest extent permitted by California law." The school district didn't suggest modifications to that language or propose alternative language, Logue said.
In contrast, Rudolph said that his staff informed him that there wasn't a resolution on indemnification.
Berman also said in her letter to Hicks that the district wants itemized invoices for the work the city is doing to maintain school fields and a shared system for tracking maintenance concerns.
Assistant City Manager Audrey Seymour Ramberg said on Tuesday that itemized invoices seems like an administrative matter and that it was unclear how it was relevant to the negotiations and that city staff don't recall maintenance tracking being brought up in past meetings.
Multiple council members said that they were hearing unclear or contradictory information, and that they wanted the school district to make its position clear.
"There's just been an awful lot of posturing – very counterproductive posturing," Council member Pat Showalter said. "That's really unfortunate. It's been a waste of colossal amounts of time. And I think it really has done serious damage to the relationship between the city and the school district."