Schools

Bullis Charter School Tenth Site – a Plan or Procrastination?

Bullis Charter School Tenth Site 5150 El Camino, at 4 acres the smallest site with the worst access every considered
5150 El Camino, at 4 acres the smallest site with the worst traffic access ever considered by LASD, could be purchased within a year.
Written by lalahpolitico

Dateline: June 21, 2016. Last week the Los Altos Town Crier reported the thrilling news that the LASD board has decided to decide about where to locate the Bullis Charter School tenth site and how to  spend bond money. Does the board really have a firm plan for using the 2014 Measure N $150 million?  Has the board committed to something substantive?  Or is it just procrastinating till after the November election?

UPDATE: June 22, 2016.  Los Altos Town Crier today has backed away from the idea that the purchase decision of 5150 El Camino was final. Today it is just “serious.”  LATC continues to maintain that the 4 acre site is for a Bullis Charter School tenth site. But Trustee Peruri has told people it could possibly be for North of El Camino enrollment.  Today’s LATC article suggests that the LASD Board definitely is procrastinating for a whole year.  It is very unusual for a property seller to tie up a property in a one year long contingency period, to allow revealing  the price and to receive earnest money from the would-be buyer.  A rumor is that the LASD Trustees are paying $5 Million to tie-up the property for a year.

UPDATE: June 22, 2016. LATC printed that “renderings” were shown to BCS in a “Superintendents’ Committee.” BCS sources say a site layout, not building renderings, were shown to two BCS board members under NDA by two LASD board members. BCS was not asked to accept or reject anything. The BCS sources say if building renderings or fleshed out building plans had been shown, there would have been a discussion.

Lalahpolitio:   This “Superintendents Committee” seems to be a secret joint sub-committee of the two boards of trustees. I think all these future meetings should be held in the open like the City-School Lands Committee were. It is terribly non-transparent to have these discussions behind closed doors.  Non-disclosure is not needed. If there is a secret meeting with NEC movers and shakers, that should be in the open too. Make these Open Meetings.

So-called “Plan” and Process ahead

On June 13, the LASD board announced in its board meeting that it intends to pursue a purchase of 5150 El Camino, a two-story office building on not quite 4 acres. Busy, noisy, smelly El Camino Real is the ONLY ingress and egress for all vehicles, bikes, AND pedestrians. [Lalahpolitico: At least 5 acre  Village Court site – recently considered by the board but rejected– had access from 3 sides,  Louks, San Antonio and El Camino.]

The proposed site 5150 has access ONLY FROM El Camino.

The proposed school site 5150 El Camino [the red X] has access ONLY FROM El Camino. Any “Safe Routes to School”? No.  Commuting parents will use Distel, Jordan, Clark for access. There is no safe bike access.  Sidewalks are unpleasant.  It’s not very close to the bulk of our MV students.

The board’s ” intent to purchase” process includes having 1) LASD staff draw up a term-sheet [non-binding letter of intent] that is acceptable to the board, to the seller (and to the community?), a term-sheet that will contain the price and major terms and conditions of a potential final contract; 2) starting to talk to BCS { and to NEC?}; 3) getting designs drawn for a totally new multi-story building which would have “50% to 60%  more space per student than any other LASD school;” 4)  and getting “substantive” cost estimates of the designs from contractors.  [Lalahpolitico: The board also needs to have the California Department of Education (CDE) review the site to see if 5150 meets enough of the criteria for a school site to pass muster for CDE site approval.]  Only then will the board  weigh a final decision to enter a purchase contract or not. 

Lalahpolitico:  It sounds like the process could take months. UPDATE: It will take at least a year.

A term-sheet ordinarily has no ernest money, no deposit, no penalty. Usually the seller agrees to not engage with another seller for some period of time — that time commitment by the seller is considered binding. This allows the potential buyer a time period to engage in due diligence, taking on financial costs of experts to examine the feasibility of the site. Ordinarily the buyer agrees to “confidentiality.” That means LASD may not disclose price to be paid and the other conditions of the term sheet;  this protects the seller if the sale falls through because of buyer due diligence or other reasons; the market does not learn what concessions the seller may have been willing to make.  Of course that confidentiality” means that the community will not be told the cost of the 5150 land; the most we might learn is the cost estimates of the potential new construction on the land.

UPDATE: Today June 22, 2016 LATC alleges the upcoming term-sheet will allow revealing the Price. There is a rumor the board will pay $5 million earnest money in the term-sheet for the unusual one-year long due diligence – contingency period.

The  Deadline to “Get a Plan” — to Placate Voters

LASD wants to pass a new parcel tax this November 2016.  Last winter Trustees were hearing community complaints that there still was NO PLAN on how to spend the prior tax, that is the 2014 Measure N bond money. After 18 months, there still was no plan for a 10th school site. In response to the citizen unrest, on March 14, 2016,  the LASD board of trustees set a deadline to pick one plan by the end of the school calendar in June among these 3 plans:

  1. Declare that  no new land sites that are for sale are viable.

Therefore, let’s start actual planning for siting BCS (alone or more likely as a second school) on existing 15+ acre junior high size sites,  Covington, Egan, or Blach. OR

2. Declare that Yes, after 18 months (or 8 years) of searching,  they’ve found a new land site is that is “viable.”

A) Therefore, let’s reveal the site we just bought and the purchase agreement contract and final escrow terms; hurrah, let’s uncork the champagne, celebrate…OR

B) reveal the target site and announce the site appears viable and begin a process that MAYBE could result in a purchase.

Clearly the board has chosen 2B, the option riddled with uncertainties and no finality.

The Town Crier reported June 14 last week that the site is definitely intended for BCS.  However on June 15, Trustee Sangeeth Peruri told me and Jessica Speiser that was incorrect; the board has not decided if the site is for BCS or for NEC growth.

Whose idea was it that a new school should "mirror the urban housing development around it?"

Whose bright idea was it that a new school should “mirror the urban housing development around it?” Certainly not the LASD community’s idea. LASD-sponsored “Conteneo” focus groups the summer of 2014 said use City land, failing that use Covington land. The community expects a school compatible with suburbia!

Talk is cheap.  But is Construction? And underground parking?

Apparently LASD board President Pablo Luther chatted up Los Altos Town Crier – Bruce Barton and Liz Nyberg ? – mentioning all kinds of aspirational features of the new school construction the board envisions. It will be a “100,000 square foot urban campus…parking would be underground…buildings would be 3 and 4 story… the site would include playground and field space. “

At the June 13 board meeting, Board President Pablo Luther described the envisioned, new “urban” campus  as “technologically advanced…mirroring the high density development” coming in around it.  Trustee Tammy Logan — who is resigning for personal reasons in August — clarified  that the new school “would have at least 50% more classroom and teaching space [sq. ft.] per student than any other Los Altos School District school enjoys.”  [In other words, it won’t have 50% more gym or multipurpose space, etc., or 50% more total buildings space ]

However, as President Luther said June 13,  at the end of the day, the school design may be reworked and “will be constrained by cost estimates.”  Lalahpolitico: In other words, if all those envisioned amazing technological features and extra square feet of teaching space and underground parking are too expensive, then out the window!   Bait n Switch? 

 

Trustee Logan Loves Stack ‘n Pack Design

Tamara Logan, LASD trustee, Los Altos Public Lands Committee

Tamara Logan, LASD trustee, Los Altos Public Lands Committee, resigning summer 2016

Lalahpolitico:  The envisioned contruction for 5150 El Camino sounds similar to the multi-story building LASD Trustee Tamara Logan proposed last fall be built on the City of Los Altos Civic Center – with city hall and police on the ground floor and BCS on upper floors.

Lalahpolitico: On the almost 4 acres at 5150 E Camino, I guess it is true that one could stack all underground parking and floors on top of each other on 1 acre. So 100,000 sq ft. of school floor space on a single 40,000 acre is certainly possible.  That leaves almost 3 acres for blacktop and a field. Seems tight.  As Pablo Luther explains, “not ideal.” Amen to that. 

However, all the other schools can remain “ideal.”  Just this one will be “not ideal.” – per Pablo Luther? Lalahpolitico: That is  not politically correct!!! Increasing Inequality!!!

 

New Construction Committee

At the June 13 meeting, the board confirmed 5 volunteers for a “Construction Committee.”  This committee –  all with some kind of experience in the construction-development sphere  (legal or construction management) — is supposed to help the board and staff evaluate contractors, proposals, contracts, terms and conditions, etc. As for recruitment for this committee, Randy Kenyon said he contacted a total of about 13 persons. He said these were suggested by Trustee Sangeeth Peruri and unnamed others. Peruri has practically flogged Randy Kenyon in open meetings…to get a Construction Committee going sooner than later.

Lalahpolitico: Apparently none of the 5 volunteers have any BCS affiliation.  During all of  public input sessions over the past 3 years, the assumption had been that a 75,000 sq ft BCS building would cost $80 million. That’s without underground parking.  A concern is whether there will be board pressure on this new Construction Committee to find contractors who will low-ball the non-binding building and parking cost estimates. It is hard to see how the the envisioned 100,000 square foot building, the underground parking, plus the cost of land will be only $100 million as alleged in the most recent LATC article.

Figure: As a MV District School, 5150 site impacts Los Altos families too

 5150 as District School for MV student, some Los Altos Almond school families will be redistricted to 5150.

If Trustee Sangeeth Peruri is serious that the board might use 5150 as a District School for MV students, some Los Altos Almond school families are likely to be redistricted to 5150 too. Consider the red circles. It is politically incorrect to think only MV will be herded here.

Issues Derailing a Final Decision to Purchase 5150

Any of these very real possibilities could derail the 5150 “plan.”

  • The seller balks at price or certain terms and conditions, eg., buying out longer term tenant leases.
  • BCS community balks at the urban vision; the NEC community balks at the urban vision. Neither likes getting a “different type” school with no elbow room.
  • Neighboring single-story home owners protest “overdevelopment.” Lalahpolitico: Although by state law, a school district does not have to follow City of Los Altos zoning on this parcel, I expect they will mostly adhere to City zoning.  Tallest parts could be proposed at 45 to 60 feet.  Parking would likely be adequate. Casita Way!
  • Many, many neighbors protest traffic congestion.  In Los Altos, Marich and Distel Drive are going to get hammered; Jay Street and Alvarado may become cut throughs too.   In Mountain View, Clark Ave will be a mess; Jardin could be impacted too.
  • Almond School attendance area families may object to the prospect of being assigned to the new school at 5150. For many City of Los Altos families,  5150 will be much closer than Almond. It would be rational to redraw their attendance area.
  • Taxpayers balk at the total costs; spending most (or all) of the $150M means there is less or nothing remaing for the existing schools needs and wants.  The benefits of the bond are not being spread around.  Not everyone is of the opinion that “not closing a Los Altos School District school” is worth paying $100 to  $150 Million.
  • The LASD trustees – as President Pablo Luther says – are “financial stewards” of the District.  A board majority may balk at the final total cost when it becomes known.
  • The California Department of Education (CDE) may rule that the 5150 site has too many “issues” to pass muster. document 1  document 2  CDE site Issues on Pg2.   Noise, air quality, traffic, Safe Routes to School, bus access could be fatal problems. See District’s time line for CDE approval from Nov.14, 2014, FMPC meeting.

Board’s Land Banking Storyline is Paid Propaganda

 Pablo Luther, President Los Altos School District Board, the evening of LASD tenth site BCS decision on deadlines, took charge of summing up "direction to the board" that evening

Pablo Luther, President Los Altos School District Board

The official LASD board mantra, so eloquently expressed by Board President Pablo Luther is that

1) 500+ more students will be entering Los Altos School District from NEC than were previously forecast and that

2) land for sale is fast disappearing [or at least getting more and more cost prohibitive] and that

3) therefore, it is “prudent” for the board to buy something now, now, now, and

4) to save the “excess land at existing schools”  — Covington, Egan and Blach  — for 20+ years to eventually place a second school, an 11th school, on one or more of those three schools.  “Bank that land,” says Pablo Luther.

 

The LASD demographer has declares that 500 more MV students will be invading than she though

The LASD demographer has declared that 500 more MV students will be invading LASD than she originally thought…but that’s will be 20+ years from now…only if proposed long, long term proposals of housing units actually happen.

Let’s examine 1) the idea that 500 more students are coming from NEC. 

The District recently hired their Demographer to revisit her assumptions about Multi-tenant housing.  She was asked to consider both planned and “proposed” housing in Mountain View.  If you view her presentation here [losaltosk12.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id2&clip_id=228  see item G.3], you will see she oozes with “surprise” at all the new development now standing at San Antonio Center. She was even more shocked and awed by the proposals for the Federal Realty parcel – Kohls to Walmart.  The current proposal starts with lots of office and adds thousands of housing units but much later and over 40 years .  Her conclusion is that the planned and PROPOSED MV housing units will add 500 more students than she had previously forecast for Los Altos School District enrollment.

So that’s the soundbite the District paid the demographer for – “Argh, There are 500 MORE students than we originally thought, who are are coming to our District.”

Lalahpolitico:  Oh my God, better buy land now? Ah hem, But those 500 students are arriving in 20,30 and 40 years from now. 

 

Is the Real Reason for 5150 an effort to lead low information voter to believe the trustees are handling the prior tax - Measure N $150M passed Nov 2015.

Is the Real Reason for the 5150 El Camino “intent to purchase” action, a Board effort to lead low information voters to believe the trustees are competently handling the prior tax – Measure N $150M passed Nov 2015?

Real Reason for More Bullis Charter School Tenth Site Delay–November Election

Three board seats will be on the Nov. 2016 ballot. Trustees Luther and Taglio are likely to run for second terms.  Newcomer Jessica Speiser, now District PTA President, District and union loyalist, and Covington resident, is planning to run for the 3rd seat to be vacated (2 years early) by Tammy Logan.  A new parcel tax to replace the “temporary” $193 parcel tax will also be on the ballot.

The board believes it is trying to avoid giving voters a reason to vote NO on its 3 chosen trustees and on the new parcel tax.  Therefore they are trying to offend no one.

In particular, the board believes they must keep hope alive that no existing school will be impacted by a permanent solution for BCS.  They try to placate voters sympathetic to BCS with the hope the proposed urban school might be for NEC.  They try to insure a 66% vote for a new, higher parcel tax, by extending the hope that it might be shared with BCS; BCS sympathizers would then vote for the tax, otherwise they won’t.

 

Credit Taglio and Peruri for this BCS site decision delay

Steve Taglio LASD trustee

Steve Taglio

It is revealing that in March 2016, LASD Superintendents Baier and Kenyon were recommending starting to develop scenario plans at existing school sites for  the Bullis Charter School tenth site.  But on the video of the board meeting March 28, in item G1, you can see Trustees Taglio and Peruri – both who live in the Covington School area – slow that idea way down. And you can see how Trustee Tammy Logan seems to take the other side.

Lalahpolitico: I credit Taglio and Peruri with concocting this whole new Land Banking propaganda gambit: paying the demographer to create the soundbite “500 more MV students”;  selling  Trustee Pablo Luther on repeating the Land Banking storyline; pretending that 5150 — the least appealing site on the site evaluation list —  actually meets the board’s own criteria for purchase consideration. 5150 El Camino fails.

Lalahpolitico:  I hope a lot of residents might see through this window-dressing.  It’s just another delay, another carte blanche. There is no promise, no certainty of anything to anybody.  Everything is still totally up in the air. Except maybe the sanctity of the Covington Neighborhood; with 3 board members from Covington come Nov. 2016, you can be sure Covington neighborhood interests will be No. 1 in January 2017.

ANALYSIS – Spread around the $150 to fix current pain points

Jan Pepper Los Altos City Council interrogates LASD Tamara Logan

Jan Pepper Los Altos City Council

As a voter, Lalahpolitico expected the $150M Measure N funds would be used to fix pain points we have now, not ones we might have in 20+ years.  As advocated by Los Altos City Councilmember Jan Pepper, I also prefer the money we have now be spread around all the schools .  I don’t want BCS to get a “shiny new school” consuming all the bond.  I know I don’t want to “own” a new public school that is so vastly different from the others – especially when the District has a POLICY of approximate equity between school campuses.  I know I don’t want all North of El Camino students to be segregated into a single separate but “equal” school, as if that were even “politically correct.”

 

Lalahpolitico wants the District sixth graders to move to the junior highs asap so they can get the kinds of programs all the neighboring districts already provide.  [BCS already has these programs for its sixth graders.]  Two years ago, the District Architect Lisa Gelfand drew up concept plans that add some sixth grade classrooms to Egan and Blach; there is no need for BCS to vacate its temporary portables at Egan or Blach in order for LASD to move sixth grade to Egan and Blach.

LASD Architect photo of board and blocks depicting 6th grade on Egan

LASD Architect 2014 photo of board and blocks depicting 6th grade on Blach with BCS portables still on Blach

 

The Town Crier article of June 14, 2016 is circulating a falsehood about what holds back the desired change to middle school model; it’s the trustees not BCS’s presence on Egan and Blach.  The continued failure of the Trustees to move to a 6,7,8 middle school model has become scandalous negligence.  They delay this change because when the do it, the elementary schools will no longer “look” crowded.

I want the District to avoid future litigation.  This 5150 El Camino vision looks like honey for lawyers to me.

 

What can you do?

If you are a neighbor likely to be impacted by the overdevelopment at 5150 El Camino and the crazy cut through school traffic, you should speak out at a board meeting. The term sheet for 5150 El Camino will be apparently be discussed by the board June 27.   If you are a bike and pedestrian advocate, or a parent, you should object to the iffy Safe Routes to School at this site. If you are a frugal voter, concerned about the unnecessary costs of the 5150 El Camino solution vs. the much lower costs of using the abundant, existing District land and keeping construction to 2-story and at ground parking, you should speak out a board meeting.  [ $5 million is a lot of earnest money to flush. ]

By the way, the District’s bond consultant has recommended the District initiate another $150 M  bond in 2024, one which would do all the needed repairs that will be left undone by spending too much of the $150 M bond on a 5150 El Camino solution.

Lalahpolitico: If adding a measly 4 acre parcel to the District’s existing 120 acres is so urgent, how about telling the board to get back the 4 acre Eastwood School in Los Altos Hills from the lessee asap?

 

Forecast:

The LASD trustees will publicize and spin their Land Banking storyline as described above, and also labor away on doing their “due diligence” on the 5150 El Camino property…probably  [certainly] till at least after the November election. Various members of the public will get agitated and communicate to the board as described above.  Architects will make money off of visionary school designs; Contractors will make “substantive cost estimates,” the Construction Committee will peruse documents, drawings and cost estimates. Tammy Logan’s trustee seat could be vacant as early as August.

5150 El Camino is not a viable BCS Tenth Site Solution; It’s another manifestation of having a Problemic Board — one packed with members from the Covington neighborhood. The Nov. 2016 election will pack it even more.

UPDATE: The term sheet for 5150 El Camino will apparently be discussed by the Board June 27 in both closed and open meetings. Let’s have all future joint Supintendents’ Subcommittee meetings held out in the open too.

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she only became fascinated with business of local politics only in the past couple of years.

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