The Los Altos School District Trustees did NOT approve moving forward with a purchase agreement for 5150 El Camino at their Monday, Nov. 14 meeting. The price for the scant 4-acres in Los Altos was to be $39M, with a deposit of $300,000 fully refundable before 60 days; and $200,000 of it refundable before 90 days. So if 5150 El Camino – a blatantly unsuitable school site – is a no go, what do the Trustees have in store for us now? What lies ahead?
First let’s do an overview of the Monday night meeting. I counted 19 or 20 people making public comment on the item. 16 were opposed, 2 – Joe Seither and Sheri Blaisdale – supported the purchase and 1 –Lenny Seigel, Councilman from MV – was neutral. The opposition included a 10-year old BCS student who felt unsafe in the traffic there at 5150, and Jill Jene who disputed that the Trustees were reflecting the public input from the 2014 FMPC. “Our committee was just shut down [before we could complete our work]. Among the surprising opponents of 5150 El Camino were newly “elected” LASD Trustees, Jessica Speiser and Bryan Johnson. [ Back in June Speiser was gung ho for 5150 El Camino. It was “the best solution for the whole community”.] Not surprisingly, BCS Board Member John Phelps spoke in opposition to 5150. Somewhat surprisingly, after the 5150 item discussion was over, while departing he gave Speiser a hug and could be heard thanking her for coming to the meeting.
What lies ahead?
If you read the transcript of the discussion of the 4 trustees below, you may detect that the remarks were at least partially sketched out ahead of time…probably in the earlier closed session. It may have been in closed session that all trustees were made aware of the new offer from Mountain View to use $26M of developer Parks-in-lieu fees towards a Los Altos School District school IF IT WERE located in Mountain View. Buying 5150, which is located in Los Altos, would be leaving all that MV money… on the table. So now with the good chance of “free” money, the trustees are looking back at Mountain View and closing the door on 5150 El Camino.
In Trustee Discussion you WILL hear
- Trustees will be looking in MV at sites they looked at before. The old MV Safeway on California Street is a rumored target. [no pun intended]. Also floating is the notion that Trustee Peruri hopes to use the density bonus law to build dense low-income housing on the .6 acre parcel his LLC purchased in March; it is said Peruri is offering MV a community benefit of $5M towards a school. It sounds like such a school would be a district-run school for the North of El Camino neighborhood. Trustee Peruri says the neighborhood houses 700 LASD students now. After saying No on the purchase of 5150 El Camino, the board approved Superintendent Randy Kenyon’s request for a line of credit of $2 -3M to be used for a down payment for unmentioned site(s) and other capital expenditures.
- Trustees anticipate keeping BCS split in two. Lalahpolitico: probably exactly where they are now.
- Trustees want to upgrade existing facilities.
We did Measure N to ensure that we upgrade our existing schools and provide BCS with fair facilities, not excellent facilities, not subpar, but fair facilities compared to equivalent facilities like we have at the other schools—President Pablo Luther
In the Trustee Discussion you will NOT hear
- No plan for hearing public input about a NEC site for a NEC school
2. No new research, plan or public input about using Los Altos School District’s existing lands to site BCS [Or another district school]. Per the Trustees, all options for BCS on existing lands are known to be not worth pursuing…options are known to be too expensive and have the worst traffic. Lalahpolitico: Trustees espouse these convenient beliefs without getting ANY real construction estimates or actual traffic studies! There PROMISE last March…was examination of existing lands to site schools.
3. No plan for prioritizing the $300M to $450M of upgrades at existing campuses. Perhaps they will just use the 2-year old FMPC rankings?
4. No kind of time line at all? How long will Trustees try to put together this new MV deal? BCS is on the back burner? Will the public get some new deadlines…which will be missed of course?
Lalahpolitico Bottomline: There is no plan or timeline for spending Measure N money. The Trustees are not interested in your opinion. They’ll do their best to suppress it.
TRANSCRIPT OF BOARD DISCUSSION
This is literally what LASD Trustees said with just very light clean up editing to remove redunancies, etc. The editor inserted some clarifying references. And Lalahpolitico inserted some comments.
When I walked in here, to be honest with you, I was considering that 5150 El Camino was at least going to the next phase of this [contract then 60 days due diligence]. The thing that’s swinging me away from it at the moment is Mountain View’s current actions–which happened in the last two weeks [MV Council indicated $26 million of developer park-in-lieu-fees could be used for a Los Altos School District school if in MV] and the passage of CA Proposition 51 [school construction bond]. I think both of those give us pause.[Lalahpolitico: Yes there is a good possibility of money coming from MV and the State. ]
And give us an opportunity to [go back] and take another look at properties over in north of El Camino we looked at before [rumored to be old Safeway MV]. Those were our preferred properties to start with. We couldn’t seem to get those to move forward then. I’d be open to leaving this one [5150 El Camino] alone and moving back over to that, to refocus there.
If there is potential support for working with the community of Mountain View–to serve both out needs – their need for parkland as well as our need for a school that we need in that area. That area continues to get more dense. I am leaning towards that [option]. That’s why I am considering walking away from this [5150 El Camino in Los Altos]. Also I have concerns around the limited time that we have to do the evaluation. Will we really get anywhere?
So I have been spending a lot of time on this issue for almost 4 years now — starting well before I was elected to the board. Along with a lot of people in our community investigating [inaudible] working to resolve our facilities issues.
There are a lot of things that make the process very difficult. Any solution that we put forward is something we have to be happy with 30 years from now. And it is hard to plan for five years out much the less for 30 years.
And the trend is clear, the number of students is likely to continue to increase. There is a lot of construction in our district, especially high-density construction. And every year there is talk of California making preschool mandatory. And if that happens, that would add another 500-600 students to our district. When you look at both of those factors, they will likely dramatically increase our student count.
So based on the above, many community groups have concluded that the district needs more school sites. The superintendent’s strategic enrollment growth task force recommended TWO additional school sites. But the reality is that no one knows how much and when the district will grow.
As I see it there are three large groups of constituents we must optimize for. LASD families of today and tomorrow; there are BCS families of today and tomorrow; and there is everyone else in the district. LASD parents — when I talk to them—they do not want to move or shutdown a neighborhood school [Lalahpolitico: no school is being shut down and left empty as with Bullis Purrisima. This is misrepresentation.]. The district made that mistake with Bullis Purrissima 10 years ago. When I talk to BCS parents, they want a high quality permanent facility in one location. Everyone else wants BCS and LASD to be treated fairly, and they want our community to heal. And they want something that doesn’t waste taxpayers dollars and doesn’t destroy local traffic. All these desires are rational, and that’s why we have made it our goal to find a solution to solve these problems.
Now to resolve these issues, there are paths we can pursue. The first path is to acquire land. And when the district marketed Measure N the messaging was very clear– to acquire land. And with the passage of the measure that became our mandate– to acquire new land. But to buy land in LASD has not been easy. We have looked at dozens and dozens of school sites. We have entered into negotiation on several of them. Many of these have fallen through. And after all of that we are left with 5150 at the moment. If we look back 30 years from now– if we don’t buy land today, it may very well have been the last opportunity for our district to acquire land.
The second path is to use our existing land. The district has a lot of land-– well over one hundred acres. And more than enough to educate 6000 students. But the problem is the sites we have were constructed many years ago. They’re not optimally laid out. It would be great if we could collect a couple acres from each and every school and create 2 or 3 more school sites [out of that]. But the reality is we are not able to do that. [Lalahpolitico: What a silly “what if” exercise. The actual real world proposal is to place a second school on Egan, Blach or best case Covington.]
Now if we are not able to do that [Lalapolitico: the silly, impossible, magical thing of moving 2 acres from each school to a new location], then utilizing our existing land [in ways that are actually possible] has a bunch of drawbacks. Let me walk through some of these drawbacks that may not be apparent to the public and the audience. The biggest drawback of using our existing land is actually cost. Repurposing things on existing land, is very, very expensive– especially to make it viable for 900 students in one location for BCS . [Lalahpolitico: We have never seen a plan for the cost of refitting the Covington school buildings to house BCS at 900. Sangeeth is making it up. It has never been discussed in public] So you kind of have to ask yourself if you’re using existing land and your goal is to save costs, you’re not going to get dramatic cost savings. You may get marginal cost savings, so you got to ask yourself if this even make sense.
[Lalahpolitico: A lot of the community would like to see some actual savings NUMBERS, are we’ll judge if they are dramatic or marginal. Thank you very much! For example, we want an independent estimate of costs of retrofitting Covington. ]
The second issue is traffic. How to site BCS in one location with 900 students? If you take 900 students and add them to any one of our existing locations, traffic becomes a nightmare. I haven’t seen any situation where we could take an existing school +900 students and have a palatable traffic scenario.
[Lalahpolitico: The traffic study of 900 students plus 500 at Covington HAS NEVER BEEN DONE. The board refuses to do it because it is the home school for the majority of the board members. Let us remember that Covington campus is 18 acres and it was originally a junior high for at least 900 students. So leaving the Covington elementary community there with 900 BCS will be about the same traffic as Blach and Egan are experiencing with BCS split into two. Of the three large campuses, Covington has the best accessibility potential]
The third is safety this is related to number two, which is traffic. You are going to have a safety issue, and I fear it will be much worse than anything you’d have on 5150 ElCamino.
Hissing and Booing
[Considerable audience hissing and booing. President Luther chides the audience and asks them to be civil. Show respect in Los Altos.]
The fourth issue is the lack of flexibility for future growth. If we continue to grow at the current pace and construction continues to increase, it’ll become even harder to find a suitable 11th or 12th location when we need one.
And the last reason is that if we don’t acquire additional land, we are not accommodating enrollment growth in the North of El Camino Real. It is the largest population we are not serving with a site now. We have close to 700 NEC students in LASD alone I believe. And if you count BCS’s NEC students now and and if you include in NEC enrollment growth, we will likely have well over one thousand students from north of El Camino Real [Lalahpolitico: When? Earlier Peruri said nobody knows if and when, but now he knows?]. If we don’t find a site close in north of El Camino Real today, it may be difficult to do so [later].
So I feel the only way we can site BCS on one site — and not close an LASD school — is to acquire new land. And I really, really want 5150 El Camino to work, but I’m really struggling to visualize the scenario where it would work as a school site. It’s not quite large enough. And traffic isn’t quite ideal. So despite my strong desire to acquire new land — to resolve all our issues — and to site BCS on one location without closing any LASD school — I am leaning towards voting against voting the purchase of 5150.[Lalahpolitico: so Peruri is saying he is voting to not site BCS on one site, but implicitly keep it on two.]
So just a quick comment. This is the first time we’ve seen the purchase and sale agreement. [Some laughter in the audience] What is so funny about that? It’s just been done by the lawyers. [Pause] I personally think that the traffic issue on on El Camino is probably not as bad as people would like to think it is. They are assuming we would have drop offs and pick ups exactly like we do now at existing schools, and that is not necessarily the case.
One of the reasons why we are reluctant to add students to an existing school [Campus?] is because we have a current small school model that has been very successful. We are reluctant to change that model. I personally don’t think any other site is going to be less expensive than 5150 El Camino.
And I also think … I’m not a lawyer so I may be wrong… but I also think eminent domain will come overcome any problems of estoppel. Given all that, I still have some reservations about 5150 El Camino.
The purchase and sale agreement doesn’t satisfy me as far as hazardous materials issues. I am concerned about long-term tenants there. [Lalahpolitico: I though estoppel was about getting rid of tenants?] And although we can probably get preliminary approval for a CEQA and from the California Department of Education, final CDE approval is obviously going to take longer than 90 days.
But ultimately I believe that the cost of 5150 El Camino is going to be too high. The purchase price we know is $39 million. And raising that and putting a new school there is going to consume a hundred million dollars or more, and that leaves little for other schools that need upgrades and facilities. So my inclination is now not to purchase 5150 El Camino.
So I guess you guys have covered a lot of ground. I’ll be brief just like I wanted the public speakers to be earlier. I do agree with most of what you guys have said. The site is small. I don’t believe it is too small to host perhaps an elementary school. But it is small for a much larger school. The location is not as desirable, but it’s not out of the ballpark.
The problem I see is that we’ve got 60 days during the holidays. I’m not so sure what we can accomplish in that short time frame during this season.
There could be alternate uses for that site. We focus on BCS as being the main benefactor, but there could be alternate uses, including splitting a school site, growth for existing LASD students. But at this point, we did Measure N to ensure that we upgrade our existing schools and provide BCS with fair facilities, not excellent facilities, not subpar, but fair facilities compared to equivalent facilities like we have at the other schools. [Lalahpolitico: Oh no, back to “equivalent facilities” disputes.?]
So for all of those reasons, I am inclined to believe that perhaps — although this is the only land left after two years of investigation –this was the only piece of land we could find. And looking ahead, I see there may be the option of looking at some Mountain View land, what with this new option Lenny Siegel has brought forward [26.M in Parks in lieu money]. Or another option is perhaps having split sites for BCS, etc. We will have to do whatever we can to insure not only that the funds are used properly, but also are used to the benefit of all the kids in the District.
Luther: So with that I will call for a motion. On H2 Resolution 16…Purchase of Property…
Jeff Baier: To be clear, all we are looking for is a motion to approve.
Luther: So is there a motion to approve? [Pause waiting for any reponse. None…] Going once, going twice. No motion. So the resolution is DOA.