City officials, parents, school board members and residents who live near Hoover Elementary School in Burlingame gathered this weekend to explore options on how to proceed after a judge halted construction at the site because of concerns adequate traffic analysis was not done.
While a set path forward wasn’t established, one idea was to create a task force with both Burlingame and Hillsborough residents to go through various traffic alternatives.
“We welcome meeting with the petitioners and the start of a new conversation,” Maggie MacIsaac, superintendent of the Burlingame Elementary School District, said in a written statement. “The idea of a task force is a great idea. Perhaps a panel of experts from the city of Burlingame and the town of Hillsborough could be the first step. The experts, such as traffic engineers and city planners, could analyze the suggested plans and report to the group. Of course, this plan would only work if the petitioners agree to come to the table and we move away from litigation and toward a compromise.”
Last Thursday, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner ruled in favor of the Alliance for Responsible Neighborhood Planning that sued the Burlingame Elementary School District, stating it needs to prepare a full environmental impact report on traffic impacts for the entire property, which means all construction must be stopped until this is done. The district does have the option to appeal within 60 days.
On Saturday, the county sponsored a community meeting about the school. Supervisor Dave Pine said it is helpful to get together and look at the issues of concern, which are traffic, safety and noise.
Some expressed their frustrations at the court decision at the meeting, including school board Vice President Mark Intrieri. He noted the safety of the school’s 250 students is the main issue that’s driving the litigation.
“What we’re all worried about is the welfare of kids,” he said. “The school district is willing to consider any reasonable option that allows us to open the school that isn’t unfeasible because of dollars or logistics. Our district is in crisis because of enrollment. … I support the court process, but I disagree with the ruling. We can’t afford any delay — we’ve got to open this school. We’re wasting enormous sums of money.”
With a full EIR, the school would likely open in 2018, Intrieri said. Growing enrollment in the district resulted in the purchase of the previously-closed Hoover Elementary School on Summit Drive in 2010. The district is projected to grow to 3,500 students by 2018 from its current size of 3,234 students, MacIsaac said. Since the purchase, the district worked to renovate the building to meet current standards. The plan for the school called for two 8-foot-wide curbside bays to be created for pickup and dropoff along the west side of Summit Drive adjacent to the school providing enough curb space for 15 cars. The existing school site curb would be shifted west to provide for the bays and two 10-foot-wide vehicle travel lanes, which will increase the width of Summit Drive to 17 feet in some areas.
Hoover was founded in 1931, closed in 1979 and repurchased by the district for $4.8 million in 2010. MacIsaac estimated the costs for renovations and new equipment are about $13 million. Measure D, a $56 million bond measure passed by voters in November 2012, was used to cover most of the costs.
“When I see that unfinished roof I see dollars floating up into the air,” said neighbor Michael Robinson.
Conversely, residents, including Joe Haggery, filed the lawsuit in January 2013. At a July 2013 hearing, the alliance’s attorney Kevin Haroff said the district failed to address traffic impacts in its December 2012 mitigated negative declaration study and review. A mitigated negative declaration is like an environmental impact review but less extensive.
“We don’t want to see any children killed on these streets,” Haggery said. “We wanted the school to go forward with the proper legal standing. From the beginning we have worried about the safety — the narrow curves and no sidewalks. We were not given the opportunity to really share our concerns openly.”
Meanwhile, Burlingame Public Works Director Syed Murtuza said he sees a lot of fears and anxieties surrounding what will happen when the school opens.
“From an engineering point of view, it’s very important to analyze each of these options in a quantitative way,” he said. “Analyze the environmental and traffic impacts and present them as fact — folks can choose to comment and respond accordingly.”
Some residents and officials did suggest some alternatives to the current traffic plan. Resident Nancy Locke said there needs to be a way to reduce the vehicle count, finding a way to get kids to school without a one-to-one relationship between student and vehicle. Another suggested having satellite dropoff sites, then have kids walk a distance to the school. Dropping students off at the playground area or having children take a bus to school are other options.
“Develop the Hoover Trail to walk back through,” said Mike Jarrett, who runs a website on Hoover called hooverschool.info. “I’m very excited about tone of the desire to come through this process. There is still this litigation process.”
There will be multiple solutions to fixing the traffic concerns, not just one, said school board President Greg Land.
“My only concern is we’re trying to meet the needs of all,” he said. “We could do a walking school bus like the other schools are doing or have staggered [start] times for different grades.”
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