The long discussed issue of where to place the San Carlos Charter Learning Center is almost completed, with the district deciding to have the school stay put at Tierra Linda Middle School.
Although the exact location on the middle school campus will be decided at a future meeting, the San Carlos Elementary School District board’s 4-1 vote Thursday night shut down the possibility of moving the school to Heather Elementary School. The board must now decide where to place the school on the upper or lower part of the middle school campus. Trustee Seth Rosenblatt was the one vote against, citing that the district could grow better with the Learning Center at Heather and traffic could increase around Carlmont High School.
“Although this particular decision has gotten lots of play — it seems like a big deal — but I don’t think they’ll be much of an impact either way.” Rosenblatt said. “Either way students will be just fine. … My preference would have been to move to Heather. … Our job is to do what’s best for the entire district as a whole. Placing a school at a place without a neighborhood boundary that can never be used for another neighborhood school feels like it gives you the most flexibility. I feel like we’re going to be in a quandary 10 years from now. We’ll have to find other creative things.”
Initially, the district was considering a land swap with the city for a park parcel at North Crestview, but, ultimately, Councilman Bob Grassilli voted along with Councilman Matt Grocott against the plan they believed would increase traffic, eliminate precious open space and tax the city’s coffers building fields and fighting expected litigation by neighbors. The tentative deal called for the building of a new Charter Learning Center on the land. The district would have given the city approximately 4 acres on the backside of Tierra Linda, a 2.9-acre open space piece adjacent to Heather currently used as a dog park and $1.5 million to invest in a city-owned athletic field at Tierra Linda. If any of the three parcels were ever used or sold for development, the city and school would have split the profits.
Although many trustees seemed to see advantages of housing the school at Heather, a traffic study, along with the Charter Learning Center’s preference to stay at Tierra Linda won the majority of board members over.
“A lot of the advantage of Heather was the boundaries and things we can control for future growth,” said Trustee Kathleen Farley. “The traffic study changed my mind. There are a lot more ifs. The city is going to have to deal with traffic and safety. I didn’t find any alternate options.”
The Charter Learning Center wrote a letter to the district expressing its preference to stay at Tierra Linda, citing that there’s more available acreage for growth there, the fact it’s already a known commodity in the Tierra Linda community and the lighter traffic burden if the school were kept where it is. The school wrote it prefers the upper part of the Tierra Linda parcel.
School Director Stacy Emory and Matt Kowitt, chair of the school’s board of directors, signed the letter dated Aug. 26.
“We should note that last spring, when the GC (school’s governance council) discussed this topic, a majority of our board actually favored Heather as a ‘Plan B’ site for SCCLC,” they wrote. “What has changed since then is that, with the Crestview proposal dead, we have taken a much closer look at the details of each scenario. Walking the back field area of Heather’s campus creates a qualitative impression of a very large expanse of level ground, compared with looking around the upper portion of Tierra Linda. It is only with careful, quantitative measurements and reflection that we discovered the significant disparity between the two options, in terms of acreage.”
It’s also assumed that the existing facilities for Edison Montessori and the district preschool would be relocated from the Tierra Linda campus, the school wrote.
“We do not envy the decision the Board of Trustees must make — but we are supportive of the need to decide and move forward,” the letter stated. “This is an exciting time for SCCLC and the district and we are anxious to roll our sleeves up and begin the work of planning and building our new home.”
Still, trustees like Nicole Bergeron thought traffic at Heather wouldn’t be as much of a problem as at Tierra Linda.
“It was a full on comprehensive high school with 1,600 kids,” she said. “I don’t think that traffic is the biggest issue for us to consider. The reasons to keep it at TL (Tierra Linda): that’s where CLC (Charter Learning Center) wanted to go and the neighbors have built culture. There’s a lack of need to fully go through that again up at Heather and there was a considerable amount of negative feedback from Heather, while scarcely anyone at TL was against it. It’s a traffic concern, but that’s not fundamentally our job.”
The district’s most recent traffic study, completed by Parisi Transportation Consulting this month, showed that among the scenarios studied, increasing enrollment at both the Charter Learning Center and Tierra Linda at their current location generates the greatest negative impact to traffic circulation. According to the study, the growth at Charter Learning Center and Tierra Linda is estimated to add between 170 and 200 one-way auto trips to San Carlos Avenue between the school and Alameda de las Pulgas. The Heather scenario generates a modest benefit to traffic circulation on San Carlos Avenue north of Alameda de las Pulgas by diverting more than 100 trips. These trips would divert to Alameda de las Pulgas between Melendy Drive and San Carlos Avenue. However, locating Charter Learning Center at Heather would also add approximately 320 new one-way trips to Melendy Drive. The hilliness and narrowness of the road may cause localized circulation problems. Alameda de las Pulgas at Melendy Drive is a potentially affected intersection.
Board President Adam Rak shared that he had a weak preference toward Heather before.
“Either option, I will be fine with it,” he said. “We’ll move on and make things work. The more concrete view from TL is helpful. I prefer upper TL, but I’m happy to have that next discussion.”
On the other hand, Trustee Carol Elliott has had preference for Tierra Linda.
“I’ve long viewed TL as a better site,” she said. “Preserving Heather’s ability to expand gives us optionality. I think we will continue to see growth at Heather — that campus is going to see more students at some point. I really, really think it’s crucial to develop a robust carpooling pattern for when people move up to TL.”
The relocation and building of a new campus will be funded through the 2012 $72 million Measure H facility bond.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105