Tue10212014

Denial for all the wrong reasons: Editorial

It’s a given that no one likes traffic and noise. So it seems logical that a request by two schools at Union Presbyterian Church to expand enrollment by 20 students would increase traffic and noise around its location at 858 University Ave., right?

Not so fast. A traffic analysis conducted by Los Altos city staff reported virtually no difference in traffic if the schools’ enrollment were capped at 120 students rather than the current 100. In addition, several improvements have been made in the two years since the Los Altos City Council last denied the 120-limit request, including striping along University to help manage auto traffic and the schools’ commitment to carpooling and staggering their opening and closing times to reduce congestion.

But despite recommendations for approval from city staff and the Planning and Traffic Commission, the council last week once again denied an amendment to the church’s current use permit to allow a maximum of 120 students.

We believe that the majority of the council was wrong to reject the increase (Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw and Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins voted in favor of it), for what came down to a dismissal of the traffic study and a refusal to acknowledge that factors beyond the schools were adding to traffic and noise in the neighborhood.

Councilwoman Val Carpenter was particularly out of line in one of her reasons for denying the request, claiming that the schools have too few students residing in Los Altos. Her provincial rationale failed to account for the church itself, which has been in Los Altos more than 100 years and has a long history of contributing to the community.

Carpenter suggested that the 600-student Bullis Charter School could occupy the 6-acre site instead, should the church’s schools be forced to move to another location. At least, she reasoned, the traffic and noise would come from more local residents. Hmm. Would residents somehow tolerate noise and traffic from 480 additional students, knowing the students are from Los Altos families?

Union Presbyterian Church has been a good neighbor. The church needs the revenue the schools generate, among its facility rental sources, to maintain its mission. It’s clear that a 20-student increase wouldn’t impact traffic, but rejecting the increase could hurt the schools and ultimately the church. Sorry, council, but your priorities are all out of whack. Your denial is a slap in the face to a longtime friend.

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