Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Los Altos city staffers and Los Altos School District officials will join in exploring solutions to mitigate traffic congestion near Egan Junior High and Bullis Charter schools.
Following a formal request from Superintendent Jeff Baier to reopen a strip of city-owned land as a rear entrance to the campus for pedestrians and bicyclists, the Los Altos City Council April 24 directed city staff to collaborate with the district to identify and evaluate potential solutions.
Baier noted that the 1,000-square-foot parcel could “help alleviate pedestrian and bicycle traffic and reduce the increasing number of accidents involving students on Portola Avenue.”
The strip of land – located between two homes on Thames Lane in the neighborhood comprising Thames, Ashby Lane, Templebar Way and Kingswood Way – has been closed since the early 1970s.
Several nearby residents, however, told the council that reopening the entrance would lead to unintended negative results.
Kevin Thompson, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 10 years, suggested that district officials first provide more student demographic data to show a need to reopen the entrance.
“The school district puts forward this one potential approach but without really a lot of information or argument,” said Thompson, who serves as Los Altos Financial Commission Chairman and whose two sons attend Bullis Charter School.
Donovan Martin, an Ashby Lane resident, added that the additional entrance would invite motorists to drop off students there, leading to increased traffic in the neighborhood. He circulated a petition signed by more than 60 nearby residents.
The council offered several alternatives before directing city staff to engage district officials.
Mayor Val Carpenter said she feared that reopening the entrance would lead to a situation similar to the one that developed at Blach Intermediate School.
Carmel Terrace residents near Blach’s rear entrance grew tired of parents dropping students off in their neighborhood and clogging their street. Their complaints led the city to pilot a residential parking-permit program that helps restrict student drop-offs by vehicles at the school's rear entrance.
Carpenter recommended that the district explore the use of school buses as a means to ease congestion.
“That could go a long way to alleviating the traffic and safety problems around Egan and Bullis Charter schools,” she said. “I absolutely do not want to go down the path that led us to no-stopping signs and a residential parking-permit pilot program (on Carmel Terrace).”
Councilman David Casas raised the possibility of the city’s selling the land to either the district or the adjacent neighbors.
“I believe that having a public asset fenced off from the public is not appropriate,” said Casas, who added that he discussed the entrance with district board trustees at a joint city/schools meeting March 15. “If we’re going to choose to not exercise and open this up, then we should have it disposed of.”
While Casas said he wasn’t ready to nix the idea of reopening the entrance, he acknowledged that he’s hesitant to see another acrimonious situation develop similar to the one at Blach.
“I know from our experience with the back of Blach that we have to tread carefully in terms of the decisions that we make so we don’t have unintended consequences,” he said.