Tue09302014

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School district and city council hit a stalemate

Officials from the Los Altos School District and the Los Altos City Council continue to butt heads as they try to determine whether they can collaborate on possible shared facilities options.

After Councilmen David Casas and Jarrett Fishpaw met with Trustees Doug Smith and Tammy Logan in a joint schools-city subcommittee meeting last week, neither side showed signs of budging on whether a signed statement is needed before they discuss possible sites for a 10th campus.

City officials have asked the school board to provide a statement saying trustees would not invoke their eminent domain rights on city property until the council agreed to conversations about possibilities for a 10th school site.

Eminent domain is the power given to a public entity to seize private property, or, in this case, the city’s property, for public use.

At a joint city-schools meeting earlier this year that included both full bodies, several parents posed the possibility of using Hillview Community Center, which was originally a school, as the district’s 10th school.

District trustees have stated in the past that they are hesitant to sign a statement because it takes away the rights of future board members. City councilmembers have said they won’t move forward with negotiations without the letter.

“Relations have been strained, that isn’t a secret,” Smith said. “We want to return to a more constructive relationship. We think that because we serve so many folks that overlap. We believe we contribute a fair bit to the overall atmosphere of what makes this a good neighborhood and a good community. We don’t want to be at odds with everyone.”

Casas said invoking eminent domain, which councilmembers claim they have learned has been mentioned through discussions in the community, is a threat.

“(Eminent domain) is considered a hostile act which does not lend itself to collaborative discussions,” he said. “Do you want to work collaboratively or do you want to work under a cloud of hostility? It can’t work both ways.”

Smith said he wonders what the school district has done to deserve such a request from the council.

“It is much ado about nothing,” he said. “The district has not taken any action along these lines. We haven’t done anything to perpetuate this.”

Smith compared the situation to being married for several years and then out of blue asking for a prenuptial agreement.

“There is a nonexistent lawsuit that you are fighting,” Logan said. “You are asking someone to sign away their rights. I don’t see the value – and we won’t.”

Casas said the outcome is completely up to the district.

“It is important to realize that you put yourself in this position,” he said to the trustees. “You are asking us to solve your problem. I am willing to ensure the preservation of an asset to serve a broader community need – a community center.”

Smith admitted that the situation would not be resolved at the meeting.

“We aren’t going to solve this here,” he said. “I believe we can have an open dialogue and a meaningful discussion. If either party won’t engage without these preconditions, then none of us are serving our constituents well.”

Fishpaw said he feared that entering discussions about a possible 10th school site would back the city into a corner.

“If we go down that route and Hillview looks semi-viable, even if the city isn’t in support of it, then we have shown all the cards and worked ourselves into a box,” he said.

Although the subcommittee failed to reach an agreement on continuing discussions about a 10th site, they did address a number of issues, including safe routes to school (particularly around Egan Junior High School), shared gym facilities, updates on city street projects and other items.

“Maybe this is the rock in the shoe we have to live with,” Fishpaw said. “The city may not get its letter, and the city and the school will still have to work together.”

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