Los Altos School District officials last week touted a solidified partnership with the city of Mountain View for a 10th school site in the city’s San Antonio neighborhood.
Meanwhile, speculation continued as to who would occupy the site, as Mountain View City Council members declined to impose the condition that it be a neighborhood school as part of the deal.
In a Jan. 18 press release, district officials celebrated their “rare but exciting” partnership with the city after the council signed off on the alliance at their Jan. 16 meeting with the approval of several “key documents.” The council decision paves the way for the district to formally pursue site acquisition.
District officials took note of “a long and complicated process to bring a new school and park to the North of El Camino area, which is growing at a record-breaking pace.”
A site for whom?
As of last week, district officials were noncommittal about who would occupy their targeted site, an 8.6-acre property at California Street and San Antonio Road that once housed a Safeway and the Old Mill office complex.
Two of the Mountain View council’s seven members wanted to require that the site be used as a neighborhood school. But Mayor Lenny Siegel and the council majority elected not to “tie the district’s hands,” as Siegel put it, and put the partnership at risk.
Some closely following the process think – and are concerned – that the district is considering the site for the 900-student Bullis Charter School.
“(The district’s) proposal to put BCS there will create a traffic nightmare in the area,” said Los Altos resident and district parent Nancy Bremeau, who favors a neighborhood school. “How is the … city council going to justify that to residents – especially when the school is not for local use?”
Bremeau believed that the council didn’t go far enough to justify the city’s investment.
“I’m very disappointed and discouraged for the (north of El Camino) kids and neighborhood,” she said.
Councilwoman Pat Showalter felt “very strongly” about the neighborhood school requirement.
“We are supporting this to aid our community,” she said. “We want the children in that neighborhood to walk to that school.”
She added that a school provides a “social focus” for the neighborhood.”
Superintendent Jeff Baier said the district board of trustees was scheduled to follow up on the Mountain View council’s actions at its Monday meeting, which occurred after the Town Crier’s press deadline.
“While the board has made no decision on the school design nor the students that will attend it, we have had multiple community-driven committees, task forces and forums that have explored this issue in detail over the past several years,” Baier said. “We are committed once again to continuing our transparent and inclusive public process to involve our community in our decision at the Mountain View City Council meeting.”
Capping serious discussions between the two parties over the past year, the council Jan. 16 approved the district’s bid to transfer development rights. The process, involving the sale of zoning rights to developers for projects in other areas, potentially saves tens of millions of dollars on the cost of acquiring the land. Additionally, council members agreed to commit up to $23 million for general-use open space at the site.
“This is the right decision for our neighborhoods and the right decision for local kids,” Siegel said. “We hope to accomplish two big goals: solve the Los Altos School District’s overcrowding problem and provide multiple-use open space in a neighborhood which has long needed and deserved it.”
Vladimir Ivanovic, president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, called the decision a “big step forward” for students, families, teachers and residents.
“We are grateful to the Mountain View City Council and look forward to continued partnership as our board works to complete the process of acquiring the land and determines the best solution for the new school,” he said.
Landowners threaten litigation
Complicating an already-complex process is the continued threat of litigation by the targeted property’s landowners, who don’t want to sell to the district. Although the district can invoke eminent domain – the process of forcibly obtaining private land for fair-market value for public use – the action could extend the timeline for securing the site while the sale is challenged in court.
As it stands now, Siegel estimated that a school groundbreaking is at least three years away and a completed school at least four to five years in the future.
The landowners said they already have plans in place with a developer who wants to build more office buildings on the property – an action that some council members opposed last week, citing a glut of office space already in the San Antonio area.
Although falling short of requiring a neighborhood school, council members stipulated a “transparent, public process (involving Mountain View) going into making the decision,” Siegel said.
School occupancy questions aside, district and city officials emphasized the urgent need to move forward now on the site purchase, considering the area’s lack of available land and the sky-high – and escalating – cost of obtaining it.
“This is our best chance to get a school north of El Camino,” Siegel said, “maybe our last chance.”