MVLA declares construction will have insignificant environmental effect

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Traffic backs up on Fremont Avenue at the corner of Truman Avenue in the afternoon as students leave Mountain View High, congestion that could be exacerbated by upcoming construction.

The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees has declared that the upcoming construction at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools will have an effect on the environment that can be diminished to an acceptable level.

When California public agencies pursue major construction projects, they must adhere to the California Environmental Quality Act, which means they have to identify all the ways the environment could be harmed by the construction and find ways to mitigate the impact to an acceptable level. MVLA opted for a “mitigated negative declaration” following an initial study, which means the construction will have a minor effect on the environment, but that there is a plan in place to contain any damage.

“All impacts were deemed nonexistent or insignificant,” said Akoni Danielsen, who works for David J. Powers & Associates, the environmental consulting firm the district hired to navigate the CEQA process.

The district could have either decided the project would have a mitigated negative declaration, a negative declaration or need an environmental impact report if the effect on the environment could not be controlled.

For example, the construction is likely to disrupt birds nesting in the area, and asbestos naturally occurs in soil in Santa Clara County, so construction will affect the environment there. In the case of the asbestos, the project managers will need to take steps to ensure that the carcinogen is dealt with safely.

MVLA submitted its initial investigation to various agencies for their comments: The California Geological Survey agreed that plans for the two-story classrooms were structurally sound, the Native American Heritage Commission provided them with feedback on what to do if during the course of construction human remains are found on the land, and other agencies and neighbors weighed in.

As neighbors of the schools are aware, the construction will be noisy. The noise will be controlled by limits on the hours of construction and limits on the average decibel level throughout the day. In Mountain View, there will also be a designated disturbance coordinator for each site, so neighbors will know whom to call if there’s construction outside of the designated hours.

The initial study also examined the traffic around Mountain View High, which neighbors feel has become out of hand. However, the scope of the study is confined to increases because of the construction project, not increases attributable to an expanding student body. Over the past five years, the district’s enrollment has grown by more than 500 students.

Mountain View High neighbors also raised concerns about the intersection of Truman and Fremont avenues, but revamping that intersection is up to the city of Los Altos, not the school district.

The district must make difficult decisions to balance the need for classroom space with parking and unobtrusive structures, and has settled on a blend of one- and two-story buildings.

“We lack adequate space for instructional facilities,” said Trustee Phil Faillace. “Shall we provide instructional facilities or a parking lot?”

Construction on the first buildings is scheduled to kick off this spring.

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