By Erin Glanville
Don’t Divide Menlo Park's North Fair Oaks NeighborhoodUploaded: Jun 11, 2014
There is nothing like the threat of dividing a neighborhood to really rally it together. That's just what the Sequoia Union High School District Board has done to Menlo Park's North Fair Oaks (NFO) neighborhood. And boy, has it galvanized the community.
The Sequoia Union High School District Board is realigning the high school boundaries in order to accommodate having all Ravenswood students attend one high school and in order to juggle the increased enrollment projections coming from Ravenswood, La Entrada and Hillview. As I wrote about back in October, the Board first considered redistricting Los Lomitas students away from Menlo-Atherton high school (MAHS) only to pull back from that after hearing "loud and clear" that those families wanted to retain MAHS as their school of choice. NFO has not been so lucky. The entire NFO neighborhood, which has been assigned to MAHS for a long time, was originally slated for realignment to Sequoia High School (HS). After some pushback, NFO was restored to MAHS, with the exception of 4 blocks -- the 400 and 500 blocks of 6th and 7th Avenues. Four blocks might not seem like a lot, but to community leaders from NFO, they are important neighbors and critical to the NFO community. Concerned neighborhood leaders have therefore been going door to door, talking to neighbors, gathering data and doing surveys, and attending meeting after meeting to make their case to the Board that they are a neighborhood united and would like the same consideration that Ravenswood and Los Lomitas have been given.
According to Hugo Vliegen and Stuart Sussman, two involved NFO residents, drawing a new "line" along 8th Avenue, which the Board proposes, seems "arbitrary, wrong and patently unfair" and would divide a community that overwhelmingly wants to stick together. They point to the outpouring of letters and people attending and speaking at Board meetings on this issue, as well as to the data they have gathered and presented to the Board.
In a letter to the Board, they make the following points:
• Self Identification: Almost universally, residents of 6th and 7th Avenues identify ourselves as part of NFO (or "the Avenues") as well as residents of Menlo Park.
• Residents of 6th and 7th Avenues do belong to the larger NFO community and are not statistically different from the higher numbered avenues. We organize to improve our community together, build parks and playgrounds together, educate our children together, work together, attend parties together, trick-or treat together, and share a Fire Station, to list a handful of commonalities.
• The Board's "plan" claims to keep communities intact, but dividing our community along 8th Avenue is in absolute contradiction with this idea.
• Transit to Sequoia HS. In contrast with Sequoia HS, transit to MAHS is easier and safer from the NFO neighborhood as there are two bike routes available, a regular bus route runs between the two points, many children walk to and from school, and there are ample carpool opportunities from our neighbors and friends living on the avenues. There is no need to cross El Camino, nor cross train tracks, or transit past major commercial centers and active business clusters. Drivers navigating to Sequoia HS face more congested roads and children are exposed to additional environmental hazards.
• The plan claims to utilize natural dividing lines and follow main avenues. Anyone familiar with NFO knows that 5th Avenue is the natural boundary as made obvious by traffic patterns and the demarcation of zip codes and city names.
They propose that "the logical solution to all the problems that have been identified is simple: include the 400 and 500 blocks of 6th and 7th Avenues in the MAHS boundary and then make it easy for families to transfer to Sequoia if they choose to. This action solves all identified concerns including the latest priority of the Board: keeping cohorts of children together."
It is puzzling that the Board initiated this redistricting in order to solidify Ravenswood students as a community at their request. Yet in the process, the Board is proposing dividing a neighborhood on the basis that the Board has a better understanding of where boundaries really fall and who constitutes a member of the NFO neighborhood. When it comes to understanding who really belongs to a given community, I defer to the people who actually live there.
Postscript on June 29, 2014: The Board of Trustees unanimously passed the proposed SUHSD boundary changes recommended by Superintendent Lianides which included keeping the NFO Avenues within the MAHS boundary except for 6th and 7th Avenues. The changes include a 15 year "preference" or priority for 6th and 7th Avenue families to apply to attend MAHS.