No binding limit on students at Ladera site

Las Lomitas district promises a limit will be in the lease

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Despite pleas from neighbors to put a binding limit on the number of students that could be allowed at the site, the board of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District voted Dec. 14 to begin the process of leasing the school site in Ladera without such a limit.

"We do need to maintain some flexibility in case we have financial problems down the road," said Maria Doktorczyk, who was elected board president by her fellow board members at the beginning of the meeting. "We may need to increase the number of students at the school."

The district has promised to put a limit of 325 students, which is the number allowed by the conditional use permit now governing the site, into the lease and into the marketing documents seeking bidders for the site. The lease, the terms of which will be negotiated with the top bidder, would be for 25 years with an extension for up to 25 more years, but could be renegotiated at any time.

If the 325 number had been put in the resolution, the district could have a hard time changing it, they were told by their attorney, Eugene Whitlock, at the meeting.

The limit on students is important to the neighborhood and to the district for two very different reasons. The neighbors say limiting students is they only way they can control traffic on the steep, winding streets in their neighborhood, which has only two streets that go in and out.

However, the district could lease the site out for more money to a school that was able to charge tuition to more students.

The vote to adopt a resolution beginning the lease process was unanimous, with board members expressing a similar desire to retain flexibility for the district.

"There's a huge amount of uncertainty in the future. The way you deal with that is flexibility," said board member Jay Siegal. "We need a resolution that has flexibility in it to deal with 50 years in the future."

But speakers from Ladera, and from Woodland School, which has leased the site from the district for the past 30 years, said they wanted stability and certainty, not flexibility.

"I would like to be protected against uncertainty," said Lysanna Anderson, a Ladera resident and a parent at Woodland School. "As much as possible I would like to constrain that uncertainty."

Others said that traffic from the current school is already too much. Mary Driscoll, who said she lives "directly next door to the school," said "the traffic is deplorable -- it's terrible."

Unless students get to school using something other than private cars, "I can't imagine more students than what is already there," she said. "It's like a cul de sac, Ladera," she said. "There's nowhere to go."

The school has been leased to Woodland School, a private school for students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, for more than 30 years. The school site was purchased by the district in 1952 and used by the district until Ladera School closed in 1979.

Woodland, which has 275 students, now pays $650,000 a year for the site. The lease originally expired in July, but the district has extended it twice, through July 2013.

The ultimate control on the number of students on the site actually lies with San Mateo County, which requires a use permit for the site because it is zoned residential. Public schools do not require use permits, but private schools do.

Woodland's use permit has expired and the school district has asked permission to apply for a new permit in its name, not Woodland's. District Superintendent Eric Hartwig says the district will ask for a permit "identical to the current one so that Woodland or a new tenant would operate under the existing conditions."

The district will receive bids on the property in late March 2012.

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Like this comment
Posted by Ladera Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:50 am

With all the support that Ladera Parents have given Los Lomitas School District over the years, I'm shocked at their response to Ladera concerns, "We do need to maintain some flexibility in case we have financial problems down the road." Are you kidding me? Hello, what about us! Has the Board even driven through Ladera during school traffic hours? The traffic is already at the brink of what works in Ladera. The school has almost no parking or on-site pick-up facilities. In the morning, we can wait in line up to 10 minutes to just turn on Alpine. Cars stream through Ladera from the school. While we have had these difficulties, I will say that Woodland has at least made an effort to work with the Ladera community - more so than our own school district appears willing to do.

Like this comment
Posted by SWA resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Maybe residents should demand a bike trail along the county right of way on La Cuesta

Like this comment
Posted by MP resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm

How about a bike trail on the Cuesta Drive right of way?

Like this comment
Posted by Porsches not pupils
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

So if the issue is the cars, not the number of kids (no one seems to be complaining about the kids) why not limit the number of cars trips to and from the school next time a conditional use permit has to be renewed; if the school wants more students, they have to impose a bus or carpool system. It is measurable, environmental, and common sense.
Unless the fight over the number of students is really just a proxy for some other issue... what might that be?

Like this comment
Posted by SWA "Friend"
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Ladera actually has a real SIDEWALK that bikes can use on La Cuesta Drive, thanks for your concern. We also have what we like to consider a multi-user pathway system within Ladera that is maintained by the Ladera Recreation District. Of course, our poor pathway system is not as wide as the county supervisors thought was necessary along Alpine Road, but our paths have been working fine for 60 years now.

Don't be worried that any of that Woodland traffic coming to Ladera ever has to pass by SWA.

Ahhh... not that any SWA residents would find it a reasonable solution for some of those Woodland students to use the COUNTY TRAIL on county property that passes by their oh so dangerous driveways, so I don't know how they would ever get to the paths within Ladera.

Brilliant posts! We'll use these thoughts when we push for a nice safe bike lane to be painted on the Alpine frontage roads next to SWA, sorry if that will disrupt your extra parking spaces, but that might be the only way now to get Stanford to increase the parking for the Dish at Piers lane by denying the extra parking on your frontage roads. You'll still have all "your" trees, your hill, and police car (or Oreo) cows to keep you happy, while folks using a county resource are safe. It would nice if paint could help with the drainage problems, but we'll have to assume you can all live with those issues.

Perhaps while the county folks are out painting the bike lane they will think to paint, "KEEP CLEAR" in front of your exists. A Class Three Bike Lane will do just fine for a connector trail.

Yup... let's just keep arguing about stuff instead of coming up with SOLUTIONS.

We're sorry that Lennie Roberts lost this particular battle with Las Lomitas. Aren't you going to support your heroine?

Like this comment
Posted by Old Laderan
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm

We should have pushed for a limit on CARS!

When Ladera School was open there were far more than 375 students there weren't there? The difference being that most of them were Laderans so we reduced EVERYONE's traffic by having a local school.

Because of Ladera School, I always figured that SWA was sort of an extension to Ladera since we all went to the same school. Oddly, that view has changed in the last few months.

Like this comment
Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm

The decision of the school board ignores that their office is elective.
So is financing in case they wish to pass a bond issue. Failure to accommodate a very rational request from a sizable fraction of its district, which is immediately impacted by changes at Ladera School traffic is inconsiderate to say the least, and unwise with regard for future cooperation from the Ladera community. - The "flexibility" excuse sounds more like a lobbying effort behind the scene. Fortunately, Ladera can hope for more consideration from the county when the use permit question arises in the future.

Like this comment
Posted by Jeff B
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Jeff B is a registered user.

To "Porsches" (and also "Old Laderan"),

There is no hidden issue here. The issue really is the number of car trips through the community.

I was at the board meeting last month and this topic came up. One of the board members (Jay I think) made the same observation that you did, i.e. the issue is cars and not the number of students.

The answer from members of the community was that this was true, but that there are no (known) enforceable mechanisms to limit the number of vehicle trips per day. The only enforceable tool available to the community was the cap on the number of students.

I guess another reason that people latched onto the cap was that it is the existing mechanism that is currently being used.

I think that if someone (from the community, the district, or the board) had come up with an enforceable way to limit the vehicle trips, there wouldn't have been much opposition.

Like this comment
Posted by SirTopham Hatt
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

Private school "W", or any other, could easily cap the number of car trips. Dictate that only 100 (or 75, pick your number) cars get a permit to drop or pick up the child on school grounds; auction those to the highest bidders for a nice fundraising source.

All other kids get dropped off at a designated nearby point, let's say Zott's which is usually pretty slow at 7:30 am. A couple of electric buses whisk them up the hill, quietly and with minimal traffic impact.

The time and cost burdens would be shifted onto the private school parents, who could freely choose if they wanted to bear them.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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