Tensions between residents of Oak Court and parents of the soon-to-open Laurel School, Upper Campus, located at 275 Elliott Drive, have been escalating in past weeks, with emails flying and hackles raised on both fronts.
Some Oak Court residents have expressed worry that when the new school opens on Oct. 17, the school district will not sufficiently restrict access to an automated gate it has installed that opens onto their street and connects to the school's parking lot on Elliott Drive. Residents of the street, many of whom are parents too, say it is often used by pedestrians and kids on bikes, and can be dangerous for drivers to safely navigate with kids around. They don't want too many buses clogging up the road.
Ultimately, however, a rough consensus was reached at the Menlo Park City Council's Aug. 30 meeting: Get the Menlo Park City School District to sign a legally binding agreement that on Oak Court no cars will be allowed through the gate, and that access through the gate is limited to service and emergency vehicles and student shuttles and buses.
Meanwhile, neighborhood parents say they don't want to have to drive their kids to school, but that they don't feel entirely safe letting them walk or bike because of all the traffic. So they want the option to bus their kids.
Valerie Frederickson, who said she was speaking on behalf of at least 10 other families, said in a public comment that kids' safety should be prioritized over "convenience for the neighbors."
"We would like our kids to be able to walk, scoot, bike, skip, hop and ride buses to school whenever possible. We sure don't want to be driving them," she said, describing the traffic. "It's hellacious."
According to a presentation given by the city's transportation manager, Nikki Nagaya, the school district plans to use the gate only as necessary, for large vehicles that won't be able to turn around using the main entrance: service and emergency vehicles and shuttle and school buses. The number of school buses the district proposes to use has not been clear, however.
Initially the district said it planned to operate just one bus in the morning and one in the afternoon to accommodate students who have transferred into the district from the Ravenswood City School District via the Tinsley program, plus occasional field trip buses, with the possibility of a shuttle bus between the upper and lower Laurel School campuses.
However, that shuttle is already scheduled to run, and parent demand for further bus service has been indicated. The district may also need a disabled-access bus, which would run according to individual student needs.
The City Council supported the terms of a draft agreement that would require the automated gate to be closed and locked except when letting permitted large vehicles through. The number of permitted buses could be flexible.
City Councilman Ray Mueller said, "Residents have adapted so that busing can go ahead and happen," but added that he had concerns with how the district had presented a less-frequent use of the gate to Oak Court residents.
City Councilwoman Kirsten Keith lives on Oak Court and recused herself from the discussion.
The final language of the agreement will be determined by City Attorney Bill McClure and the school district attorney Tim Fox.