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Safe routes to Laurel School: Council sets special meeting

Original post made on Nov 13, 2007

With a deadline for state funding approaching, the Menlo Park City Council will hold a special meeting on Friday, Nov. 16, to reconsider a previous decision regarding how the city should go about making it safer for kids to walk and bike to Laurel School.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 14, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (13)

Posted by Jim Wampler
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Nov 13, 2007 at 9:52 pm

There is a lot of contention around the subject of changes to Coleman Avenue in the Menlo Oaks neighborhood. Many people in the neighborhood, not only those living on Coleman Avenue, are unhappy with the solutions that have been suggested so far. There is not even agreement that Coleman Avenue is as dangerous as some Laurel School parents feel it is.

It is certainly true that there will be vocal opposition to the proposed Safe Routes plan if it includes Coleman Avenue. The plan that was presented at the last Safe Routes meeting did not include Coleman Avenue and was a very good beginning to solving the problems around Laurel School. It would be foolish to throw that work away in an attempt to solve all perceived problems immediately without finding consensus solutions.

Posted by Rob Riley
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Nov 13, 2007 at 11:56 pm

When it approved the plans for the Vintage Oaks project, the City of Menlo Park allowed the Vintage Oaks fence along part of Coleman Avenue to be moved several feet toward the street, leaving no room for a sidewalk or bike lane.

Posted by free oconnor school
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 15, 2007 at 10:52 am

that is why willows residents need to pressure the school board to buy out the German American lease on OConnor (expiring June 2011) so Willows little kids don't have to cross Willow Road and slither down Coleman to Laurel School. Go to the school board mtg. on the 19th and protest this board's short sigtedness.
Coleman Ave. has lots of mature trees, oaks and such, and utility poles, fire hydrants that are in the way of a bike/pedestrian lane in the county part, and there are a few unpaved turnouts that could be upgraded with with gravel/granite. But without wholesale destruction about all that can be done is to put down a couple of speed bumps between the traffic circles and surface the turnouts. Maybe no parking during school hours a.m./p.m. and enforce it? There are a lot of cars parked on the street that make kids go out into the car travelled way.

Posted by Liebling
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 16, 2007 at 2:44 am

The O'Conner school is history, and we sure enjoy the German-American International School. If you don't like the walk to Laurel, join the nonprofit GAIS and enroll your kids there.

Posted by free oconnor school
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 16, 2007 at 6:16 am

well let's do the math. GAIS pays $300K in annual rent to the district (read taxpayer owned) for the 6 acre campus. GAIS charges as much as $15K in tuition per student, sublets to other entities for weekends, dance instruction, etc. GAIS may be nonprofit, but $15K times 400-500 kids equals $6 million, plus sublease income from French school/Russian ballet, less $300K rent, district pays for "physical plant" maintenance. So Willows kids would have to pay $15K per year to go to their neighborhood school that the state mandated when the Willows was allowed to leave the Ravenswood district and transfer to the Menlo Park District in 1980's.
How about GAIS sweetheart lease on OConnor at the expense of Willows kids and families is history. So start looking for a new campus GAIS, your days are numbered at OConnor. District taxpayers throughout Menlo park and Willows families are wise to you. That's why they fought your use permit extension request at the city council in August. We are not going to subsidize your "non profit" use of our desparately needed 5th campus any longer.
We voted for the $91 Million bond measure last June that provided for re opening OConnor and it will happen.

Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 17, 2007 at 12:30 pm

Unsafe walking or biking to school? Raise you hand.
Too many cars dropping of and picking up kids at school? Raise your hand.
Bad and unsafe traffic going to and from school? Raise your hand.
Want to do something about it? Raise your hand.

How about using the city shuttles as optional school buses? Parents, instead of that daily driving hassle, take their kids to the nearest shuttle stop, located to be convenient, and in exchange pay the city an annual fee. The fee covers the expenses, making it cost-neutral to the city. Kids would ride with adults on their way to work, or shopping, just like in the real world. Would this solve the problem? Perhaps not, but it sure would help by reducing car traffic at those critical hours. And, make life a little simpler for mom and/or dad.

Comments welcome.

Posted by Augustine
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2007 at 12:30 am

The city leadership deals in facts, not speculation when it makes its decisions regarding schools. The German American International School (GAIS) does not have sublease income from the French School, Russian ballet etc. These are extraordinary speculations. Like all elementary schools it offers extracurricular activities that take place after school, ie the once a week one hour ballet class for 10 little 4 year olds in a rundown portable classroom, and the French club. No sublease, no money laundering, no drug deals, just student activities.

Many families pay $600 month and many of the kids receive financial support as well, so familes of all income levels can attend. If parents want to pay $15K a year for elementary school they might want to look at the International School in Palo Alto for their kids, one of the most expensive private schools in the area, not the inexpensive and nonprofit GAIS.

GAIS is capped at around 300 kids according to the lease and hasn't reached that limit yet, much less the 500 kids mistakenly claimed in a previous post. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.

So lets stay focused on safe routes to Laurel for those in the Willows neighborhood that don't want to walk to GAIS. Our Willow kids will be driving to school after the just renewed 5 year GAIS lease is renewed.

Coleman is a very very quiet street, and a nice sidewalk all the way to Laurel should provide a safe route to school for those Willow kids that need the exercise, as well as those that slither.

Posted by free oconnor school
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2007 at 10:21 am

Indeed, the city leadership deals in facts, not speculation. GAIS has the master lease, yet 2 other schools, GAPA, FREA sublease space weekends and summers from GAIS, surely not rent free.
When the city council read the staff report for the Aug. 7th council meeting, they read 300 GAIS day time school year students, 220 GAPA weekend/summers, 40 FREA, another handful for others under the city approved use permit. So there could be well over 500 private school students using the district (public) owned campus. The GAIS website shows tuition up to nearly $15K, of course some financial aid is usually available.
That's why the council insisted the GAIS president and superintendant Ranella stipulate that there would be no automatic lease extension past 2011.
They could see the increasing enrollment at lower grades in the district.
They could see the looming safety issue on Coleman for Willows kids, which is mostly in county jurisdiction. A sidewalk will not happen because Coleman residents don't want it.
Bigger picture is the need for the 5th school district campus (O'Connor) and that's what was in the June 06 $91million bond measure
GAIS has enjoyed a below market rent since 1991 at OConnor, but it's time for Willows residents to re capture their neighborhood school for the benefit of all Willows kids.
GAIS and its sub tenants provide valuable educational opportunities, but it's still a taxpayers owned facility that the Willows desperately needs returned as a neighborhood public elementary school.

Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 18, 2007 at 11:29 am

Clearly, whether the routes to this (or any other) school are safe for kids or not, has not really been the issue in this thread, has it? Public school vs. private school; what the actual school enrollment numbers are; who is or isn't telling the truth; what the tuition costs are; etc. I thought the title of this thread was "safe routes." Well, what does it take to have school routes safer for kids, including this one to Laurel? Am I missing something here? Since this discussion is not actually about school safety, is there anyone out there willing to step up to the plate and state just exactly what the real issues are, someone not on either side of this rancorous debate?

Posted by Richard
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Lost in this discussion is the simple fact that walking or biking to school is one of the best things you can do with/for your children. It addresses so many of the big problems facing our society today: childhood obesity, global warming, high gas prices. Children who power themselves to school arrive wide awake and ready to learn, with a brain full of highly-oxygenated blood. It does wonders for their self-esteem to know they did it themselves, and they get to know their neighborhood much better than those kids who see the world from the back seat of a car. We should be doing everything we can to encourage green and healthy school commutes. $300,000 is a bargain if it provides a safe enough route that more parents are willing to leave their car at home.

Posted by free oconnor school
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Today's (Nov. 18th) Palo Alto Daily News has a pretty comprehensive article on the Coleman/Laurel School/Willows condundrum.
There may be some limited short term safety improvements, but, longer term, O'Connor campus for Willows kids could be a reality in 3 years or less. So keep pushing the school board to recapture OConnor. It's possible that the GAIS lease could be bought out early.
Don't give in to the "enrollment projections don't justify it" line from Ranella and his staff. There is a $91 million pot of money that belongs to all the district taxpayers to spend wisely.

Posted by Randall
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Yeah, we're not happy with the kids walking to Laurel and agree with previous posters that a sidewalk or safe trail along Coleman is the way to go. We do love the Laurel School though.

I don't see the sense in running down the German American school, with snippy and bizarre accusations, because its a pretty good school from what we can tell. We walked around the school grounds and that is a really small place and definitely not economically viable should the school board decide to open up another school. Anyways, the school grounds are tied up for the next 5 years atleast, so we need to focus on more realistic fixes for the walk/bike ride to Laurel.

I'm pretty sure a compromise on the safe trail on Coleman can be worked out that will suit the homeowners on Coleman and parents that have children walking/biking to school. But we sure aren't holding our breath that the district will renovate, expand and open up a new school in the Willows during our children's school years.

Posted by free oconnor school
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2007 at 7:42 pm

What's not to love about Laurel School?
That's not the point. Laurel School is in Atherton, miles away from the Willows, and intended to serve Lindenwood, Menlo Oaks and Suburban Park. A quick look at the district map makes this quite clear. The Willows was permitted to leave the Ravenswood School Dist. in the early eighties provided O'Connor School came with the package as a neighborhood school for the Willows kids. District taxpayers approved the June 06 bond measure including re opening the 6 acre O Connor campus on or before the GAIS lease expiration in 3 years, not 5 years as poster above states.
Don't hold your breath about Coleman homeowners agreeing to remove any of their mature landscaping to build a walk/bike path. They will continue to vigorously resist. They fail to agree that Willows residents have some vested right to send their kids to Laurel, necessitating destruction of their front yards so that Coleman becomes an urban street landscape for the benefit of the Willows-Laurel School thruway.
The school district refuses to provide adequate bus transportation to any of its campuses, and neighbors adjoining all the other schools are hollering about the massive overdevelopment plans on those school sites and the ever increasing traffic snarls around those campuses. Hillview and Oak Knoll neighbors are gearing for a major legal fight to stop those campus expansions.
So you have a bunch of unhappy school neighbors all around town who don't understand why they should suffer from overcrowding/traffic, and why the Willows shouldn't have OConnor school back as was part of the original district transfer deal. Coleman is but a symptom of the bigger district facility mismanagment with its growing enrollment issues. Sure things can be done, improving unpaved shoulders, signage, etc., but with multiple jurisdictions don't expect any dramatic improvements in the near future.

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