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UPDATED: Los Altos Asks Mountain View To Consider Zoning For A School

The area all around the San Antonio Road and El Camino Real has been experiencing housing growth, and it may be time to consider a neighborhood school where that growth is, the Los Altos City Council said.

Updated Sunday, Mar. 17 at 10 p.m. with comments from Mountain View City Councilman Michael Kasperzak.

In a rare letter underscoring how recent growth is affecting both communities, the Los Altos City Council is asking the Mountain View City Council to consider zoning land north of El Camino Real for a new public school.

Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw cited the efforts of both cities to build higher-density housing along the El Camino Real transit corridor—and that it was having a corresponding effect of increasing the school population.

The letter had been spearheaded and initially drafted by Councilmember Val Carpenter, who had spent the past year while she was mayor going to school board meetings and studying the issue.

“We respectfully request you consider identifying and zoning 5 to 10 acres of land north of El Camino Real for public school use,” wrote Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw in the letter dated March 14, “so that more Mountain View families can enjoy the benefits of a neighborhood elementary school.”

As many real estate agents know, but some residents may not, the Los Altos School District’s boundaries have historically covered that part of Mountain View.

Currently, 20 percent of Mountain View students, or about 1,200, live within the Los Altos School District and attend three of its elementary schools, as well as its junior high schools, according to school board President Doug Smith, who presented demographic information to the Mountain View City Council on Jan. 22. That population comprises 26 percent of LASD’s student body, and, according to the district, is growing as the two cities strive to fulfill state-mandated housing planning for population growth.

All three schools, however, are on the Los Altos side of heavily traveled El Camino Real.

"Both the percentage and absolute number of LASD students living in Mountain View have been growing steadily for nearly 20 years," Fishpaw wrote, and the district needed to provide at least one additional elementary school to serve Mountain View students. Providing a school north of El Camino Real would greatly improve school children’s safety if they didn’t have to cross that major artery, he wrote.

With a Mountain View council study session scheduled March 19 on "visioning" for the San Antonio center area, the Los Altos mayor expressed concern that rezoning for higher density and mixed uses increases properties' value, as well as "making it challenging for school districts such as LASD to acquire land for neighborhood schools in built-out communities."

He and the council, which voted unanimously to send the letter, urged Mountain View to "work collaboratively with LASD has expressed a willingness to explore creative options for school sites, including mixed-use facilities that can benefit a broad cross-section of residents, and we urge you to work collaboratively with them."

The letter also made clear that the request was distinct from the need for a campus for the Bullis Charter School, which the council believes would be better served closer to its preferred chartered attendance area.

Fishpaw concluded by asking for a joint meeting of the two city councils to discuss issues of mutual interest that have been arising on the transit,  housing and emergency communication fronts.

Mountain View City Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who prefaced her remarks by saying she had not seen the Los Altos City Council’s letter, said, "I think it is a good idea for cities to communicate with schools. We serve many of the same residents."

But the issue is complex, she said. 

To downzone property on an existing landowner gives her pause. "To ask us to downzone land, I understand, would open us up to lawsuits," she wrote in an email, suggesting obtaining a more definitive opinion from the city attorney.

“Nothing stops the LASD now from obtaining land on their own if they want to purchase land,” Abe-Koga wrote.

She noted that the enrollment of Mountain View kids in LASD has been focused on development and growth in the San Antonio area north of El Camino Real, yet she wondered if LASD has crunched the figures for kids living near El Monte Avenue. She said she sensed that there’s been growth there, too, and if so, “a school in the San Antonio area would not serve the students in that neighborhood.”

Mountain View City Councilman Michael Kasperzak, who read the letter, acknowledged that LASD's need for a 10th school was on the radar of the city. However, he felt the letter was "a day late and a dollar short."

"Where were they two years ago, when we were working on our General Plan?" he asked, noting that the city could have identified land. "I don’t think there is anything the City of Mountain View can do to make things easier for LASD. We can’t interfere with the value of land so that they can buy it less expensively."

Kasperzak felt that the cities could open up dialogue, but not with a joint meeting of the two councils. Instead he proposed an intergovernmental committee that adhered to the Brown Act.

He also concurred with Abe-Koga about the issue of downzoning—"cities get sued for this all the time," he said.

Then he added another wrinkle—that as a governmental body LASD could exercise eminent domain within the city boundaries of Mountain View. However, that would cause a political and legal battle since it would potentially come at a loss of sales and property taxes to the city.

Duncan MacVicar, the Los Altos City Council representative on the Los Altos School District superintendent's task force on enrollment growth, has briefed the council about the task force's strong conclusion that growth was increasing north of El Camino, but apparently the Mountain View City Council had not asked its own representative on the task force to do the same.

"As for proximity to neighborhoods, again, not all students in MVWSD can walk to school either," said Abe-Koga, referring to the Mountain View-Whisman School District.

She also said she was concerned about equity. LASD was not alone in experiencing growth. Mountain View Whisman School District also is challenged by growing enrollment, and with the Measure G bond measure approved by the voters last June, MVWSD plans to upgrade their school facilities—to possibly include two-story buildings.

The stakeholders in the growth discussion go beyond school districts, others have contended.

A member of the Greater San Antonio Community Association, which wants the city to develop a detailed plan for the area before the Mountain View City Council approves further development, supported the letter.

"My observation is the number of school kids in the Crossings has ballooned in the last year—ballooned," said Paul Edwards, a Crossings resident, referring to the 18-acre condominium development built at the San Antonio Caltrain station in 1994. Depending on how many of the proposed housing projects join the already-approved projects, the number of new school-age children could be 500 to 900, he warned. He counted about 1,000 new units of housing in the area.

That, combined with 3,000 more car trips a day, and Edwards echoed concerns about uncoordinated growth as Los Altos, Mountain View and Palo Alto have been approving higher-density housing. In 2011, the Palo Alto School District purchased 525 San Antonio Road in southern Palo Alto after residents convinced the city council to turn down a bid to rezone a 2.65-acre preschool site for higher density to build 26 homes.

Merlone Geier, the developer of the Village at San Antonio, has estimated that less than 5 percent of the 330 units made up of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments will have children. More than 50 percent of the apartments are one-bedrooms and studios, "intended for single adults with no kids," said Merlone Geier Vice President Mike Grehl. "This is based on industry experience and studies."

The Los Altos City Council has been looking at enrollment growth vis-à-vis the state law that requires each community have a housing element in its general plan. Outside of general references of the importance of education, the progress benchmarks focus on jobs, transit and housing, and don’t appear to include any goals for schools.

"We have to, as elected officials, look at all the dimensions to bring the high density into play," said Los Altos City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins.

"We all look at transportation, circulation but I think we, both cities, need to look beyond circulation to parks, schools and everything to do this growth. What we were doing in the 1950s, was building a neighborhood."

David March 19, 2013 at 06:34 PM
There's also no condo/townhouse/SFR complex in Mountain View quite like the Crossings, and none quite like the Old Mill condos. The Crossings SFR's are less costly than those in Los Altos too, but it's not like there's another spot like that in Mountain View.
David March 19, 2013 at 06:40 PM
But it doesn't free up more space in elementary schools to move grade 6 to Middle School. It requires crowding the campuses further still to do that. The typical K-6 school in LASD now is at 525, 7 grades of 75 each, 3 classes per grade. Take away grade 6, it drops to 450. To add more students you have to add a class at each grade, which means then that the school size goes to 600 exactly. But things aren't that neat. The current 525 schools end up with 540 to 575. So those 600 student schools would be a minimum size, and you really end up with 650 or so. LASD treats schools over 600 as cats treat bathing in water.
David March 19, 2013 at 06:58 PM
Actually, when I think about it, what gives the north of El Camino LASD area its unique character, it already revolves around San Antonio Road. This part of Mtn View is a hybrid. Part of it is San Antonio Road, part is unremarkable typical of Mtn View apartment areas, part is developments of essentially condos, row houses, more affordable homes to purchase, and a part of it is 3 or greater story apartments, which is not found in the rest of the city. The issue is, why concentrate these 3 or greater story apartments or condos in this one area of Mtn View? What it has now has worked, but that does not mean that continuing to go denser and denser will continue to do so. And no further development is being propose that is really the same as the 3 story apartments on Del Medio.
mtnview_parent March 21, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Mike Kasperzak argument is contradicted by facts. On the 29 of January 2013, The City Council voted to amend the general plan to increase density on San Antonio Road. This decision allows a new residential project of 300 appartments on the land where Deitmer use to be. This is on San Antonio in front of the other 300 appartment project in the "village". On that session, the LASD president, Doug Smith, was urging the city council to consider enrollment growth issue before updating the general plan, and to work with LASD to find solutions. Therefore. Mike K. argument of being too late is not true. The LASD asked to keep the old general plan, and the City Council updated it on 2013. Therefore, since the city council keep increasing density in 2013, it makes sense to update the general plan for a school zoning in 2013. You can view Mike kasperzak contradict himself on http://mountainview.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1176. Doug Smith addresses the Council around the 2:16:00 mark.
madhaus at Burbed March 24, 2013 at 11:51 PM
That number is going down. Ron's link is 2000 Census. 2010 Census says 37.6% of households had children under 18. Also check out City Data, the number of kindergarten students was similar to state average per capita but the number of nursery school students was much greater than state average. There are 1571 children under 5 in Los Altos according to 2010 Census. Also there are several kinds of no-children-under-18 households. The first is no-children-ever, the second are haven't-had-children-yet, the third is had-children-they-aged-out. Might want to also look at the age ranges of the households to figure out who belongs in which pile. The people moving in tend to either already have children or haven't had them yet but plan to. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Altos,_California#2010 http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk via http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/0643280.html

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