Could San Antonio-area residents have new park space in their future? The Mountain View City Council approved plans to help the Los Altos School District acquire land for a new elementary school on the west side of town, aiming to share its playground and field space. Council members gave tentative approval to the partnership in a unanimous 6-0 vote on July 2. Councilman John Inks, who owns land in the area, recused himself.
The action didn't specify a dollar amount the city would contribute to the land purchase. Instead, it was intended to affirm that school district officials would have some outside help in a future deal.
Following the passage of a $150 million bond last year, Los Altos school officials made it their top priority to build a new elementary school campus north of El Camino Real near San Antonio Road.
With those negotiations still ongoing, district officials reached out to the city last month to propose partnering to acquire the land for both parties' mutual benefit. A successful new school would potentially bring more parkland to the most open space-deprived area of Mountain View. Meanwhile, the school district would receive help footing the bill for what will likely be an expensive piece of real estate.
There are more than 600 students in the Los Altos School District who reside in Mountain View and have to cross El Camino Real, mostly by car, to get to schools like Covington and Almond. Los Altos school officials said that the enrollment breakdown indicates a new campus is needed in Mountain View.
With no real options to use public land, the school district is looking at purchasing privately owned land. Since April, the district has been in negotiations to buy the 3-acre site of the Old Mill Office Center. The property isn't big enough to accommodate much open space, so the district is looking at other nearby parcels, said Los Altos School District board president Steve Taglio.
"In general, the Old Mill site alone wouldn't be large enough, so the idea of being bigger would be helpful for us," he said. "We're in negotiation with different folks about different lands."
This type of deal has a precedent in Mountain View, said Community Services Director J.P. de la Montaigne. For about 50 years, the city has helped maintain the fields at Mountain View-Whisman School District campuses in exchange for the right to use them for youth sports, summer camps and other activities. A similar arrangement is also in place at Springer Elementary School after the city helped pay the costs for a one-time upgrade to the schoolyard.
To lay out the terms of this arrangement, the city and school district would eventually need to sign some kind of joint-use agreement for how they share the land, Montaigne said. City officials don't expect to fund 100 percent of the land costs, because they city will only have part-time use of it, he said.
"There will be times when the school will be using the space and we'll negotiate what times it will be available for city usage," Montaigne said.
Exactly how much the city would contribute is still up in the air, but that money won't be coming from the general fund. The city staff report noted that Mountain View has $7.5 million available in a dedicated park fund, which is derived from developers' fees for the area.
But the question was raised whether Mountain View was stepping out of line by helping another agency acquire land. While still expressing support for the deal, Councilman Mike Kasperzak warned that he had reservations.
"I don't think we're supposed to be in the business of buying school grounds for schools; we're supposed to be in the business of buying park lands for the city's taxpayers," he said. "I'm concerned about doing something more for one school district than we've done for any other district."
Other council members generally praised the plan as a solid method to expand park space in a rapidly growing area of town.
"I'm hopeful that we're seeing a new era of cooperation between Mountain View and the Los Altos School District," said Councilman Lenny Siegel. "Even though the school district has the name Los Altos, a lot of their constituents are our constituents, and we should make sure we serve them."
With the approval, city staff will begin working on a joint-use arrangement for a new school that would eventually be brought back to both the school district and the council for review.