City Council paves the way for a San Antonio school

Major concessions include potential for more office space and fewer homes in Mountain View

Calling a neighborhood school and park land a top priority in the San Antonio Shopping Center area, Mountain View City Council members agreed Tuesday night to give the Los Altos School District latitude to "sell" development rights in order to afford a campus in a region desperate for open space.

In a study session, council members supported allowing the school district to acquire expensive land in the San Antonio area -- valued at over $12 million an acre -- and transfer the unused office and residential development capacity to a developer elsewhere in the city, which could include North Bayshore and East Whisman. This would allow the district to purchase the land at a substantially lower cost, making it feasible to build a school with limited resources.

In order to sweeten the deal for potential buyers, the city would also allow developers to convert "transferred" residential development from San Antonio into office space. The school district would need to shift a total of 600,000 square feet of development, according to a city staff report.

Los Altos School District officials have struggled for years to find land for a new school campus, conducting an exhaustive search for properties in the San Antonio area -- where the district's boundaries spill over into Mountain View -- as well as along El Camino Real. District voters passed a $150 million school bond measure in 2014 to finance a new school, but little progress has been made to put the money to good use.

Nearly one in three Los Altos district students reside in Mountain View, and a vast majority of projected enrollment growth is expected to occur in the San Antonio area, making a school in the region -- as expensive and built-out as it is -- a critical part of the district's strategy for future growth.

Council members made it clear that under most circumstances, they wouldn't have tolerated such generous contributions. They opened the door for residential development to be converted into offices at a time when the city is fighting to fix its poor jobs-housing imbalance, and allowed hundreds of thousands of square feet of development to move from one carefully crafted zoning plan to another. But it would be worth it if the payoff includes getting a school and a public park in the San Antonio area, Vice Mayor Lenny Siegel said.

"Getting a school in this part of town is a high priority for me, and I'm willing to put up with some things that I wouldn't otherwise put up with -- even a small amount of extra offices in North Bayshore -- to make that happen," he said.

"I would prefer residential, I would prefer spreading it around, but this is our last, best chance to get a school in the San Antonio area, where it is drastically needed."

Councilman Chris Clark said it gives him "heartburn" to give up homes in favor of offices after spending years figuring out where to put residential development in the city, but he conceded that it may be a necessary step to bring a school to the region. The council still has to grant final approval for each transferred development right, and the assumption is that developers are going to make a good-faith effort to spread it out rather than pile it all into one place, Clark said.

"If what we get as a (proposal) is half a million square feet in one space, they should understand there's a pretty big risk they're going to get a 'No' vote on that," he said.

School district officials made clear from the outset that any restrictions or conditions imposed on transferring development rights would throw the school district's entire plan into jeopardy. Board member Bryan Johnson said the district needs "maximum flexibility" in order to create a robust buyer's market for developer rights, particularly early on in San Antonio's transformation into a dense commercial and residential center of the city.

"If we don't act now, we will likely never be able to do this," he said. "It won't be available again in our lifetime once projects in the San Antonio Precise Plan are completed."

Along with making development rights as easy to sell as possible, council members agreed to ramp up the city's commitment to pitch in money for open space adjacent to a school site. A total of $6 million per acre -- up to $23 million -- from the city's park land dedication fund would be available for joint-use park land.

Stephen Friberg, president of the Greater San Antonio Community Association, told council members that the region has long been under-served, and has a "clear" need for both a school and parks and field space. The San Antonio area has the lowest ratio of park space per 1,000 residents than any other area of the city -- only 1.34 acres -- making it all the more enticing to jump on the opportunity for athletic fields and open space.

"As we add apartments and condominiums, business and office buildings, and experience increased amounts of traffic, we have to balance it by adding facilities for the people who live in the area," Freiberg said. "There's an opportunity that will be lost if we don't grab this chance, so let's grab it."

Add it all up, and the value of the development rights and the park fees could exceed $100 million in contributions by the city to encourage a Los Alto district school site in Mountain View.

A neighborhood school or a charter school?

A big question hanging over the meeting Tuesday night is what kind of school Los Altos district officials envision for the region. Would it be a standard elementary school welcome to nearby residents, or would it be the new home of Bullis Charter School, a magnet program that draws students from all over the district?

As it stands right now, the Los Altos district's board of trustees has not resolved that question. Part of the reason for the delay is that Bullis requires a larger footprint -- it has more than 800 students from kindergarten through eighth grade -- and the district has no idea how big the Mountain View school site would be.

Councilwoman Pat Showalter, participating in the meeting by phone, said she wanted to encourage the school district to make it a neighborhood school, which would add more value to the San Antonio community than a magnet school that draws from a broad region centered in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. It's a reasonable stipulation to give to the school district, she said, given the "tremendously generous" package of incentives the City Council is allowing through the transfer of development rights and park land dedication funds.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga agreed, pointing out that the charter school would put an additional strain on traffic in the region as parents drive farther distances for pick-up and drop-off.

"If it were a magnet school, we would have people driving from all over and we would have traffic issues, and we know San Antonio is already congested as it is," Abe-Koga said.

Although a majority of council members showed strong preference for a neighborhood school, they declined to make it a condition for allowing the transfer of development rights and the park funds. Siegel said he was hesitant to get the city involved in the "complicated issue" of facilities under discussion by the charter school and the district, which in the past has led to bitter disputes and lawsuits.

"My preference would be for it to be a neighborhood school, but I do not see this council getting involved in the hornets' nest of issues between the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School," he said.


50 people like this
Posted by Colleen
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 4, 2017 at 2:34 pm

Yay! Thank you to the elected officials and staff members from LASD and the city of Mountain View for working together cooperatively to bring a school and park land back to the San Antonio area. It is sorely needed here. Let's keep this moving forward.

16 people like this
Posted by ES
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm

One way to alleviate school traffic issues in the San Antonio area, as well as other school areas, especially those involving parents dropping off and picking up children, is to have school buses drive students. Caregivers would only need to drive children if they had to go to or leave school at odd hours. This would eliminate a lot of cars and emissions on our roads.

37 people like this
Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 4, 2017 at 2:57 pm

It must be a neighborhood school that benefits the Mountain View residents, not the bulk of Los Altos and Los Altos residents, since the trade off for space elsewhere in the city is in MV. A charter school by definition draws from all over the district (in this case Los Altos) and would diminish any benefit gained from LASD's Mountain View residents.

4 people like this
Posted by BCS
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Oct 4, 2017 at 3:38 pm

There are actually many MV kids who attend BCS and if that school were to allow a larger percentage of students from MV as part of locating a school there, I'd see it as a win for MV. Having a neighborhood school would be great too.

But what I didn't read in the article was any notion of where this land would be located or come from. Is there a site in mind or is this purely theoretical?

10 people like this
Posted by Unworkable
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2017 at 6:27 pm

This doesn't make sense:
1. If the school is for the NEC kids then it doesn't solve the BCS site problem. 2. If you locate BCS there, it doesn't solve the need for a neighborhood school for the NEC kids because only a small portion of that group will be attending BCS via the lottery. You can't give NEC kids preferential admittance to BCS as there is no rationale for that and I'm guessing that the majority of NEC kids would not opt for BCS anyway.
3. Locating a school for 900 kids in that extremely busy corridor would make a huge traffic mess and would be unsafe for the children attending there.

It's still hard to believe that 3 years after passing a $150M bond, the LASD BOT still hasn't solved the BCS site problem. One can only surmise that the BOT isn't interested in solving the problem. They should have moved those 6th graders to the middle schools years ago, solving all the overcrowding issues and then located BCS at Covington. It could be easy but it doesn't meet their political agenda so the taxpayers suffer.

20 people like this
Posted by Stalling Tactic
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2017 at 7:46 pm

However well intentioned or malevolent the idea of this school is, it is clear that using eminent domain will face a court challenge. One pair of property owners who feels under the gun are the owners of the proposed Greystar project on the Safeway/201 San Antonio Circle site. Their lawyer, an eminent domain export, spoke to the city council at the meeting. He indicated they plan to break ground in January and they value the land at $400 Million.

This is described in city docs as a mixed-use development with 641 residential units and
approximately 21,400 square feet of commercial space with below-grade parking to
replace an existing 70,000 square foot office building and 53,000 square feet of
existing retail, a Lot Line Adjustment to merge two lots into one lot, and a Heritage
Tree Removal Permit to remove 82 trees on an 8.63-acre project site. These
properties comprise the North of California Street Master Plan Area and are located
on the north side of California Street between San Antonio Road and Pacchetti Way
in the P-40 (San Antonio) Precise Plan.

Surely the district cannot lowball them with a price of $12 to $14 million per acre which is ludicrously low and offers them nothing for the opportunity cost and all the time put into planning, plus keeping the property idle while developing the project.

LASD are amateurs and they have not had a good team working on this proposal. It will blow up on them, meaning it is just another stalling tactic.

15 people like this
Posted by Unworkable
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2017 at 8:22 pm

@Stalling Tactic - Exactly! This is nothing more than another stalling tactic. The LASD BOT comes up with one hairbrained scheme after the next while ignoring all the land they currently own which is suitable for additional school sites. You'd think they'd be tired of playing this game by now but apparently not. We'll be back in court with BCS soon wasting more taxpayer dollars on lawsuits.

5 people like this
Posted by Stalling Tactic
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2017 at 1:12 pm

I should say it's a time wasting tactic. Once you get past the eminent domain issues,
you're faced with the fact that this would need to be a charter school, because
they've used up all their funds and have no room to construct an expanded school for the charter on district owned land. There are 850 kids in the El Camino area
spread around across the Jr High and 3 main elementary schools. There are 4400
kids total. The charter has been keeping a lid on growth due to the expiring 5 year
agreement. It's up at 875 kids this year. Projecting the growth means they will
be at least 1000 by the time a new school site could be ready, with plans to grow
to 1200.

So no matter how the district designs the site, they have established the precedent
that the charter school can be split. It's troubling for them to remove the charter's
location at Blach, because this is so far away. If the charter makes a facilities request, they will be talking about 20% of the students in the district. The law
says they are entititle to 20% of the land. THe district owns 115 acres of land.
If the new site is 8 acres, the charter will be entitled to 20% of the new total of 123 acres, or 24 acres. They will need to assign the charter 1 full sized existing school of 10 acres in addition to the San Antonio School.

They are completely incompetent at planning. They're making decisions that would have worked 5 years ago, but this is TODAY.

7 people like this
Posted by Stalling Tactic
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2017 at 1:20 pm

I should say that 18 acres would still be less than 20% of the total. The effect is substantially the same. But what they can't do is retaliate against the success of the charter by cutting down the quality of the facilities the charter has, essentially refusing to expand the facilities with growth of the charter. They have claimed that Blach is worth 6 acres of land, with 3 acres dedicated and 3 acres shared with Blach.
They have given them use of 8 acres at Egan. They would be moving the charter without addressing their only justifiable reason for a forced relocation. They would not
be addressing growth in population in the San Antonio area by giving those kids a school. They would remove the charters location in the South Los Altos area. They would provide about the same size the charter has now at Egan and expect that to replace Blach use and handle any growth.

They are pinning their hopes on a comment the judge put in his ruling which said that
they could make up for less land by having nicer building. But this does not justify any extreme. They can't put 1200 kids with 4 acres of outdoor space while they have previously allocated the charter 8 acres of outdoor space for fewer kids, and the number of kids NOT in the charter has actually decreased. They have access to 6 acres of outdoor space per school site, or 54 acres for 4400 kids. It's just too much discrimination.

5 people like this
Posted by So
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2017 at 1:36 pm

seems BCS still tears at the fabric of our community. So disappointing, but they reap what they sow.

6 people like this
Posted by BCS Parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2017 at 1:54 pm

This is great! Yes, please build a school at San Antonio for the NEC kids. That will free up enough space at Almond/Santa Rita/Covington that one of those schools can then be closed and campus handed over to BCS.

7 people like this
Posted by Fabric Tearing
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2017 at 2:07 pm

It's the wacko LASD administration that tears at the fabric of the community. They could have made plans to use the bond money to house the growth that has been absorbed by BCS, but they haven't. LASD would have needed a school bond 10 years ago if they had not had BCS to rely on to take on all the growth in the district.

What BCS does is be a district-wide school, which is valuable. With the population
within LASD shifting so that 20% of it is in Mountain View north of El Camino, LASD should have been moved to action long ago. Instead they neatly disposed of fair treatment
for the San Antonio area kids the same time they short changed Los Altos Hills back in the early 2000's. First they built Covington with no plan as to who would go there. Then thye closed the Gardner Bullis school because they didn't need that with Covington. Then they realized they had more and more kids in Mountain View show they rejiggered where they were sent to school, removing them from schools they had gone
to for a long time and using some of them to fill Covington.

The result is that over the years has the El Camino area school population has grown,
reaching 600 and then 850, they were invisible, split between Almond, Santa Rita and Covington.

It's just a question of honoring the school needs of some kids more than others.
Honored are the families that live in Los Altos close to Oak, Loyola, Santa Rita, Almond, Covington and some of the Moutain View families near Springer. Over time,
Gardner Bullis has honored that part of Los Altos Hills. THey are the only ones with the so called neighborhood schools.

Everyone else is mistreated. Having a district wide school like BCS gives them some redress for the mistreatment.

LASD should project to the future, not about BCS, but about the San Antonio area. What will the picture be when that population reaches 1000 kids, 1200 kids? What happens if the school age population in Los Altos continues to decline?

5 people like this
Posted by See
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Continually playing the victim while espousing the rhetoric. Sad. They'll get no support from me in any way.

7 people like this
Posted by Victims
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm

BCS will thrive no matter what weird decisions LASD makes. They are not
the victims. The district operates for the benefit of a minority of the
population. It's about 50% that get the benefit of what they say is their
standard neighborhood school and then 50% do not. That's why BCS has such an
easy time recruiting students, and that's why LASD in fear has
negotiated limits on how fast BCS can grow. BCS is headed to be
50% of the district, because of LASD policies just as much as BCS.

If 1/3 of the LASD population is from Mountain View, then that is 1500 kids. 300 in Junior High, 1200 elementary. Why shouuld only the 500 living near Springer
get a smalal neighborhood school? If there are 700 NOW living near San Antonio,
then the planning should be for the growth of the 700 to 1000. This is not
very far in the future. They need TWO schools for San Antonio, not one.

Implicit in their saying that this MIGHT be a neighborhood school for San Antonio
is the idea that this would be a 1000 student school. That's not fair treatment,
and not honest. A 1000 student school is not the same as a 450 student school.

6 people like this
Posted by School or Schools How Big?
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2017 at 2:30 pm

LASD has 7 elementary schools currently, average size 480, but 3 are under 450. The San Antonio area is already up to 850 LASD students. It should be made clear that best case
just a portion of the students that live there could attend this new school, unless
there are two of them on the site, or unless it is very big. The number of students
in the area is still growing.

If they put the Charter school there, that's a 1000+ student school, so it's like
2 of the regular schools. It's still grown too, having added 250 students in the last
4 years, to reach 875 today.

10 people like this
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:21 am

Greg David is a registered user.

We already had a school in the San Antonio are. It was called Klein. Then they sold it and built condos in 1988.

We had a school on Independence. Now it's a storage facility.

We also had wonderful high school downtown that could have been rebuilt. Now it's apartments.

I can't fathom why one would ever give up such a precious resource as a school site.

4 people like this
Posted by Some info
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:19 pm

Klein school was in a different district. The dividing line runs down Ortega. Klein was on the very edge of
MVWSD. Its area is now served by Castro, which has been expanded to home 2 separate schools on one site. The original LASD school for the area on the other side of Ortega was Portola Elementary. In MV on that side of San Antonio, the ground area is very small--only about 10% of a square mile. It was included into the attendance area
of Portola Elementary School in Los Altos. Now Portola was sold off. LASD decided it had enough land in the area given that Egan was 19 acres of land quite near to Portola Elementary. Now they suddenly got a desire to relocate the Charter School from Egan where it has been for 15 years and put it in Mountain View. Go figure. The discussions have all been in private.

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

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