HOA dispute leaves new school in the dark | August 16, 2019 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - August 16, 2019

HOA dispute leaves new school in the dark

Without electrical hookup, Vargas Elementary's second-story classrooms are 'completely useless'

by Kevin Forestieri

A dispute between PG&E and a Mountain View homeowners' association means the new Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School will open next week without power, causing an array of challenges that could last for months.

This story contains 1267 words.

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Email Kevin Forestieri at kforestieri@mv-voice.com


Posted by Save MVWSD
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 7:50 am

Remember when the school district wanted to build staff housing on the old Cooper school site? Really objections were not about whether we wanted teachers living in our neighborhood, but really about the school district's competence in managing projects of this scale and scope. The school district (and ultimately the board) fails again to be good stewards of public money. Heads should roll, but probably they'll get reelected or get a fat raise. Maybe they should bring in more expensive consultants to help with this one. It must be nice always to be spending other people's money.

Posted by BDBD
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 11:30 am

BDBD is a registered user.

Speaking as an HOA board member from a different community (NOT the one responsible for this mess!): I hope the board reads this article, sees this comment, and realizes they are putting their community in danger rather than protecting their neighborhood. Please reconsider, in the name of basic decency and kindness if nothing else.

I cannot believe that an HOA board has the authority to deny electricity to a public elementary school. School starts Monday, but the fire alarms won't work, causing the district to hire a "24/7 fire lookout". The elevator won't work, in violation of ADA laws. In the meantime, their community is being polluted by a generator. And this is all so that the neighborhood's landscaped corner area (not even someone's yard!) doesn't have some kind of box or pole placed in it, with occasional visits by PG&E? Give me a break!

Posted by PG&E
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2019 at 12:48 pm

This is totally PG&E's clumsiness. Left unsaid in this article is that they are obviously trying to locate the step down transformer to serve the new school on SOMEONE ELSE's PROPERTY. They could have planned to put the transformer on the site of the school itself. That's the normal course of action. This is something that should have been worked out before construction even began. The district had 3 years to plan. The district owns 8 acres of land in that parcel and the Google Day Care at the old Slater School has a switchgear which serves that site. Why couldn't they just hook up the rest of the MVWSD property to the same switchgear? Wouldn't that be less complex? Consider that the site was used before by the district for Special Education and they had power back then. They certainly ought to have enough power to run the alarm system in the meanwhile.

Normally this transformer would just sit on the street in the front of the school, on the school's property, but this site is so small that there is an issue with that. But everyone know that going in.

Posted by Humble observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2019 at 12:53 pm

And yet, BDBD, if the HOA president quoted in the article was honest about "HOA leaders [being] left in the dark on what exactly the utility company wanted to [do] until just last week," then your "putting their community in danger. . .fire alarms won't work. . . elevator won't work. . . community being polluted by a generator" comes across as substantially or entirely PG&E's doing,

After all, if you neglect to obtain needed 3rd-party (here, HOA) permission for a project in a timely fashion, it can be a convenient pressure tactic to let that third part be seen as "putting children at risk," a phrase much loved by manipulators with their own cynical agendas. Members of the public can be counted on to take up the indignant cry, including in Newspaper comment pages.

Posted by Jenny
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 16, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Why hasn't the district publicized this situation earlier so parents could get involved and help apply pressure on PG&E and the HOA to resolve the issue? Whisman/Slater parents will mobilize for issues they care about (the reason Vargas is opening), and this directly affects their children and the teachers hired to work there.

Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Check that out... a situation where there's a legitimate use of Eminent Domain. I never thought I'd see one.

Posted by 40 yrs in MV
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 16, 2019 at 2:32 pm

WIth the weather is far too hot to have kids indoors without a working HVAC system

Posted by T. Kemper
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 16, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Due to extreme weather it is far too hot to have kids indoors without a working HVAC system.

Posted by Eng-Shien Wu
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 16, 2019 at 2:41 pm

Wow, this article is pretty biased.

Imagine if you had a neighbor that has been building for years, but all of a sudden in the last few months realizes they need to run a utility into your property. Their contractor wants you to sign a document given them unlimited access with no accountability to install whatever they want, whenever they want. Oh and you are responsible for re-landscaping if they cause any damage. You wouldn't sign such a document.

That is exactly what PG&E is requesting the Whisman HOA cede to them. The Whisman HOA is willing to give access with restrictions and liabilities covered, but PG&E wants unlimited, unfettered access, and no liability.

Anyway, there are alternative access points.

Posted by Sylvan Park Neighbor
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 2:57 pm

Sounds to me like locking PG&E reps and the HOA board in a room together for a day or until they reach an agreement might be the approach most likely to resolve the situation.

Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 3:10 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

How many kids need to have the school ADA compliant for this school year AND are in the upper grades?
If the number is 0, wouldn't it be ok for kids to use a stair case to get to those upper class rooms? Staircases are mandatory....
An elevator should not be determining the usability of class rooms. In an emergency elevators are never available.
And if the final inspection by the MV building Dept. is depending on ADA compliancy, maybe get an exemption for a few weeks.
It seems the school district actions are extreme.

Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 16, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

It took me 8 weeks to get my PG&E install on a development, without easement issues. PG&E takes long.I would think 6 months ago this should have been on the to do list. This should have not come as a surprise and clearly the people in charge of this school project did not stay on top of the timeline and possible issues. Is the contractor to blame or the school district? Or both? The parents of this new school deserve an explanation.

Posted by Brenda
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 16, 2019 at 3:40 pm

The HOA is doing the right thing by looking out for the property owners. Using guilt because there are children affected is irrelevant. PG &E and the government have no right to strong arm a HOA into giving up property rights. Based on the article, the school system and PG&E had three years to work this out. Stay strong HOA. Don’t let them bully you.

Posted by Frank Smith
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2019 at 3:49 pm

Frank Smith is a registered user.

This is why we have eminent domain.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2019 at 4:01 pm

This is a school we're talking about here- a public facility that is going to be used to educate our Mountain View children.

Not some kind of nightclub or bar.

I hope this dispute gets settled soon. Someone was definitely not informed properly nor someone did not know in the first place if it was ok to even start working on the piece of land where the contractors started digging up the property/street in the past few weeks.

It's unfortunate that the dispute has to happen only a few days before the start of school. Talk about bad timing by people who like to practice bad timing.

PGE- Just apologize to the HOA, settle the easement and get the issue over with. Knowing the cost of land around these parts, someone is definitely going to want some compensation for this and given PGE's legal issues going on right now, I don't suppose they could even squeeze out any additional funds to satisfy the other party.

Posted by MVWSD Cock-up
a resident of Slater
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Poor planning by the MVWSD is not the HOA's responsibility. It's not unusual for PG&E to run roughshod over homeowner rights. This HOA is protecting its constituents interests as it is legally required to do. Providing notice of intended work and restoration of damaged landscaping is not an unreasonable request. Shame on Rudolph for trying to lay this debacle on the HOA. This mess is sits squarely on MVWSD shoulders.

Posted by Al
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:26 pm

The district doesn't seem to think ahead and figure out how to put everything in place for these construction projects. Stevenson Elementary didn't have hot water all of last year and Rudolph said it was fine to use cold water to wash hands and to cook and wash dishes.

Posted by Steve Hill
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Since the school district is a disinterested third party, and is being made a a major amount, the fair thing is for the major players be forced to split that expenditure.

Posted by Al
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:27 pm

The district just can't properly manage a construction project, can it?
Stevenson Elementary went all of last year with no hot water. Rudolph said that it was fine to just use cold water to wash hands, cook, wash dishes.

Posted by MVWSD Cock Up
a resident of Slater
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Shame on Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph for laying this mess at the feet of the HOA. Poor planning by the school district and/or PG&E is not the HOA's responsibility. The HOA is legally obligated to protect the interests of the Association Members and it is doing exactly that. It is unconscionable that work was performed on HOA property without an easement in place. It is unconscionable that the HOA was given almost no notice of work done on its property. It is unconscionable that PG&E finds it too onerous to agree to provide a notice of intent to perform future work or to work with landscapers to repair damage done to landscaping. This whole construction debacle (no electricity, no traffic light or crosswalk) smacks of incompetence on the part of Superintendent Rudolph and the MVWSD. Our tax dollars at work.

Posted by Amy
a resident of Slater
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:32 pm

We wanted a neighborhood school, finally get it built and this HOA is holding up the safety of the kids, their lunch and breakfast food hostage, the second floor useless, while at the same time hetting increased property value because of the school site itself.


Posted by some guy
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Sounds like the school should park the generator on the street right next to the HOA, and run it 24/7.

Posted by Steve Hill
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 16, 2019 at 6:01 pm


As an injured, uninvolved, third party, with no "dog in the fight" between the two organizations, I believe that both the HOA and PGE need to pay for the use of the generator by the school. This may also lead to a more speedy resolution of their dispute.

Posted by Not surprised
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 16, 2019 at 6:02 pm


"Perhaps the biggest problem is that the elevator in the two-story classroom building cannot be powered by the generator. That means the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms on the second level are unusable for the foreseeable future"

How is it that you build any 2-story building without stairs? What happens in an emergency or power outage?

Posted by JR
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2019 at 6:41 pm

Congratulations to MVWSD for discovering this innovative construction business model in a true Silicon Valley spirit. Most legacy construction companies would start by figuring out how exactly to connect power to the building, and then afterward building the school. By doing things in reverse they get to enjoy many benefits like guilt shaming local property owners for not giving up their property for free. This entire situation shows the professionalism and competence of MVWSD and Mountain View should be proud.

Posted by Standing Ovation
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2019 at 7:28 pm

The problem has been going on for months??? Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the results of an incompetent school board and superintendent. Please send the Rudolph/Ghysels team packing. Recall the Board!

And oh the irony of a school site named after an illegal alien needing energy from a private property. I guess the district just expects the private property to be taken over no questions asked and with no respect for the law.

It just doesn't get any better than this.

Posted by Vargas parent
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 16, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Why does it feel like every single time there is bad or incompetent news about mountain view schools, the Superintendent seems to be involved !!??


Posted by WhatAConundrum
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2019 at 7:59 pm

The Voice must have had a really difficult time choosing which side to be biased against. Do you argue against the huge PG&E that has a track record of horrible consumer interaction, or do you side against the home owner's association.

What a dilemma.

Posted by OldGuy
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 16, 2019 at 10:07 pm

OldGuy is a registered user.

Is California Station HOA different from Whisman Station HOA? I thought all this area was Whisman Station HOA. Where is California Station?

Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2019 at 11:01 pm

Looks like PG&E has screwed up again. From trees to power lines to gas lines, PG&E is incompetent to manage the vast infrastructure.

HOA should have certain rights and guarantees from PG&E. What if PG&E installs a substation at that corner? It would be a nightmare for the adjacent property. What wants to live next to a high-voltage substation?

Using students as pawn to put pressure on HOA is pathetic.

Posted by Max
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2019 at 11:20 pm

This argument is wasting a lot of our property tax dollars.

Posted by SchoolNeifgbor
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 17, 2019 at 12:04 am

“Plans for Vargas Elementary School have been in the works for more than three years...”.

So who’s the bone head who didn’t map out the power requirements for the school and secure the required easements ahead of time? The school is supposed to open in mid August but they didn’t notify the HOA until mid-June about then easement requirement/request? I’m sorry but the old adage applies here: “A lack of planning on you part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part”. This issue isn’t the HOA, who is fighting for the rights of their owners, this issue is with the project managers who overlooked this item and screwed up the schedule. Who is answering to that mis-step? Seems like the district contracted with a general contractor to build this school - isn’t it the GC’s responsibility to map out all these timelines and avoid issues like this? I think the district should be getting some money back from their GC...

Posted by MVWSD Cock Up
a resident of Slater
on Aug 17, 2019 at 11:13 am

No, No, No. This is not an HOA Dispute. This is an example of POOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT by the MVWSD and Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph. It's not a mystery - neither the school district nor the city of Mountain View own the property at the corner of Pacific Drive and Whisman Avenue. The school district knows this, or at least, SHOULD HAVE known this. There's no question that an easement is required to place a utility box on private property - would you blindly question this if it was YOUR front yard?

Shame on Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph for laying this mess at the feet of the property owner. Poor planning by the school district and/or PG&E is not the HOA's responsibility. The HOA is legally obligated to protect the interests of its Association Members and it is doing exactly that.

This whole debacle smacks of MVWSD incompetence … let's see, no crosswalk, no traffic light (I was told it takes a good 20 weeks to get on the city's schedule), no easement sign-off. Let's go back further … the resignation of Vargas school principal Robert Clark, the failed digital math program, the $95,000 to keep its interim business officer as a "mentor" for the newly promoted business officer Rebecca Westover (who now also serves as Vargas school principal, does she have a 2nd mentor for this position, too). The list goes on.

Blaming the California Station Homeowners Association for the MVWSD's latest cock up is poor form. Shame on the MVWSD and shame on the Mountain View Voice for spinning the article as such.

Posted by Clawback?
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 17, 2019 at 12:42 pm

Was Rudolph’s huge raise based (at least partly) on the “wonderful” job he did building out the new schools?

The Board should clawback some large portion of his salary until this issue is resolved!

Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Aug 17, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

Well this is an unfortunate situation. I hope the three parties (HOA, PG&E, MVWSD) can work out a deal before long. I attended the opening event at Vargas yesterday, which was very nice. There are hundreds of kids who are excited to start classes there on Monday. The sooner the facility is operating as intended, the better.

Posted by parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 17, 2019 at 1:23 pm

I do not understand how this is even possible. The school construction went through the state permitting process prior to beginning any construction at all. Did the permit get approved without the electrical hook up included? City of Mountain View's permitting process requires detailed plans for any new build/remodel and the plans must include a detailed electrical blueprint.....I cannot understand how this 'detail' was missed and discovered so late in the process.....Shame on the general contractor/PG&E/State of California. I do not think the district or the homeowners are the ones who erred in this situation.

Posted by Standing Ovation
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 17, 2019 at 1:39 pm

Oh please! Who is fooling who here? Sorry, all you apologists for the school district, if there was knowledge of this problem for months, as is plainly stated in the article, then Superintendent Rudolph and the School Board are indeed one-hundred percent responsible for the current state of things. They should have had a contingency plan in place months ago. School starts on Monday and the school is not ready or safe. They've had months to plan to put the students and their classrooms on the other campuses until the new campus is ready to go. To cry about it now is just plain incompetence. Superintendent Rudolph owns this one. He ain't gonna be able to run from it and blame it on other district employees either. After all, he's already gotten rid of every other administrator of any worth. Breakout the popcorn and get ready for the circus to begin. This is only going to get worse. This school will not be ready for months and at great financial cost.

Posted by Eminent domain
a resident of Gemello
on Aug 17, 2019 at 6:22 pm

To the people talking about eminent domain. Consider that it requires payment. So is it the school district or PG&E that would write a check for $200,000 to the HOA?

Posted by Waldo
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 17, 2019 at 9:34 pm

Waldo is a registered user.

This seems like a big utility abusing a small HOA, with a public school and neighboring apartments made to suffer as well. This is the same public utility that destroyed parts of San Bruno, Santa Rosa, and Paradise. After all that mayhem, they probably don't even notice this little problem.

Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2019 at 11:42 pm

Keeping it real PG&E, eh

Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 18, 2019 at 9:14 am

SRB is a registered user.

Isn't electricity underground at California Station? If so, wouldn't the hookup for the Vargas school be underground as well? As long as the temporary trench is properly covered after the work, not sure what all that HOA fuss is about.

Posted by Gaby
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 18, 2019 at 7:18 pm

Gaby is a registered user.

Poor Superintendent Rudolph. Imagine the odds that anyone so hard working and competent could be wracked by so much calamity during their tenure: Teach To One, firing competent principals like Chesley, whose efforts helped to raise Landels' test scores; hiring incompetent, unqualified cronies who stay; hiring other cronies who leave; budget surpluses followed by blinding deficits; questionable and costly staffing in the DO; now an HOA and PG&E causing the kids he cares so much about to suffer. Our condolences pour out to our martyr with nothing but a 14% raise to pocket while he wrings his hands helplessly. Yes, Rudolph, keep wagging your self-righteous finger at homeowners who selfishly refuse to hand over their land to you--don't they know how much you care about our kids? It can't be easy being Super. Keep wagging your finger as the costly consequences of your poor choices continue to atrophy the quality of our kids' educations.

Posted by Another MVWSD Debacle
a resident of Slater
on Aug 19, 2019 at 2:58 pm

No, no, no ... do NOT blame this on the HOA. This is a prime example of horrific project management on the part of the school district. The fact that neither MVWSD nor PG&E own the land at the corner of Pacific Dr and Whisman Ave is, and never was, a mystery. There is absolutely no reason the HOA could not have been approached MONTHS ago to work out an easement agreement. That our debacle-prone superintendent has opted to place the fault at the get of the HOA instead of MVWSD Building Project Management where it belongs is shameful.

Posted by Olga Sazonova
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2019 at 5:04 pm

I am speechless. The idea that an elementary school has to be run off a generator, without a functioning fire alarm outside of business hours, is hard to believe. To rub salt in the wound, neither of the parties failing to reach a compromise - the HOA and PG&E - are having to live with the consequences of the stalemate. Instead, the teachers and school administrators are left with the burden of this clusterfork. I hope the school district feels fully empowered to raise a huge fuss about this issue and get some support from the community. While it sounds like PG&E is not acting in good faith, the HOA cannot be absolved of responsibility for this stale mate. NIMBY doesn't look pretty on anyone.

Posted by DL
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 21, 2019 at 6:28 am

1) I think the HOA and PG&E should jointly be paying for the workarounds, including a way to get the two story building electricity, and

2) Is the school board looking into whether this case would fall under eminent domain at some level? It is clearly in the public good for PG&E to be able to run power to the school. It may be in the school district/city/county/state's best interest to consider using eminent domain. It may be in the HOA's best interest to either let PG&E continue with this plan for find an alternative.

Posted by Bmurray7JHU
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2019 at 10:01 pm

Bmurray7JHU is a registered user.

Eminent domain?

Posted by MVResident
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 23, 2019 at 7:55 am

MVResident is a registered user.

A letter to the editor in today's edition of the Voice provides more insight into the actions of the HOA. Taking the letter writer at his word, to blame this mess on the HOA seems misguided at best and deliberately deceitful on the part of the school district at worst. Come on, School District, who waits until the last minute to figure out something so basic and essential? Where were the architects, the electrical engineers, the contractors these past three years? Heck, where was PG&E? Did no one ever once think to ask the question, "Hmmm, I wonder how we are going to power the new buildings?" To dump this fustercluck at the feet of the HOA at the 11th hour and then to demand the HOA simply agree to an easement that puts a company like PG&E in control of their property? A company that has demonstrated time and time again these past few years just how incompetent they are? No private property owner in their right mind would sign such an agreement! And yet, as stated by the letter writer, the HOA kept trying to work with PG&E to get a fair easement agreement in place. What was PG&E's response? Rejection of HOA requests without comment. This is not NIMBY-ism as some would like to characterize it. The HOA never said "No" to PG&E, they never said "Don't build here." Instead, they asked for fair treatment of their property and their homeowners. Shame on the school district and the news media for implying otherwise. You created this problem, School District. Own it.

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