Supervisor Rich Desmond held a meeting on May 30th to discuss the transportation issues associated with the large new middle school being built at the site of the old Creekside Elementary School. Around 30 people attended, which is pretty good for a meeting without much advance notice. The San Juan Unified School District brought 5 or so staff people; no school board members attended. Supervisor Desmond had a gentleman from his traffic operations staff there as well.
The school district people dominated the conversation. At first they seemed all upbeat, as though they wanted the audience to share their enthusiasm for the project. Unfortunately, many in the audience - being residents of the impacted neighborhood of dead-end streets, did not appear ready to join in the celebration. They were concerned about what's expected to be a mass of drop-offs/pick-ups. They asked questions about the number of cars to be expected, the timing, the specific streets to be impacted, the lack of buses, and so on. The school district staff said the numbers would depend on the boundary decision as yet unmade by the school board. They said 18 cars could be accomodated in the drop-of/pick-up queue. The audience mentioned that students with instruments or science projects to load/unload could slow things down. The staff said they expected 400 cars maximum for drop-offs/pick-ups, a figure that strains credibility for a 650-person middle school in a community as seriously auto-dependent as Arden Arcade. A question about whether Lacy Lane would be used for drop-offs/pick-ups did not get a "yes" or "no" answer. Overall, the school district staff explained they were doing every thing they could, blahblahblah. You could tell the audience wasn't convinced.
As far as traffic is concerned, there is no way to put lipstick on this pig.Supervisor Rich Desmond, speaking at the May 30th Creekside meeting
The County D.O.T. representative said he had worked with school district staff; both sides had agreed the County should have a new traffic light installed on El Camino at Kent. When asked where the money would come from, the response indicated the school district wants the County to pay for the light and the County has not budgeted for one at that location. An audience suggestion about considering Morse Avenue between Marconi and El Camino as well was met with a response implying it wasn't on the radar for the pre-conceived solution. Audience mentions of the County's Environmental Justice designation also fell on seemingly deaf ears, until the notion that Environmental Justice could be a driver for awarding grant funds got the attention of the speakers.
The County representative also said residents could ask the County to install speed bumps on their streets to reduce speeding. He said neighbors have to request them. An audience question asked whether the County had thought about initiating a neighborhood street survey on its own volition, instead of waiting for neighbors to circulate a petition. The response was like the last line in the first verse of The Band's song, "The Weight": "No was all he said". To his credit, Supervisor Desmond chimed in that he would recommend proactively reaching out to the residents, a practice he would encourage his office to take. Other audience comments referred to the large number of nearby rental properties, apartments and a run-down property on the corner of Kent and El Camino - all of which are unlikely to present fruitful opportunities for a neighborhood-driven intitiative about speed bumps.
Another audience member said that although serious transportation problems were inevitable, there were lessons to be learned to prevent such problems going forward, stating it was clear the school district had failed to plan, the County had its transportation people consult with the school district staff before seeking input from the community, the school district had steadfastly refused to do anything other than what it wanted to do regardless of public input, the state lets school districts get away with this kind of behavior, etc. That was pretty much a sign that it was time for the meeting to end.
So there you have it, folks. Supervisor Desmond deserves some credit for making the meeting happen and for providing everyone with aerial photos of the site and surrounding neighborhood. He seemed more supportive and concerned about residents' comments during the meeting than did the main speakers from the school district. Still, it was apparent that the school district is doing whatever it wants despite public concerns. The County, which would not approve a large development like this without making the developer to pay for stop lights , sidewalks and other improvements, is cowed by the idea that schools have free reign to build a new school anywhere and without suffering the consequences of a bad siting decision. Should our community expect more of this kind of win-lose situations in the future? Do you think it is OK for the school district to make unilateral decisions that compromise our other local governments? If so, are you prepared to write emails and letters, and to show up at school board meetings and Board of Supervisor meetings?