About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. This site was originally used for the purpose of communicating with school district constituents, however now it is used for surfacing ideas and expressing opinions on various subjects in education, politics, business, or otherwise.

Please note that any opinion express here is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of anyone else or any organization with which I am, or have been, associated.

I will not accept anonymous comments, and all persons who post comments must have a valid e-mail address. Note that I reserve the right to edit, reject, or delete posts based on spelling, grammar, readability, or my judgment of what is appropriate discourse.

 

March 2014
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Landing on a Good Solution

At last night’s School Board meeting, the Board discussed the idea of potential land swap between the San Carlos School District and the City of San Carlos. It’s a very exciting development with great possibilities, and the entire board was very supportive of the idea.

As almost all residents of San Carlos (and certainly all parents in the school district) know, enrollment in the district has been growing at a fast pace and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. Rightly so, San Carlos continues to get accolades as one of the best places to live in the area, driven in part by the quality of the schools. The school district has been planning for this growth for a number of years, and twelve months ago we passed a new Facilities Master Plan to address both the capacity issue as well as transforming our learning environments for a 21st century education. This plan calls for the building of two new 4th-5th grade schools — one on each of the existing middle school campuses — as well as technology and other upgrades at all school sites. Construction is set to begin on the Central campus this summer and on the TL campus one year later. It’s an inspired solution which accomplishes a number of goals, including: (a) creating new schools in a 21st century design, (b) preserving equity across the district, (c) giving back quality space to elementary schools, (d) being extremely cost efficient, (e) providing flexibility for future growth, and (f) reducing traffic at most school sites. The only real open issue was what to do with the Charter Learning Center. If CLC were to remain on the TL campus, that campus would get very crowded and traffic woes (already severe given the proximity to Carlmont High School) would worsen. Although as part of any new construction we would significantly improve school entrances and traffic flow, it would continue to remain a hot spot in the district.

The Board agreed one year ago that the best solution would be to move CLC to a new location that the District would have to find. The CLC leadership team has been very supportive of this effort. But as you can imagine, it’s been extremely difficult to find a suitable site for a school in San Carlos at any reasonable cost. The District has spent most of the last year looking to do just that, and no good options have appeared. However, in discussions with the City of San Carlos, the idea was floated to do a land swap. The City has for many years owned a property on Crestview Drive (click here to see approximate location), and the proposal is to swap this parcel of land for the upper part of the Tierra Linda Campus (the part where there is currently a Montessori school and a run-down dirt softball field). If this were done, the school district could build a new CLC on the Crestview site whereas the city could build new sports and recreation facilities (e.g. soccer field, etc.) on the upper TL Site. As the new city park would be used largely after school hours, there would be little traffic impact during peak school times.

In doing this sort of deal, we’d accomplish many goals at once:

  • Increase available park/recreation space — specifically playing fields — in San Carlos
  • Accommodate the increasing enrollment of SCSD while reducing traffic congestion and student overcrowding at the TL campus
  • Maximize use of existing resources of both the City and SCSD and save taxpayer dollars
  • Complete a transaction quickly and easily (a land swap has many fewer administrative and legal hurdles than a purchase or sale)
  • Strengthen the partnership between the City and SCSD and set us up for further exciting initiatives in the future

In addition, the CLC site would be able to accommodate a small open space/park/field, and the District will be building enhanced field spaces on both the Central and TL campuses as part of its renovation in any case. So, the net result is truly a win-win!

Of course, the city may choose to sell the parcel of land to a developer (and according to newspaper reports, the city has offers from developers in the neighborhood of $18 million). The City Council of course needs to decide which path is more valuable to the community. Of course they have the right to determine that pocketing the $18 million has a higher value than the extra field space, but I would argue that the annuity of having this extra space so desperately needed is worth much more. In fact, the choice is even starker than that. If the city were not to agree to such a swap, then the District would have to go to an alternate plan for CLC. There are three possibilities — leaving it at TL, moving it to Heather, and moving it to Arundel. Although the Board hasn’t officially decided on what its “Plan B” is, it’s rational to believe that moving CLC to Heather is the next best alternative. Heather has the next biggest campus with a fair bit of space for a new school and relatively less traffic compared to TL or Arundel. If CLC were to move to Heather, that would mean a significant reduction in field space there — fields that are used extensively by the city and local sports groups. So, interestingly, the choice for the city between a land swap and a sale to a developer of the Crestview property could mean either a significant addition of field space or a net reduction of space.

Although certainly there will be (and have been) objections from residents who live adjacent to the Crestview site, I believe their expectations of having open space next to them forever is unrealistic. The city will likely choose of of these two options, and I would argue that having a school up on the site (rather than more housing) is better long-term for the residents and their property values. And ultimately, it’s hard to believe that a far majority of San Carlans wouldn’t be very excited about such a land swap given all the benefits community wide. And as Mayor Mark Olbert writes on his blog, we are really one community even though we have two government agencies responsible. And as a single community, we’d still own the same properties and in fact just leverage their use much better.

So, the ball in now in the City’s court. There will be meetings between City and District staffs, and the City Council needs to take up the agenda item to discuss their direction with the property. And a decision has to reached relatively quickly, because the school district will need to start planning for the alternative if the City decides to sell the property instead. Although I will respect their decision if they choose to sell it to a developer, I believe the greater value is in this deal. And I would further argue that if they believe in that concept, the relative appraised values of the properties are irrelevant. Something only has a monetary value if you’re going to sell it — if you’re not, we’re comparing immeasurable benefits — the traffic and overcrowding mitigation for the school district and the field spaces for the City. So, I would hate for any discussion between the two entities to get mired in negotiations over value or notions of one agency paying another just because of a number written on a piece of paper. This is an opportunity for an amazing partnership that can transcend bureaucratic ways of doing business for the purpose of significantly enhancing this community and serving so many of its citizens.

7 comments to Landing on a Good Solution

  • Well put. I think the Council will come to see what a win/win this is, particularly if the community weighs in.

  • As a sports league organizer (San Carlos Flag Football) and former Charter Learning Center Governance Council member, I support this deal. San Carlos has roughly the same population as our neighbor Foster City, yet we have 1/3 the number of parks available to our kids.

    This will help encourage more programs for our kids, more playing time, and room for CLC (the oldest charter school in the nation) to continue to serve our community. It will result in a net plus of 2 field areas. One at the new CLC site and the other near TL.

    It’s a great for the city, the school district, and the CLC. One of those once in a lifetime chances for our leaders to have a win-win-win and do the right thing for San Carlos.

  • Bill

    At what point do we consider building up and increasing school capacity with 2-story buildings, which would address school enrollment without increased acreage? Given that our schools are surrounded by 2-story houses, the increased height would remain aesthetically reasonable. I’ve never heard this option discussed in a public forum.

  • Seth

    Bill — we are indeed doing that. The approved design for the renovation of Central Middle School (where construction will start this summer) will be two stories. And although the design is not finalized for the TL campus, it’s a fairly good bet it will incorporate two story construction as well. This is indeed vital to house the growing enrollment in our limited acreage. So, all issues discussed with the land swap and other facility issues already assume significant two story construction.

  • Seth

    There has been a reader who has submitted multiple comments on this post. They have not been published because, as per the terms listed on the home page of this site, I do not publish comments that are either anonymous or do not have a valid e-mail address. These comments did not meet either requirement. I can not get in touch with you because of the invalid e-mail address, but feel free to re-submit comments using a valid one (and using your real name). To your last post, I can always be reached directly at seth@rosenblatt.org.

  • kathy

    So CLC will be alone on a parcel of land that’s the same size as where THREE schools are housed now? (CLC, TL, Edison Montessori). I get why this is a good deal for CLC – it gets a brand new building, lots more space, a playing field… the list goes on.

    I don’t see how this is such a great deal for TL. You say that it will alleviate crowding, but I don’t understand how. 400 CLC students will leave, but they will be replaced with 400 TL 4th-5th graders. Wouldn’t that parcel be just as crowded and traffic be just as bad? In fact, it could be worse. Parents used to park on the softball field for drop off. Since the field was closed a few months ago, drop off is much more difficult – there are regularly cars waiting and a line out to Dartmouth. How will permanently taking that field away help with crowding and traffic?

    I also don’t see how this is such a great deal for “all the students of San Carlos.” Arundel, BA, Heather and White Oaks will still have the same old facilities. When and how do they get their beautiful new buildings, 21st century education, and quality space? What is the “equity across the district” you refer to?

    I’d be much more likely to support this proposal if part of the deal included a plan for CLC increasing its overall enrollment. Adding 8 students a year isn’t enough. There’s already a lottery and a long waiting list. If CLC moves to Crestview, it should easily be able to expand significantly. Is this something that the school district has discussed?

  • Seth

    Kathy — no, the TL parcel is much bigger — the 4 acres that the District would trade is land it is NOT currently using to house any schools.

    As for overcrowding, keep in mind that 5th grade is already at the TL site. We would just be moving the 5th graders to the new 4-5 school, so the net addition would be 4th graders, and loss would be the students from CLC. And the former is happening no matter what — the new 4-5 school will be built there regardless, so moving CLC will make a big impact on traffic and safety.

    The elementary schools will all get the benefit of relieving overcrowding by losing one grade (4th), and in addition all schools will get technology and other upgrades to support 21st century learning. In an ideal world, we’d raise quadruple the amount of money and re-build every school, but we have limited funds.