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.


May 2014
« Apr   Jun »

Where Good Ideas Go to Die

Update on the proposed land swap between the San Carlos School District and City of San Carlos.

Last night, the San Carlos City Council effectively killed the idea of a land swap between the school district and city. Over the objection of the majority of speakers who addressed the council, they rejected the swap idea but directed the city manager to go back to the school district and tell us they’d be willing to discuss a straight sale of the property, which of course is a non-starter. As an elected official I appreciate that public comments do not often reflect the majority of the citizenry, but in this case I believe the council heard a fairly representative sample of opinions during the public comment period. A far majority of the speakers supported the land swap, while a smaller group — almost entirely residents near the property in question — spoke out against it. I stopped taking notes tracking all of the factual errors thrown out by those opposing the deal. (BTW, I thought one of the most interesting comments came from a resident of the east side of San Carlos who argued that the Crestview community needs to do its part to contribute to the greater good of San Carlos such as his community has done with projects like the Transit Village, PAMF, and others. It was an interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought about).

Admittedly, it was a confusing topic because the council was effectively discussing two issues at once. The first was whether to bring to the voters a ballot measure that would allow the citizens to change the designation of the Crestview Property. The second was whether the council was in favor of a land swap. Council members debated how specific or general a measure should be and whether it should be tied to the land swap specifically.

In the end, here’s where each council member stood:

  • Mark Olbert was a strong supporter of the swap.
  • Ron Collins was fine with a swap, but wanted it to include other consideration from the district for what he believed were the inequity in “value” between the two parcels.
  • Cameron Johnson was fine with having CLC be placed at the Crestview site, but he didn’t want the Dartmouth site in return. So, he favored some other type of transaction to accomplish this, such as a long-term lease.
  • Bob Grasilli was in favor of a ballot measure to change the designation of the Crestview site, but wanted to preserve all options for the council to use the parcel as it wishes, and needed more information on a potential deal with the school district before agreeing to it.
  • Matt Grocott said he originally supported the deal, but after further reflection said there isn’t any value in it for the city. He at one point cited the desire to sell the land on the open market to a developer, but then later used the “green/open space” argument to say why putting a school there was a bad idea.

City Manager Jeff Maltbie asked for clear direction from the council on whether he can go back to the school district with the idea of a swap, lease, or outright sale. The only one that received a majority of council members in favor was the outright sale idea (which I have always found puzzling, because the city has always known that wasn’t an option from the school district’s point of view). So, there will be no public vote and no deal between the two agencies unless the city has a dramatic change of heart.

Naturally, there will be a collective frustration among many San Carlans about this missed opportunity. This would have been one of those rare “win-wins.” One other speaker put it really well when she asked which decision we are more likely to regret many years down the road (given the growth of school enrollment, etc.) — placing the school at the Crestview site or missing the opportunity to do it.

The upside here is that we at least have clarity. The school district has to solve this problem on its own. I appreciate the council’s taking up this issue and taking it seriously, even though I disagree with their conclusion and am disappointed by the lack of vision.

At our last school board meeting, we discussed our “Plan B,” which is now down to whether we keep CLC at the TL site or move it to Heather (no school board member thought the Arundel location was desirable). In that meeting, the sentiment of the school board was split, with three members leaning toward the Heather solution and two members toward the TL solution. Although I can live with both of these outcomes, I believe that moving CLC to Heather is a much more effective and efficient use of land and much better management of traffic and overcrowding. Frankly, the best argument to me for leaving CLC at TL is if there would be a significant reduction in total cost for doing so. So, the school board will look to making a final decision soon based on more details to be provided by staff, including traffic studies and cost detail, at our next few meetings. Finally, as a wildcard, the district could find some other new space to locate CLC, but naturally we can’t work on that assumption.

See a related article from the San Mateo Daily Journal on last night’s council meeting.

14 comments to Where Good Ideas Go to Die

  • Tom Quiggle

    Maybe the district can still work out a purchase agreement with the City in accordance with the direction the city manager was given by the Council last night.

    I suggest SCSD propose purchasing the Crestview property for the tidy sum of $1.00. Take it to the voters and see if the citizens of San Carlos wish to purchase the property from themselves for that amount. After all, no matter how look at it, the funding for SCSD to purchase land to build a school on would be financed by the taxpayers of the district. For the citizens of San Carlos to levy ad valorem taxes on themselves to pay for land already owned by the citizens of San Carlos is absurd in the extreme. I think the taxpayers would consider $1.00 a reasonable price to pay for land they already own in order to use it for a purpose administered by different local government agency.

    If that doesn’t work, the amount of $18 million has been bandied about a lot lately. Suggest a purchase price of that amount payable in 18 annual payments of $1M. At the same time, discontinue ALL non-school use of SCSD facilities. No t-ball at CMS. No baseball at Heather or TL. No soccer at any of the SCSD sites. No basketball in the CMS gym. No tennis at Arundel. Then generously offer to enter into an 18 year lease with the city for use of said facilities in the amount of, say, $1M a year. Seems fair to me.

  • Tom, I didn’t realize how much I miss your insightful but twisted way of looking at things until Seth told me about your comment. Kudos on a brilliant exposition!

  • Ryan

    The major problem I have in moving CLC to Crestview is that it will be very impractical (read: too strenuous)for the students to ride their bikes to school, which is the most healthy, environmentally, socially, and traffic-friendly way for children to get to school. The fact that CLC is a “magnet” school means some students would be coming way, way up the hill everyday, from as far away as East San Carlos.

  • Seth

    Ryan – you are correct that walking and biking is generally impractical for most to Crestview, but that would likely be true for CLC regardless of its location, including where it is now. As the only “non-neighborhood” school in the district, it will inevitable have fewer walkers and bikers given how relatively spread out the homes of the students would be. So, for that reason it seems to me to make the most sense to place a non-neighborhood school in a location less practical for a neighborhood one. So as this car traffic is inevitable for CLC moving it away from the high traffic corridors (Alameda/Dartmouth/Club being the worst) should have a net reduction in auto congestion while having only a nominal effect on walk ability (and generally be quicker to get to school for most by avoiding the inevitable gridlocks). The CLC community itself was very supportive of this proposal for this and other reasons.

  • Patricia Muller

    Hope that there is more discussion on this topic and that we can use the facilities that we already have by “BUILDING UP” like many homeowners are already doing and that those children attending CLC not living in San Carlos return to their own communities to support their neighborhood schools. This would help tremendously! I would also like CLC to look into using the Barrett Community Center in Belmont which is close to Terra Linda and already built to educate children. Needs a lot of work done there but the land is there and perfect for a much needed school for our children. Belmont is entertaining the idea of a Charter School going in there and why not CLC who is looking for a place to go to? Would love to see San Carlos and Belmont work together on this to help CLC with their needs and dreams. Great project to benefit both communities!
    Pat Muller

  • Seth

    Pat — we are already building up for all new school construction. The new CLC — regardless of location — would be two stories, as would the new Central and the new 4-5 schools at both the Central and TL sites. All of this overcrowding that we’ve been discussing already assumes such two-story construction, and in any case this doesn’t affect the number of cars traveling to each site (and hence the traffic and safety issies). As for CLC, they have not accepted out-of-district students (other than siblings and children of employees) for many years now, so their percentage of non-SC families is quite low and I believe comparable to all other San Carlos schools. I suspect the CLC families would not like the idea of moving out of San Carlos!

  • Kathie

    Regardless of where CLC is located, this is not going to alleviate traffic in the Club/Dartmouth vicinity. The master plan is to move grades 4 from Arundel and Heather to the new 4/5 school to be located on the TL campus (by 2016?). This, along with additional growth at both the elementary schools and high school levels, the congestion will remain. Thus traffic should not be described as a “win” for moving CLC to Crestview. The potential field at CLC on N. Crestview will not provide any sufficient relief to what is described as a “significant field shortage” in town.

    Most families would still be required to travel through “hotspots” throughout town to get up to the hills. The SCSD executed a very poorly designed bus pilot a few years ago…perhaps that should be looked at again. The SCSD has provided buses to students from EPA for many years at an expense to the district/residents. There are other school buses around town picking up a student hear-or-there…not sure what the criteria is for those students.

    There are no public transportation options for residents of the SC Hills even though this is considered a high-density location. Additionally, for those living in the northern part of Crestview, there are no parks within walking distance. You can’t count Vista Park as a real “park” as there is no grass, only dirt paths, local plants and a few picnic tables for use as you enjoy the fantastic view of the Bay. If you review the available park sites in the SC General Plan, there are currently no sites (other than N Crestview) that could provide multiple fields in the future. There is one smaller site (~ 1.6 acres), but all others are located in the Canyon areas. This land needs to be preserved for when the funds are available. The General plan for SC is to improve transportation options and promote more pedestrian/bicycle usage throughout. Economic and housing developments are going to be along available public transportation corridors, this is not at the highest point within the city.

    The problems of schools, fields and traffic are 3 different issues and need to be addressed as such.

  • Tom Quiggle

    Pat – Moving CLC out of San Carlos would require re-chartering the school. California Ed Code requires that a charter school be physically located within the jurisdictional boundaries of the chartering agency. To move CLC to Belmont would require that the CLC submit a new charter petition to either BRSSD or the County Office of Education. Ed Code also requires that students who reside within the chartering agency’s boundaries be given preference in enrollment. Moving CLC would mean it is no longer a San Carlos school and CLC students from San Carlos would have to leave “their own community” to attend a school in another district – the inverse of the situation you express concern about with out of district students attending CLC in San Carlos. San Carlos families would loose their enrollment preference and be squeezed out of the school they created. Ed Code really doesn’t have provisions for a school operated jointly by multiple districts. Moving the school outside of San Carlos is effectively abandoning it. I would hate to see that happen.

  • Seth

    Kathie — it’s not a fair comparison to look at the current traffic and compare it to the potential future traffic. The decision we have to make is between alternate future scenarios. The enrollment will increase regardless — CLC will increase, TL will increase, a new 4-5 school will be built, and the enrollment at Carlmont will increase. When one compares a scenario where CLC moves off of the TL campus vs. one where it doesn’t, it’s clear that there would be a material difference in traffic between the two alternatives.

    Also, your characterization of the bus pilot is not correct — it wasn’t poorly designed, but it was poorly utilized. But the goal of a pilot is not necessarily to be successful in that form, but rather to learn what works and what doesn’t. And this we did indeed accomplish. For example, we learned that school buses aren’t the most appropriate vehicles for the hills of San Carlos, both because of their size but also because of the legal restrictions on where school buses can stop (and the mismatch between those places and the number of pickup stops that would be needed to be ideally useful for families). So, I agree that a viable public transportation system in San Carlos is sorely needed, but it would have to be a SCOOT-like system rather than a school transportation system per se. For this, we have been in discussion with the City.

    BTW, the buses from East Palo Alto are required by legal consent decree called the Tinsley program. Also, the school district is required by law to pick up some special education students.

  • Vadim Axelrod

    Since the city is open to the sale, could SCSD sell the lot above TL to the highest bidder? Hopefully it would be the city to use for parks but a developer would likely want a nice big site for density housing near the shopping center. Then with funds received and an extra ~$4m (per appraisals), make a bid for the Crestview site.

    Sure, it’s more commissions all around but at least the market can dictate terms.

  • Seth

    Vadim — interesting idea, but there are two issues. First I would argue that despite the appraisals done, the TL site (from a developers point of view) is actually worth more than the Crestview site for the simple reason that it can be developed. The city has largely conceded that they could not likely get approval from the voters to change the classification of the Crestview site if it were to be sold to developers. If that were true, it’s appraisal is moot since it can’t likely be used for that purpose. That was the beauty of the swap idea; it essentially allowed each party to give to the other a tract of land that the other could extract value from. So, as I’ve repeated multiple times, the appraisals done were meaningless because they assume a purpose that can’t likely exist. Interestingly though, SCSD could sell the TL land to a developer in any case to raise money if it needed it for something. But, unlike a swap, it is a bit more difficult for a school district to sell land — there are a number of legal/regulatory hurdles and procedural issues which could also make it practically more difficult than meets the eye.

  • Vadim Axelrod

    Seth – if the swap is dead and TL is truly worth the $ to developers (which I concur is likely is), I think it’s time to start tackling those legal / regulatory hurdles. The alternative to jumping through those hoops seems to be to build a second campus on Heather. Maybe it’s worth paying some lawyers and brokers to avoid that.

  • Seth

    Vadim — I agree that selling the upper part of TL is something we should consider. But, in any case, that won’t allow us to move CLC anywhere else other than Heather — we’d still have the same land options (the city can’t even sell the Crestview property unless they authorize a vote to go to the citizens to reclassify from its current zoning). So, we’d absolutely have more money for additional projects, which is great, but CLC would either have to stay at TL or move to Heather in any case (unless we can find some third-party held property to buy, which there are few appropriate and affordable sites). BTW, the city is meeting again today to discuss the issue, so maybe they have moderated their view.

  • Seth

    Update: The city sent a letter to the school district as a follow up to that council meeting: http://www.cityofsancarlos.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=10770.

    The District responded: http://www.cityofsancarlos.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=10771

    If the City responds favorable, the next step may be a joint school board / city council meeting