A Common Misconception.
When it comes to commercial building development in San Carlos, the Building and Planning Divisions of San Carlos are intimately involved in the every step of the process. From the initial conceptual design and environmental impact report (EIR) all the way through implementation and construction of the project, you can rest assured that both Divisions carry significant influence in how the development will ultimately turn out.
For every major commercial development that is currently under construction or in the planning phases for construction (Wheeler Plaza, Transit Village, Landmark Hotel, etc..), that’s exactly how the process works. But there’s one class of development that is the exception to this rule, and it creates lots of confusion in the community who owns oversees it – schools.
Because the development of new schools is governed at the state level, the City has very little involvement into where schools can be built, and what they ultimately look like. Unfortunately, the City becomes the punching bag when unpopular decisions are made in this area, when in reality it’s entirely out of their hands.
Recently, the Sequoia Union High School District made some significant waves in the local community by announcing its intent to build two “magnet” high schools within its boundaries. These two schools would be of much smaller scale than the existing campuses in the District, with each holding only 300-400 students — less than 1/4 of the enrollment of any other school in the district, and a far smaller physical footprint since neither school needs the additional space for athletic facilities.
The District moved forward and closed on two properties targeted for these magnet campuses. The first is at 153 Jefferson Avenue in Menlo Park, and the second plot is at 535 Old County Road in the Greater East Side Neighborhood of San Carlos.
The controversy arises not from the fact that the District has chosen to build the two campuses. They are battling the same over-capacity concerns that literally every school district on the Peninsula is right now. The concern is over the location of the school – specifically, the proposed San Carlos magnet school. Anyone who knows San Carlos traffic patterns is keenly aware that the multiple intersections of Holly Street at both El Camino Real and Old County Road already get extremely congested during peak hours. Adding a 400-student school right at this intersection is going to pose some significant traffic challenges.
To make matters worse for GESC residents, it comes on the heels of battles that were fought over the Transit Village, the Landmark Hotel, and the Holly Street re-striping. This must have a certain “deja-vu” feeling to it, and I’m quite certain they feel that they are on the defense yet again.
The Future Of Laureola Park?
Of equal concern with the San Carlos location is the fact that it is adjacent to Laureola Park, which has prompted fears from the community that the magnet school will eventually absorb this coveted neighborhood park for its own use.
While the City of San Carlos has very little impact on the development of schools, it does have the ultimate control and authority over what can be done with its parks, a fact that the City recently reassured its citizens of in an online letter. It also used this opportunity to provide citizens with the proper conduit to voice their opinions about the proposed magnet school development.
So the bottom line is that while the City has very little control over the magnet school that is being proposed, it does have ultimate authority over Laureola Park. And as of now, it’s not going anywhere.
Here is the letter from the City of San Carlos in its entirety:
Most projects and land use decisions in San Carlos require City approval. As such, residents are used to sharing their comments and concerns about such proposals with their elected City Council members and the City Staff. One of the few exceptions to this City land use control is the planning and building of public schools. The State agencies listed at the bottom of the page oversee all public school projects and both the High School District and San Carlos Elementary School District are exempted by the State from any local land use control and oversight.
The decision to locate a new magnet high school in San Carlos is under the sole jurisdiction of the Sequoia Union High School District Board. The City has had very little involvement with the specifics of the proposed 300-400 student magnet high school that the District is considering locating on Old County Road near Laureola Park and the Cal Train Station. The City staff has offered to meet with District Staff to discuss their proposed new school and any potential sites and alternatives in San Carlos.
While the City is interested in hearing from our community about how they feel about what’s being proposed, the City does not have the ability to approve or reject the project. There has also been a lot of talk in the community that the District will take or use Laureola Park as part of the school. This has not been proposed by the District to date nor has the City considered this. The park is the sole responsibility of the City and its City Council members and any future proposals to use the park in conjunction with a high school would be discussed and considered by the City Council with the public before any changes could take place with regard to the park. While the District can build a school without the City being involved, they cannot take or use a City park without the City’s consent.
Early next year the City will use the Shape San Carlos open online town hall forum to provide residents with the opportunity to share their views on the High School District’s proposed plans.
In the meantime, if you’d like to share your thoughts with your elected High School Board members their contact information is as follows:
Allen Weiner, President
Olivia Martinez, Vice President
Carrie Du Bois
California Department of Education
Office of Public School Construction
Division of the State Architect
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