City, district reach North agreement
by Ryan McDonald
The city of Hermosa Beach and the local school district have finalized an agreement intended to manage neighborhood impacts resulting from the planned reopening of North School.
The agreement, approved by the City Council at its regular meeting last week and by the board of the Hermosa Beach City School District at a special meeting the following morning, caps more than a month of close work between the two bodies. The agreement allows the district to move forward with various aspects of rebuilding North School, and greatly reduces the threat of litigation between the two bodies that had hung over plans to reopen the campus.
“Working together, we have developed an agreement that will achieve the city’s and the district’s goals and ensure construction can move forward on North School,” Mayor Stacey Armato said in a statement. School Board President Doug Gardner, in turn, thanked a lengthy roster of city officials, and said the district was eager to begin work on North.
The 12-page agreement calls for the city and the district to split the cost of hiring a traffic engineer to help identify congestion issues created by the school’s reopening, and to create a Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan. It also requires at least two community meetings to discuss traffic and other issues, and obligates the district to decide on a bell schedule for North by Oct. 1. The district has previously raised the possibility of staggering start times by 15 or 30 minutes, in order to lessen the concentration of parents simultaneously dropping their children off at school, but has been unable to commit to the 30-minute separation because it would be dependent on negotiations with the teachers’ union.
Traffic and congestion have been challenges for the district even before the release of the project’s Environmental Impact Report. When draft plans for the campus did not show an on-site drop-off and pick-up location, residents argued that the district was effectively dumping its obligations into the neighborhood’s streets.
The district said this was due to the North site’s unusual configuration, and the difficulty of arranging playgrounds in a way that allowed for adequate supervision of children. But residents said it could be done by shrinking the number of classrooms.
The city echoed the criticisms of the lack of on-site drop-off space in a series of increasingly strident letters over the past year. Following the district’s approval of the North project in January, City Manager Suja Lowenthal sent the district a letter asking for a six-month extension of the period under which the city could file a legal challenge to the project. The district declined, setting off the intense negotiations that ultimately produced the agreement. The agreement leaves out changes to the campus’ configuration, at least until after the campus has secured approval from state regulators.
The gracious tone of Armato in the statement about the agreement contrasted with some of the comments from councilmembers. Councilmember Hany Fangary, the lone no vote from the city, said that while he wants to support local schools, he remained disappointed in how the district has handled the planning process.
“I was disappointed with the response we got from the school district: ‘Instead of getting six months, you get two weeks.’ That’s not the response I expected from a partner,” Fangary said.