Ryan McDonald

Transportation plan for North nears completion

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The latest rendering of the North School campus, as seen from above and the northeast. Image by SVA Architects

by Ryan McDonald

When it reopens next year, Hermosa Beach’s North School will likely have space for on-site drop-off and pick-up, but a walking path through Valley Park for an alternative entrance from the east may be years in the future.

These were among the conclusions announced Monday evening during the draft presentation of a Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan (NTMP) for North, a long-shuttered district property that is currently under construction and is expected to reopen in January of 2021. The suggestions embodied in the plan will undergo vetting over the next month before facing approval votes by city and school district officials next month.

Plans for North were approved by the Hermosa Beach City School District’s Board of Education more than a year ago. But the decision troubled some nearby residents, who about the new school’s traffic impacts. After a tense month of talks during which city officials in Hermosa raised the possibility of filing a lawsuit to halt progress on the campus, the district and the city announced an agreement in February 2019 to address the traffic impacts.

The pact called for forming a residents committee to develop solutions. Committee member Steve Mosley said the early sessions were unproductive and marked by disagreement, but that eventually, the group found common ground.

“The lightbulb moment for us was one night, before our meeting we met at the Kiwanis Club and walked the neighborhood, and we all quickly realized, including the city and the superintendent, that things had to be done,” Mosley said.

North presents several logistical challenges for getting students to and from campus. It is surrounded by narrow, winding streets, some of which lack sidewalks or contain blind curves. And because Hermosa campuses are divided by grade level rather than geographic lines, families living on the opposite end of town would still have to trek to Hermosa’s northwestern edge, potentially increasing the share of its students who would be driven, rather than walk or bike to school.

These challenges haunted efforts to reopen the campus dating back to Measure S, the school facilities bond that voters approved in the summer of 2016 and which is funding work at North and other district properties. They became more acute when the time came for approval of actual plans for North last year. The presence, or absence, of on-site drop-off and pick-up, became a key point of contention, with nearby residents saying it was needed to diminish congestion in the area around campus, and district officials saying that it was impossible given the constraints of the small, oddly shaped North property.

The February 2019 agreement included no mandates that the district accept changes to campus design, but the issue did not go away. Months after the promise to work on the NTMP, several residents traveled to a meeting of the California Coastal Commission, where the district was seeking the final permit to begin construction on the North campus. The residents were unsuccessful in convincing the commission to require on-site drop-off and pick-up.

Engineering plans developed for that idea, however, likely contributed to the tentative parking lot redesign offered Monday night. Superintendent Pat Escalante said that the conversation had been tough in the beginning due to state education code requirements “for areas where kids and cars are mixing.” But the district had figured out a way to extend the parking lot eastward, after shrinking the main classroom building by removing a hallway, and removing a sign that would have obscured attendants’ views of the parking lot.

Progress went in the other direction on plans for a drop-off and pick-up site at the Kiwanis Club, a city-owned property on the other side of Valley Park from North. Many parents had suggested it as an alternative that could relieve some of the pressure from the streets surrounding North’s main entrance on 25th Street. Consultants with Fehr and Peers, a traffic engineering firm, initially identified it as a possibility. But a further review convinced the consultants that designating it as an “official” drop-off and pick-up location would require building a switchback-style path up the ice plant hill between the campus and the park, a project whose cost Escalante pegged at more than $1 million.

The draft NTMP, available on the city and district websites, contains more than three dozen changes that the two bodies believe could be accomplished by the time North opens. While some of them are minor, others such, as converting 26th Street to a one-way street, have processes mandated by city code.

“There’s been great input from the community, but I think if you knocked on doors and told people that some of these things might happen … I think it is important we do a great job of communication and getting more flow through on this,” said HBCSD Board Member Stephen McCall.

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