Casas to LASD: Hands Off the Civic Center

Councilmember David Casas issued a strong statement in response to what he says is the school district's interest in exercising eminent domain to build another school.


Los Altos City Council member David Casas warned the Los Altos School District Board to back off thinking about taking civic center land through eminent domain for a tenth campus—although a board member said that's not the case.

Taking aim at two school board members sitting in the audience, Casas spoke sharply during Tuesday's City Council meeting, in relation to a discussion about a contemplated bond measure to build a new civic center, located on 18 acres of the city's land along North San Antonio Road. 

The acreage includes the former Hillview Elementary School, which is currently used by the city for a senior center and recreational and community uses. It is also called "Community Center." 

"It is not something to be spoken lightly of, when one jurisdiction talks about the taking of another jurisdiction's land for use that does not run in parallel with the city’s interests," Casas said.

"As a former elementary school board member, I find this appalling that this is being discussed in public, and is being brought forth amongst conversations that I’m a part of, that this is something that is even being contemplated."

Later he said, "I call upon our school board to unequivocally to state that they are not interested in any taking of the civic center land."

Reached by telephone in Southern California, LASD Board President Mark Goines said he was "puzzled" by Casas' comments.

During the public comment period at , at least one member of the public mentioned the possibility of the LASD using eminent domain to reclaim the former Hillview campus for a 10th campus.

Goines acknowleged that members of the public made suggestions to reclaim Hillview, and while the board itself affirmed its right to eminent domain, there has been no formal discussion of specific properties.

He also said the district spoke to city representatives about the center and whether the two jurisdictions could work together on a joint solution.

"And they said they don't want to talk about that. They basically said it's off the table," Goines said. “We specifically asked council members to talk to us about working together about the need to have a tenth school site ... We haven’t been talking about taking the land.”

In a subsequent email Goines said that, "(The) LASD would be pleased to work with the city of Los altos to jointly develop the city's property for the benefit of our community."

Leading into his statement, Casas pointed out Los Altos School Board trustees Doug Smith and Tamara Logan, who were sitting in the audience.

Casas suggested the school board has to make it clear it is not interested in eminent domain of what is called the Community Center land, before the two jurisdictions can work together.

"If it is by mistake that this has been brought forth, I think a clear and unequivocable assertion by the school board stating that the school board is not interested in taking of city land to find a tenth school site, then I believe that opens up a lot of opportunities for partnerships that have been a long-standing tradition," he said.

"It’s unfortunate, and I believe I speak for the City Council, that this is something that would not be well received by this body," said Casas of any move toward eminent domain.

Mayor Val Carpenter, however, was more conciliatory. 

Before Casas spoke, mentioned that she had spoken to school district officials. She elaborated in an email to Patch. 

"About two months ago I became aware that school districts also have the right of eminent domain," wrote Carpenter said in an email Wednesday morning about perusing LASD Voices' Facebook Page. "Shortly after that, I met with LASD Trustee Doug Smith and Bullis Charter School Board member John Phelps at their request, and in our wide-ranging discussion, eminent domain was mentioned in conjunction with the Los Altos Community Center as well as other City and private land."

She said she sent the board a letter on March 26, encouraging them to look at land north of El Camino Real for a campus site, where higher density housing is located. As a near-term solution, she also urged them to investigate setting up a pilot program of school buses from the high-density developments located north of El Camino Real, to relieve the congestion and safety issues at the  schools and that the City Council could have a discussion about financial support for such a pilot.

The presentation on the polling Tuesdays had just shown that voters were not likely to vote for a civic center upgrade during these hard economic times. Carpenter  suggested three ways of moving forward, including working with LASD to help them identify a 10th school site, "ideally north of El Camino Real in Mountain View or Palo Alto." 

David Cortright April 13, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Regardless, it'd be so better if the two sides worked together for a site that was mutually beneficial, as Jennifer Carlstrom so elegantly suggested: "LASD has been kicking around the idea of using the current Hillview site which will be torn down if the City Council follows through on its plan. Why not preserve that space, lease it to the school district and allow them to renovate at it their own cost (from a potentially more successful bond measure with a lower passing threshold based on the Godbe research). The funds that flow from the school district to the city with the lease could then be used to complete the majority of the Community Center plans as currently outlined, without a second higher threshold bond needed..." I would very much hope Mr. Casas and the rest of the City Council are open to such ideas, even if LASD chooses to retain the option of eminent domain.
Ron Haley April 15, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Taking the community center for another LASD school isn't necessary. There are plenty of solutions to accommodating BCS. The surrounding districts, Cupertino, Mountain Vew and Palo Alto all run K-5 and 6-8 programs. Implementing such a program would move approximately 14% of the currently elementary students to Egan and Black, where there is plenty of space. Such a move would free up space for two BCS campuses. LASD could then put a much smaller bond on the ballot to provide additional buildings at Egan and Blach. Perhaps 1/3 of what they are currently proposing. Such a solution minimizes the expense to the community, leaves the community center for Los Altos, and satisfies LASD's obligations to BCS!
David Cortright April 15, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Actually, Ron, the current facilities satisfies LASD's obligations to BCS. If BCS wants to spend several more years and several more hundreds of thousands of dollars to find that out from the courts, I suppose that is their right. Seems to me like a massive waste of money that could otherwise be used education our children. The fact that LASD is even considering floating a bond to build BCS a school is quite generous. It is well beyond reasonably equivalent. If LASD invests in building out non-portables for BCS, I can practically guarantee it will not not be on any of the existing sites.
Joan J. Strong April 15, 2012 at 02:40 AM
The downside risks of under-investing in education far, far outweigh the risks of over-investing. The campus bond is a no-brainer from a risk and ROI perspective. The risk of OVERinvesting is: * The effective overall tax rates of our average citizens here going up by about .2% in exchange for no upside. The risk of UNDERinvesting is: * Our school tests scores and reputations falling well below that of Mountain View/Cupertino/Sunnyvale, thus leaving would-be home buyers very little reason to suffer the 40% premium we now command for our houses here. In other words, visualize a 20% haircut on real estate prices (which have thus far dodged the nationwide downturn and are currently defying gravity with respect to comparative lack of damage as compared to surrounding communities). These days people want a clear ROI and this bond has it in spades. It's also the right thing to do for our children and for education in general here in Los Altos/Hills. Let's pass the bond, end the war with BCS, equip our schools for the coming decades prosperity here and show the leadership that the richest hub of Silicon Valley ought to be showing when it comes to public education.
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