By Gary Walker
Tensions are flaring over what Del Rey residents are calling an invasion of their neighborhood by a charter school sharing the campus of Stoner Avenue Elementary School.
Angry residents who live on Lindblade and Stoner avenues claim mornings and early afternoons near their homes are flooded with the cars of parents retrieving their students from Citizens of the World, a charter school that opened in late August.
“They take up so much of our streets that it doesn’t look like a residential neighborhood,” said José Benitez, who lives on Lindblade.
At the heart of the conflict is a school entrance on Lindblade that parents from the charter use to drop off and retrieve their children each day. Benitez and his neighbors claim the entrance is the root cause of rampant double parking and traffic congestion.
But Los Angeles Unified School District officials say Citizens of the World hasn’t broken any rules.
“As discussed with the neighbors, LAUSD is complying with the law and remains open to hearing any further concerns to support what is best for students,” said a district spokeswoman.
Citizens of the World, which has schools in New York and Los Angeles, describes itself as being committed to “socio- economic, cultural and racial diversity.”
Citizens of the World Principal Allison Kerr told the Argonaut Monday that LAUSD had resolved the situation with the Lindblade entrance.
Kerr offered to elaborate later, but subsequent calls to Kerr were not returned.
At a campus meeting on Oct. 9 that included parents from both schools and LAUSD representatives, residents and Stoner parents asked the district to close the Lindblade entrance and ask the charter school to use the entrance on Braddock Drive.
The Braddock entrance is currently used by Stoner Elementary.
“I support great schools of all types. And a great school must be a great neighbor,” said Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe.
“It’s imperative that both school communities work together to solve neighbors’ concerns about traffic impact during arrival and dismissal and that LAUSD explore all feasible options to remove extra traffic from streets,” DeSobe said.
According to the state Department of Education, parking and traffic is a municipal matter.
“Because the [charter school] parents are parking on the street, this is a city issue,” said a department spokeswoman.
The circumstances at Stoner are reminiscent of a similar situation at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista several years ago. After Ocean Charter School opened inside Walgrove, Walgrove parents and nearby homeowners frequently complained of double parking and charter parents failing to observe traffic laws and congestion.
Benitez wrote to LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Del Rey, on Aug. 9 to express his and his neighbors concerns about the charter.
“Citizens of the World Charter… has taken it upon themselves to create their own school entrance on the backside of Stoner Elementary without authorization,” Benitez wrote.
In an Aug. 11 response, Zimmer said he shared Benitez’s concerns.
“I will ask the charter office and the school to meet with stakeholders to mitigate the concerns. Please be aware that the school board has very little control over charter school co-locations,” Zimmer wrote. “We almost always end up in court.”
The California Charter Association has successfully sued LAUSD in the past over charter school facility issues.
Proposition 39, a state ballot measure approved by voters in 2000, provides charter operators with the opportunity to obtain space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant. School districts tender offers to charters at schools where these classrooms exist and charters then determine to accept or deny them.
Zimmer’s response led Benitez to think that his chance of LAUSD intervening was very small.
“I think LAUSD is more afraid of charters than of the neighbors,” Benitez said.
Zimmer indicated that he had prior experience with Citizens of the World, which has two other charters in Hollywood and Silverlake, communities that are also in his district.
“I have been in conflict with this particular charter for well over a year, but it is in their enlightened self interest to have positive relationships with their community,” Zimmer wrote.
Kerr said Citizens of the World has distributed what she called “karma tickets” to Stoner parents and residents of the surrounding neighborhood to place on the vehicles of those charter parents who cause traffic jams.
Benitez scoffed at the idea.
“Karma tickets? That was an insult,” he said.
According to Benitez, the solution to the problem is Citizens of the World using the Braddock entrance.
“As simple as it sounds, that would solve everything,” he said.