A group of homeowners who reside within blocks of Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista is asking the Los Angeles Unified School District to reconsider its land lease proposal to offer space at the school to a charter organization.
Citing long-standing and rapidly worsening conditions with traffic, overburdened infrastructure, noise and a lack of attention to the elementary school, the homeowners and parents say these problems have infringed upon their lives since Ocean Charter School began sharing campus space with Walgrove five years ago, and the potential of a new charter could have devastating consequences on the neighborhood.
LAUSD has released a request for proposal (RFP) that will offer a 500-seat school on a 2-acre parcel of land at Walgrove to a charter organization in an effort to relieve pressures at schools that have colocations, an outgrowth of Proposition 39. Walgrove is currently involved in a colocation with Ocean Charter, one of two charters that have applied for the land lease. The charter school’s fourth through eighth grades share space with Walgrove.
The other applicant is Green Dot Public Schools.
Eric and Sandi Wise live within less than 100 feet of the portion of the campus occupied by Ocean Charter. They have endured cars double-parked on Appleton Way in front of the school in the early morning hours, effectively blocking their exit onto Walgrove Avenue, as well as a less than cooperative school administration the couple says has not moved to resolve the continuing problems that exist since the charter opened in 2006.
That experience with Ocean Charter has soured many of the immediate neighbors on the thought of contending with another charter operator.
“We had years and years of trying to be a neighbor and work with Ocean Charter, and we also ask for help, and never received any from them,” said Eric Wise, who runs his own business. “Now all of a sudden we hear about the (request for proposal) process and we’re very concerned about (the number of students) growing.”
Although Ocean Charter parents are now directing traffic and attempting to rectify some of the problems that they have had with some of the neighbors within the school’s proximity, for the Wises and many of their neighbors, it is a case of too little, too late.
“It’s been years of abuse, and now we’re supposed to trust them?” Eric Wise asked. “And what happens when (the student population) is three times the size that it is now?”
Sandi Wise lamented the possibility of the elementary school suffering any setback due to the attention that the school district is paying to charter schools.
“That would be a shame because the parents at Walgrove have worked really hard to get the school to where it is now,” she said.
Linnea von Wissmann said Ocean Charter parents often park on her street two blocks away, which creates another set of quality of life problems for her and other residents.
“If I have a guest who wants to come over, they can’t park in front of my house,” she said. “If my gardener wants to service my lawn, he can’t park in front of my house.”
Many of the homeowners interviewed called attention to the fact that despite academic improvements at the elementary school, they believe the district is more focused on expanding the base of charter schools instead of revitalizing and investing in existing neighborhood schools.
Sandi Wise pointed out that Walgrove had received $1,000 from LAUSD despite an uptick in attendance, as well as a major leap of 37 points on its 2010-11 Academic Performance Index (API) score.
“If the plan is to offer land on every school campus for a charter school, than we’re going to lose precious open playground space for these kids,” she said. “It will also continue to pull kids and funding away from the public schools that exist, and what’s going to happen to them?”
On the Wises’ block there are 10 children who next year will be of kindergarten age, and Eric Wise noted that because admission to charter schools is based on a citywide lottery, the possibilities of them attending a charter at Walgrove is a toss-up.
“There’s a high likelihood that these kids won’t be able to go to that school because of the lottery,” he said. “And the kids that come here from other parts of the city won’t be walking or riding their bikes to school… they will be driving to school to an area that is already traffic congested.”
The primary reason given for the land lease option is to lessen the burden of colocations on traditional schools, which came to a head last summer on the Westside at many schools in Venice, Del Rey and Mar Vista.
Colocation occurs when a charter school is awarded space on the campus of a traditional school. It is an outgrowth of Proposition 39, a 2000 voter-approved initiative that mandates school districts to provide equal access to charter schools on community school campuses where there are unused or empty classrooms.
And some say with shared facilities comes more students to rapidly aging infrastructures, and more traffic, because charter schools do not provide transportation for their pupils.
Tensions came to the surface in the spring at schools like Mar Vista and Grand View Boulevard elementary schools in Mar Vista and Westminster Avenue Elementary in Venice, which successfully fought off colocations, citing the possible loss of parent centers, intervention rooms and laboratories.
Another Walgrove neighbor, Mark Strand, feels the traffic problems would still exist even if there were a school other than Ocean Charter but he does not dismiss the driving and parking behavior of some of the charter school’s parents.
“In any group of people you’re going to have disrespectful people, and they balloon by virtue of the amount of kids that are going to school there,” he said. “I don’t see it as ‘us vs. them.’ It’s just human nature, but it does affect the neighborhood.”
Walgrove Avenue, which bisects Venice and Mar Vista, is a highly congested north-south thoroughfare on the Westside from Venice Boulevard to Santa Monica during rush hour. Von Wissmann believes the number of motorists who double-park and speed down Appleton Way is bound to result in an accident.
“(The double parking) is very dangerous. There’s too many cars in such a small area, and someone is eventually going to get hurt,” she predicted.
Green Dot officials say they are aware of the neighbors’ feelings regarding Ocean Charter as well as their opposition to the lease proposal.
“While we are aware that a small group of neighbors do not want any new school to be built under any condition, we should also acknowledge that hundreds of families are interested in having either Ocean Charter School or Animo Westside Middle School in a permanent location in Venice,” Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said.
“Green Dot has a proven track record of being a good neighbor. We are more than happy to engage the neighbors, if we are awarded the site, to address to the best of our abilities any issues that are of their concern.”
Ocean Charter officials did not return phone calls for comment on the homeowners’ positions on the land lease.
Sandi Wise said she believes the land lease proposal is outside the bounds of Prop. 39.
“It doesn’t say anywhere in there where charter schools are required to lease land,” she noted. “Everyone in the city is complaining about how there’s no open space on the Westside and now they want to take away what little that we have?”
One of the Wises’ neighbors, James Taylor, is considering moving his family to his hometown of Seattle in part due to what is transpiring with the land lease situation.
“It’s really twofold,” Taylor explained. “One is the education system in general, and I think a lot of what we’re talking about in my mind is the incompetence of the school district and the way that it’s structured.”
Taylor claimed the school district has neglected Walgrove, which may make some parents explore options other than the neighborhood school.
“They’ve got the money, but they won’t build state-of-the art public schools for our kids,” he asserted. “Instead, they’re spreading the money around and they’re not getting any economies of scale.
“It’s basic business principles: when you start spreading the money that thin, nobody gets a good education.”
Another point of contention is what the residents say is a failure by LAUSD to respond to their complaints and concerns regarding the existing and the potential new charter school. The Wises, Taylor and von Wissmann all said they have called the school district many times without success.
The homeowners also say they were notified late about the June 15 meeting when the lease proposal, which caught them all by surprise, was announced.
Taylor thinks the late notice was by design.
“They tried to run it under the radar as long as they could to get to one of these points before the neighborhood found out,” he asserted.
At a meeting held by the Mar Vista Community Council’s Education, Arts and Culture Committee Oct. 2, the Wises were poised to make a presentation highlighting their concerns about the land lease but said LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista and Venice, declined to listen to them.
That was when the group decided to make their feelings about the land lease public.
“That was the last straw for us,” Sandi Wise said. “I haven’t had a single response to any of my letters.”
Zimmer did not return calls for comment.
Next week: The homeowners discuss their possible options regarding the land lease, how it has affected relations with some neighbors and the possibility of amending Prop. 39.