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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Planning Panelists Hold School District Staff’s Feet to the Fire

• MHS Plans Raise Security Concerns


The Malibu Planning Commission, at its meeting last week, considered an application from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to redevelop portions of the joint Malibu Middle and High School campus.
Commissioner Jeff Jennings recused himself from the proceedings, saying he lives across the street from the school and he thinks that “California law forbids me from voting,” although he has no vested personal financial stake in the district project.
Makings its decision after the midnight hour, the planning panel directed staff to bring back an amended resolution approving the coastal permit, Conditional Use Permit and various other entitlements, including a demolition permit, to redevelop portions of the campus with a new classroom/library/administration building totaling 20,274 square feet of net new building area and approximately 12,509 square feet of interior renovation and modernization of existing classrooms.
An Environmental Impact Report, which was approved by the school district prepared for the proposal, acknowledges that the project would not be able to avoid adverse impacts related to increased sky-glow.
After hours of public comment and commission deliberations, the planning panel approved a reconfigured 119-space lighted parking lot with an onsite roundabout, a reconfigured 61-space lighted parking lot, but a majority of the commissioners insisted a new 150-space parking lot should remain unlit.
During public comment, Jennings testified as a citizen and, after citing his longstanding affiliation with the school district, said, “On this issue I part company with the district. I direct your attention to the landscaping plan, sycamore tress that will grow 100 feet high placed on the ridges. The trees don’t need to be on a ridge, they could be in the gullies.”
Many other public comments, like Jennings endorsed the staff recommendation about the reduced lighting.
Some parents called foul, saying the plans for the campus had been thought out for years by various committees and it was not fair to fiddle with the design so late in the process.
“The proposal before you did not come out of the sky,” said Mike Sidley. “The project needs approval without the staff recommendation.”
Malibu Park neighbor Judy Hutchinson said she welcomed the staff recommendation. “I’ve never seen large attendance at the games,” she added.
Another neighbor Terry Lucoff said there was no planning on the part of the district for road conditions for ingress and egress to the proposed parking lot. “The parking lot is in the wrong place. It is ill conceived. It is not acceptable,” he said.
Parent Colleen Baum said it was not just about the games, but about children who are on the campus from day to night. “There is also theater and other kinds of performance. The lights are a big safety issue,” she said.
District officials reiterated that concern and told commissioners they were also bound by code and safety requirements. The big issue, commissioners were told, is the parking lot lighting and walkway lighting. That the standards are not established by the district but are adopted by other agencies—the district has safety and liability standards. A school campus requires a certain kind of lighting.
However, Stanley Lamport, an attorney representing the Malibu Township Council and the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance, two organizations suing over ball field lighting said the district has a long history of disregard for lighting. “The school district has not earned the trust of the community. There are significant impacts,” he said.
Lamport told the panelists there are acceptable alternatives and there is additional evidence that the combined effect of more field lighting and parking lot lighting makes for a change of circumstance such that agencies cannot make the current findings.
After hours of questions and deliberations, the commission approved the staff recommendation of the unlit parking lot, some traffic changes and for two new unlit tennis courts, new outdoor common areas, new fencing, landscaping and grading, relocated equestrian trail, upgrades to the onsite wastewater treatment system and drainage and renovation of existing infrastructure.
The CUP is for operation of a public educational institution and the expansion of more than 500 square feet in that zone.
Variances were successfully sought for grading in excess of 1000 cubic yards, and constructing structures on 2.5 to one slopes and impermeable coverage over 25,000 square feet..
The school district, which is the lead agency, issued a Draft Environmental Impact Report last fall.
The DEIR describes the project as approximately 76,694 square feet of new construction, some of it replacement building since 15,041 square feet of old buildings are earmarked for demolition while other buildings will be upgraded or renovated, according to school district documents.
Building plans include one, new two-story building for classrooms, library and administrative office uses, outdoor space, and the renovation of the existing building E.
New staff and student parking for a proposed 150-space parking lot is located adjacent to the existing school’s athletic field.
School district documents indicate the proposal also calls for separating middle school from the high school by devoting building E solely to the high school, while middle school classrooms would be provided in the replacement classroom/ library/administration building.
A new student drop-off and pick-up lane would be placed along Morning View Drive in front of the replacement building.

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