Sun, Jun

For Starters, Stop the Non-Starters: There's a Better Answer for Mar Vista Students and Local Traffic


ALPERN AT LARGE-Although the recent brouhaha at a special meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council suggests community division over how to respond to the proposed building a $30 million new elementary school campus for the venerable Mandarin Immersion K-12 Program next to Mark Twain Middle School, there was no division on the issues of problematic spending, problematic education and problematic traffic in the City of Los Angeles. 

And there's no division w  ithin the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), and throughout the greater Mar Vista region, that the Walgrove traffic situation adjacent to Mark Twain Middle School is beyond belief and out of control...and the same can be said for the lack of open space and fields for children and families to enjoy. 

Taxpayers have the right to have their money spent well, children and their parents have the right to have access to first-rate education, and residents have the right to not have their adjacent residential street turned into a traffic-laden arterial street.  

And both children and adults of all ages and backgrounds have the right to breathe clean air. 

LAUSD Boardmember Steve Zimmer and the LAUSD leadership needs to know that spending a whopping $30 million to jam a new elementary school (particularly a Mandarin Immersion program that brings in brilliant students...but from all over the region) next to a clogged residential street that has been unfairly classified as a secondary arterial collector, and tearing up a soccer/open space student field in the process, is a NON-STARTER: 

1) School construction funds have already been tapped out by a dreadful iPad initiative that has LAUSD former superintendent Deasy under investigation by the FBI, but during a period of declining student enrollment the need to spend prudently MUST be prioritized and taken seriously. 

My first knee-jerk response to the new school's monetary figure was, "Wow--sounds like a few contributing union/contractor folks need to be fed."  Well, maybe they do, and maybe they don't--but there are are so many elementary and middle schools that need better buildings and school fields/lawns that there are excellent ways to spend $30 million for existing schools...if that money is really burning a hole in the LAUSD's pocket. 

Furthermore, with student enrollment declining, the need to take drastic action in consolidation or movement of schools is paramount.  Unnecessary duplication of facilities and schools and employees is prima facie ridiculous in light of declining student enrollment--and the need to build new schools, including and especially a school at this particular traffic-inaccessible location, shows more folly than true leadership. 

2) Having Mar Vista and other Westside students access the Mandarin Immersion or any other venerable program is excellent, but they have to be able to breathe, and they have to locate and consolidate campuses so that they are accessible, and with healthy environmental conditions that allow for clean air, and with no loss of open fields and open space. 

Maybe the LAUSD isn't to blame for the traffic nightmare that is the improperly-jammed Walgrove Avenue. Maybe it's the City of Los Angeles that needs to reclassify Walgrove back to residential street status, and throw up a few strategically-located "no left turn" or "no right turn" signs to prevent Walgrove from being an alternative to nearby Lincoln Blvd/PCH. 

But the traffic access and associated decline in air quality makes MORE development and traffic on or adjacent to Walgrove Avenue, particularly for children, a bad idea.

And when a school field has to be torn up, it's ALWAYS a prima facie bad idea...a true NON-STARTER. 

Who knows?  Maybe the unthinkable but bold move of consolidating the schools at this site with other elementary schools and middle schools in the region, and turning this whole land parcel into a new City park is in order.  But worsening the traffic and air quality, all for a whopping $30 million that the LAUSD really doesn't have, during a period of declining enrollment, begs the conclusion of trying something ELSE. 

3) Parents and their children want first-rate education, and merit both the City of Los Angeles and the LAUSD to work together to prioritize their children.  So why ARE charter schools and parents scrambling for better educational alternatives for their kids? 

Well, it's land use and spending decisions like this one, throwing $30 million for a new school during an era where other local schools are suffering and during a decline in student enrollment, that forces the conclusion that the leadership of the LAUSD is either clueless, beholden to interests that are not congruent to students and their families, or both. 

And it must be reminded that if Mr. Zimmer believes that the nearby Daniel Webster Middle School land parcel has enough room for a bus maintenance yard (a bad idea which was rightfully killed a few years ago), maybe he should ask himself whether it has enough room for either a new elementary school and/or more middle school students. 

Again, this involves bold and "outside the box" thinking--but throwing this sort of money is hardly bold or anything innovative. 

How Mar Vista and the Westside responds to this current controversy is anyone's guess--and while I have a few doubts about some of the leaders opposing the new school next to Mark Twain … particularly one Saeed Ali former chief of staff to the disgraced former Councilmember Richard Alarcon), this isn't about Zimmer, Ali, or even yours truly (me).  

It's about logical spending (even if we must spend more), smart and prudent traffic and land use decisions, quality air, more fields and open space for children and their families.  This isn't hard to fathom. 

So let's go back to the drawing board--we just had a well-intentioned but woefully-mishandled LAUSD iPad initiative go awry.  Let's not let the well-intentioned initiative of consolidating and strengthening the Mandarin Immersion program next to Mark Twain go awry as well.   

As with money, resources are limited and finite--but innovation and good will towards our quality of life (and that of our children!) remains decidedly and happily infinite.

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the  nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]  He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)





Vol 13 Issue 36

Pub: May 1, 2015

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