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Charter School Incursion: Traffic Storm Coming to Arlington Heights

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VOICES-This is the year of El Niňo and Angelinos are preparing for storms. One storm we didn’t expect and don’t need is a new storm of traffic -- much more traffic. But that is what we are going to get here in Arlington Heights if a real estate consortium and a charter school get their way. 

The developer, Red Hook Capital Partners, is proposing to wedge an elementary charter school with an enrollment of 432+ students and a staff of 35+ adults, onto a small, ¾ acre lot at 4001 Venice Blvd. The site would include a massive two story building in an area of mostly single story residences, providing only 21 parking spaces for all staff and visitors. This will leave people circling to find parking in an area that is already past capacity for parking and is ridiculously dense with traffic. 

Very few, if any, residents in the immediate neighborhood want this school and its traffic. Most nearby businesses feel the same way. 

There is a petition campaign underway against the developer’s plans to alter neighborhood traffic patterns in order to accommodate school drop off and pick up traffic. More than 250 residents and business owners have signed the petition -- and others are signing it every day. 

Residents don’t want another charter school in a neighborhood that has plenty of room for children in its existing neighborhood public schools, as well as in the many other charter schools already operating in the area. No one wants the tsunami of traffic, noise and pollution this new school will bring to local streets every day. The school could add 800 cars or more (400 each rush hour) to traffic on Pico and Venice Boulevards -- streets that are already jammed, often bumper-to-bumper, with rush hour commuters. 

With over 22,000 residents, Arlington Heights covers slightly more than a square mile. According to the recent census, it is the most densely populated neighborhood in the United States. It is a community of mainly low income families, the working poor, and many living in poverty. Eighty-two percent are renters and many work two jobs…or even three. All do their best to take care of themselves and their families and few have time for involvement in community problems. 

Many of the neighbors come from cultural backgrounds that traditionally avoid confrontation. But they are expressing themselves loud and clear on this issue: they don’t want this school, its traffic and the other inherent problems it brings to their overcrowded neighborhood. 

What residents and businesses in this area want and desperately need is green space. The site in question would make an ideal park and community center to serve ALL the children in this community that has virtually no green space. But that is an unlikely hope as long as Red Hook Capital Partners persists in trying to develop this land for occupancy by a large charter school. 

The parcel at 4001 Venice Blvd. was originally a railroad yard. In the 1970s, it was paved over, landscaped, and then used for a small Catholic preschool that never held more than 120 students. In the last decade, the preschool suffered a precipitous drop in enrollment and the nuns sold it to Red Hook Capital Partners -- a real estate consortium that specializes in and profits from using state taxpayer money to develop properties for charter schools. 

In order to avoid jamming Venice Blvd. with school traffic, the developer devised a plan to open a road through to South Norton Avenue, which currently dead-ends at the proposed school property – allowing for the all of the school’s drop off and pick up traffic. They never bothered to develop other alternatives to reduce their traffic impact on area residents. 

Norton is a narrow north-south avenue with lots of apartments and hundreds of residents. It has been a dead end street, closed to Venice Blvd. and to the proposed school property, for its entire 110 year history. Now the developer proposes cutting a road from Venice through the property onto Norton for all school traffic. This would essentially turn Norton Avenue into the school’s alimentary canal for traffic -- hundreds of cars daily at both rush hours would enter the school from Venice Blvd. 

After dropping off or picking up children, these cars would head north onto Norton and drive up the long block to Pico Blvd. Pico is the only place cars traveling on Norton could exit. These cars, hundreds at a time, would be forced to turn left or right onto Pico. 

Since the city was concerned about traffic backup on Venice Blvd. during the morning and afternoon rush hours, the developer proposed directing all the school’s traffic up Norton onto Pico, a street that is…if anything…even more jammed at rush hour than Venice. 

But that’s not much of a traffic solution. It’s really just poor planning. Or maybe, better put, it is really just insanity. 

The developer and the school have not exactly been forthcoming about their plans to alter the local environment, nor have they consulted the community and asked for input before filing their requests for zoning changes needed to accommodate the project. 

In mid-September a group of charter school representatives canvassed Norton and other blocks near the proposed school seeking the support of residents – asking them to sign a petition in support of this new school – even though their plan had long been in the works. These solicitors didn’t reveal that plans they were already developed and submitted to the city. They didn’t reveal their plan to re-engineer local traffic patterns, opening Norton Avenue, and clogging residents’ streets with traffic. 

These representatives simply told people it would be a “nice school” and that “maybe” some of the local children could attend. Some residents signed the petition, not thinking to ask for details. As the reps made their way down South Norton Avenue, knocking on doors, a few residents raised concerns and pressed for more information about the safety and environmental issues the school would inevitably pose. 

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Once pressed, the school’s solicitors finally shared details of their plan with a few persistent residents. This was the first anyone in the neighborhood had heard of it and news of the plan’s details spread rapidly. It became clear that this “nice” charter school, if allowed to become a reality, would have an enormous negative impact on the immediate community. 

Residents who had signed the school’s petition were outraged that the school had solicited their support without revealing the full planning picture to them. 

Under the developer’s plan, residents on South Norton could well be trapped in a line 50 car lengths long, bumper-to-bumper, heading north to Pico for as long as 30 to 50 minutes every school day during rush hour. Traffic would become considerably more congested than it already is on Venice Boulevard and the other surrounding residential streets of 6th Avenue, 12th Avenue, and Bronson Avenue.  

If this insanely wrong-sized project is completed, Norton Avenue will become impassable to fire, police or paramedics in an emergency, endangering the lives of residents. 

Norton is a narrow street and residents already must navigate past garbage trucks, street sweepers, delivery trucks, and traffic coming into the market and church parking lots on the block. It’s not ideal, but it’s manageable. However, adding upwards of 800 cars daily during peak hours is untenable for local residents and businesses. Although traffic will be worst on South Norton Avenue and Pico Blvd., this incursion will exacerbate rush hour traffic in the entire area between Arlington and Crenshaw and between Venice and Pico. 

The proposed new charter, City Language Immersion Charter (CLIC), may be well-intentioned, but if they truly care about the community they would find another site that is more appropriately sized to accommodate their plans. They would let the community of Arlington Heights have what it desperately needs – green space – not more density. 

There is simply no need for another school, and there’s certainly no desire for more traffic, more congestion, more density, more noise, more pollution and unsafe, impassable streets.

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TAKE ACTION INFO: Help the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Coalition oppose this plan by Red Hook Capital Partners and CLIC by liking us on Facebook, coming out to our demonstrations and signing our petition.

 

(Virginia King is a founding member of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Coalition.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 83

Pub: Oct 13, 2015

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