Lead Story West Edition

Neighborhood opposes charter school location

WEST ADAMS — A proposed charter school here is running into a wall of opposition from residents worried about potential negative consequences for their quiet neighborhood.

The City Language Immersion Charter School (CLIC) plans to relocate to the Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac Preschool site on Venice Boulevard to serve as a neighborhood school for West Adams District children. The school was founded by a group of West Adams mothers and launched in 2013.

According to its May 2014 newsletter, CLIC needed more classroom and office space than Hillcrest Elementary School in Baldwin Village could provide and the Los Angeles Unified School District was considering assigning it to two different campuses for the next school year.

The struggle to relocate CLIC is being fought in the shadow of a larger debate that potentially could dramatically alter the structure of the LAUSD.

The Eli Broad Foundation’s “Great Public Schools Now” campaign is proposing to invest $490 million to accelerate the growth of charter schools.

Broad’s plan would open 260 new charter schools in the district over eight years beginning in 2016. It anticipates charter schools would enroll about half of the district’s students. The foundation would help address the major stumbling blocks charter schools encounter, including facilities, talent and the political climate.

United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers, has rallied against the proposed expansion, most recently on Nov. 10.

Finding a space to lease or land to construct a school in densely populated and largely built-out Central Los Angeles is an uphill climb.

City Charter Schools, CLIC’s nonprofit governing board, has partnered with Red Hook Capital Partners, a real estate investment and development firm to acquire and develop their new transitional kindergarten through fifth grade facility.

The project includes construction of an 18,992-square-foot, two-story building and 21 parking spaces. At full enrollment in 2018-19, the school will enroll 432 students, up from 225 in the school year 2014-15. Students are taught 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English.

“We gradually add more English each year and the idea is that all children are bilingual and biliterate by fourth grade,” CLIC’s Executive Director Valerie Braimah told The Wave.

Residents of Norton Avenue consider their street a quiet residential neighborhood that would be disturbed if a nearby preschool on Venice Boulevard was allowed to reopen as a charter school. (Photo courtesy of Fifth Avenue Times)
Residents of Norton Avenue consider their street a quiet residential neighborhood that would be disturbed if a nearby preschool on Venice Boulevard was allowed to reopen as a charter school. (Photo courtesy of Fifth Avenue Times)

The Arlington Heights Neighborhood Coalition is protesting CLIC’s plan to funnel traffic from the proposed Venice location onto South Norton Avenue, a diverse, low-income, predominantly renter-occupied neighborhood. The surrounding one square mile community has some of county’s highest population densities; roughly half the residents were born abroad.

“South Norton has been closed to through traffic north of Venice for its entire 110-year history,” according to coalition founding member Virginia King, writing in an op-ed for CityWatchLA.com. “Adding upwards of 800 cars daily during peak hours is untenable for local residents and businesses.”

Braimah disputed King’s traffic concerns.

“We submitted our traffic analysis to L.A. Department of Transportation for approval and they indicated the Norton egress was acceptable,” she said. “School representatives went door-to-door with a visual of the initial traffic plan.”

King disagreed. “CLIC didn’t reveal their plan to re-engineer local traffic patterns, opening Norton Avenue, and clogging residents’ streets.” The coalition has started a petition drive to fight the traffic plan.

Braimah provided a copy of the initial traffic or ‘queuing’ plan, a one-page document showing vehicles entering and exiting the campus via Venice Boulevard, and exiting northbound onto South Norton. Traffic volumes and conditions, vehicle occupancies, and traffic control and management strategies were not depicted.

It is unclear if the traffic plan is CLIC’s only major hurdle with the neighborhood, or whether the school also is confronting political opposition.

In her op-ed, King wrote, “Very few, if any, residents in the immediate neighborhoods want this school and its traffic. Most nearby businesses feel the same way. There is simply no need for another school.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.”

Other charter schools have failed to find solid footing in the West Adams area. Most recently, the Inner City Education Foundation’s Frederick Douglass Academy Middle and High Schools closed in June.

Whether CLIC is caught up in the political opposition that confronts charter schools in L.A. is impossible to judge.

King declined an interview request from The Wave to discuss CLIC’s proposal or the coalition’s position.

The Wave spoke at random to several South Norton Avenue residents and visitors exiting their cars or walking in the neighborhood. Most said they knew about CLIC’s proposal to relocate to Venice Boulevard and supported the coalition in opposing CLIC’s traffic plan. None said they opposed the location of the charter school on Venice.

Resident Marco Lopez said, “I think when you have a school, it is always good.”

Al Smith, a neighbor of 30-plus years, said, “We don’t mind the school.”

Businessman Andy Lopez, owner of La Adelita Bakery, told The Wave by telephone: “I did not know about the charter school or its proposal to open South Norton. Neighbors would be scared of traffic, but I believe charter schools are a huge benefit. I don’t think anybody in the Latino community disagrees anymore with the mess of LAUSD. … The charter schools have such huge popularity. It’s a simple problem: the unions. … You can’t fire teachers in the public schools; you can’t run a business like that.”

Braimah said, “We solicited the neighbors for their input and support. Now, we are back to the drawing board on the traffic study and have submitted new alternatives to [the Department of Transportation]. If available, the study’s results will be discussed with the community in December.”

CLIC has submitted preliminary environmental assessment forms to L.A.’s Planning Department and discussed its initial proposal with the planning-zoning committee of the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council.

City Planner Frank Quon said, “We are in the very beginning stages and environmental review of the project has yet to be completed.”