A town committee recommended against the county granting a permit to an Arcadia-based high school to open a new school on Palm Street in a contentious hearing Tuesday in which a school opponent had to be removed from the meeting by the
Knowing that the history of schools on Palm Street was a tense issue, newly appointed Land Use Committee chair Mark Goldschmidt had asked for a civil and respectful hearing at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The committee and the audience--which numbered nearly 200 people and packed the community center’s main room and barely left any standing room--heard a presentation from Arroyo Pacific Academy school director Philip Clarke, , as well as several comments from both supporters and opponents of locating the school at that site.
One man had to be ejected from the meeting by Lt. Roosevelt Johnson of the Altadena Sheriff’s Station after he stood up, aggressively stormed up to the committee and started yelling expletives and calling the school’s supporters “fascists” and “creeps.”
When asked by Goldschmidt and other committee members to sit back down so the meeting could continue, the man told them to “shut up.” Johnson said the man waited outside for his wife without incident.
After a nearly two and a half hour meeting, committee member and town councilman Okorie Ezieme made a motion to recommend the town council tell the county to deny permits to Philip Clarke’s proposed extension of his private high school. The motion was passed unanimously by the 14 present committee members.
The recommendation will be presented at the next Town Council meeting on Sept. 20, at which the Council will either accept or deny Land Use’s decision and move it to the county level, where the binding decision on the permit will ultimately be made.
When Clarke purchased the site his plan was to use it as an extension of his existing private high school, which is located in Arcadia. He is well aware, however, that the local neighborhood has been against any kind of day school being utilized at the Palm Street site after the Sahag-Mesrob Armenian Christian School operated at the site during the 2008-09 school year without telling the community or acquiring all the necessary permits from L.A. County.
The lack of public outreach prompted the formation of the Palm Street Area Resident's Association (PSARA), which is opposed to any day school at the site because of concerns about traffic, noise, pollution and property value impacts in the midst of the quiet residential neighborhood, according to a statement on their website.
Clarke is aware of the group’s strong opposition to any day school, which is why he wanted to present his plans at the Land Use Committee, the town council, and then the county after going through several analysis studies to address the neighborhood’s concerns, instead of excluding the neighbors from the conversation.
During his presentation on Tuesday, Clarke explained that there would be minimal traffic and noise impacts from the extension of his school, which would focus mainly on special activities and learning, such as the arts, humanities, environmental and physical sciences, technology and design, but not outdoor activities such as sports.
“Out of the eight existing buildings on the site, we plan on using only seven,” said Clarke, adding that the 22 classrooms would be adequate to house the initial 12 teachers, three staff members, and about 85 students, with the goal of reaching a maximum of 250 students in a few years. “We do not plan to add or renovate any buildings or engage in new construction activities whatsoever.”
Hours of operation would be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with classes starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 2:30 p.m. As for traffic, Clarke emphasized that they plan on staggering the commute schedule and encouraging the use of carpooling so there is no bogging up of traffic.
“We’re not strangers,” said Clarke. “Many students would come from Altadena. Altadena deserves a quality high school. I don’t want to go through with this without community input, which is why we’re here and why we’re going to the Altadena Town Council and not just the county."
He asked the community to not hold him and his school responsible for the mistakes of previous occupants of that site and that they have no interest whatsoever in their property or the neighbors’ properties to decrease in value.
“In fact we want to increase the values by beautification of our campus, planting trees and shrubs and plants,” said Clarke. “We believe in a clean, safe and attractive environment. It would encourage people to buy homes in the area, not detract from that.”
Packed With Supporters
While the majority of the audience members in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting were in favor of the school, most of them were parents or teachers who praised Clarke’s professionalism and the exceptional quality of education that Arroyo Pacific Academy provides, which many described as unlike any other high school.
There were also a good number of nearby residents, some who even live on Palm Street and spoke in favor of the school moving in.
However, opponents of the idea pointed out that no matter how amazing Arroyo Pacific Academy may be and how professional and genuine Philip Clarke may be, their issue was not being addressed: that a high school or day school of any kind does not belong in that quiet residential neighborhood. And every single present committee member ultimately agreed.
Colleen Sterritt, one of PSARA’s head organizers, said during public comment that those who live in the area and will be affected the most are the ones who need to be taken into consideration, regardless of how great Clarke’s school seems to be.
“A distinction needs to be made between those who do support Arroyo Pacific and don’t live here and those who do live here,” Sterritt said.
Despite the best efforts of Clarke’s supporters to try to convince the Palm Street residents to give his school a chance, the committee decided that the site is simply not appropriate for a CUP zone change like the one that would be required.
“Most of the pros were all over the place,” said LUC member Ken Roberts. “It’s not the issue of the quality of the education of the school, but the location. The majority of those in favor of it don’t really live in that neighborhood.”
Long-time committee member Steve Haussler talked about the institutionalization of the site and said he hadn’t heard or seen anything that shows that this is an appropriate site for a school like this.
“If the entire neighborhood was on board, it’d be a no-brainer,” said committee member and town councilman Brent Musson. “It’s not a school, it’s a residential property. We don’t have overwhelming support from the community in order to make such a drastic change like this.”
Former LUC chair and current member Brian League pointed out the long term use ramifications.
“This is a residential community,” he said. “If this CUP establishes the site as an institutional use, someone else can come in years down the line who might not be such a great occupant or neighbor to the local residents, and they’d be stuck with that.”
The Land Use Committee’s recommendation will be presented and discussed at the . Whether they agree with the recommendation or not, whatever action they take will bring it to the county level, which ultimately has the last say on the matter.
Both supporters and opponents of creating a branch of Arroyo Pacific Academy at the Palm Street site have said they will continue to actively participate in the entire process.