Viewpoint - November 2, 2011

Editorial: Woodland is the favorite in Ladera

We hope the private Woodland School in Ladera will get a fair shake in the upcoming bidding process that will determine the school's fate for years to come.

The school buildings and site are owned by the Las Lomitas School District, which closed the Ladera School in 1979 and leased it to Woodland. Now the lease is up, and after 30 years, Woodland, which has 275 students, must bid and almost certainly pay much more (annual rent is $650,000 a year now) just to stay in its old home, which is in bad need of repairs. Another part of the bidding process will concern how much Woodland, or another bidder, is willing to spend to fix up the school.

Woodland is worried because they believed the original plan to use the RFP (request for proposals) process would have given Las Lomitas more leeway over selection of a tenant. But that plan was thrown out in favor of an open-bid process, which is said to limit the district's control over what the lessee can do with the property, although Las Lomitas officials believe it can be tailored to be somewhat flexible. Nevertheless, open bidding means that the school must be leased to the highest bidder in almost all cases, and may make it more difficult to award points to Woodland for its long relationship with the district and community.

For months prior to changing the process, Woodland officials felt Las Lomitas seemed to delay going forward with the RFP process, which Woodland kept pushing to make final. Now with the change to open bidding, Woodland is facing a time-crunch and can only hope it can survive what is certain to be a spirited bidding process, possibly with Phillips Brooks School, which leases a smaller Las Lomitas property on Avy Avenue in Menlo Park.

With tuition of about $20,000 a year, Woodland will have to bid carefully. Supporters of the school feel they won a key concession when a Las Lomitas representative agreed to place a limit of 325 students on the school site, which would rule out larger schools that hope to gain approval to house more students on the campus. Ladera fears more before- and after-school traffic would create a nightmare on the winding, hilly road leading up to the school. Traffic can back up on La Cuesta Drive when parents leaving the school with their children must pull out onto sometimes busy Alpine Road. And with only 27 parking spaces, Woodland is not able to permit parents to wait at the school site.

Woodland had hoped to be much further along in the bidding process by now, so school officials will be hard-pressed to live with a lease-signing deadline of July 2012, when they must vacate the property just 12 months later if they fail to acquire a new lease.

Certainly the Las Lomitas district needs to obtain the highest value it can for the school site, but we also hope they will give as much consideration as they can to Woodland, which has been a good tenant for many years and has become a valued and respected neighbor in the Ladera community.

(The Las Lomitas District board will take up the issue Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the La Entrada School multi-use room. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.)


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