Schools - November 16, 2011

Ladera site: Neighbors seek assurance of student limit

by Barbara Wood

Saying they must check with their absent attorney about a detail, the board of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District at its Wednesday, Nov. 9, meeting put off starting the lease process for the old Ladera School site that has been home to Woodland School for 30 years.

The Ladera neighbors and Woodland School representatives want the board to put a limit of 325 students into the wording of the resolution the board must pass to start the process.

The district is using an open bidding process rather than a request for proposals (RFP), which might have given it more flexibility in choosing a tenant for the school site. The bid process requires, with few exceptions, that the highest bid be accepted, so the neighbors want restrictions to protect the neighborhood included in the process.

The limit on students is important because it is the only way the neighbors know to control the number of cars that must negotiate the steep, winding streets of their neighborhood to transport their children to and from school.

It is also important because most schools will tailor the amount of rent they are willing to pay for a school site to the amount of tuition they can expect to receive, bidding higher if they believe they can house more students.

The district has promised to put the limit on students into any lease that is signed as well as in the marketing materials advertising the bid process. But neighbors say they want the promise in the resolution because it can't be changed later.

"My desire is to have the 325 in the concrete document," said Ladera resident John Barman.

An attorney representing Woodland told the board that state law governing schools requires any important terms of the lease be in the resolution approving the process. Board members said that they need to talk to their attorney about that, and since he is out of town they will have to wait to do that.

The resolution before the board on Wednesday included restrictions including:

• The property must be used as a kindergarten to grade eight school and can include preschool and daycare.

• The fields will remain under control of the school district and are not part of the lease.

• The minimum bid is $625,000 per year, which is what Woodland currently pays.

• The lease is for a 25 year term and can be renewed for 25 more years.

• Rent will go up not less than three percent and not more than six percent each year.

• If the new tenant wants to make improvements to the school that will keep it from occupying the campus, the tenant can receive a rebate of up to half of their rent for a year.

Tim Brady, Woodland School's governing board chair, objected to the stipulation about the rent rebate. He said it would help any school but Woodland and could result in the district not receiving as much total rent from the high bidder as a lower bid who did not plan renovations before occupying the campus.

Board members did promise to talk to their attorney as soon as they can and did not rule out holding a special meeting to approve the lease process. Their next regular meeting is Dec. 14.

The school site was purchased by the district in 1952 but has not been used as a district school since Ladera School closed in 1979. Woodland, which now has 275 students, currently pays $650,000 a year for the site. Its lease originally expired in July, but the district has extended it twice, through July 2013.

The school operates under a conditional use permit from San Mateo County because Ladera is an unincorporated neighborhood and the site is zoned for residential use.

A hearing on the use permit will be held by the San Mateo County Zoning Hearing officer at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in Room 401, Fourth Floor, 455 County Center in Redwood City.


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