Monday, October 6, 2008

Pondering the Point Fermin Elementary School Conundrum

I attended a packed conference room at the San Pedro City Hall, dealing with the issues swirling around Point Fermin Elementary School.

The meeting was held by Councilwoman Janice Hahn and included representatives of the Department of Water and Power (DWP) and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

Also attending the meeting were concerned citizens, the Principal of Point Fermin Elementary School, and some folks from the city of L.A.

A featured guest was a member of the L.A. City Department of Public Works.

Most everyone in the room was seeking a compromise solution to the main points of distention.

The only way I could get a real handle on the problem was to break down the pieces.

Farther down on this post is the Daily Breeze article written by Ms. Melissa Pamer.

So here goes my attempt at offering a view into the issues.

1. When the school was first constructed in 1931, the city of Los Angeles granted the school district a 'revocable permit' to encroach on easement along the Carolina Street side of the campus.

2. For a period of time after 1931 and until sometime much later on, a fence was placed on the easement, for security reasons regarding the campus.

3. The City of L.A. has never used its right to build a sidewalk along the easement all the way across the property line of the school, on the eastern side of Carolina Street. (There is a sidewalk on the west side of Carolina Street.)

4. In 1999-2000, a lunch shelter was constructed partially on the easement area of the school property, without any permits being drawn or studied by the city of L.A. prior to its construction.

5. The city of L.A. claims it 'officially' learned of the encroaching shelter only after its construction was completed.

6. Sometime an unknown number of years ago, the revocable permit issued in 1931 ended and nobody can find copies of that original permit.

7. Three years ago, LAUSD began a process of placing air conditioning to all the classrooms at the school.

8. A new route for almost 5 kilovolts of electricity was provided to a brand new distribution cabinet, also on the easement along Carolina Street, for power to the A.C. units.

9. The new route, distribution cabinet and A.C. cannot be energized until LAUSD gets a new revocable permit from the city of Los Angeles.

10. The power poles needed to provide power to the new cabinet became an eyesore to some local residents and the issue of having electrical lines running over an illegally-placed shelter also provided questions whether LAUSD was continuing its pattern of doing things incorrectly.

11. LAUSD admits that the placement of the shelter was illegal, but they claim that it was a mistake and not intentional.

12. Point Fermin Elementary is very small and land for school children is at an extreme premium.

13. Even though the shelter was placed illegally, LAUSD has no intention of removing it or moving it.

14. Nobody that I am aware of, including me, want to see the shelter completely removed.

15. LAUSD is now demanding that the revocable permit be issued so that the A.C. units can be powered up.

16. There is a strong challenge to that because LAUSD is continuing to ignore the laws and ruled it broke in the first place, with the shelter, and they seem to feel there should no penalty for their mistakes.

17. The issues regarding powering up the A.C. units comes down to LAUSD's unwillingness to pay to underground the wiring to the new cabinet, or effectively deal with alternatives.

18. It took the issue of not being allowed the revocable permit to finally get LAUSD to meet with the Councilwoman, DWP, and the members of the community, all at the same table.

19. Members of our military have children attending that school and two members attended the meeting to represent parents of kids who want A.C. in the classrooms.

20. It appears that LAUSD is not willing to fund the undergrounding of the cables to the new cabinet or seek a compromise favorable to everyone.

21. The Department of Public Works will be taking up the permit matter on October 22, 2008.

Here is how I now view the situation;

LAUSD's planners and engineers knew exactly what they were doing when they built the shelter on the easement. Nobody can convince me that they didn't know it was not legal.

I don't think they were that stupid, but they were cunning.

LAUSD didn't bother to inform the city until the construction was completed and now LAUSD claims that the shelter is permanent.

The State Architectural Board should have seen the violations if and when they reviewed the plans for the shelter, if LAUSD sent them in. But the Board failed all of us, IF they had the plans in the first place. (We can doubt they did.)

Now LAUSD wants a 'free pass' to continue to violate the law and not face penalties for their "mistakes". They are not willing, at this point to 'sack up' and do what is correct.

LAUSD is holding up the A.C. for the kids and no other group is.

The DWP has been more than fantastic in dealing with the issues and has been extremely communicative, supportive, and responsible in this matter.

It is not DWPs fault the kids don't have A.C. DWP can't power up the cabinet until the permit is granted.

The kids and their parents surely are not holding up the A.C. They are the ultimate victims in this fight.

The neighbors have legitimate concerns about having the poles where they are, especially the pole closest to the cabinet.

Many members of the community are concerned about having electrical lines over the metal-roofed lunch shelter.

Even though LAUSD claims that having the overhead electrical lines where they are is not dangerous according to them, the city of L.A., and others, I feel the wires should not be overhead of the shelter.

DWP is willing to pay for some of the rework necessary to underground the new electrical lines.

LAUSD has been reluctant to the point of not even addressing the community, responsibly.

The ONLY reason that LAUSD showed up at today's meeting is because they want and need the permit that is being held up because THEY refuse to deal with the mistakes they made in the first place.

Westbound Carolina Street, approaching the campus is steep, but it would take a very out of control vehicle to slam into the fencing, shelter, or cabinet. But since the shelter is so close to the curb of the street, it is something to consider.

LAUSD broke the rules and now they don't want to have to pay anything for their errors.

IF a new permit is granted before LAUSD is forced to underground the wiring or some other compromise mitigation, they will skate out of any responsibility that they truly have, in my opinion.

LAUSD must pay for undergrounding the electrical wires that will provide service to the new cabinet and A.C. units BEFORE the permit is granted.

Actually LAUSD must use OUR money to underground the wires because it is OUR money in the first place that funds LAUSD.

LAUSD has a habit of not listening to those who actually pay its bills.

In San Pedro we have LAUSD and the Port of L.A. to contend with. Both agencies seem to wield more power than the L.A. City government.

LAUSD claims that all their projects are funded ahead of time and there is no money available to fix their mistakes.

If there was money to create the problem in the first place, then there should be money to fix the problem, I think.

If LAUSD does not underground the wires now, they never will. They will continue to get away with ignoring laws, the members of the community, and not being held accountable.

Sometimes it is time to state: Enough is enough!

LAUSD needs to come to the table responsibly, realistically, reasonably, and respectfully, but they don't seem willing to do any of that.

If LAUSD continues to deal with issues and problems in this manner, why should they get another bond passed?

If LAUSD continues to deal with issues and problems in this manner, why and how can we trust them with the prospect of building a new high school campus in San Pedro?

If LAUSD continues to deal with issues and problems in this manner, why should we not call for LAUSD to be broken up into smaller, more manageable districts?

It seems like LAUSD continues to hang itself with its intractability, demeanor, and size.

Battle brews over LAUSD land use

Los Angeles Unified has broken the rules, and San Pedro resident James Campeau is challenging its bureaucracy in an attempt to hold the school district accountable.

The site of his frustration -- and of LAUSD's transgression - is Point Fermin Elementary School, which encroaches about 25 feet onto Los Angeles city property, a few blocks from Campeau's home.

The district had permission dating back to 1931 to use the city land, but it failed to renew that permit in recent years when it built a student lunch shelter and installed new electrical and air conditioning equipment.

"LAUSD can't wiggle out of this one," Campeau said. "We've got them on the ropes."

He and a group of residents want the school to back off city property so that a sidewalk can be built along steep, narrow Carolina Street, which runs along the rear of the campus. (There is a sidewalk on the other side of the street.)

Campeau also wants to remove utility poles and power lines that he says are a safety hazard to students - and which happen to block his harbor view.

His aggravation started when four new utility poles, needed to power the school's air conditioning and other upgrades, were erected in December 2005. Initially, Campeau and other residents complained about the effect on views, but found that safety concerns were more compelling, Campeau said.

He launched an effort to get the electrical lines placed underground even before he discovered the district's improvements were actually on city property. District and city officials have pronounced the wires, which hang over a metal school lunch shelter, safe.

Since 2005, Campeau's quest has evolved into a dispute involving officials at the school district, Councilwoman Janice Hahn's office, the city's Bureau of Engineering, the Department of Water and Power and the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council.

On Monday at Hahn's San Pedro office, city and district officials are meeting with Campeau and other community members, as well as Point Fermin parents and Principal Bonnie Taft, to seek a resolution that would soothe tension on all sides.

The meeting comes in advance of the whole mess landing before the city's Board of Public Works later this month, when the district seeks its permit.

A board staff report recommends the permit be issued, stating that there's a lack of city funding for sidewalk improvements and "there is no engineering or safety-related basis to deny" the permit.

Meanwhile, district officials admit they erred in failing to get permission from the city to make recent improvements on the land, and they say that a permanent structure like the outdoor lunch shelter may not have been approved in the public right of way.

The district was tripped up by the fact that a fence has enclosed the school and the city's property to the edge of the street since 1961, officials said.

"We probably made an assumption that where the fence was was our property line," said Neil Gamble, the district's director of maintenance and operations, who stressed that he wasn't in his current position when the lunch shelter was installed in 2000.

Although the district is at fault, officials there have refused Campeau's request to bury the power lines, an operation that Gamble said would cost more than $200,000.

"It is not a safety hazard. And for us to put it underground, in order to benefit his view, that would be (a) gift of public funds," Gamble said.

Los Angeles, unlike some South Bay cities, has no view-protection ordinance. Regardless, Campeau has said what's important to him now is safety.

In an effort to broker a solution, Hahn got the DWP to agree to donate its costs to bury the wires on the city's property. But the district, which would have to pay to bury the wires on its own land, didn't budge.

"I was hopeful that we could use the permit issue to encourage the school district to do right by the neighbors and find a way to underground the wires," Hahn said Friday in a statement. "It has never been the intention to make the school move the lunchroom, but instead to find a solution to the neighbors' concerns."

While the dispute persists, the electrical, air conditioning and technology upgrades that were completed at the school last fall - to the tune of almost $2.3 million -- won't get power until the situation is resolved, district officials said. That has generated frustration on the part of some teachers and parents.

"We've had claim to the land, so to speak, for years, probably for longer than some of the neighbors have been here," said Principal Taft, who held an after-school meeting last week to rally parents.

Campeau accused district officials of "politicizing" the conflict by involving the Point Fermin school community.

His effort has gotten backing from the local Neighborhood Council and from members of NOISE, a group that's organized against a proposed new magnet high school on district property near Angels Gate Park.

If LAUSD doesn't remove the wires, Campeau said he may appeal to the district's Office of the Inspector General, or even to Jerry Brown, the state attorney general.

Gamble likewise said if the permit was denied, the district too would look at legal options.
"Hopefully we can come to some resolution," Taft said of Monday's meeting.

No comments: