San Carlos: School Does Not Comply with General Plan

Jan 20th

After hearing from numerous member of the community, the San Carlos Planning commission voted to unanimously approve a resolution finding that the planned SUHSD high school does not comply with the city's general plan.  More information can be found here.  This resolution is a great first step from the city, but the school board is not obligated to comply.

Superintendent Leonidas is Open to Other Locations

Dec 18th

Last night, some neighbors who live near the park met privately with Superintendnet Leonidas.  Leonidas provided us with his plan for the proposed school and he has some nice ideas.  However, this is clearly the wrong location for a high school and he struggled to find suitable answers to the questions of parking, traffic and the use of Laureola Park.  We had the opportunity to provide him with the petition that everyone in the community has signed (Over 420 people at the time!) asking the school board to find a new location for this school.  We hope that he shares this information with the board and understands that there are more suitable locations for a school in the area.  Here are some things we learned:

1.  The Old County Road property has had other offers on it since the SUHSD signed the contract to buy it.  These offers are $400K-$500K higher than what they are paying.  The school board could easily sell the land and bring in nearly half a million dollars that could be used toward enhancing education or finding a better location for a high school.  This would be a true win-win for the school board and the community and we urge the Board to consider this option.

2.  The School Board is still open to new locations.  It is unclear how sincere the effort is to find a more suitable location at this time.  We urge the school board to propose an alternative location, we hope the San Carlos City Council will help in the effort. This is good news and let's try to help find them a 1-2 acre location if we can.

3.  There has been no push-back on the proposed high school located on Jefferson.  This demonstrates that the SUHSD can find appropriate school site in our area if they put in the effort.

4.  The SUHSD would consider expanding the school if they can buy adjacent land.  To me this demonstrates that the school could easily become much larger than 400 students.  If school overcrowding continues, I wouldn't be surprised to see the number of students double.  While this is not the "intention" it certainly is a real possibility.

5.  Leonidas has a tough job.  This is not an easy problem to solve.  However, this does not mean anyone should settle for half-baked solutions.  With all of the issues at this proposed site, the SUHSD would be far better off financially, time-wise, and strategically finding an alternative location.  Selling the property would be a $500,000 gain for the schools.  This is a congested area and construction at this location will be very delayed, time where a new school could already be up and functioning.  This location has no athletic facilities planned and no capacity to expand.  They should consider a location that allows them to expand if necessary.

City of San Carlos Clarifies Role in School Proposal

From the City of San Carlos Facebook Page.

Schools & Land Use:
       Most projects and land use decisions in San Carlos require City approval. As such, residents are used to sharing their comments and concerns about such proposals with their elected City Council members and the City Staff. One of the few exceptions to this City land use control is the planning and building of public schools. The State agencies listed at the bottom of the page oversee all public school projects and both the High School District and San Carlos Elementary School District are exempted by the State from any local land use control and oversight.
       The decision to locate a new magnet high school in San Carlos is under the sole jurisdiction of the Sequoia Union High School District Board. The City has had very little involvement with the specifics of the proposed 300-400 student magnet high school that the District is considering locating on Old County Road near Laureola Park and the Cal Train Station. The City staff has offered to meet with District Staff to discuss their proposed new school and any potential sites and alternatives in San Carlos.
       While the City is interested in hearing from our community about how they feel about what’s being proposed, the City does not have the ability to approve or reject the project. There has also been a lot of talk in the community that the District will take or use Laureola Park as part of the school. This has not been proposed by the District to date nor has the City considered this. The park is the sole responsibility of the City and its City Council members and any future proposals to use the park in conjunction with a high school would be discussed and considered by the City Council with the public before any changes could take place with regard to the park. While the District can build a school without the City being involved, they cannot take or use a City park without the City’s consent.
       Early next year the City will use the Shape San Carlos open online town hall forum to provide residents with the opportunity to share their views on the High School District’s proposed plans.

In the meantime, if you’d like to share your thoughts with your elected High School Board members their contact information is as follows:

Allen Weiner, President

Olivia Martinez, Vice President

Chris Thomsen

Carrie Du Bois

Alan Sarver

State Agencies:

California Department of Education

Office of Public School Construction

Division of the State Architect

School Board Meeting Summary

Tim Hilborn's Summary on Behalf of GESC Board

Meeting Analysis for GESC Community Regarding School Plan, Laureola Park Joint Use Request for San Carlos City Council, and General Issues
Dear GESC Neighborhood: 

Tim Hilborn has put together a detailed summary for the neighborhood regarding the meeting between Community Members/GESC Board and the Sequoia Union High School District. Recent projects demonstrate a pattern of indifference and lack of accountability by public officials. Please sign petitions to Support Holly Street and to Save Laureola Park from this influx of new park users for the only green space in Greater East San Carlos. 

GESC Board

Summary of Meeting between Community Members/GESC Board and SUHSD Regarding 535 Old County Road
December 11, 2014

Overview: GESC Board and community members met with officials from the Sequoia Union High School District including Superintendent Jim Lianides, Trustees Alan Sarver, Carrie DuBois and Assistant Superintendent, Enrique Navas Thursday, December 11, 2014. Although the meeting provided some new information, GESC Board members were hoping to get a comprehensive response to their letter addressed to the Superintendent, which has also been posted on GESC Unfortunately there was very little substance to the district’s response as they mostly referenced discussion from the board meeting the night before.  The agenda and minutes are posted at:


*Type of school: The district is planning to develop a magnet school model at the proposed location. This will not be a charter school, and not exclusive to the students of San Carlos who have not had a High School since 1982.  The “theme” or curriculum offering has yet to be determined and the district has conducted a survey to school district residents to get further input. The School District could not confirm if surveys were sent to the GESC community who are also part of the SUHSD.  We still cannot find any GESC community members that received or responded to the survey, and it appears this was an omission.

GESC Community Concerns: If there were a specialized curriculum, this would limit the amount of San Carlos students from attending. If the district is going to heavily impact the surrounding area with traffic, students, and loss of community park use, shouldn’t the school offer a broader curriculum to be accessed by more San Carlos students? What guarantee will GESC students have for preferential placement? The district indicated they would be willing to work with our community to find a process that might give more consideration to local students depending on the curriculum being offered. One question posed by a GESC community member in attendance was: “Does the theme for a magnet school outweigh local community educational needs?” The district seemed to think it did. Given that San Carlos has been without a High School since 1982, we would consider this be given careful consideration.

*Zoning/Traffic:  The student population would be between 300-400 students with ground level parking below two stories of classrooms and administration buildings, so three stories total. When GESC brought up traffic impact issues, the district said that there would be a traffic study done for the EIR (Environmental Impact Report), and the School District would be the Lead Agency.

GESC Community Concerns: At the SUHSD public hearing, the GESC Board and community members were told by both the Superintendent and several School Board members that the proposed site was zoned for high density, 4 story, and 50-foot buildings. The narrative posed by the district was that of the school being a much better option than any other development due to it having less of an impact according to zoning standards.  One of the documents the Superintendent provided at the meeting was from their real estate representative backing up this claim. Upon further review of the city’s zoning standards, which can be easily accessed through their website, shows the proposed site to only allow mixed use (MU-N) density at 2 stories and 30 feet in height. The role the City of San Carlos will have in reviewing and reconciling any General Plan, zoning, and parking requirements needs further clarification.

Traffic Impact
In regard to traffic concerns, the School District proposed several potential mitigations including use of Caltrain, SamTrans and shuttles for student transportation to and from the school. They also mentioned later or staggered starting times to mitigate traffic impact. GESC inquired as to how many students are currently taking Sam Trans buses to the smaller magnet schools. The district responded that not many currently are, although a lot take the buses to the larger comprehensive schools. These numbers can be requested in the traffic study. The same question was asked for students that might ride CalTrain, but an accurate prediction for those numbers could not be estimated. The district said that they would limit student parking at the school. In response to neighborhood parking concerns, a similar neighborhood parking permit program went into effect near the larger schools and students quit parking in the neighborhoods after they started receiving tickets; however, stu dents wi ll still need a place to park.  From past experiences with the city and developer’s EIR’s, the GESC Board is aware that traffic impact reports from engineers can be inaccurate, skewed to their client’s advantage, and become “non significant” under the guise of cumulative impacts. Scoping sessions and public hearings should be held in San Carlos close to the affected GESC community. The traffic study and EIR cumulative impact analysis should evaluate major developments occurring in the City and particularly around the GESC community, and major transportation issues facing the City including transit, Holly Street traffic, and the Highway 101 overpass. GESC has requested that the School District and community come to a mutual agreement on selection of a traffic engineering company to run the traffic study for the EIR.  The district agreed to that request, and that a GESC representative is part of the traffic/parking selection committee an d review committee.

*Community Input/Public Hearings: The School District confirmed that there was a site selection committee for finding a site in the northern boundary of the district. When the district was questioned about the process and need for public hearings for both alternative and final sites prior to commencing with the acquisition of 535 Old County Road, the meeting became contentious. Upon further questioning from GESC Board members, it became apparent that none of the district officials present at the meeting, including Assistant Superintendent Enrique Navas, had any recall or knowledge of the DOE (Department of Education) requirements. This also includes site selection standards and/or California Education Code laws pertaining to how a district is to conduct and implement site selection in accordance with DOE requirements and laws.  

GESC Community Concerns: The tenor of this particular subject during the meeting going forward became very tense. Assistant Superintendent Enrique Navas became especially agitated and insistent that there was no verbiage or educational codes in effect that the district was violating. He even went so far as to insist that reviewing this process was unproductive and had no basis for discussion. Of particular concern was Trustee Alan Sarver’s quote at both the public hearing and this meeting regarding public input and public hearings: “Our site selection process does not lend itself to public conversation”. 

We urge GESC residents to check these links to see if the district’s concerns regarding these facts are accurate.

Actual Ed Code
Here are the links to the specific California Ed. Codes GESC has referenced:
Here is a link to the Site Selection Guide the DOE encourages and Ed. Code requires districts to use:

Although GESC can’t legally determine if the SUHSD is in violation of any DOE Codes, it will research a legal opinion moving forward to gain all the facts necessary so our community is properly informed and has all options available.

*Laureola Park/Preschool: The district’s intentions for Laureola Park are to get approval of a joint use clause from the city. This would allow the district access to the park during school hours for Physical Education programs, lunchtime and after school. When asked about after school use for team practices, the district said it was looking at all options. The district made it clear that they were not interested in redeveloping any part of the park including the fields at this time. The issue of eminent domain came up and the district stated that is very hard for one public agency to take property from another. Although this is true, there are some cases where public land has been taken through eminent domain, although technically it is private land that is usually taken for public use.  How the GESC community, preschool, Peninsula youth leagues, and proposed high school students would use the already impacted park, which will also incur new use from the future residents of the Transit Village and proposed Wheeler Plaza, is a concern due to use conflicts and parking limitations.  There is already a need for additional park space within the GESC neighborhood, and this has been communicated repeatedly to the City, particularly during the 7 years of Transit Village hearings.

GESC Community Concerns: Many speakers at the public hearing had concerns relating to the proposed school’s location to Laureola Park and the preschool housed in the Laureola building. (The park is currently a 12 and under park where younger children can play freely without interference). These concerns included the district’s desire to attain joint use of the park for students during the school day. It seems that the district is not articulating exactly what their role will be with the parks use and that makes it even harder for GESC community members to get an accurate reading of what to expect. Another concern is that the city does carry the power to sell any of its public land if deemed necessary. Earlier this year the San Carlos City Council was entertaining the possibility of a land swap between the city and San Carlos School District. Although this didn’t happen, it does shed light on the fact that an option exists for the c ity to s ell or swap land including Laureola Park, to school districts.

*Options: GESC Board members made it clear that its preferred option is for the district to find another site and have the city of San Carlos purchase the land to extend the development of Laureola Park. As of this writing GESC community members have formed a “Save Laureola Park” website and petition that received over 300 signatures in its first 48 hours. When asked about other viable options that were available to the School District they kept coming back with the fact that most alternative sites had major environmental clean up issues that would require extensive and costly mitigation. GESC will be requesting copies of all alternative sites the district looked at including any disclosures that came with those potential properties. This would include any Phase 1 or 2 environmental studies that took place or were recommended or required.  At their December 1, 2014 City Council meeting the Mayor of San Carlos made this same point th at other alternative locations in San Carlos should be considered.

GESC also discussed the possibility of redeveloping Redwood High School located at 1968 Old County Rd. It is currently used as a continuation high school with approximately 350 students. The facilities are currently only one story and can easily be developed to three stories housing at least the same number of students that would attend the proposed site at 535 OCR. When GESC suggested this as an option, the district said that it wasn’t a good mix to have a magnet school in the same location as a continuation school. When GESC asked if the district though it was a good mix to have a high school in the same location as a preschool, the district did not have an answer. In parting, GESC highly encouraged the district to work with the city of San Carlos to find an alternative site.  In the meantime the district can easily absorb student enrollment increases over the next few years with developing Redwood High School facility and incurring a very small increase in cl ass size throughout the comprehensive schools until a suitable location for a new magnet school is located and developed.


Tim Hilborn
On Behalf of the GESC Board