Thursday, November 29, 2007

City, schools continue talks about developer impacts

In an effort to solve the puzzle of surging enrollment and fees that developers should pay to compensate for added students, Fremont City Council and Fremont Unified School District's Board of Education will begin discussing the situation at every quarterly joint meeting.

The two panels met Nov. 19 to finish a previous discussion cut short at a joint meeting on May 27.

At that meeting, the district presented several options to balance student enrollment at all of its campuses.

Options included redistricting school attendance boundaries, setting up new classrooms and facilities, eliminating class-size reduction or placing schools on multi track, year-round schedules.

In addition, the panels were supposed to discuss developer impact fees, but due to prior commitments, some board members claimed to have, discussions did not occur.

On Monday, school board members voiced concerns over plans for the Patterson Ranch development near the Coyote Hills, which had been presented to the city council Nov. 13.

Many board members said they were worried that when the development enters the construction phase, 800 homes proposed would be completed and filled well before any planned elementary school is built.

Boardmember Lara York was also concerned with the proposed distance of the school from the residential units.

Developers have proposed building the homes in the project all on the eastern side of Ardenwood Boulevard, while the school, parks and open space areas would be on the western side.

"We're trying to make elementary schools that are walkable for many students," York said. "We do have concerns with residential units on one side of Ardenwood and a school and churches on the other.

"We want to make sure that if residential can be built, so can a school," she added. "Having that assurance is important."

Board members reiterated that if homes were built before a school, students generated from the development would be forced to attend nearby schools like Forest Park Elementary School, which school officials say is already facing overcrowding.

The board said it did not want that to happen.

Boardmember Larry Sweeney noted the proposed footprint for the school in the Oakland Athletics' Ballpark Village plans. He said the team has proposed a four-acre site for the school.

However, Sweeney suggested four acres ideally weren't enough for an 800-student elementary school. He added many campuses in the district are at least seven acres in size to accommodate the school, play areas and parking.

Sweeney implored the city to work with the district in possibly convincing the A's to increase campus acreage.

"When it comes to school size and footprints, we ask the council to look at the school board as a full partner," he said. "If we don't get what we need at the beginning it will be a burden to the district, as well as the taxpayer."

Councilwoman Anu Natarajan suggested the district consider multi-story buildings on its campuses to combat the small footprint of the new school site.

School board President Nina Moore said the district was looking into that option for the A's ballpark village campus. She added the district would also install multi-story modular rooms at Warm Spring Elementary School because there is no room for students at that campus.

Vice Mayor Bob Wieckowski said developer impact fees are a main source of funding for school districts, and wanted to know if there was any other option to help with funding besides the district's proposed alternatives or a bond measure.

Wieckwoski recalled Proposition 13, which voters approved in 1978 to set limits to property taxes and to deny future increases. Property taxes are another funding source for school districts, and without increases, funding is the same each year.

"Maybe we need to start thinking about a bond measure," he said.

Moore responded by saying that a bond measure would not be beneficial to all district constituents.

"One challenge we face is that we are not overcrowded all over town," she said. "That's why we won't get all our voters to approve new buildings, because some of (the buildings) won't help them.

"We need to communicate with the city that a message needs to be given to developers that some areas in Fremont just have no room for more students," she added.

Both panels agreed that meeting quarterly instead of semi-annually to discuss the issue would help solve the problem more efficiently.

"As a result of quarterly meetings, I'd like to see a plan of action," Councilman Steve Cho said. "It's nice to get together and talk about (the problem), but we need to take action so we know we have the tools to deal with these issues."

Mayor Bob Wasserman said an option might be to go to the state level for advice.

"I think the next time we have a meeting on this topic, we should invite our local legislators," Wasserman said. "The best we can do is to keep going around in circles, and we don't have the means to solve this. If we want to solve this, we ought to ask those who have the means, and they're at the state level."

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