[KHTS] – Santa Clarita City Council members denied an appeal Tuesday by Einstein Academy to open another charter school location, amid concerns about the site and the school’s application process.
Council members voted 3-1 Tuesday, with one abstention from Mayor Laurene Weste, andCouncilwoman Marsha McLean voting in favor of Einstein’s appeal over a permit to open a charter school in an industrial park at 25300 Rye Canyon Road in Valencia.
Councilman Bob Kellar criticized the school’s officials for unpermitted construction work on the Valencia site, traffic concerns at the Pinecrest site and the way the district gained approvals from the Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District, a move still being debated in court.
“To some degree, I would say, Albert Einstein, you’re not being a good neighbor,” Kellar said. “And I’m very concerned, based upon the track record, of what we can anticipate going into the future.”
The school is one of three operating in the area in and around the industrial park, including Valencia High School and a Montessori school, according to Einstein Academy officials, who said “political reasons” present no cause to deny the site.
“Every agency in California allows for the use of schools in an industrial park,” said David Armstrong, who presented the school’s appeal. “This is very clearly within the city’s (laws and ordinances).”
Weste said she couldn’t find grounds to deny the school based on its application and the recommendation by city staff, which called for City Council members to OK the site based on the school’s intention to continue to work with staff.
She didn’t explain her abstention from the dais Tuesday, but said any decision should be based on the criteria spelled out by the city’s applicable laws and ordinances.
Based on those prerequisites, she found no objection, she said.
After Kellar pointed out traffic concerns from residents near Einstein Academy’s Pinecrest site, McLean pointed out nearly every school pickup and dropoff location in the Santa Clarita Valley poses challenges at certain times.
She didn’t feel that was a good reason to deny a new school site.
“I believe that the staff report made the case that pick-up and and drop-off could be done safely — (school officials) were willing to put up fencing,” she said. “I thought it could have been accomplished by the conditions that would be (in the CUP).”
School officials agreed to hire a traffic monitor, to stagger pickup times and to substantially reduce the anticipated student population — from 650 students to 250 on-site, and 50 homeschooled — to accommodate traffic concerns.
However, she also acknowledged the concern of numerous members of the business community speaking at the meeting, who indicated during public comment they felt as though they’d been left out of the process.
“Maybe more could have been done to reach out to the surrounding businesses,” she added.
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and members of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. felt putting a school in the industrial park could lessen the city’s ability to attract businesses in the industrial park.
Einstein Academy officials first sought an OK for the site in June 2013, after unpermitted construction began on the site, which was an issue addressed by Einstein.
Once school officials were made aware, the contractor was fired, Armstrong said, and he was brought in to manage the situation from there on out.
However, traffic and safety concerns prompted the Planning Commission to recommend the denial of a 650-student site inside the 53,000 square foot building on 25300 Rye Canyon Road back in March, prompting the appeal.
City staff worked with school officials on the changes to their plan, which garnered support from city staff.
The next step is for City Council to formally approve a resolution denying the appeal, which is expected to happen at the council’s first meeting in November.