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Edna Maguire Neighbors Sue School District

Lomita Drive residents say plans to overhaul elementary school haven’t sufficiently studied its impact on traffic and parking; they're asking the court to force the district to revise or expand its environmental review.

A group of residents who live near filed a lawsuit against the late last week over its plans to rebuild the school’s campus.

Under the name Designers, Engineers, Constructors for Better, Safer Schools, four neighbors allege the district’s environmental review process for the $36 million project didn’t sufficiently address their concerns over issues like parking, traffic and the aesthetics of the proposed new campus.

In a July 14 filing (pdf attached at right) in Marin Superior Court, the neighbors asked the court to order the district to void its adoption of the environmental review documents and direct it to either revise those documents or to expand the scope of the review to an environmental impact report (EIR), a broader and more expensive process. The neighbors also asked the court to order the district to pay their attorney’ fees and all related expenses.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of last month in which their San Francisco-based attorney Kathryn Oehlschlager asked the board to halt the project for 60 days to allow for more dialogue between the parties. If not, she claimed, the project’s environmental review documents – an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration – would be in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

New Mill Valley School District Superintendent Paul Johnson declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, which he said district officials are still reviewing.

“The environmental issues surrounding the Edna Maguire project, including those that these neighbors have raised, were discussed and presented in many public meetings, and were the subject of an exhaustive CEQA review process,” he said. “We feel that the environmental documents prepared for this project are sound and appropriate."

Before the board voted last month to approve the environmental documents, the district’s attorney in the CEQA process, Mark Kelley of Dannis Woliver Kelley in San Francisco, backed the district’s process to date.

“We don’t agree (with Oehlschlager) that this doesn’t meet the standard of a mitigated negative declaration,” he told the board at the time. “We feel that you have met the legal requirement.”

The neighbors disagree. In the petition, Oehlschlager, an associate at Barg Coffin Lewis & Trapp, claims the district’s environmental review fell short on several fronts, focusing heavily on issues around the analysis and mitigation for traffic circulation, traffic safety and parking.

The proposed configuration of the drop-off/pick-up area for cars will increase traffic in the neighborhood and “create a hazardous condition for pedestrians, bicyclists and cars due to the limited visibility at this location.”

The residents also allege the district didn’t properly study the impact of the project’s new multi-purpose room, which will hold up to 350 people. Although former superintendent Ken Benny said in June that the larger facility is simply intended to accommodate the school’s increasing enrollment, several residents have speculated that the district would rent it out to private events outside of school hours.

The residents objected to the aesthetics of the project, saying that the height and slopes of some buildings, particularly a two-story classroom building, would be higher than other structures in the area.

Lastly, the petition noted the district's environmental study found the presence of some serpentine rock in the ground beneath the project, and that serpentine rock potentially contains natural asbestos. The district replied that the bedrock underneath the site was encountered at depths between 20-35 feet below the surface and would not be disturbed during construction.

For each of the allegations in its petition, the residents claim that the district is deferring mitigation of those impacts indefinitely “by describing such proposed mitigation in terms of planning and coordination and not making such mitigation measures enforceable conditions of the project.”

The project, which expands the Edna Maguire campus from approximately 51,000 square feet of buildings to more than 78,000, is meant to both replace a 54-year-old campus and accommodate an increasing enrollment. It is part of the district-wide modernization plan, being paid for through Measure C, the $59.8 million bond measure approved by voters in November 2009.

The district’s plan calls for a that starts in the spring of 2012 and finishes the fall of 2013.

rich July 19, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Sadly, this lawsuit comes as no surprise. it will be an expensive and time consuming matter, and a significant distraction from the urgent matter of sorting how to educate our kids in a time of declining revenues and increasing enrollment. Measure C, the bond measure that enabled the District to go down the path of building a new school, was ill-conceived. Although Edna is in poor shape and probably should be replaced, the much more urgent issue is operating funds, i.e., teacher salaries. The District is projecting big operating deficits every year in the future. The District has only a small reserve fund that could be used up in two years. The quality of education will suffer. All of us in the District will feel it and it isn't going to be fun. Instead of raising $60mm for construction projects, the District could have focused on what's really important, TEACHERS and STAFF. The District could have raised a more modest sum for critical repairs and conserved the goodwill and generosity of Mill Valley voters for new parcel taxes that we are going to need to save education in our town. This dumb, avoidable lawsuit is just another example of the wastefulness that is destroying our State and undermining our kids' futures. I can't blame the Lomita neighbors for taking this action in light of the District's historical record of running roughshod over its neighbors; the ones who will suffer the most are Mill Valley's kids ages 5 to 11, the real stakeholders in all this.
Magoo July 20, 2011 at 05:50 AM
The "independent" oversight committiee didn't feel the need to mention this in their glossy flyer mailer to the taxpaying residents recently? And the School Board had several unsecheduled closed session meetings to discuss. Ths committee has a lack of credentials, or they don't think we can handle the truth.
Concerned July 20, 2011 at 06:24 AM
As a Mill Valley resident (but not living in the Lomita neighborhood), it nevertheless makes little sense to me to expand the footprint and enrollment at Edna Maguire. I've been stuck in that traffic (throughout the whole Lomita neighborhood) around school drop-off and pick-up times, so the neighbors' complaint seems fair. What if a fire or other emergency broke out during these times deep in the neighborhood? There quite easily could result a major problem; emergency vehicles cannot easily get in there. But with the planned expansion of the school by potentially another 100-plus cars twice daily?? Crazy. I like the comment above about smaller schools; seems to me to be a better plan for MV. I'm absolutely all for a revamped high-quality Edna Maguire, but let's reconsider the expansion.
Dan July 20, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Wow. I am constantly amazed at the ignorance of people when it comes to rebuilding old, decrepit and out-of-date schools. Sure, they always support the schools but only if it is done their way. And I find it funny that those against always throw out non-existent safety issue(s) as scare tactics. How about this one : Edna Maguire is built in the flats - what if a tsunami was coming? Maybe we should build it on top of horse hill. As a neighbor to Edna Maguire - I live approximately 200 yards from the school (and on the main entrance to it - and both my kids graduated from EM) - I can say I am completely in favor of rebuilding. The "traffic" issues exist for approximately 10 minutes every day. There is always room for everyone. Sure, we all want smaller schools. How about we tear down your house in Mill Valley? Where are you going to build more schools? We dont' have the land. And the kids are already here. Want to support teachers? Help them with smaller classrooms. Or volunteer, as I have done, as a teachers aid. I'll have to deal with big trucks driving in front of my house every day, and perhaps unwanted noise, but that's what one does for the common good. As to the band aid repairs, the school needs major work. We've passed the bond measure to rebuild the school. Now we have to spend needed money fighting a ridiculous lawsuit which will delay everything.
rich July 20, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Don't blame the Committee; members didn't know about the lawsuit until this week when it became "news." Plus, the Committee has no power and is just fed information by the District. Once the bond measure is voted in-favor the deed is pretty much done and the District runs the show. If you are interested in the business of the District - get involved before the fact. This lawsuit will tarnish the District's image and make it more difficult to obtain precious dollars from the community to run the schools. The kids suffer, the schools suffer, Mill Valley's reputation for good schools suffers, and...property values suffer. Settle this lawsuit immediately before more damage is done.
Bud Wiesser July 20, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Seriously? Kids are enrolling into the district in record numbers and you want Smaller Schools? I guess that means you want More Schools and as you know MV isn't made of money nor surplus land. Neighbors everywhere here will go NIMBY at anything they don't like. Waaaaaaah. (Interesting how this story doesn't name names.) Basically people need to get out of their imported SUVs and try carpooling, walking or biking to school...not everyone can do it but I'd wager that many can but don't preferring to get their workout at their private membership gym and personal trainer than out in the real world. Do I sound bitter enough ;-) ?
Bud Wiesser July 20, 2011 at 06:48 PM
"Under the name Designers, Engineers, Constructors for Better, Safer Schools, four neighbors allege the district’s environmental review process for the $36 million project didn’t sufficiently address their concerns over issues like parking, traffic and the aesthetics of the proposed new campus." -----> Instead of hiding behind a wonky name, name the 4, please. The "project didn't sufficiently address their concerns" meant "We didn't like your answers." "The neighbors also asked the court to order the district to pay their attorney’ fees and all related expenses." -----> MV's students thank you fellow NIMBYites...! What self-entitled SOBs here.
Magoo July 21, 2011 at 02:33 AM
rich--you mean the independent committee does not have access to invoices and payments, and that they do not do a sampling of expenses paid? If not this so-called independent committee is a joke. Also why shouldn't they have mentioned the probable litigation the school district was facing even if thke official filing by the plaintiffs was not done at the time of the mailer? Just like financial statements shouldn't investors be made aware of the situation? Isn't it better to have more information than less information? Or is the School Board trying to hide these matters...as usual.
EagleEye July 21, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Measure C made a lot of sense -- and 67% of MV voters approved it. The Edna kids and teachers lose now because three neighbors are having a NIMBY-fueled hissy fit. The schools badly need renovation and bond funding is the only way to get it done. Besides, you can't use bond funds to cover operating expenses like teacher salaries and staff. Not legal. Let's get on with it. Shame on litigious crybabies.
Mill Valley Resident July 21, 2011 at 07:57 PM
I have lived in Mill Valley for 15 years. I love Mill Valley. I have children and am all for safety but there is an increasing segment of our population who is so entitled that they have no skills for dealing with not getting what they want . If you choose to live near a school you have to deal with traffic, end of story.I live near a school. The SUVS have gotten bigger with time so that sometime it feels like I am living on a one way street.I have many options, but suing the school in my neighborhood is not one of them. There were multiple public meetings about the Edna Maguire Construction and some of the litigants attended. Now they choose to bring litigation because they want to have their way NOW. Citing safety is a joke. We have to teach our children how to be safe when walking or biking on our streets and drivers have to get off their cellphones and drive slowly in a school zone. Stopping construction is not going to make the streets around Edna Maguire any safer. It is a high traffic area with the elementary school, businesses, and use of the fields for little league and soccer. I am so tired of these people but know in the next 15 years things will continue to change and hopefully the next group of new residents to move here will be less entitled as they have actually some more experience with disappointment and compromise.

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