SLV School District Perspectives
The Redwood Zoning Issue:
The Controversy and the Facts
At last week's school board meeting, serious accusations were made that the board had essentially "fixed" the school closure process before it had begun. Two people, including Dave Churchill, one of the recall proponents, said that the proof of this had to do with the district requesting a change in the zoning of Redwood so that they could use the building for other purposes. These people thought that the district had already been planning to use the facility, and that this proved that the decision to close Redwood had already been decided before the school closure process began, rendering the whole thing a sham.
Barbara Sprenger, Trustee for Area 4, replied that over a year ago, she had put in a request to the county for clarification of the zoning regulations regarding the 26-acre parcel near Redwood which is owned by the District (NOT the land with the school on it). At the time of the request, teacher retention was a problem for the district, and the possibility of constructing teacher housing on that land was being explored.
This week, I spoke with an analyst at Jeff Almquist's office (Mr. Almquist represents our area on the County Board of Supervisors). He kindly explained the situation to me. The following information came from that conversation.
In 2001, the SLVUSD was having a problem with teacher retention, as teachers were able to get higher salaries in surrounding districts. In brainstorming how to address the problem, one idea that came up was to help teachers defray housing costs by constructing teacher housing on a 26-acre parcel of land owned by the district near Redwood Elementary School. It was unclear, however, whether this would be considered a legitimate use for this land. Although a district can do whatever it wants with unused school buildings, undeveloped land parcels come under county jurisdiction. Therefore, the district put a question to the County Board of Supervisors asking for clarification of this matter.
Believe it or not, it took two years to answer this question!
The county had not encountered questions of this type in recent memory, since land owned by school districts usually has schools on it, and is under the control of the district. Therefore, the County Supervisors decided to put this question into a study it was doing called the Highway 9 Rezoning Study, which was looking at over 100 land parcels along Highway 9 where "the zoning didn't match the plan" (zoning is part of an overall land use plan revised by the county every 10 years). This study would make a recommendation as to how these parcels could be used.
Unfortunately, the whole Highway 9 project got waylaid when Santa Cruz County was confronted with a major housing issue, when it was ordered to create quite a lot of new housing or lose funding (this is a whole separate interesting topic). So everyone working on the Highway 9 plan got shunted over to working on the housing issue.
Fast forward to 2003, and the Highway 9 study is taken up again. The folks working on that study recently came to the planning commission, advising that the district-owned land could be used to construct teacher housing, if it met the rest of the county housing requirements (setback, geotech, septic, and on and on). This will come up at the County Board of Supervisors in September for final approval (the analyst said either the 16th or 23rd).
Of course, the whole thing is more or less moot at this point, since we have gone from trying to retain teachers to trying to get them to retire!
The Bottom Line
1) The district never asked any zoning question having to do with the Redwood Elementary School building, because any decision about the use of an unused school building is and has always been under the jurisdiction of the district.
2) The district has never tried to influence the county on any zoning issue related to this land - it merely asked a clarifying question.
3) The question was asked far before the school closure process was initiated - in fact, it was partially a different board and administration.
Update - at the 9/16/03 School Board Meeting, Supervisor Jeff Almquist spoke about this issue, and answered questions. You can read more about this in the synopsis of that meeting. At this time (9/26), the recall proponents are still citing this issue in their literature to try to convince people to sign recall petitions.