Backers Argue for Revised Palm Street School Plan

Despite the changes to Philip Clarke's amended CUP, which he presented to the Land Use Committee Tuesday, the neighbors closest to the school still do not want him to open his proposed satellite high school in their residential neighborhood

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 12/7/2011

More than 200 people filled up the Tuesday night for the third hearing of a project that would put a private high school on Palm Street, a residential block in the foothills of Altadena.
The hearing was held by the Altadena Town Council's Land Use Committee, and was requested by the project applicant, Philip Clarke, who owns and runs the Arcadia-based Arroyo Pacific Academy.
The room was split in two: Those who oppose Clarke's amended conditional use permit to operate a school at the existing buildings at 183-205 E. Palm Street and those who support it, most of whom wore blue Arroyo Pacific Academy shirts.
This Land Use meeting was informational only, with the agenda stating from the beginning that any action by the committee will be taken at their February meeting.
For about a year, since he bought the property that used to house Bienvenidos and then the controversial Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School, Clarke has tried to win over the nearby embittered residents to accept and support his plan to turn the site at 183 E. Palm Street into a satellite campus where only the arts and environmental science studies would take place.
Despite the recent changes Clarke and his attorney have made to their plan, the majority of the residents who live directly next to the site, on Palm itself, or on nearby streets have not relented on their stance of "No School on Palm," their mantra that can be seen on several yard signs around the area.
One of the major concerns that residents and committee members alike shared was the possibility of Clarke selling the property, which he owns, to another, less community-friendly vendor down the road if Clarke decides to pull his school out of Altadena. Clarke tried to assuage this concern by promising to include in the permit a written guarantee that he would not do that.
Brian League, a Land Use Committee member, referred to the Altadena Community Plan, which was adopted by LA County and guides development in the community.
"I don't understand why you didn't ask us or the town council or the community before you even bought the property," said League. "I think that's foolish."
Clarke responded by saying that to apply for a permit, one must first own the property.
"Look, I'm not building anything," said Clarke. "I'm not creating a new school site where there wasn't one before. If you think that the accommodations I've made are not adequate, then don't vote for my CUP. But I wonder what will happen to that site, and indeed that community, if something even worse moves in there a few years after the fact."
On top of that, Clarke said the school would offer $10,000 scholarships to any Altadena family who wished to attend the school, in response to how it might be a positive change to the community.
Having had his first CUP voted down by both the Land Use Committee and the Altadena Town Council, Clarke and his supporters, many of whom live in Altadena and some even on Palm or near the property, returned to present the changes made in his amended CUP, including:
  • Decreased maximum enrollment from 250 students
  • to 200 students.
  • Limited enrollment during the 1st
  • year of operation to 80 students.
  • Limited enrollment during the 2nd
  • year of operation to 150 students.
  • Required annual traffic monitoring for the first
  • three years to ensure that traffic does not overflow onto Palm.
  • Implementation of the Traffic Circulation Plan.
Clarke hired Kunzman Associates, Inc., of Orange, California, to prepare a revised Traffic Circulation report for the project, assuming the satellite school was filled to capacity at 250 students, which was completed and dated Nov. 7 and filed with the county.
That plan includes having parents enter the school site on Palm, drive into the middle of the campus to the circular student drop off/pick up site which would be 192 feet that has space for up to seven vehicles with an additional traffic back up length of 366 feet that has space for up to 14 vehicles, and then exit in the same direction they came in, leaving the school again on Palm.
Clarke claimed that this circulation plan would preclude traffic overflow onto Palm and that there will be "no significant queue delay if vehicles traveling in opposite directions pass when residential cars are parked on both sides of Palm." He added that no school parking or drop off/pick up would be allowed on Palm, only right turns in and out of the property would be allowed, and that school start and end times would be staggered by 15 minutes to help prevent overflow traffic from parents. All of these changes have been made requirements in the amended permit application.
However, even with these changes, it became clear during public comment that the opposing residents just don't want a school at that location. They held fast to their message: which was that while they appreciated Clarke's efforts to change his plan, they simply don't want a school at that location.
While the plan has now received three hearings of Town Council committees, the ultimate decision will be made by officials in the County Planning Department, taking input from the Town Council hearings.