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Re: Laurel Upper School Access to Oak Court

From: domainremoved <David>
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:50:14 -0700

Dear City Council Members:

I cannot make the August 23rd City Council meeting, as I will be out of the country then. However, I’d like to provide public comment on an issue that will be brought up by several of my fellow neighbors on Oak Court.

Since my email in early July on this subject, Oak Court residents have attended the Transportation Commission public meeting on the subject of traffic and parking related to the Laurel Upper School, introducing a Five Point Plan for making Oak Court much safer for students using it to walk or bike to school. Some of the points are being addressed. In fact, the Transportation Division is presenting their plan for approval by the City Council for parking restrictions and no-stopping signs around the new Laurel Upper School. (Agenda item J3), for example.
This is one of the points in our Five Point Plan, but our #1 priority is to prevent the School District from opening up the Oak Ct gate to cars – something the School District could do at their sole discretion at any point in the future. Without this restriction in place, the school district could unilaterally decide to open the gate to 500+ additional car trips per day on Oak Ct, increasing the risk to students, pedestrians, and bicyclists using Oak Ct.
To refresh your memory of the plan 2 ½ years ago that still has not been put into place, take 3 minutes to watch these excerpts from the City Council meeting way back in January 2014. While the plan was to restrict the use of the Oak Ct gate to school buses and emergency vehicles, this was not done when an encroachment permit was issued by the City in the spring of 2015 without any such use restrictions.

I don’t understand why the City doesn’t just revoke the encroachment permit (it has the ability to do this according to standard condition #12). I also don’t understand why the encroachment permit isn’t already null and void, because according to standard condition #2, if construction doesn’t start within 3 months of the date of issue, the permit is automatically null and void. I know for certain no work on the Oak Ct Gate/Access started in 2015, it all began in 2016. I suspect that may be true for the other areas of work of this encroachment permit.

Several of us on Oak Court have retained a lawyer to look into this matter and to assist us in ultimately getting these use restrictions in place. As part of those efforts, we’ve learned that the City has just recently initiated efforts to try to contractually bind the School District to these use restrictions via a separate MOU agreement between the City and the School District. I can only assume that the City has looked at the encroachment permit situation and determined a separate agreement is the best course of action.

Regardless, it is clear to all involved that city staff approved the encroachment permit without taking the permanent use restrictions discussed at length in 2014 into account, and without elevating the permit application to the City Council (it may not have been elevated to the director of the department, as an associate engineer signed the permit). This was clearly a mistake, and I ask that you, the City Manager, and the relevant department heads take a close look at the encroachment permit process, and especially the tracking and approvals process, in hopes that mistakes like this don’t happen in the future.

Rather than take valuable time here getting upset about how this could happen, I’d like to look forward and, first of all, commend you and the City for recognizing that a mistake was made and for taking steps to correct it. We ask that you make every effort to encourage the School District to ultimately sign the final version of that agreement restricting use of the Oak Ct Gate to buses only. We’re counting on you and the City Attorney to make sure this happens.

Our counsel, Camas Steinmetz, has been trying to reach the City Attorney to discuss 2 additions we’d like added to the MOU draft. They are:

1. We’d like the MOU to be recorded as a deed restriction against the property. We don’t want this agreement forgotten in a few years because it’s in some folders and filing cabinets someplace. This would also make it enforceable against successors in interest to the School District and the City.

2. We’d like a specific provision inserted entitling the public to enforce the contract as a third party beneficiary. This is necessary because the MOU as a binding contract is likely only enforceable by the parties themselves (the School District and the City). I think this is particularly important as Oak and French Courts, and especially the public using these streets, are directly impacted by the parties adhering to this agreement. If there is a breach of this agreement by the School District, a breach that is not cured, and the City decides not to sue the School District to enforce this agreement, then members of the public as beneficiaries should be able to enforce the agreement on behalf of all pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists using Oak Court.

These are reasonable additions to the draft of the MOU (a draft we were kindly given an opportunity to review).
It’s critical to get this resolved – a permanent use restriction in place – before the school opens in October. Otherwise, the City and residents have even less influence or leverage to get the School District to agree to this formally in an agreement.

We’re counting on you and the City Attorney to make sure the use restrictions are put into place permanently.

Thank you.

David Jones
465 Oak Court

David Jones | davidlawjones_at_(domainremoved)

On Jul 4, 2016, at 4:47 PM, David Jones <davidlawjones_at_(domainremoved)

Dear Mr. Mueller, Ms. Carlton, and Mr. Ohtaki:

I am one of the many Oak Court residents that attended the January 28, 2014 City Council meeting on the school district’s plans for the new Laurel Upper School. I am writing to request your assistance on two matters: 1) commitments that were made regarding use restrictions for the Oak Court access from the Laurel Upper School, and 2) parking restrictions around the school.

Encroachment Permit Use Restrictions

At the January 28, 2014 City Council meeting, you very fairly represented our concerns about the “slippery slope” of traffic and safety issues from the new Laurel Upper School. There was a significant amount of public comment, school district representatives (principally Ahmad Sheikholeslami) made several commitments, and City Attorney Bill McClure advised council on city jurisdiction in the matter. (A video of the relevant segment of the meeting can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCk4_UvR_1c, with your Q&A starting at about 2:58:00 – 3:29:00 minutes.)

During the meeting, city council members made it clear to the school district representatives that Oak Court residents’ concerns are valid and should be addressed, namely the “slippery slope “concern that the plans for bus and emergency service access of the Oak Court gate could be expanded by the school district into car usage in the future. In fact, the discussion indicated that the future encroachment permit onto Oak Court could and should only be granted with this conditional use (for two buses daily and field trip busses, and emergency vehicles only) explicit in the permit.

Both Sheikholeslami and McClure confirmed that an encroachment permit would be the vehicle for addressing concerns about the safety of pedestrians, students walking and biking to school, and the ability of the District to open the entrance to cars at some future date.

2:50:48 — Sheikholeslami — “I don’t see a “slippery slope” because when we submit the permit for improvement that will go to city staff, city staff will look at it, and, similar to Oak Knoll, make recommendations on the conditions and we abide by the conditions that are put. If ever anyone wants to open the conditions, that goes through a process.”

2:58:11 — McClure — The City of Menlo Park has jurisdiction over curb cuts and encroachment permits, the interrelationship between where the school meets the public right of way. The city can make restrictions on access so it could not be used for drop off and pick up. Whether the curb cut encroachment permit is granted and how it is intended to be used could impact traffic and safety. The city can condition the granting of a curb cut or encroachment permit. The District would have to come back to the City to make changes if it was part of the conditions of the permit or it would be in violation of the terms of that permit.

3:04:20 — Sheikholeslami — “If the permit request has conditions, we will have to come back to the city to make any changes.”

Mr. Mueller, as mayor at that time, you closed the lengthy discussion by requesting that school representatives (principally Ahmad Sheikholeslami) and City Attorney Bill McClure investigate what heightened level of condition the city could put on the encroachment permit that was required to make a curb cut into Oak Court.

After the meeting, most Oak Court residents, including myself, made the reasonable assumption that the parties involved would move forward under this expectation and understanding, and the encroachment permit would be reviewed carefully by staff and include public notification and involvement, and ultimately would be granted with conditional use restricted to buses and emergency vehicles. And we certainly expected to be informed of progress and/or changes.

You can imagine my surprise when I recently asked city staff whether or not an encroachment permit had been issued – mostly because the parking lot and gate were under construction and I had not heard anything at all about the encroachment permit. I received a copy of the permit and discovered that an associate engineer in the Engineering Services department granted the Encroachment Permit. It was signed on April 24, 2015 and issued on May 4, 2015. There are no permanent conditions of use associated with the permit, only a temporary construction-related traffic plan. (Both are attached.) I cannot find any record of this being discussed by the city council, the planning commission or any other departmental meeting open the public with a notice about the issue. Therefore, I am assuming that you were not aware that council’s requests to the District and city staff were ignored.

I am very concerned that the encroachment permit was issued without use restrictions and without neighborhood resident knowledge, as promised. And, anyone keeping an eye out for this encroachment permit request would have struggled to become aware of this, in part because the applicant was BKF Engineers (not the school district), the owner was listed as Ravenswood Elementary School District (not Menlo Park School District, O’Connor or Upper Laurel), and the address associated with the permit is 275 Elliot (with the Oak Ct piece of it being buried on the form under the description of work to be performed). So, all of the ways someone might realize that this is the Oak Court/ Laurel Upper School encroachment permit were “suppressed” on the form and application.

It appears that the permit was approved by staff without public notice, information, or involvement and without inter-departmental discussion or City Attorney advisement. This could have been an oversight by the school district and their construction company/companies. However, the fact remains that residents who trusted in a process identified by their elected representatives are now facing an impact without restrictions.

Regardless of how it happened, I am hoping that you will be able to assist us in determining what can we do at this point to remedy the situation. Since the school district’s intended use of the Oak Court gate has been clearly stated (both at the 1/28/14 meeting and in subsequent emails), I want to formally request that the conditional use of the Oak Court gate be permanently codified in some way, primarily so that the school district cannot simply change its mind in the future and unilaterally open up that gate to cars or use the entrance for drop-off and pick-up. Perhaps the encroachment permit can be amended with the conditional use restriction. Perhaps another mechanism may be necessary. Regardless, before the school opens in just a few months, this needs to be resolved.

Parking Restrictions Around the School

On a related point, I received notification on Friday, July 1 that a recommendation for traffic management at the Oak Court gate will be discussed at the Traffic Commission July 13 meeting and that they will then present their recommendation at the July 19 city council meeting. Oak Court residents have not seen or discussed this proposal. Our understanding was that traffic issues would be resolved with a “transparent process.” Yet the lack of resident input during the development of the proposal by staff and now the short timing to review it gives the neighborhood no time for discussion and unfairly limited influence on a very visible, important issue.

If a decision is made by the Transportation Commission on July 13 (when many of neighbors will be on vacation) and finalized on July 19 (still a vacation time) we are stuck with a decision that will be very hard, if not impossible, to reverse. Since school is not opening until October, could you request that the decision be made at the August council meeting instead of July? This would give residents a fair amount of information and involvement.

I believe that there are common interests in these matters and that it will be possible to find a resolution agreeable to all parties. We share a concern for the safety of the students who use Oak Court to walk and bike to their school, and the safety of other pedestrians, cyclists and motorists that use Oak Court. We expect bus drivers to navigate slowly and safely, but parents dropping off and picking up their children as they rush to and from work could easily speed, be distracted, and cause serious, even deadly, accidents. This could be even more dangerous during the rainy season when it’s wet and more parents decide to drop off their children at either end of Oak Court instead of having them walk or bike in the rain.

I will be meeting with other Oak Court residents next week to discuss the issues I have outlined for you. I’d be happy to arrange a time for you to talk with us.

I’d also like to speak with you in person or by phone. Please let me know when you are available at the earliest possible time, and I will make every effort to accommodate your schedule.

Thank you very much.

David Jones

465 Oak Court

650-678-2208 davidlawjones_at_(domainremoved)


<Encroachment permit.pdf>
<Traffic control plan.pdf>
Received on Mon Aug 22 2016 - 23:56:37 PDT

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