Parents and residents packed the auditorium of on Wednesday night to hear about the LAUSD's plan to lease two empty acres on the campus to a charter organization for development of a new building and school.
The LAUSD board will vote on whether to authorize a notice of intent to lease on June 21, and interested charter organizations would have at least a month to respond with a proposal to build. It's expected that a new school would house at least 500 students.
"The conversation does not stop after tonight," LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer told the uneasy crowd.
The notice of intent to lease is expected to be released by the end of June, said Krisztina Tokes, the LAUSD director of planning and development in the facilities department. Assuming the plan goes through, a new school would be ready for occupancy in about three and a half years, Tokes said. Any interested charter organization would be eligible to apply.
Any development would be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act review process, which looks at how a building would affect the neighborhood around it, including traffic, density and land use considerations.
"We want to locate it in a way that doesn't conflict in existing access to Walgrove," Tokes said.
Several community members and parents came forth on behalf of—and in frustration with—Ocean Charter School, which houses about 150 of its 370 students in portable facilities at Walgrove. Those buildings are due to be removed at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
"We've had a terrible experience with Ocean Charter," business owner and Walgrove neighbor Eric Wise said during public comment.
"We've had a terrible time with traffic from student drop-off and commuters taking off down the street," said Robin Mason. "It's a worthy cause, we're all for good education, but we need help with the traffic."
Other residents spoke up in favor of the current charter occupancy. "I want to see [Ocean] continue, the garden, art programs and music," said grandparent Karin Costello.
"We have a neighborhood school that is getting used again—there is life at that school," said Barbara Einstein, another Walgrove parent and a nearby resident. "This land does not belong to certain people, it belongs to everybody," she added.
Tension between charter schools and neighborhood schools is not new to the Venice area. Earlier this year, the announcement that a new Green Dot Charter middle school would be located at Westminster Avenue Elementary . Green Dot was ultimately offered space at Cowan Elementary in Playa Vista and will bus Venice students to the campus for the 2011-12 school year.
Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi told Patch after the Wednesday meeting that his organization would "absolutely" put in a proposal for space at Walgrove.
The LAUSD board vote on June 21 would be just the beginning of a long process for whichever charter organization is selected. The board will vote at least two more times, after a proposal is selected and after the environmental review process and negotiations, but before construction starts. Both votes will afford an opportunity for public comment.
"This is not a bullet train. This is a process that has many steps along the way," Zimmer said.
No matter what happens, Zimmer said he is committed to the neighborhood school already in place. "Making sure that we have a thriving, engaged community at Walgrove is incredibly important to my office," he said.