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Suitability of School Site on Hillside Questioned

October 05, 1986|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

A 30-acre parcel of vacant hillside land is being pushed as a site for a new high school in Monterey Park, but the Alhambra School District's consultant on school sites says it is not suitable.

"It's not a place for a school," said Harold K. Hedlund, after touring the hillside property with one of its owners, Frank Venti.

Hedlund said much of the property consists of steep slopes and that even extensive grading would not produce more than 10 acres of buildable land.

The district is seeking about 40 acres on which to build a new school to ease overcrowding at Alhambra, San Gabriel and Mark Keppel high schools.

Cheaper Alternative

Venti, a real estate developer, former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Lee Chen and others suggested the 30-acre site as a cheaper, less disruptive alternative to previously proposed sites that would require condemnation of homes and businesses. The property lies a block west of Atlantic Boulevard, south of Cadiz Street.

Venti said the school district could buy the land for about $6 million. Even if extensive grading cost $3 million, as Venti has suggested it might, the hillside location would be much cheaper than other alternatives, estimated at $20 million or more.

The Alhambra district, which serves high school students in Alhambra, San Gabriel and parts of Rosemead and Monterey Park, is considering half a dozen potential sites in the southern part of the district.

The school board more than a year ago declared its preference for a 43-acre site at Graves and Jackson avenues in Rosemead that would require the demolition of nearly 300 homes.

But the Garvey school board, which runs the area's elementary schools, the Rosemead City Council and many residents mounted a campaign against this proposal, prompting the Alhambra school board to order a search for new sites.

The 30-acre hillside property was one site that residents suggested. But Hedlund, whose engineering and planning firm was hired by the district for about $20,000 to search for a site, reported to the school board last month that he could not find the property.

His formal report said, "Unable to locate any vacant property, except long strips of steep unuseable side slopes."

School officials then asked Hedlund to contact the property owner and inspect the site, which is only partly visible from public streets. Since then, school board members, Supt. Bruce Peppin and two state officials have also looked at the property.

Skeptical About Suitability

Peppin said the state officials, whose approval is necessary to obtain funds for the site purchase, were "very skeptical" about the property's suitability.

School board member Dora Padilla said the site offers an impressive view but is "extremely hilly," and those who are offering it as an alternative are engaged in "wishful thinking."

Board President Charles Scanlon said the proposed site poses "all kinds of engineering problems," including a risk that extensive grading could undermine slopes that underpin a neighboring group of expensive homes.

But some residents say the site deserves further consideration because of the relative cost and could be acquired without destroying hundreds of homes.

Venti said an engineering consultant that he asked to look at the property concluded that the site could be developed for a high school.

Venti said the site could be expanded by acquiring three vacant adjoining acres. Another alternative would be to acquire about 20 homes along De la Fuente Street, he said, and still the total cost would be cheaper than other sites under consideration.

Chen, who first suggested the possibility of a school on the property to Venti after she joined an effort to secure a high school for Monterey Park, said she cannot evaluate the site herself because "I am not an expert in real estate or the cost of building a school."

However, she said, the hillside property deserves closer scrutiny than it has been given so far.

Both it and a second Monterey Park option, land at Monterey Pass Road and Garvey Avenue designated by school planners as Site G, should receive full environmental impact studies to assess their suitability, she said.

Deserves More Study

Cindy Yue, a parent who has organized a campaign to obtain a high school for Monterey Park, said she, too, believes that the hillside location deserves more study, even if the topography might pose design and construction problems.

"With today's technology and imagination, that could be a very good site," she said.

The next step for the school board is to narrow the list of potential school sites for detailed environmental impact analysis. Supt. Peppin said the school board is scheduled to make that decision on Nov. 18.

Robert Miranda, a member of the Garvey school board, last week urged the Alhambra board to give further consideration to Rosemead property south of Garvey Avenue and west of San Gabriel Boulevard that includes Builders Square, a building-supply subsidiary of K mart.

Council Is Opposed

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