SACRAMENTO — School districts that need to build new classrooms in congested neighborhoods would be offered incentives to build multistory campuses under legislation unanimously approved by the state Senate Wednesday.
The bill was proposed by Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) as a partial solution to a conflict between the Los Angeles school district and scores of angry homeowners who received notice last spring that their houses would be bought by the district and demolished to make way for school expansions.
"This bill is a winner for the individuals whose homes are in imminent danger of being taken for planned school expansions and for our school children who are endeavoring to learn in overcrowded and obsolete classrooms," Roos said Wednesday.
Los Angeles to Benefit
The principal beneficiary of the bill would be the Los Angeles school district, which expects to gain 70,000 new students over the next five years and which embarked earlier this year on an accelerated school building program. It has state approval to build or expand 31 campuses. Forty other projects are pending.
Also supporting the bill are the Long Beach, Alhambra and Richmond school districts, all of which are faced with the need to build schools in neighborhoods that are already densely developed.
The Deukmejian Administration's Department of Finance opposes the measure on the ground that it would substantially increase construction costs.
In Orange County, an education official familiar with the Roos bill said the measure will have no major impact on school construction in the county.
"I know about the bill, and it won't affect us in Santa Ana because we're already building multistory schools," said Asst. Supt. Anthony J. Dalessi of the Santa Ana Unified School District.
Dalessi said land is so scarce in urban Santa Ana that the school board years ago began building "either multistory schools or schools that start below ground level--things like that to make better use of space."
Santa Ana Unified, which is growing by about 1,000 new students a year, is scheduled to build a new high school, a new intermediate school and 13 new elementaries within the next decade.
Dalessi said the Roos measure, if passed, would cause no problem in his district, nor would it greatly change construction plans.
Dalessi said he knew of no other school district in Orange County that would be affected by the bill.
In Los Angeles, at the request of Sen. David Roberti, co-author of the Roos measure, 11 school building projects--near downtown, in Hollywood and in the district's southeast and south-central regions--are on hold while the school board searches for alternative sites that would require fewer homes to be demolished.
Hundreds of homeowners--mostly in the central city and the district's southeast region--were notified last spring that the district needed their property for a school construction project. Roos drafted the legislation in response to complaints from homeowners in the Wilshire corridor area, who said district expansion plans would destroy their neighborhood of established and well-kept homes.
Less Acreage Needed
The bill removes several barriers in state laws governing school construction that have discouraged districts from building multistory schools, and it provides extra money to enhance the physical environment of high-rise campuses.
Calling it a creative response to a difficult problem, Roberti said the measure will allow districts such as Los Angeles to alleviate crowded conditions "and at the same time not exacerbate" the shortage of residential housing that also exists in the neighborhoods that need more classrooms.
A multistory school would require less acreage and, theoretically, preserve some of the houses that stand in the way of school construction.
State formulas call for an average-size elementary school to have a campus of about 10 acres and for a high school to cover up to 40 acres. But Los Angeles school district officials said sites that large are extremely difficult to find in the heavily populated neighborhoods where new schools are needed.
As a result, the district ends up having to buy many parcels of private property to obtain a site big enough to satisfy construction plans.
The Roos bill, which now goes back to the Assembly for concurrence on amendments, makes building a multistory school a more attractive option to districts in several ways. One provision allows districts to exclude 30% of the enclosed hallways in a multistory project from the formula the state uses to calculate the allowable size of a school.
More hallways and stairwells are necessary in a multistory school, but existing laws had the effect of penalizing districts that wanted to build them, officials said.
The legislation also provides additional funds to make multistory campuses more attractive physically. It allows districts to use the savings resulting from the smaller land purchase to build atriums, green spaces and playgrounds, for instance.
In addition, the bill allows districts to replace an existing one-story school building with a multistory facility.
Los Angeles school board President Rita Walters said the measure will give the district "wider flexibility" to meet the growing demands for new classrooms, but she said it will not eliminate the necessity of buying and destroying private homes in areas where schools are needed.
"We will still have to take some homes," she said, adding that she hopes "this will ease what has to be done."
A related bill still awaiting a vote in the Senate would triple the $300 relocation allowance a school district is permitted to pay a displaced homeowner or renter. It would also increase the amount above market value a district would be permitted to pay a homeowner displaced by a new school project.