SACRAMENTO — School districts that need to construct classrooms in congested neighborhoods would be offered incentives to build multistory campuses under legislation unanimously approved by the Senate on 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 purchased 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 schoolchildren who are endeavoring to learn in overcrowded and obsolete classrooms," Roos said Wednesday.
L.A. District to Benefit
The principal beneficiary of the bill would be the Los Angeles 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 construct 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 already densely developed neighborhoods.
The Deukmejian Administration's Department of Finance opposes the measure on the grounds that it would substantially increase construction costs.
At the request of of Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who co-authored 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.
Would Remove Barriers
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.
The bill removes several barriers in state laws governing school construction that have discouraged districts from building multistory schools, and it provides extra funding to enhance the physical environment of high-rise campuses.
Calling it a creative response to a difficult problem, Roberti said the measure would 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 as much as 40 acres. But Los Angeles school district officials say 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 purchase numerous parcels of private property in order 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 would allow 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 would also provide additional funds to make multistory campuses more attractive physically. It would allow districts to use the savings resulting from the smaller land purchase to build atriums, green spaces and playgrounds, for instance.
In addition, the bill would allow districts to replace an existing one-story school building with a multistory facility.
Los Angeles school board President Rita Walters said the measure would give the district "wider flexibility" to meet the growing demands for new classrooms, but she said it would not eliminate the necessity to buy and destroy private homes in areas where schools are needed.
"We will still have to take some homes," she said, "but hopefully 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 who is displaced by a new school project.