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Modified High School Plan Fails to Placate All Critics : Education: Additional housing is part of the project, but opponents cite its proximity to Belmont.

March 13, 1994|JAKE DOHERTY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Building a high school on a hilly 24-acre site in Temple-Beaudry as the school district decided to do last week could pose fewer challenges than persuading opponents that the $80-million plan is a good idea.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials touted the proposed 2,000-student school as a "state-of-the-art" campus that will offer specialized training in public and social service, business, health services, art, communications and other career fields to students in grades nine through 12. The district will spend $30 million to buy the land and $50 million to build the school. The property is in escrow and the purchase is expected to be completed this month.

School board member Vickie Castro, whose district includes Temple-Beaudry, also pushed to have part of the site set aside for affordable housing and commercial uses. "This new Belmont Learning Complex will be a tremendous resource for this community," Castro said.

Commenting on the plan's additional features, one proponent, Mauricia Miranda Flores, president of United Neighbors of Temple-Beaudry, said, "Apartments, child care, markets--I've lived in Temple-Beaudry for 26 years and there's nothing like (this project) here."

"I'm in favor of it," she said. "A lot of children are being bused outside of our community, and I want them to come back here."

Nearly 2,000 students in Belmont High School's attendance area are bused to San Fernando Valley schools and an additional 600 attend other schools outside the area to participate in various voluntary programs.

The district hopes the new school will relieve overcrowding at Belmont High, which has a student enrollment of 4,200. But many see the Temple-Beaudry site as a poor choice.

"It's the community consensus that this is not a good idea," said Father Philip Lance, a spokesman for the United Neighborhoods Organization West. "It's not because we don't want high schools, but because of the long-range needs of that neighborhood for housing. And it's not what's best educationally for students."

Building another large high school in the shadow of Belmont High "is a crime," Lance said, because it would become another "warehouse," a label that community activists and some educators have given the city's large schools because they allow too many students to slip through the cracks. Belmont's dropout rate is estimated to be 25% to 30%.

"This won't solve any problems. It won't relieve Belmont's problems," said William J. Mavropoulos, a spokesman for Grupo Latino Echo Park, a Temple-Beaudry and Echo Park community group. "Most of the kids who go to Belmont come from Pico-Union and Koreatown. They don't come from this area.

"A new school should be built where it's needed, in Koreatown. It will destroy this community to warehouse so many students in one area."

Others argue that the district has failed to consider adequately the potential problems--crime, gang rivalries and a parking squeeze--that could result when thousands more students arrive, just blocks from Belmont.

Madeline Janis-Aparicio, community relations director for Local 11 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union and a member of UNO West, said she had "grave concerns" about another high school across the street from one of the nation's largest high schools.

The district has issued a report that said no significant problems would be caused by the new school and any negative impacts could be mitigated. But Janis-Aparicio said she believes the district needs to invest the time and money in a more extensive environmental impact report that would offer detailed plans to mitigate potential problems.

"There are compelling reasons for a new school, but it's unfortunate that it had to be that site," she said. "What this community fought for is family housing."

Temple-Beaudry had been promised affordable housing as part of a development plan put together in the late 1980s known as Central City West, but with the anemic real estate market, developers lost interest. The site for the school is owned by a group of investors led by the Shimizu Corp.

Still, many in the community have held on to the hope that the blocks of housing that were razed to make way for development would be replaced.

The four acres set aside in the school district's plan for housing--Castro's goal is 100 to 250 units--is "just a gesture," Mavropoulos said. "They need closer to 800 homes, at least," he said. "That way you'd have a community."

The district's plan received the backing of Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Caldera has argued that the area's high schools are severely overcrowded and that the Temple-Beaudry school is just one of several that should be built. Molina's support hinged on Castro's plan to include housing as part of the project.

Supporting the plan's critics is Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), who has called for housing instead of a school at the site. He also blasted the school board for abandoning its efforts to buy the 24-acre Ambassador Hotel site in Mid-Wilshire for a new school.

Polanco, who was recently appointed to the state Allocations Board, which controls the purse strings for such projects, vowed to fight the district's decision and continue to push for a school at the Ambassador site:

"I will do everything in my capacity as an allocation board member to make sure we do not abandon the Ambassador site and that I do not turn my back on the kids and community who four years ago fought so hard for a school in the Mid-Wilshire area."

New Campus

The Los Angeles Unified School District will buy a 24-acre site in the Temple-Beaudry area to build a high school.

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