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LAUSD Backs Away From Robinsons-May Site

October 31, 2000|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — A recently circulated list of proposed sites for high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District was as notable for what it didn't say as for what it did.

Missing from the list of five proposed sites in the San Fernando Valley was the square, freeway-friendly, 24-acre parcel that houses the corporate headquarters of the Robinsons-May department store chain.

LAUSD officials won't say that the property, long the preferred East Valley site, is off the list. But they do say that, given the tremendous cost that would probably be associated with taking the land by force, and with the emergence of an attractive alternative, they've focused their energies elsewhere.

By early next year, that informal decision could be made final.

So after more than a year of the local business community complaining loudly that the plan to unseat North Hollywood's biggest corporate headquarters made little sense, it seems that they're finally being heard.

The question now becomes, will the next set of voices we hear be from the 50 or so homeowners who could be uprooted if the most promising alternative site pans out?

The current site needed to get Robinsons-May off the hook includes property to the south, near the new subway station in North Hollywood. It's dubbed East Valley Area New HS #1B.

Caprice Young, the Los Angeles school board member who originally proposed the Robinsons-May site, said the new alternative "would involve taking a large number of homes." Perhaps more than 50.

In the jampacked Valley, where "available land" and "pressing need" are often not neighbors, somebody's toes are going to get squashed. The question now becomes, whose?

"It's just the difference between moving jobs vs. moving residents," said Young.

And that's a difference that makes a difference if they happen to be your toes.

*

There are at least two lists of proposed high school locations floating around. Neither document--both weighty and detailed--mentions the Robinsons-May site, which Young once described as "golden."

Turns out it was golden, but probably not in the way Young meant.

"It's not the preferred site for a couple of reasons," said Kathi Littmann, director of new school planning for the district. "No. 1 is because the cost of the property would be astronomical."

Littmann explained that when the district first publicly announced its interest in the site, at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street in North Hollywood, "it was the school and it was going to provide all the seats. It's big and it's clean and it's clear.

"It was the No. 1 site."

That was back in September of 1999.

Fast forward to this year. District officials and others have had time to consult their calculators.

"It's very expensive," said Littmann. "And an unwilling seller would force it to go to eminent domain, which further increases the cost of property."

Littmann and others stressed that the Robinsons-May site is not officially in the clear, and won't be until an alternative pans out.

In fact, Young said, technically, from the standpoint of the school board, Robinsons-May remains the preferred site until the board takes official action that gives that dubious distinction to another parcel.

In a prepared statement, Robert M. Soroka, chairman of Robinsons-May, said that was his understanding as well.

"We've been closely monitoring the school district's efforts and we are very encouraged that they have found some alternatives," he said in the statement. "That said, our understanding is that Robinsons-May is not off the list until an alternative site is secured."

Littmann and Young both called the current list of alternatives solid.

The district is in talks with the Department of Water and Power for joint use of the Anthony Office Building, which would help relieve overcrowding at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley. That allowed the district to look further south for a school site to relieve overcrowding at North Hollywood High.

Enter East Valley Area New HS #1B. The district is expected to host a series of community meetings on that site in the coming months.

In the meantime, Littmann and Young are keeping fingers crossed.

"It's a very promising site," said Young. "But it's not going to be easy because it would involve relocating residents."

Which leads us to the bottom line. We're running out of Valley in the Valley.

In order to find space for all the schools and shops and homes needed, educators, businesspeople and residents are going to have to work together.

I said that a year ago, but I like the sound of my voice, so I'll say it again.

To some extent, that is happening with more regularity.

Saul Gomez of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley was among those who attended the LAUSD briefing earlier this month at the chamber office. And Littmann said the district is "moving toward getting something in place where there's a continuous interaction" between campus and commerce.

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