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Playa Vista baby boom leads to a new school

Playa Vista Elementary opens its doors Tuesday, serving 200 children in the coastal community. The level of parental involvement is almost unprecedented, an L.A. Unified official says.

August 14, 2012|By Matt Stevens and Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times
  • On Tuesday, the new Playa Vista Elementary will welcome about 200 students through its gates.
On Tuesday, the new Playa Vista Elementary will welcome about 200 students… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

When Brian Galli moved into his Playa Vista condo almost nine years ago, he knew of only one child in the whole building. It almost was "unheard of," he said, to bring kids into a community so obviously tailored toward young working people and retirees.

Like so many of his neighbors, Galli was unmarried, an upwardly mobile professional looking to flip his property sometime soon. He did not anticipate falling in love — with both a woman and Playa Vista.

Galli, 39, now has a four-person family of his own. They have moved into a larger single-family home in another part of the development, where, he said, wine soirees with neighbors have given way to children's birthday parties.

"Every neighbor we have has a kid within a year or two of ours and has a second one or a third on the way," Galli said. "It's just insane."

The baby boom has caught residents and planners by surprise. Decades in the planning, Playa Vista, now home to about 6,500 residents, was the last major coastal community in Los Angeles to be built.

Its condos, lofts and apartments were designed with childless residents in mind, and that's who moved in first, said Patti Sinclair, co-president of Playa Capital, the master developer of Playa Vista. It was assumed those young people would eventually leave and move to the suburbs, she said. Instead, they stayed.

On Tuesday the new Playa Vista Elementary will welcome about 200 students through its gates, marking another milestone in a community that keeps evolving. The Los Angeles Unified School District signed off on the site for the new public school in 2009. The chic, sprawling school campus with its digital display board, solar panels and roll-up doors will serve mostly Playa Vista families.

Residents say Playa Vista has changed in other ways too. Movie nights in the park that used to show films for adults now play fare such as "Toy Story." The weekly Saturday farmers market is now filled with baby strollers and toddlers, and the dog parks are home to play dates. The K-5 school will be back-loaded with four classes of kindergarten and one transitional kindergarten to meet the swell of the community's young.

"It's in the water," said Mary Taylor, a 34-year-old single mom. "When people are happy, babies are going to come."

Parents have been heavily involved. Julie Hoang, 36, is president of Friends of Playa Vista School, a booster club of more than 500 that helped lobby to get the facility built. The group has raised more than $150,000. Hoang's son Nolan will enter transitional kindergarten Tuesday.

"There's a level of parental involvement there that's almost unprecedented," Los Angeles school board member Steve Zimmer said.

Playa Vista Elementary will emphasize science, technology, engineering and math, Principal Karina Salazar said. She added that the school was seeking LEED platinum certification so that the building itself will be used as a learning tool. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project is environmentally responsible.

Neighboring Loyola Marymount University has also entered an instructional partnership with the school, said Shane P. Martin, dean of the LMU School of Education.

For now, state law requires Playa Vista Elementary to also house classrooms for Ocean Charter School because so few students have enrolled in the upper grades, leaving extra classroom space. However, officials anticipate the school being filled to its 575-seat capacity within a few years.

Winnie Licht's children will help fill desks. Licht's 7-year-old son is entering second grade, and she hopes her 1-year-old son will follow. As part of a Playa Vista moms group with more than 250 Facebook members, Licht, 37, said she was "very positive" that she is done having children.

But that doesn't mean the neighbors are through. "Every day," Licht said, "someone else is giving birth."

matt.stevens@latimes.com

martha.groves@latimes.com

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